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unsung heroes
info4inglis29 August 2005
The film was shot at Ibsley (now no longer in existence either as a base or a beacon, though you can see the remnants) which was in Hampshire, and in 1942 an active fighter station. The group of airmen listening to David Niven recounting the story of Mitchell were real RAF airmen. The filming did not stop for the war. If the bell went to scramble, filming would temporarily be halted while those airmen would run to their spitfires, go off and fight the war, before returning and carry on filming as though nothing had happened. At the end, Niven was so impressed with those heroes that he sent them off to The Savoy in London for the weekend, ringing the manager with instructions to give them whatever they wanted: women, drink, food, making sure the bill was sent direct to him. Difficult to imagine our pampered "stars" doing likewise these days! How do I know so much? One of those unsung heroes was my adored uncle Peter Howard-Williams, who had been in 19 Squadron flying out of Duxford during the Battle of Britain, but happened to be at Ibsley when the station was chosen for the film.
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A Bird That Spits out Fire and Destruction
bkoganbing10 November 2005
The development of the Spitfire fighter plane by the Royal Air Force is considered a crucial factor in winning the Battle of Britain in that crisis year of 1941. It could fly faster and higher than the best German fighters and of course being right at home base it had the advantage of being able to instantly refuel. Unless a German pilot could shoot one down, a tie was always to the defenders because the German eventually had to return home for fuel.

Though he didn't live to see it, credit for the design of the Spitfire and a share of winning the Battle of Britain goes to Reginald J. Mitchell who had been dead four years before the Battle of Britain. This film is a tribute to him as realized by Producer/Director/Star Leslie Howard.

The problem one encounters in biographical films of this sort occurs when the subject lead colorless lives. We don't get that much of Mitchell here I suspect because outside of designing aircraft he probably was a pretty dull fellow. But Howard and David Niven who played his friend and test pilot are capable players and there's enough aerial footage to satisfy any buff.

Howard's seminal moment in the film occurs when he goes to Germany to view their nascent airplane industry and realizes just who is the target of all these new warplanes. He comes back and through sheer persistence and conviction persuades the Air Ministry and the Baldwin government to start the development of a better fighter plane.

Curiously enough the American aviator hero Charles Lindbergh got the same treatment from the Germans and came back to America with a message of defeatism. Interesting the different reactions when aviation people start talking shop.

Had Leslie Howard not died ironically enough a battlefield casualty as the airliner he was on shot down in 1943 in the Bay of Biscay, The First of the Few might have been the beginning of a great career behind the camera. Probably would have extended into British television as well as the cinema.

Still this film is a fine farewell and a tribute to two British patriots, Leslie Howard and Reginald J. Mitchell.
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Howard at his charismatic best.
music-room21 November 2006
'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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Battle of Britain pilots as extras
fkba159897 July 2006
This film could be unique in that the aircrew "extras" in the film who "Scrambled" during the Battle of Britain scenes were all pilots who had actually flown in the Battle of Britain.

I know this because at the end of 1941 I was stationed at 61 (Spitfire) Operational Training Unit at Heston (now part of Heathrow airport) and was billeted in Meadow Way Heston. My roommate was a Flight Sergeant I Hutchinson who was on "rest" from operational flying as the Maintenance Wing test pilot and was one of the "extras" in the film.

My recollection is that he had to be up at crack of dawn and was seldom free before about 2200 hours. On the other hand, his base was the Savoy Hotel!

To be a Flight Sergeant in 1941 meant you had been an airman pilot for quite some time and consequently had a lot of experience. I see from the Battle of Britain Roll of Honour that, thankfully, F Sgt Hutchinson survived the war.

He gave me my one and only flight in a single engined monoplane - a Miles Master - and I still recall that experience with great pleasure.

FAG KAY 33 Marchmont Rd Richmond Surrey TW10 6HQ
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fine swansong for Leslie Howard
didi-521 July 2004
This movie, a biopic of R.J. Mitchell, inventor of the Spitfire plane, saw the final appearance of that great British actor, Leslie Howard, who died in 1943 when his plane was shot down by the Germans. It was a fitting finale that one of his best roles, as the idealistic dreamer Mitchell, was his last.

