Those Magnificent Men in their Flying Machines, or: How I Flew from London to Paris in 25 Hours and 11 Minutes" is a film tribute, in the form of a comic valentine, to those daring men the world over who, at the beginning of the century, took to the air in the first outlandish flying machines. The production, in Todd-AO and CinemaScope and DeLuxe Color releases on Blu-ray from Twilight Time.
The film is set in an exciting and colorful era which was faithfully recreated through the skill of production designer Tom Morahan and the costumes of artist-designer Osbert Lancaster. Sharing top-billing with the film's stars, in a sense, are the planes themselves. Exactingly duplicated to the most minute detail are such antique aircraft oddities as the Demoiselle, Antoinette, Bristol Box-Kite, Avro Triplane, Eardley-Billings biplane and a Bleriot of the type which was the first plane to fly the English Channel. There are more of equally strange name and design, and they were all captured by the pen of Ronald Searle, the famous cartoonist who created titles for Those Magnificent Men in their Flying Machines.
Each of the six planes which did most of the flying had two stand-ins: one to use in case of mishaps, and another specially constructed so that it could be taken apart to facilitate close-up filming. None of the pilots who flew these ancient aircrafts had stand-ins, and fortunately, none were needed. Most extensive of the many film sets was the Brookley Aerodrome, a mammoth setting covering approximately 80 acres. It was patterned after Brooklands, the aerodrome which previously was the hub of experimental aviation in England. Nestled in England's lush Buckinghamshire countryside, the setting was actually an abandoned RAF base. Other filming locations included High Wycombe, Buckinghamshire, Iver Heath, Buckinghamshire, Kent and the Pinewood Studios in England.
A rare collectible model from the film has sold for hundreds of dollars on Ebay uponened.
Most extensive film set for Those Magnificent Men in their Flying Machines is the film's Brookley Aerodrome, where the pilots gather for the big London to Paris Air Race and from where the event starts. The mammoth setting, in many aspects, is a reproduction of the famous Brooklands, which, in 1910, was an aerodrome inside an auto racing track within easy reach of London. This was the hub of flying and experimental aviation in England and it figures prominently in Great Britain's aeronautical history. Twentieth Century-Fox was fortunate in finding an ideal site at Booker Air Field near High Wycombe in England's lush Buckinghamshire countryside. Booker Air Field is so situated that the required scenes for the picture could be photographed from the air in almost any direction without exposing TV aerials, electric wires, paved roads, modern homes or any detail inconsistent with the 1910 period of the story. And the antique planes could fly in and out without interfering with present day commercial air routes.
Original Cinemascope advertisement
The mammoth setting covered approximately 80 acres. In addition to the banked auto racing strip circling one end, there were such other features of the famous Brooklands as the adjacent sewage farm, into which even the best pilots sometimes landed, and an unused windmill from the top of which the fire chief kept constant surveillance of the aerial activity with his telescope so he could dispatch a rescue squad when nedeed. Also built were the cafe where the pilots and crews gathered during their leisure time, spectator stands and some two-dozen hangars with signs bearing such pioneer names in aviation as A. V. Roe, Sop with and Bristol Aeroplane.
Although Those Magnificent Men in their Flying Machines is a comedy, this setting, like all others in the film, was created to achieve an authentic background and almost every incident is based on an actual occurrence that took place during the early days of flying. The characters, however, are fictitious and although the story is told to ensure the maximum amount of fun and entertainment, it does not lessen respect for the pioneers of aviation.
Magnificent Moment In Air History
The International Air Race across the English Channel from Dover to Calais shown in Those Magnificent Men in their Flying Machines is fictional, but flying records show that such an event did take place in the 1910 period of this adventure-comedy of pioneering aviation. What's more, Louis Bleriot, in making the first cross-Channel flight in 1909 had landed on the very spot where the race was filmed exactly 55 years to the month afterwards. In 1909 powered aviation came of age. The aeroplane became technically mature and established in the public's mind. By being the first to fly the Channel, Louis Bleriot won the London Daily Mail prize of 1,000 pounds.
Official observers recorded the fact that Bleriot, feeling none too fit after a recent accident, took off from Les Baraques (near Calais) at 4:41 a.m. on the morning of July 25, 1909, and landed at 5:17 a.m. on July 26 after a devious and perilous flight of about 2SV2 miles in his frail craft. He flew a Bleriot No. XI, one of the two classic types of monoplanes of the period, with a 3 cylinder, 25 h.p. Anzani motor.
