The efforts of test pilot John Mitchell to make a better life for his wife Mary and their two children seem doomed to failure and he blames himself. At the Conway Aero-Manufacturing Company...
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The efforts of test pilot John Mitchell to make a better life for his wife Mary and their two children seem doomed to failure and he blames himself. At the Conway Aero-Manufacturing Company of Wolverhampton, Mitchell is to take the company's new rocket-propulsion transport plane up for tests, fully loaded and carrying two important passengers - Ministry official Crabtree and buyer's representative Ashmore. Mitchell learns from his boss, Reg Conway, that if Ashmore does not recommend the plane, the company will be out of business and Mitchell out of a job, since the plane is not even insured as the firm's entire capital is tied up in the plane. Aloft, an engine catches fire and the passengers and other crew bail out, but Mitchell refuses to obey orders to jettison the plane in the Irish Sea. Written by
Les Adams <email@example.com>
Thanks to Planktonrules for the thoughtful analysis/appreciation. However, there are just a few comments I'd like to add to his review.
"The Man in the Sky" (a.k.a. "Decision Against Time") is a fairly representative example of the kinds of dramas that Ealing produced in addition to their better-known comedies. In fact, out of the 96 feature-length films that Ealing released between 1938 and 1959, only about 15 to 20 were comedies, depending on what you count. The other 80% was made up of virtually every kind of movie that was being made in Britain at the time: war pictures, crime thrillers, period pieces, and even a couple of literary adaptations, musicals, and horror films. So it's not really correct to claim that "most" of Ealing's output was comedy -- though the comedies have come to overshadow everything else that Ealing did.
Since this movie is representative of Ealing's dramatic style, it's a good place to start if you only know the comedies. Like "The Cruel Sea" (an Ealing war film with Jack Hawkins), this one is primarily about the human stories that lie at the heart of tragedies or potential tragedies. We first see Hawkins' character as a family man facing typical problems, like being unable to purchase a new home, before we see him in the crisis situation that dominates the film. So like many of Ealing's dramas, this one is primarily about how an ordinary man meets an extraordinary situation. In many ways, Hawkins' character is not unlike one of Hemingway's "code" heroes. In order to succeed, he must maintain self-control and absolute professionalism. It's easy to dismiss films like this as uncritical celebrations of the stereotypically British "stiff upper lip." But in fact, the film is really about how its characters handle emotions that cannot be talked about because those emotions are conflicting and difficult to understand anyway. When the resolution comes, it is played out in silence -- a daring choice on the part of director Charles Crichton, but one that results in greater profundity than you might expect.
Finally, it's worth noting that this was the first movie that Ealing produced/released after it sold and left its home studio. In 1956, producer Michael Balcon was forced to negotiate a new distribution deal. (The British film industry was going through one of its frequent crises.) As a result, Balcon moved his production unit to MGM's British base, where Balcon had worked briefly in the mid-1930s before moving on to Ealing. After this film, Ealing would make only six more before closing down for good in 1959, thus ending one of the most brilliant chapters in British film history. Movies like "Man in the Sky," which examines reticence and self-control, just weren't what younger British audiences wanted to see, and the age of James Bond, the Beatles, and the "angry young men" was just around the corner.
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