Equally good (but perhaps a little young for the role) is David Niven as Mitchell's close pal Crisp. Niven was always good value and was convincing in uniform or official roles. Rosamund John has the remaining plum part as Mrs Mitchell, and plays the part very well.

'The First of the Few' works as propaganda, as an involving war actioner, and as a character study of an eccentric inventive mind. Howard's skill as a director ensures all angles are adequately covered and that the viewer is rarely bored. Dated it may be (and obviously so given the date of production) but should still appeal to a wide and discerning audience.
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The Spitfire takes flight
Scaramouche200428 November 2005
Warning: Spoilers
One of my biggest loves in this world is the Spitfire fighter aeroplane. A wonder of aviation and an engineering masterpiece, its speed and versatility, (not to mention the brave boys who flew them) were the sole reason why Britain remained in the fight and fought of the foul invasion force throughout the dark days of 1940.

Although now old and obsolete, no other aeroplane has as much right or privilege to fly over our green and pleasant land.

Here the Spitfire is given top billing in a biopic of it's creator R.J. Mitchell.

The great Leslie Howard plays the genius designer, in what was to be his last 'appearance' before the camera. Mitchell was an aircraft designer of noted repute having invented several of the Supermarine seaplanes which secured the Schneider Trophy for Britain throughout the 1920's and 1930's.

He was one of the few people in Britain to have heard the snarls and threats of Nazi Germany and was an open campaigner for rearmament, a policy not at all popular with the British Government of the time. Yet despite opposition he fought against not only the bureaucrats but a serious and life-threatening illness to design and build, what has been regarded since as the greatest fighter aircraft of all time, in preparation for a war he knew was coming and a crisis the rest of Britain chose to ignore.

David Niven plays Geoffrey Crisp, Mitchells friend and test pilot, who's affable and likable performance is hampered slightly from the fact that his character is completely fictional. Geoffrey Crisp, whoever he was, was never a Schneider trophy winner for Britain.

The true facts for anyone interested are that H.C.Biard won the title for us in 1922, followed by S.N.Webster, H.R.D.Waghorn and J.N.Boothman in 1927, 1929 and 1931 respectively, the last three flying Mitchell's Spitfire forerunners the Supermarine S5, S6 and S6B.

Also Geoffrey Crisp was not the test pilot of the very first Spitfire. That high honour goes to Joseph 'Mutt' Summers, who took off from Eastliegh airport on 5th March 1936. Summers became the chief test pilot for Vickers and was also the man who dropped the very first life size prototype of the bouncing bomb over Chesil Beach, Weymouth in 1943.

This is a great movie, and one which makes all Englishmen grateful and proud, but with all historic based movie stories, there is always something that has been changed, omitted or hushed up, especially in a film made during the war at the height of it's 'keep mum' propaganda battle.

Enjoy it like I did, but if there are any R.A.F or aviation buffs out there and would like to know more about the Spitfire and it's history, the glory of the air racing days of the 20's and 30's or just more factual information about the great man himself, then I suggest you visit www.rjmitchell-spitfire.co.uk
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The first of the few
john simon robson25 October 2005
My father was one of the fighter pilots featured in this film (speaking part and "action " shots ) This film was part of his "war" ,if you like. To me ,this film represents the very best of British cinematography of its day and genre.I have some "stills " of the film and also quite a few w action shots (no pun intended !)on the open air set at RAF Ibsley in 1942. The soundtrack on most broadcast copies is rather poor,but the quality of the music score is beyond question.The composer ,william Walton was commissioned at the time but his music was not thought particularly noteworthy .It was not until the 1960's his music was accredited rightly in my view as a work of sheer brilliance. I agree with everything anthony Inglis has said in his commentary
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One of the leading British propaganda films
occupant-19 August 2003
and probably on a par with the "Miniver" pictures. Covers not only the Supermarine/Merlin work but the glider designs that the Germans used for airframe research before openly dumping the Versailles treaty.