The resounding fame which attended Bleriot's flight had an immediate and lasting effect on the embryo aviation industry, and Bleriot's Type XI — in various modifications — became known the world over and remained in service until World War I. A duplicate of this model is one of the planes which participates in the Air Race in the film. The first Channel crossing with a passenger, incidentally, was made in a two-seater Bleriot from Calais to Dover by the Franco-American, J. B. Moisant, on August 17, 1910. Long distance flying came into its own when Pierre Prier flew non-stop from London (Hendon) to Paris (Issy) in a Bleriot on April 12, 1911. He flew the distance of 250 miles just under four hours. The first cross-Channel flight by a woman, the American Harriet Quimby in a Bleriot, was accomplished in April 1912, from Deal to Cape Gris-Nez.
Todd-AO, a wide-angle deep-screen motion picture process, was the new name in the industry and it brought new sight and new sound experiences to moviegoers. It had been designed and developed to be an industry-wide system. Pictures in this process were photographed in (65/70mm) film.
The outstanding feature of the many that distinguished Todd-AO's sight and sound was the sense of participation, the feeling of emotional and physical participation that audiences felt because Todd-AO enabled them to be part of what they would see and hear. They reacted to emotional scenes as if the actors were actually there in the theater and they became are part of the action that takes place, reacting physically as if they were part of that action. This reality was achieved by the unique design of the camera lenses, projector lenses and the deep curve of the screen; all designed to fit, one with the other, with the precision of a scientific instrument. By means of a special printing process, the distortions caused by high- angle projection onto deeply curved screens from the regular booths of theaters were eliminated. This was never done before and it is what makes regular projection on a deep-screen possible and it was felt the deep screen was necessary to create reality. Todd-AO was a system for every theater, large or small. If one were to walk to every corner of the theater, according to Michael Todd, one would see that it was a system for every seating, promoting that was not true of any other method of projecting moving pictures, including standard film projection. Those Magnificent Men in their Flying Machines was actually filmed in the Todd-AO process.
Magnificent Flying Machines of 1910
The aircraft re-created for Those Magnificent Men in their Flying Machines were authentic reproductions of 1910 originals. The whimsically designed aeroplanes were shown for the first time on the screen in this film which has, as its highpoint, an International Air Race across the English Channel from London to Paris. They were constructed from original drawings dug out of air archives in London and Paris. To insure their authenticity, Elmo Williams, head of European production for 20th-Fox, called in, as aeronautical adviser, Air Commodore Allen Wheeler, a trustee of the Shuttle-worth Collection at Biggleswade and a war-time pilot. In one detail, the reproductions do vary from the originals. Because there wasn't a motor manufacturer in the world who could find the jigs and machines to turn out exact duplicates of the 54-year-old engines, the small planes are powered by Volkswagon engines, the larger by Rolls Royce motors. They actually were no more powerful than the hand-made motors of the early models, but undoubtedly they were more dependable.
Magazine coverage during the initial release.
Producer Stan Margulies and director Ken Annakin carefuly provided not one, but two stand-ins for each of the planes in the film which are actually flown. Stand-in No. 1 remained ready to avoid production delay in case anything happened to its "star" counterpart. Stand-in No. 2 was especially constructed so that it could be pulled apart in sections to facilitate close-up filming. The 1910-vintage aeroplane could not get off the ground, with any degree of safety, in anything stronger than a 10-15 mile-per-hour breeze and the situation gave birth to a new cry from Assistant Director Clive Reed, when he frequently kidded the company by shouting: "Ready! Quiet! Roll 'em! HOLD BREATHING! Action" Two of the planes used can still be seen in the "Shuttleworth Collection" based at Old Warden, Bedfordshire. The Passat Ornithopter airplane in this movie was given to Cole Palen for promoting the picture. It can now be seen at the Old Rhinebeck Areodrome.
