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Reach for the Sky (1956)

Approved | | Biography, Drama, War | 27 July 1956 (Ireland)
Biopic of RAF Group Captain Douglas Bader who, after having lost both legs, flew a British fighter plane during WW2.


Lewis Gilbert


Paul Brickhill (book), Lewis Gilbert (screenplay) | 1 more credit »
Won 1 BAFTA Film Award. Another 4 nominations. See more awards »




Cast overview, first billed only:
Kenneth More ... Douglas Bader
Muriel Pavlow ... Thelma Bader
Lyndon Brook ... Johnny Sanderson
Lee Patterson ... Turner
Alexander Knox ... Mr. Joyce
Dorothy Alison ... Nurse Brace
Michael Warre Michael Warre ... Harry Day
Sydney Tafler Sydney Tafler ... Robert Desoutter
Howard Marion-Crawford ... 'Woody' Woodhall (as Howard Marion Crawford)
Jack Watling ... Peel
Nigel Green ... Streatfield
Anne Leon Anne Leon ... Sister Thornhill
Charles Carson ... Air Chief Marshal Sir Hugh Dowding
Ronald Adam ... Air Vice-Marshal Leigh-Mallory
Walter Hudd ... Air Vice-Marshal Halahan


The true story of airman Douglas Bader who overcame the loss of both legs in a 1931 flying accident to become a successful fighter pilot and wing leader during World War II. Written by E.A. Milne <eamilne@bitmailer.net>

Plot Summary | Add Synopsis


10,000,000 Americans Have Thrilled to This Stirring Story in Reader's Digest! See more »


Biography | Drama | War


Approved | See all certifications »

Did You Know?


Bader was strongly disliked by many of the pilots under his command. It was widely believed that he was shot down by a British pilot in August 1941, although this claim was never officially investigated. See more »


During the meeting in Dowding's office there is a RAF plaque on his desk with a Queen's crown on it, which was correct for when the film was made, but when as the film is set in 1940 it should have been a King's crown. See more »


[Bader refuses to perfom some low flying for a trio of civilian pilots]
Civilian Pilot: Typical, these Air Force boys only perform when there's a crowd!
See more »

Alternate Versions

Originally released in Great Britain at 135 minutes; cut by 12 minutes before the American premiere. See more »


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29 June 2002 | by m0rphySee all my reviews

For those who have seen and enjoyed "The Dam Busters"(1954) about British Bomber Command in WWII, this bio-pic about Douglas Bader and British Fighter Command provides an excellent companion film. Douglas Bader (pronounced "Baader") is excellently portrayed by Kenneth More in another stirring British Bulldog role, (see also his role of 2nd Officer Lightoller in "A Night to Remember (1958).Our hero joins Cranwell (British RAF Officer Flying School) in 1928 and soon proves he has natural flying ability.He also excells at cricket and rugby but is not so hot at the academics coming 17/19 in the exams.Discipline is also a bit of a problem for him and he has to learn that "...rules are for the obedience of fools and for the guidance of wise men".At Cranley he meets a friend, and the two fly over to the Reading Flying Club in the early 1930's when Bader rashly accepts a dubious challenge to exhibit his aerobatic skill when the crowds are not present.The result was a near fatal crash that resulted in him having both legs amputated.The scene with nurse Brace is genuinely touching - I have seen this film many times and it always brings a tear to my eye.While recovering with other injured men they go on a jaunt in one of the chap's Bentley with Douglas, as usual, driving at breakneck speed with his peg leg on the accelerator.Miraculously they all arrive in one piece at a tea room and it is there that Douglas meets Thelma who is helping a friend by waiting on table "...cream or plain?".On a return trip to the cafe Douglas is distraught to see Thelma in the company of a young man coming out of the rain but is then relieved when she informs him that he is her brother.They informally marry and as there was nothing in "King's Regulations" about cripples being able to continue flying in the RAF and since a desk job was not to Bader's liking, he left and got a mundane job in civvy street.Although cricket and rugby were now ruled out, he did find he could compete on level terms at golf.The film shows the very determined spirit of Bader as he struggles to come to terms with his appalling injuries and after many falls, his success in being able to literally stand on his own two (though artificial) feet.

Ominously a news stand proclaims, "Hitler succeeds Hindenberg".That was 1933.The action moves forward to 1940 and as Britain had been at war with Germany since September 1939, it was looking for trained RAF pilots.Bader once again applies and passes his flying test but there still are, "Kings Regulations", to overcome.Bader confronts the medical officer with irrefutable logic and this time is accepted back into the officer fold.He is given a squadron of Canadian pilots (which includes the future famous group captain Turner, played by Lee Paterson) who are very dispirited because they have lost most of their uniforms and equipment in France after the hasty evacuation of the B.E.F. at Dunkirk in May 1940.To win their respect he gives a tour de force of his flying skill to prove that, although he has tin legs, this does not dim his fierce determination to succeed.His injuries have also instilled into him a combative approach and fierce loyalty and friendship to his men which is soon reciprocated by them.However, there are apparantly no spares to make the Hawker Hurricanes serviceable and as we all know, forms have to be completed in triplicate!."What seems to be the problem" asks Bader to his chief mechanic."The channels appear to be blocked" is the reply."Well we shall ruddy well have to unblock them" Bader says uncompromisingly and he then goes over the head of the pettifogging quartermaster by telling Group that his squadron is not operational without parts and spares.How the viewer will applaud this slayer of bureaucrats!Eventually the spares arrive and Bader is then able to report to Group that his squadron is finally operational.

The film artfully splices actual RAF WWII combat footage in this B&W film and shows the success Bader's new approach to the old idea of formation flying had with the top brass.Eventually Bader becomes Wing Commander of "The Duxford Wing".Early in the war Bader's luck runs out and he is shot down over France.The Germans even ask the RAF to drop a spare artificial leg down, as he left the other jammed in the cockpit when he baled out.He fails to escape and is made a P.O.W.Mocking the Germans (or "Goon Baiting") got him into trouble and he is moved from camp to camp , eventually ending up at the notorious Colditz Castle where he ends the war.After the German surrender in May 1945 he reminds Thelma there is still the war against Japan to be waged.

This film depicts the public school ethos of officers in the RAF very well with the usual British phlegm, reserve and applomb shown in British war movies of the 1950's.Every actor is very convincing in his part and I always enjoy acted real life docu-dramas - so much more convincing than mere fiction.I hope readers of this review who are like-minded, will similarly enjoy viewing this great WWII movie.

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English | French | German

Release Date:

27 July 1956 (Ireland) See more »

Also Known As:

Reach for the Sky See more »


Box Office


GBP380,000 (estimated)
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Company Credits

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Technical Specs


| (TCM Print)

Sound Mix:

Mono (Westrex Recording System)


Black and White (archive footage)| Black and White

Aspect Ratio:

1.85 : 1
See full technical specs »

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