(Note: I don't use the term "propaganda" in a demeaning sense here; it's just that I consider any ideological product that gets government backing to be propaganda, and this work fits the definition.)

Fine acting, acceptable plot movement for what is considered now a melodramatic period, historic moment - this film deserves multiple viewings.
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Excellent and Very Moving
drednm8 January 2011
This film was released in the USA within two weeks of Leslie Howard's death in June 1943. The plane Howard was flying in was shot down over the Bay of Biscay.

Leslie Howard produced and directed this biography of R.J. Mitchell as well as starring in the film. This biography is also part propaganda and part documentary as Howard shows us Britain's advances in aviation going into World War II.

The cast is quite good, with David Niven as Crisp especially solid. Rosamund John plays the ever-patient wife. Also good are Roland Culver as Commander Bride, Toni Edgar-Bruce as Lady Houston, Anne Firth as Harper, Derrick De Marney as Jefferson, and Howard's daughter, Leslie Ruth Howard, in her only film appearance as Nurse Kennedy.

This film is hugely important because it is Leslie Howard's final film appearance but also because it documents the development of the famous Spitfire, without which Britain might have fallen to Germany.

This is a wonderful film.
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Biopic of Spitfire Designer
Robert J. Maxwell21 November 2008
Warning: Spoilers
Leslie Howard is R. J. Mitchell, the man who. with the help of his friend (David Niven) and the support of his wife (Rosamund John), designed the speedy monoplanes that won the Schneider Trophy in the 1920s and who later designed the superb British fighter, the Spitfire.

In a modern biography, Mitchell would have to be beset by inner demons, which he would then have to conquer in order to succeed -- maybe booze, mental illness, satyriasis, or the heartbreak of eczema. But in 1942, the story couldn't be fitted into the usual Procrustean bed.

Mitchell's only problem is that he discovers Germany's desire to conquer the known world and works himself to death inventing the airplane that will contribute to the failure of their plans.

At one point, his doctor informs him with brutal candor that he either must give up his work and take a long vacation -- at least a year -- or he has only a few months left to live. (Oh, how I wish some doctor had told ME that. Or given me some other set of Aesculapian orders that would be easy to follow -- "Stay in bed for a year and drink plenty of fluids.") But the doctor is barking up the wrong tree. Mitchell's problem is that he has a Calvinist "calling." In designed the Spitfire he is fulfilling God's plan. The first mate of the Pequod, Starbuck, tried to tell Captain Ahab about all this in "Moby Dick." It was one thing to be a zealous whaler. By providing society with whale oil and ambergris they were doing a service to mankind and carrying out God's will, but Ahab's obsession with the White Whale was personal, and therefore blasphemous. No such problem with Mitchell and the Spitfire.

And what an airplane Mitchell came up with! Oh, it had its weaknesses, couldn't dive abruptly, but when it came to appearances the Spitfire was more than a match for its adversary, the Bf 109. The thin wings were long, wide, and elliptical, like a bird's soaring. And its sleek nose ended in a bullet-shaped spinner. And it was a beauty to fly, quick and nimble, reluctant to stall out. Unlike many fighters of World War II its design suggested not so much power as elegance and grace.

You don't actually get to learn much about the airplane though. You get to learn a lot about R. J. Mitchell, his friends, and his devotion to a cause. It's more of a flag waver than a broad topical study. How could it be otherwise in a 1942 British war movie? Leslie Howard, who looked and acted so English, was of Hungarian ancestry. He had a hand in every department of this film. He directed it himself, and it was his last film effort. His plane was lost over the sea a short time later.

The movie must have meant a lot to wartime audiences. It could profitably be shown today in many high school and college classes because today's students tend to be so ahistorical that they get everything mixed up. When Barbara Tuchman ("The Guns of August") gave a guest lecture at a large Midwestern university on the causes of World War I, a student congratulated her for enlightening him. He'd always wondered why the other was called World War II.
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Niven plays Flynn, Howard rules OK
Igenlode Wordsmith8 April 2009
Warning: Spoilers
David Niven is definitely channelling old friend Errol Flynn here, in the role of the irrepressible Geoffrey Crisp! One assumes the part was created to afford a little feminine light relief, since the central character is -- inconveniently for the standard narrative curve -- already happily married as a young man when we first meet him, and omits to look elsewhere... At any rate, Niven-as-narrator is a charming scamp, and refreshingly the plot refrains from taking the obvious path of marrying him off to his 'snapdragon', R.J.Mitchell's formidable secretary Miss Harper. The relationship between the two eventually softens in their mutual affection for Mitchell, but never becomes romantic.