Original poster from Hungary
The Language Barrier Is Crashed While Making 'Magnificent Men
With a different language heard wherever he turned, director Ken Annakin often had the feeling of presiding over a United Nations meeting as he directed Those Magnificent Men in their Flying Machines. Annakin who had deliberately chosen his cast to give authentic flavor to the story seriously thought of taking a few crash courses in languages, until two of his stars, Italy's Alberto Sordi and France's Jean-Pierre Cassel, led the way out of the ensuing Tower of Babel. When Sordi arrived in England to star in the film, he brought with him one housekeeper and one interpreter. Both highly necessary, he explained, to help him deal with the difficulties of English cooking and the difficulties of the English language. But, as his housekepper had to learn English in order to bargain properly in the shops (as would any self-respecting Italian), Sordi determined he would not be outdone.
A rare look at an original press plate. These were used at the printers (sometimes the studio) to press the advertisements that were sent to the theaters.
Dispensing with his interpreter, he could be seen studying industriously in a corner of the set, or talking with a slightly glazed look to such masters of the English language as Terry-Thomas or Robert Morley. Just to confuse him further, Stuart Whitman would correct him in his friendly Californian drawl. Yet by the end of the film, some five months later, he was conducting interviews entirely in English. "One more film in English and I will speak molto bene" remarked Sordi. Jean-Pierre Cassel, the young Parisian who plays the French aviator had to be very persistent about his "no French please" rule. This was his first film outside France, where he was something of a matinee idol, and he had every intention of seizing the opportunity to learn English "as she is spoken." But there were far too many people willing to try out their broken-down French on him. He even refused to speak French to co-star and co-Parisian Irina Demick, telling her sternly that she must also practice *ze Eenglish.'
Special edition comic book
He was so quick to learn that British comedian Davy Kaye, who plays his French mechanic in the film, swore that "everybody is going to think Jean-Pierre is English and I am French." Doubtless a slight exaggeration, since Jean-Pierre had a charming Gallic accent, even though his English was fluent. Director Ken Annakin heartily endorsed both accent and English. "The French and Italian accents of Jean-Pierre and Alberto are part of the flavor of 'Those Magnificent Men,'" he said. "But at the same time it does help when they know what I'm talking about. It's a curious fact that we English expect everyone else to learn our language, while the Continentals have quite the opposite attitude. That's why they're so good at learning. We're the lazy lot."
The final climactic scene is well known to fans of the film and certainly worthy of viewing, completely filmed in Todd-AO by Christopher Challis. More than 2,000 costumed extras were used for the finale. A flying rig that was constructed for "Strategic Air Command" was used during filming. It allowed actors to sit inside full-scale models suspended 50 ft above the ground, yet provide safety and realism for staged flying sequences.
The World of the Fearless Birdmen
If there had been a revival of discussions about Unidentified Flying Objects in the air over Dover, England, it was no doubt due to the filming of flying sequences there for Those Magnificent Men in their Flying Machines. The antique aircraft re-created for the film bore little resemblance to present-day conceptions of what early airplane design looked like, since that has strongly been influenced by the planes flown during the World War I era. Set in 1910, the film pre-dates that period by only about four years. But for the difference in design, it might well be four decades, so quickly did air travel develop since the days those intrepid birdmen pioneered the skies. It must also be remembered that the early planes were all custom built, generally to the design of their inventor which was frequently whimsical, occasionally downright eccentric. The film is climaxed by an air race across the English Channel from London to Paris, pointing up the international rivalry for early air supremacy which existed at the time of the story.
Producer Stan Margulies.and director Ken Annakin founa, in this aspect of the story, an un-equalled opportunity to assemble a large cast of film stars from countries around the world. Annakin had long been considering a serious film on the early days of flying when he discovered writer Jack Davies was developing an original screenplay treating the comic aspects of the exploits of adventuring aviators in their bizarre flying machines. Most extensive of the many film sets for Those Magnificent Men in their Flying Machines was the film's Brookley Aerodrome, a mammoth setting covering approximately 80 acres.
It was patterned after Brooklands, the aerodrome which, a little more than half a century ago, was the hub of experimental aviation in England. One of the major difficulties was in finding a site at which scenes could be photographed from the air in almost an direction. Finally, Booker Air Field, in England's lush Buckinghamshire countryside, was found to meet the requirements. An RAF base during World War II, it was in current use as a glider training center, an operation which did not interfere with the filming. Although it is true that Those Magnificent Men in their Flying Machines is a comedy, it is also true that almost every incident is based on an actual occurrence that took place during the early days of flying. The story, told to ensure the maximum amount of fun and entertainment, is, nevertheless, most careful not to lessen respect for the pioneers of aviation.
