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Spitfire (1942)

The First of the Few (original title)
Aircraft designer/patriot R. J. Mitchell, alarmed at growing German militarism, works to perfect a defense against the German Messerschmidt at the cost of his health.

Director:

Leslie Howard

Writers:

Henry C. James (original story), Katherine Strueby (original story) (as Kay Strueby) | 2 more credits »
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Cast

Cast overview, first billed only:
Leslie Howard ... R.J. Mitchell
David Niven ... Geoffrey Crisp
Rosamund John ... Diana Mitchell
Roland Culver ... Cmdr. Bride
Anne Firth Anne Firth ... Miss Harper
David Horne ... Mr. Higgins
J.H. Roberts ... Sir Robert McLean
Derrick De Marney ... Squadron Leader Jefferson
Rosalyn Boulter Rosalyn Boulter ... Mabel Lovesay
Herbert Cameron Herbert Cameron ... MacPherson
Toni Edgar-Bruce Toni Edgar-Bruce ... Lady Houston (as Toni Edgar Bruce)
Gordon McLeod Gordon McLeod ... Maj. Buchan
George Skillan George Skillan ... Mr. Royce
Erik Freund Erik Freund ... Messerschmitt
Fritz Wendhausen Fritz Wendhausen ... Von Straben (as F.R. Wendhausen)
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Storyline

By the late 1920's aircraft designer R.J. Mitchell feels he has achieved all he wants with his revolutionary mono-planes winning trophy after trophy. But a holiday in Germany shortly after Hitler assumes power convinces him that it is vital to design a completely new type of fighter plane and that sooner or later Britain's very survival may depend on what he comes to call the Spitfire. Written by Jeremy Perkins {J-26}

Plot Summary | Add Synopsis


Certificate:

Approved | See all certifications »

Parents Guide:

View content advisory »
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Did You Know?

Trivia

Several real-life Battle of Britain RAF pilots such as Anthony C. Bartley and Brian Kingcome, are featured in small roles in the opening and closing sequences at the dispersal hut, talking with David Niven's character and discussing their "kills". See more »

Goofs

Where David Niven is talking to Leslie Howards' secretary, she is using a 'Royal' typewriter. In a following scene, when Leslie Howard comes out of his office and talks to Crisp (Niven), it appears that the typewriter is a 'Jaydo' or 'Jaybo' brand. In actuality, a closer look reveals that the typewriter in both shots is a Royal, however, during editing, the film was apparently transposed from shot to shot, causing the name of the typewriter to appear differently. This is made clear by looking closely at the telephone on the desk and the clipboard on the wall behind Mitchell's secretary, again, which both have been transposed in the two shots noted. See more »

Quotes

Air Ministry Official: [Referring to the new Spitfire airplane] We shall need it in 12 months. Sorry, but that's all the time we can give you.
Reginald J. Mitchell: [Referring to his imminent death] You shall have it in eight. Because... because that's all the time *I* can give *you*!
See more »

Crazy Credits

Opening credits prologue: Zero Day September 15th, 1940 See more »

Alternate Versions

DVD version has a scene involving the British Schneider team visiting Italy for the flying competition. Scene involves Crisp 'chatting up' an Italian lady in a gondola. See more »

Connections

Featured in Leslie Howard: The Man Who Gave a Damn (2016) See more »

Soundtracks

Landsturm
(uncredited)
Music by Johann Strauss
Arranged by Roy Douglas
See more »

User Reviews

 
Howard at his charismatic best.
21 November 2006 | by music-roomSee all my reviews

'The First of the Few' shows Leslie Howard at his most reflective, almost to the point of diffidence. His only show of assertiveness is when he informs the haughty bigwigs of 'Supermarine'that he will design aeroplanes HIS way, despite David Horne's salutary warning that he will 'come an almighty cropper'. Howard plays R.J. Mitchell, legendary designer of the Spitfire, the revolutionary fighter plane that was to take centre stage in the Battle of Britain.

Throughout the film it is Howard himself who takes centre stage and never really leaves it, his star quality and charisma embracing all manner of scenes, from cheeky one - liners, 'you're not a bird, but you can fly', as a retort to Tonie Edgar - Bruce's mercurial Lady Houston, or modestly basking in the reflected glory of yet another Schneider Trophy triumph (the annual seaplane contest between Great Britain, USA and Italy which has now passed into folklore). Perhaps he is even more compelling in the touching solo scenes, with little or no dialogue, where, to William Walton's evocative music, he is found by his colleagues overworking himself deep into the night, trying to design the Spitfire before the imminent spread of Germanic imperialism, or, later on, close to death, scanning the skies for a sign of David Niven leading the way on the famous fighter plane.

An impressive cast of character actors give him great support, including Roland Culver as the supportive and insightful head of Supermarine, Anne Firth as a petite but highly efficient secretary, and future film maker Filippo Del Giudice as a foppish, hilarious Bertorelli, the high ranking Italian official who relays the message from 'Il duce' Mussolini, to the effect that the winning British Schneider Trophy entry could only have achieved such a feat 'in our glorious Italian sky'.

Howard's introverted Mitchell is in contrast to David Niven's jaunty, red blooded senior pilot, who demonstrates in this film just why he will go on to be the top British star in Hollywood, his easy acting style and unbridled optimism making Crisp a lovable character without ever seeming arrogant. Perhaps his inexplicable crash in one of the Schneider Trophy contests has the effect of 'bringing him down to earth', both literally and in character.

The only downside of the film is an oddly mechanical performance from Rosamund John, as Mitchell's wife. Obviously she could not come over as a dominant figure to Howard's subtle Mitchell, but the attempt to make her appear even more introverted than the star produces an uncharacteristically robotic outcome from this fine actress.

Both Mitchell and Howard were soon to pass beyond earthly constraints into immortality, the latter disappearing in mysterious circumstances, ironically, in a plane, over Portugal, in June, 1943. There is no finer epitaph to both of them, than 'The First of the Few', Mitchell as the genius aeroplane designer, and Howard as the first English actor (albeit of Hungarian parents) to make it big in Hollywood. In this respect, Niven may be regarded as 'the second of the few'. A gem of a film, whose great star never shone more brightly than here.


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Details

Country:

UK

Language:

English | Italian | German

Release Date:

14 September 1942 (UK) See more »

Also Known As:

Spitfire See more »

Company Credits

Show more on IMDbPro »

Technical Specs

Runtime:

Sound Mix:

Mono (Western Electric Mirrophonic Recording)

Color:

Black and White (archive footage)| Black and White

Aspect Ratio:

1.37 : 1
See full technical specs »

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