But it is Leslie Howard in the central role who undoubtedly owns the film; perhaps unsurprisingly, given that he is credited as both director and producer, but it is a typical 'quiet' performance that effortlessly overshadows Niven's endearing antics. As one bemused company director remarks after an encounter with the character's unassuming forcefulness, "But I thought you said he was *shy*..?"

The decision to open the film with extended sequences of anti-British propaganda sourced from Britain's enemies -- from Goebbels to Lord Haw-Haw -- is a striking one, and more effective than any tendentious rhetoric on "The last Bastion of Liberty" in establishing the concept of an existential threat. The riposte is made chiefly by a montage of quintessentially English images; 'this is what we are fighting for'. And the context is set in the Battle of Britain, with an overworked handful of pilots and Spitfires flying again and again against vastly outnumbering waves of attackers.

It is not, however, really a 'war' picture. If anything it is a biography of the Spitfire as much as of its designer, and the story effectively ends pre-war in 1938, with the commissioning of the first planes. If it has a fault, it is that I felt the film was perhaps a little didactic, an instructional piece of history rather than an emotionally engaging human drama; we witness Mitchell's career frustrations and achievements (oddly, it is never made clear just why Crisp blacked out with almost fatal results in that early seaplane competition; one would assume it was from the hitherto unexpected g-forces produced by banking at such record speeds, but the issue, subsequently a well-known fighter pilot phenomenon, is simply dropped unexplained)... but it is only at the end of the story, where Mitchell in effect deliberately sacrifices his own chances of survival in order to get the Spitfire design finished, that we are actually drawn into the tensions of the tale rather than merely observing. The enclosing narrative device is clever in that Mitchell's fate is left carefully ambiguous at the start; since neither the contemporary audience nor modern viewers are likely to be familiar with the history of this 'back-room' figure, the ultimate outcome remains 'up for grabs', as it were, and the hero's choice an active one until the end.

Rosamund John provides effective support as loyal wife Diana, despite the absence of conflict between them to provide a cheap motor for their scenes together (particularly memorable is a scene in the kitchen where Diana has to reinforce her husband's faltering resolution to maintain his integrity at the cost of his employment... while trying to get him to chop the parsley!) Scenes in pre-war Germany are handled with a light touch that distinguishes the German pilots and designers from the politicians responsible for their deployment, and with an ironic comedy that recalls "Pimpernel Smith", Leslie Howard's earlier potent propaganda vehicle. Script writer and ubiquitous character actor Miles Malleson can be glimpsed in a typical cameo role, and David Niven, while always entertaining, shades his character towards maturity while representing a whole generation of ex-WWI flyers who found themselves cast adrift at the end of hostilities. It was the ending, with his now-middleaged RAF officer taking to the air in person and then pursuing the German pilot who had shot down one of his squadron-mates. that I found a little trite.

But the final imagery, as the Spitfires fly away from the camera into an opening canyon of gilded cloud, is magical, aided by William Walton's soaring music.

Overall I enjoyed and would recommend the film, but felt it not to be entirely the dramatic equal of the other test-pilot picture with which I always confuse it, David Lean's 1952 "The Sound Barrier", nor of Howard's previous wartime excursion "Pimpernel Smith". It is undoubtedly a pity, however, that Leslie Howard's directorial career was cut short by enemy action; in his choice to serve his country in wartime cinema rather than pursue a Hollywood career, he proved himself to be a weapon of considerable effectiveness, and it is ironic in the context of this film that, as in the case of R.J.Mitchell, it proved to be a choice that may well have cost him his own life. As a swansong, the role is poignant but also appropriate.
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The story of R.J Mitchell the inventor of the Spitfire.....
Maddyclassicfilms26 March 2009
Warning: Spoilers
Directed by Leslie Howard(who also played Mitchell)The First Of The Few tells his story from an idea he had one day watching the birds to the planes flying in the war.Made in 1942 a year after the Spifires helped win The Battle of Britain this is an uplifting film,made I imagine for the sole purpose of building troop morale.