Ever since Charlie Chaplin donned the little tramp outfit with which he was identified as a star, trademarks had been considered a distinct asset among film comedians. No comic actor subscribed to this theory more wholeheartedly than Terry-Thomas, one of the many international stars in the film.
Although Terry-Thomas is given to flamboyant waistcoats and an exaggerated cigarette holder, his most readily identifiable trademarks are the wide, natural gap between his front teeth and his bristling mustache.
As the villainous Sir Percy Ware-Armitage, the script called for Terry-Thomas to sport a handlebar moustache, something he could really get to twirling when he was up to no good. The actor,
expecting the make-up department to add an inch or two of false hair to his own effort was chagrined to learn that it is impossible to stick hair on hair. The famous Terry - Thomas mustache would have to be replaced, and in order for that to happen, the original had to go. Although the experience of being mustacheless proved traumatic, it was not without its beneficial side effects. Terry-Thomas went house-hunting with his wife sans moustache and got a decent price offer on a house they liked. "Without my mustache, they didn't know who I was from Adam," declared Terry-Thomas. "I'm sure the price would have rocketed had they recognized me."
Poster: Czeck Republic
Rarely can an actress, with many sides to her personality, reveal them all to advantage in a single film, but that is exactly what Irina Demick was been able to do in Those Magnificent Men in their Flying Machines In the film, Miss Demick portrays six different women, most distinct from one another in character despite the fact that they look alike. One of these characters is Brigitte, a French artist's model who poses au naturelle on an isolated beach near Dover. The script calls for Jean-Pierre Cassel, as a French pilot, to spot the bare-skinned beauty as he is flying his antique plane and to become so interested that he loses control and lands tail-up in a nearby sand dune.
Film-making is not without its unpredictable hazards, however. The buzzing plane attracted a swarm of curious spectators to the secret filming site. Police were finally dispatched to hold crowds back at a safe distance while all periscopes, ladders and high-jumpers were barred. With due consideration to Miss Demick's modesty and with the aid of strategically held bath towels, the scene was finally filmed. Fortunately, the characterizations of Ingrid, Marlene, Claudia, Yvette and Betty were not quite so troublesome, although each of the roles proved dramatically challenging.
Different versions of the brilliant score by Ron Goodman ending with an original studio music promotional advertisement.
Magnificent though he may have been, Robert Morley never left the ground in Those Magnificent Men in their Flying Machines. "Very good thing, too," Morley declared on the set in a press interview. "I'm not exactly a lightweight, you know, and these 1910 planes are rather flimsy. I might have cost the studio a lot of money if I'd gone through the seat. Those reproduction vintage planes cost a small fortune to build, I believe." Morley felt that he was well cast as Lord Rawnsley, the newspaper peer who instigates the first international air race, although he personally believes flying to be for the foolhardy.
"Of course," Morley added, "I'm generally so well cast that I'm often accused of playing Robert Morley all the time. Well, I don't mind, just so long as Robert Morley is interesting to the public." Off stage and screen, Morley was an acknowledged wit, but he insisted, never an unkind wit. "If I'm unkind, it's usually about myself," Morley avowed. He was fond of telling the anecdote about his first appearance on the London stage as a pirate in "Treasure Island." At an early rehearsal, the director exclaimed, "That fat boy quite spoils the picture. He's out!" "And I was," added Morley with a rueful smile. Robert Morley was very much "in" as he shared stellar honors in Those Magnificent Men in their Flying Machines with Stuart Whitman, Sarah Miles, James Fox, Alberto Sordi, Gert Frobe, Jean-Pierre Cassel, Eric Sykes, Terry-Thomas, Irina Demick, Benny Hill, Yujiro Ishihara (whose voice was dubbed by James Villiers), Flora Robson, Karl Michael Vogler, Sam Wanamaker, Red Skelton and Tony Hancock.