R.J Mitchell(Leslie Howard)is a plane designer who's designs were deemed too revolutionary for the time.Along with his old friend Geoffrey Crisp(David Niven)who was a pilot in the First World War he sets out to build the plane.

Geoffrey backs him up 100 percent and is the test pilot for Mitchell's aircraft.However tragedy is just around the corner when (after working flat out without sleeping or eating)Mitchell feels unwell and consults a Dr who tells him if he does not stop he will die in just a year.Will Mitchell ignore the advice or heed it?well if you've read about him you will know,if you don't know the story then watch this wonderful film.David and Leslie have a great chemistry and play their parts well,in this brilliant film about an important part of British history.
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Propaganda, but wonderful propaganda
barrowa27 May 2006
'The First of the Few' relates the story of the development of the Supermarine Spitfire by R.J.Mitchell, although as almost anyone who knows anything about the 'Battle of Britain' will tell you, around 70% of the Royal Air Force's front line fighters were Hawker Hurricanes. Slower, but a more stable and resilient gun platform than the Spitfire. In the Battle of Britain (fought in the summer of 1940) the Royal Air Force deployed the Hurricanes against bombers, while the more agile Spitfires engaged their fighter escorts. The Hurricane was designed by Sydney Camm (1893-1966) who designed many post-war jet aircraft including the Hawker Hunter - maybe someone should make a film of his life. An uncle of mine was an ace with 6 kills to his credit, flying a Hurricane from Malta. His aircraft was short down by British anti-aircraft fire on 29-12-1941. No, there's nothing new about friendly fire. William Walton's music also makes a great contribution to the film, and is now rightly (popular as the 'Spitfire Prelude and Fugue')in the concert hall.
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Leslie Howard, produced, directed and starred!
Ron-18122 May 2000
A fine movie biography about the designer of the World War II Spitfire. Strong performances are given by Mr. Howard and David Niven. Although it seems dated particularly with the black and white film, it is none the less worth your time to preview this movie. Leslie Howard was killed in an airplane crash shortly after finishing this film.
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Poised For Flight
writers_reign12 February 2009
Warning: Spoilers
Propaganda, yes, but what else would one expect in wartime. On the other hand if we must have propaganda let it be as sincere and well meant as this. Though it's largely irrelevant I confess to being a little bemused by the large number of posters who think that Leslie Howard was English when he was in fact Hungarian. Having said that there is no question of his genuine feeling for his adopted country especially as manifested here in a film he directed as well as playing the leading role. David Niven offers strong support albeit more or less playing himself and Rosamund John is effective in the somewhat thankless role of Mitchell's wife. Given both the limitations of the time and the fact that it was shot on a genuine aerodrome whilst the war was in full swing the aeriel sequences are as well as can be expected. As a time-capsule it's well worth a look.
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Good Historical-Based Drama
Snow Leopard16 July 2001
While sometimes a bit melodramatic, "Spitfire" (or "The First of the Few") is a good historical-based drama that follows the development of the Spitfire airplane that was so important to Britain in World War II. Most of the film concerns the work that went into the plane, but there are also a few aerial scenes. The historical story is interesting and significant, and was even more so at the time that the film was made. It moves rather slowly at times, but is carried by the two fine stars in the lead roles.

Leslie Howard works well as Mitchell, the designer of the plane. His dreaminess seems appropriate for a man who created an effective new invention by looking beyond the ways that things had been done in the past. David Niven is particularly good as the pilot who tests the plane and invests his own time and career to see that Mitchell's invention gets a chance. Niven also narrates the story. Those two help make up for some slow stretches in the plot. At times things also seem a bit exaggerated, but then it was a time when daily events were filled with melodrama.

This would be a good film to watch for anyone with an interest in historical or war films.
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An inspriational film, then and now.
elcoat8 January 2015
My older son has loved airplanes since earliest childhood. Back in Auke Bay/Juneau Alaska, he led his 2nd grade classmates in a paper airplanes arms race and wars, until his otherwise very restrained and patient Japanese-American teacher took the classroom trash can and dramatically swept all the air forces into the dustbin of history. :-)

I got this film for us - him - to watch, and it did its magic. Robert is now a highly creative aerospace (and nautical) engineer.

As others have noted, it is indeed moving: a man dedicating and indeed sacrificing his life to a beautiful airplane/design and to help stop evil.

(I only hope we haven't become that evil now, ourselves.)

Some have wisecracked that this is the only film that David Niven ever really acted in, but Niven was always quite genuine and dramatic, in his understated and self-deprecating way.

This is an idealistic and motivating film everyone should see, especially when they are young.
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Rousting tribute to Spitfire designer RJ Mitchell
mklmjdrake31 August 2011
One of the good ones! Very simple biopic that inspires and entertains. Great cast with David Niven and Leslie Howard (who also produced and directed). It will probably never end up on a 100-best list of films of all time. But it does not fail to deliver heart, spirit and all around good feelings. It is a reminder of nationalism which seems to have disappeared in this country. It was made in the days when it was not offensive to be proud of your country and the men and women who helped make it great. It is a reminder of the evil men in our world history and those who fought against them.

The studio sets are almost comical... you can hear the echo in the sound recording! The special effects are not special at all. The dialogue is even corny in some scenes. But none of that matters because the story is more important. It's a story of a man and his love of country and his disdain for tyranny. His perseverance is inspirational. His example is uncommon. And the support of his wife is just as stirring. RJ Mitchell is the spit and fire!
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Poor history
Qanqor28 May 2012
Warning: Spoilers
I enjoyed this movie reasonably well while watching it. It was afterward that my disappointment rose.

In some sense, I suppose the movie was a victim of its own success: by successfully sparking in me an interest in its protagonist, R. J. Mitchell, it drove me to do a little reading up on the real-life story of Mr. Mitchell, and unfortunately, the gap between the movie Mitchell and the real Mitchell is rather too wide for my taste. In particular, some of the most compelling parts of the movie story just never happened.

So, in actuality, Mitchell never went to Germany, never met Messerschmitt, never encountered strutting Nazi bluster that galvanized him to devote his life to developing a superior fighter plane for the British with which they could meet the Nazi threat. Actually, he was working on fighter aircraft design back in 1931, two years before the Nazi's assumed power in Germany.

What's more, the real Mitchell did *not* work himself to death on the Spitfire. The unspoken affliction which ultimately consumed him was actually cancer-- which no amount of rest was going to cure. So he did *not* deliberately choose to sacrifice his life for the cause. Yes, he did keep working during his illness, which is certainly heroic and praiseworthy. But it's a *far* cry from what the movie depicts.