Original lobby cards
Most European stars who want to work in American or English films usually first become fairly proficient in the English language. Gert Frobe was an exception. Since he portrayed the sadistic Goldfinger in the film of that name, the German actor has been offered so many English-language films, he was receiving on-the-job training in the language and rapidly became fluent in it. Even so, Frobe relied on his expressive face to do the work where possible. Frobe snorts like a walrus instead of verbalizing his reaction in one of the comic scenes. Director Ken Annakin was so happy with the results, he declared, "That snort was more expressive than ten lines of dialogue." "And a lot easier," was Frobe's amiable reply.
Frobe was most happy with the opportunity afforded him in Those Magnificent Men in their Flying Machines to switch from the arch-villainy, with which his screen career had been associated, to high comedy in the role of a bumbling German cavalry officer who is forced by circumstances to pilot a plane in the first international London-to-Paris air race. Writer Jack Davies, who collaborated with Annakin on the script, took full advantage of their new comic find by giving him as many visual scenes as possible. "Who needs dialogue with that wonderful face?" says Davies.
Cast publicity shots: (top row) Yujiro Ishihara, J.P. Cassel (bottom row) James Fox, Alberto Sordi and Sarah Miles.
For many years, the comic genius of Red Skelton lit up television screens weekly in millions of homes across the nation. Now the size of the screen was a match for the massive talents of one of America's beloved funnyman. Skelton considered himself strictly a clown, and defined the term, by saying, "A clown is one who reenacts in a exaggerated way scenes which have taken place. They then become funny or sad, depending on their interpretation and the point of view of the audience." Skelton added, "Historically, people of all ages have loved clowns and laughed with them." Skelton's own career is clear proof of this last statement. He was in his 14th consecutive season as the star of a weekly television show — a record that no other personality had achieved on TV at the time; his appearance in Those Magnificent Men in their Flying Machines marked his 32nd starring role on the screen; and in the realm of personal appearances, he had played to audiences of more than 100,000 in a single day at State Fairs. He was, in addition, one of the highly paid stars to appear regularly at the Las Vegas nightclubs.
In his later years when reflecting back on this film, he told Esquire Magazine, "This was a real special time for me. I was amazed at the cameras, because they were using Todd-AO cameras, and the size of the screen had changed so much since the early days of film. If I was on the side, I knew I would always be in shot, where before with the square picture, I could pretty much figure on close-ups not having me in the field. At the premiere, it was such excitement to see the film on such a big screen, and oh the clarity of it all, this Todd-AO is an amazing process and I really hope to work with it again. What was unique to me was hearing my voice travel across the screen as I did. There were sounds everywhere. Truly, movies have changed for the better."
Times Square 1965. Notice the large signage for the film at the DeMille Theater.
"I'm going to see to it," said Stuart Whitman , "that my kids won't suffer more than is necessary due to my career. I don't want to return home after a long absence making a picture abroad and have them say: 'Who's this tired-looking bum that just walked in?'" Whitman had just completed filming in England on 20th Century-Fox's Those Magnificent Men in their Flying Machines. "I never failed to ring my youngsters at least once a week. Whitman added, "and at five dollars a minute, I will always look upon 'Those Magnificent Men in Their Flying Machines' as the picture which paid for my telephone calls."
Sarah Miles and Stuart Whitman pose for the Fox publicity cameras.
Possibly, Whitman's feelings on the subject of home life stemmed from the fact that his own parents were restless people and, as a consequence, he attended 26 schools in New York and California before they settled down in Los Angeles. For an actor who hated to travel, the tip-off on what his future was to be like occurred in one of Whitman's first professional appearances. It was a role in a tent show version of "Here Comes Mr. Jordan." Starting in Trenton, New Jersey, the show played 68 cities throughout the United States.
Fox trade ad for 1965. Three of these pictures are now available on Blu-ray disc.
Whitman himself was a fan of air travel and had a special interest. At home he collected hundreds of models of early airplanes and this was a hobby of his from childhood. "I was so happy when I won the role in the picture. I pretty much knew of every model that was being used, and I have to tell you, the production team did an excellent job of research, which I did help with a bit. What you see on the screen are nearly identical to what was actually used in the time period. This really is the first-of-its-kind film, and I've used up twenty rolls of film taking pictures on the set, which of course will go into my scrapbooks.
Alternate U.S. poster.