It's a pity, because I think the real Mitchell's story was interesting enough all by itself to make a good movie out of, without manufacturing lies. Still, it was an entertaining movie, and most of the broad outlines of the history seem to be reasonably accurate. The print I saw was creaky and antique, with poor picture quality and sound (I *still* don't know what the offensive sign on the yacht said, since I could neither read it nor make out the dialog around it), but I won't take off points for that. I could've given the film seven or eight stars had it been accurate, but all the lies take it down to a six.
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Memorable Biopic About the Sptifire Designer
l_rawjalaurence20 August 2014
On the face of it THE FIRST OF THE FEW is a patriotic flag-waver dramatizing the life of R. J. Mitchell (Leslie Howard), the designer of the Spitfire that proved so influential in helping Great Britain to assume control of the skies in 1940. The film contains its fair share of anti-German propaganda; at the beginning there are a series of speeches given by Hitler, Göring and Goebbels translated into English; and in the middle of the film Mitchell and his daring pilot Geoffrey Crisp (David Niven) are entertained at a dinner in Berlin, where their German hosts led by Messerschmitt (Erik Freund) announce their plans to re-arm and take revenge for the indignities heaped upon them during World War One. At heart, however, Leslie Howard's film is a story of courage and perseverance, of Mitchell's determination to create the ultimate flying machine, despite opposition from various bureaucrats, including Commander Bride (Roland Culver) and Sir Robert McLean (J. H. Roberts). In the pre-war era it seems that Mitchell is something of an eccentric in his desire to spend money with little or no apparent result, but there are those, including eccentric millionaire Lady Houston (Toni Edgar-Bruce) who are prepared to support him both financially and morally. The message is clear: Mitchell wouldn't have achieved his success without the help of many other people, even though he drives himself to death through overwork. Howard gives an understated performance in the central role; he seldom loses his sang-froid, but there is an inner steel to his character that drives him on. Niven offers admirable support, proving beyond doubt what a fine film actor he was; a small gesture, such as the thumbs-up sign towards the end, as he leaves Mitchell for the last time, is worth a thousand words. THE FIRST OF THE FEW contains some memorable montage sequences, emphasizing the interconnectedness of many important events, both private and personal: Mitchell's face is juxtaposed with an image of the rolling British countryside, and a close-up of the Spitfire, emphasizing the link between national identity, the designer and the plane. The sentiments might appear dated now - especially the emphasis on British stiff-upper-lip stoicism in the face of adversity - but Howard's film has a sincerity of purpose that still provokes a frisson in viewers' minds.
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The Genesis of the Spitfire
robertguttman19 May 2014
At the time this film was made the Spitfire was more than a mere airplane. It had become the glamorous symbol of Britain's determination to persevere, and a symbol to the world that the Nazi war machine was not omnipotent. Added to the importance of the Spitfire itself was the dramatic element that the plane was designed by Reginald Mitchell, a dying man who drove himself obsessively to complete the project before his death. The genesis of the Spitfire was, therefore, an ideal subject for the British film industry.

Apart from the participation of real RAF fighter pilots and other personnel, this film is also notable for having been produced and directed by, as well as starring, Leslie Howard. Indeed, it was the last film Howard made before his untimely and tragic death. In fact, there has been speculation that Howard's plane may actually have been shot down by the Germans in a deliberate effort to silence one of the most eloquent and effective propagandists active in Britain at that time.

The film follows Mitchell's career through the 1920s and 1930s, while he was designing a famous series of Schneider Trophy-winning racing seaplanes. It then describes his efforts, during the period after the rise of Nazi Germany in the early 1930s, to create a new fighting airplane for the defense of Britain based upon the design of his racers. Although it is not mentioned in the film, which merely describes Mitchell as overworking himself, the man was actually afflicted with rectal cancer. He was literally racing against time to complete his work before he died, and actually managed to do so by only a few months. Mitchell died at the age of only 42, quite a few years younger than Leslie Howard actually was when he portrayed him in the film.

This is one of those films that has been released under two different titles. "The First of the Few" is a reference to a quote from one of Winston Churchill's most famous speeches, delivered after the Battle of Britain, to wit: "Never in the field of human conflict have so many owed so much to so few". However, the film was also released in the U.S. under the simpler title of "Spitfire", for the benefit of American audiences who might not get it.

It is well worth a look, not only for it's historical value, but as an opportunity to see the last work of Leslie Howard. Had he lived it is certain that he would succeeded in becoming a fine producer and director.
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Fate or Luck
DKosty1238 July 2011
Warning: Spoilers
It is ironic that Leslie Howards last film would be about the fate he would suffer soon after. Howard shot this film before flying into the war and his death mere months later.

This biography of RJ Mitchell who created the famous British fighter is documented in this movie. In support is David Niven in one of his better more serious film roles. The film made in 1942 is definitely war propaganda. Still it tells an important story.

Mitchell knew he was ill, but was a man on a mission to get the Spit Fighter complete before he died. While the movie is not real clear on Mitchell's illness, the fact is that he did die within a year of his getting the first Spitfires built.