The Opening Credits
The opening credit sequence from the film is remembered well by fans. It was a unique opening. The work was done at the studio and drawn by Cartoonist Ronald Searle. Searle was born in Cambridge, England on March 3, 1920. He joined the British Army in April 1939, becoming part of the Royal Engineers. While in the army, he published the first St. Trinian's cartoon in Lilliput in 1941. He was transferred to Singapore in 1942 and became a Japanese prisoner when the country fell. He spent the next three years in various prisoner-of-war camps. The secret illustrations he did during that period are now part of the collection of the Imperial War Museum in London. They were also published in his 1986 book "Ronald Searle: To the Kwai and Back, War Drawings 1939-1945." After the war, Searle became a full-time professional cartoonist, producing work for such British magazines as Life and Punch, as well as the New Yorker.
Cartoonist Ronald Searle
He remains best known for St. Trinian's, a cartoon series about life at an upper-class British boarding school. Although Searle drew the first cartoon in 1941, he did not develop it fully until after returning from the war in 1946. The comics were full of mayhem and anarchy and featured unruly students and amoral teachers.The cartoons were turned into a popular series of four live-action British films made between 1954 and 1966. The series was rebooted in 2007 and featured Rupert Everett (in drag) and Colin Firth. Searle's antic cartoons--simple line drawings featuring slightly gothic looking characters with exaggerated bodies and faces--influenced a generation of cartoonists, including Ralph Steadman (Fear & Loathing in Las Vegas) and Matt Groening (Life in Hell). Disney imitated Searle's style in the 1961 animated classic 101 Dalmatians.
This page featuring Ronald Searle appeared in the Milwaukee Journal in 1965
John Lennon was also a fan, recalling in a 1968 interview that one of his early ambitions was to be an artist. "I started trying to draw like Ronald Searle when I was about eight. So there was Jabberwocky and Ronald Searle I was turning into by the time I was thirteen. You know, I was determined to be Lewis Carroll (giggles) with a hint of Ronald Searle." Searle was honored by America's National Cartoonist's Society six times, including as Cartoonist of the Year in 1960. In 2004, he was named a Commander of the British Empire (CBE) and received France's Chevalier de la Légion d'honneur in 2007 and the German Order of Merit in 2009. He died on December 30, 2011 in France at the age of 91.
Original artwork by Cartoonist Ronald Searle
Rare advertisement for the movie's reserved seat engagement.
Those Magnificent Men in their Flying Machines earned an incredible number of rave reviews from newspapers and magazines all over the world. Variety wrote "As fanciful and nostalgic a piece of clever picture-making as has hit the screen in recent years, this backward look into the pioneer days of aviation, when most planes were built with spit and bailing wire, is a warming entertainment experience." The New York Times reviewer Bosley Crowther called the film a "Large Canvas Comedy with good fun." The Chicago Tribune said, "On the big screen, the TODD-AO production is two hours worth of good quality entertainment."
Rare order form for the film's premiere from my collection.
The film opened in London, where it premiered on June 3, 1965, and in the United States on June 16, 1965. With a budget of $5.6 million, the film took in $29 million in worldwide theatrical rentals. Of course, the money was starting to pour into the Fox cash register from The Sound of Music, which premiered in March 1965. 70mm prints for roadshow used 6-trasck stereo while the Cinemascope version used 4-track stereo. The entire film was shot in Todd-AO with an aspect ratio of 2.20:1. Of course, 35mm prints used the 2.35:1 Cinemascope aspect ratio.
The film was one of only three films released in the 70mm format in 1965 from Fox. The transfer done for the Blu-ray was done in 2009 and was taken directly off of 65mm film. The original 65mm camera negative was used and made into a 65mm inter-positive. It was carefully scanned at 8k and then down to HD. The studio actually worked with Director Ken Annakin who assisted with the transfer. The sound elements used were the original 35mm 6-track mag masters mixed to a 5.1 mix for the video edition.
Montage of photos taken at the premiere
The film was nominated for an Oscar for Jack Davies and Ken Annakin for their story and screenplay written for the screen, was nominated for 3 BAFTA Awards, winning Best British Costume, and received 3 Golden Globe nominations including Best Motion Picture Musical or Comedy. It also came in 4th place for the year with the Laurel Awards. The film is still considered by many as "The" best early aviation films. The film marks its Blu-ray debut in a limited edition pressing of 3,000 copies from Twilight Time available through Screen Archives Entertainment.
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