A good cast puts together a good film which elevates Mitchell (Howard) into a key historic position. The real Mitchell died of Cancer within a year of the plane design completion and the first major orders by the British Government.
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A romanticised account from WW2
redbaron-48 February 1999
Produced during WW2, I guess this film can be excused for its romanticised account of the story of the development of the Spitfire. The basic details are current: development from the Supermarine seaplanes, Mitchell dying of cancer, etc - but the development was nowhere near as smooth as depicted!

The William Walton score (now known as the "Spitfire Prelude and Fugue") works particularly well.
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Howard's last film, ironically about a plane
blanche-22 October 2015
Leslie Howard's last film was one that he starred in, produced, and directed, in England called The First of the Few; in the U.S. called Spitfire. The British title relates to Winston Churchill's words: "Never in the field of human conflict was so much owed by so many to so few."

It is the story of R.J. Mitchell, who designed the Spitfire, a plane which helped win the Battle of Britain.

The Spitfire had several advantages. It was difficult to shoot down since the planes flew higher and faster than what the Germans had. Also, it was easy for the Spitfire to refuel since they were on home ground, whereas the Germans had to return to Germany to refuel. In part, it was designed by Mitchell due to his concern that the British military could not stand up to the German military.

Mitchell's brilliance was in combining elements that had been invented earlier to make one fabulous plane. He had some false starts, but he ultimately succeeded. In 1931, his design, S.6B, won the Scheider Trophy Competition and started things off. The plane later broke the world speed record.

We don't learn too much about Mitchell himself. He was dedicated to his work to the point of exhaustion, so it's doubtful he had a hot social life.

Unlike Howard's upper class, even-tempered Mitchell, the real Mitchell was athletic, lower class, and easily angered. Howard made his acting choices deliberately as Mitchell's family spent a lot of time on the set.

Howard costars with David Niven as his pilot, who provided some lighter moments. And if you like that sort of thing, there is a lot of aerial footage.

Mitchell died of rectal cancer in 1937 at the age of 42, so he didn't see all of his plane's success.

Howard died in 1943 on KLM Royal Dutch Airlines/BOAC Flight 777, which was shot down over the Bay of Biscay by the Luftwaffe as the plane flew from Lisbon to the UK. He was 50.

This is a strong propaganda film, well acted and well directed. It was filmed at an active fighter station, Ibsley, and the extras were real Battle of Britain fliers, and the film also showed the real people working on the plane.

Anyone interested in Mitchell, his son wrote two books: R.J. Mitchell: World Famous Aircraft Designer, and R.J.Mitchell: Schooldays to Spitfire.

As an aside, because this was a propaganda film, Niven was released from his MGM contract in exchange for distribution rights. When Samuel Goldwyn saw the film, he realized Niven was in a supporting role and re-edited the movie, cutting 40 minutes.

This is a similar story to what happened to Tyrone Power when MGM borrowed him for Marie Antoinette. When Zanuck saw that Power played a supporting role, he never lent him out again, and Power was offered some huge films as in 1939 he moved into the top 10 box office stars. I think Niven was luckier, though he and Goldwyn fought for years.
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Development of Spitfire
ebiros226 November 2012
This is a gem of war time epic that ranks close to the classics like the "Sink the Bisbark", and the "Dam Busters".

The story is about the history of development of one of the greatest war time fighter plane, the Supermarine Spitfire, told as a story of Reginald Joseph Mitchell - the designer of the Spitfire from his formulative days of designing race planes to the eventual design of the plane while fighting his own ailment of cancer. Mitchell barely survived to see his plane fly and incorporated into the Royal Air Force. It's a stroke of luck for England that Mitchell came up with the design, because it was the only type air craft that can match the technology of the German Luftwaffe.

Some artistic license has been taken to make the story to be fit for a movie. Probably half of the stories in the movie is fiction, but it still conveys the visionary genius of the man who was years ahead of his time.

First of the few points to Mitchell in that he was the first of the men Churchill mentioned in his famous speech "... never have so many owed so much to so few." regarding the Battle of Britain.

The format is somewhat dated, but this is a great movie to watch if you're an aviation buff or war time epic fan, and is recommended for viewing.
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