After the tremendous success of It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World, farcical comedy epics became the rage for a time. In fact, two studios – Warner Bros. and 20th Century Fox – presented their own epic farces in 1965: Blake Edwards’ The Great Race and Ken Annakin’s Those Magnificent Men in Their Flying Machines. Much to the surprise of Hollywood, it was the latter film that garnered the greatest critical acclaim and a vast majority of the substantial box-office. Seen in retrospect, both films are tremendous fun and have stood the test of time. With its international cast of characters and a wonderful mix of droll wit and outright slapstick, Those Magnificent Men in Their Flying Machines plays now as freshly as it did at the time of its premiere.
Those Magnificent Men in Their Flying Machines (Blu-ray)
Directed by Ken Annakin
Studio: Twilight Time (Fox)
Aspect Ratio: 2.20:1 1080p AVC codec
Running Time: 138 minutes
Audio: DTS-HD Master Audio 5.0 English
MSRP: $ 29.95
Release Date: July 10, 2012
Review Date: July 9, 2012
Wishing England to rule the skies as well as the seas, British publishing entrepreneur Lord Rawnsley (Robert Morley) sponsors an airplane race from London to Paris between the greatest aviators in the world in 1910. With his daughter’s (Sarah Miles) intended Richard Mays (James Fox) representing England, Rawnsley receives bids from French pilot Pierre Dubois (Jean-Pierre Cassel), American barnstormer Orvil Newton (Stuart Whitman), Italy’s accident-prone Count Emilio Ponticelli (Alberto Sordi), Germany’s autocratic Colonel Manfred Von Holstein (Gert Frobe), Japanese flying ace Yamamoto (Yujiro Ishihara), and the dastardly Sir Percy Ware-Armitage (Terry-Thomas), among others. While the pilots try out their machines and get the lay of the land they’ll be flying, Newton begins to fall for Lord Rawnsley’s daughter and makes him even angrier when he takes her up in his plane for a spin around the airfield. But winning the contest is foremost in everyone’s mind, and Sir Percy and his henchman/valet Courtney (Eric Sykes) are working overtime to sabotage as many planes and as many pilots as they can.
Director Ken Annakin and his co-writer Jack Davies have set up several running gags in the movie which give the audience a continuous series of moments to anticipate. Sir Percy’s sabotages, of course, are the most obvious, but the French play a series of jokes on the humorless, martinet Germans (one entire sequence set on the beaches at Dover seems there mainly to spring another big trick on Colonel Von Holstein), a series of women (all played by actress Irina Demick) keep bumping into the female-obsessed Pierre Dubois throughout the movie, and klutzy pilot Count Ponticelli keeps wrecking planes and being given new, more outrageously designed ones as replacements. The love triangle between Orvil, Patricia, and Richard was pushed into the forefront by Fox studio chief Darryl Zanuck, but it’s fairly tiresome and in the finished film not really developed enough to warrant the time spent on it at the expense of more slapstick antics. The movie technicians have done real magic in making us believe these slapdash planes have the makings of racing craft (and all before the CGI era making what we see even more remarkable), and the flying scenes, either the real ones or the mock-ups done against blue screen, are fascinating to behold. Annakin offers up some truly lyrical scenes with the crafts in the air after taking off at the beginning of the race (which doesn't happen until 100 minutes have passed), and the stunt work involved in the many crashes and mishaps is laudatory to say the least.
Terry-Thomas and Eric Sykes have a wonderful master-servant rapport throughout the picture that makes their every appearance welcome (Sykes is especially good possibly because he was the lesser known of the two in America at the time of the film’s release; Thomas had played similar charlatans in a slew of films). Stuart Whitman brings a down home simplicity to his western aviator and exudes a very warm presence. Robert Morley does his usual blustery Britisher to good effect, and Sarah Miles plays the comedy with assurance (including two situations where her skirt gets pulled off) and a good sense of fun. Gert Frobe gets a lot of mileage out of his one-note stereotypical German making him one of the film’s greatest assets. Jean-Pierre Cassel plays the same amorous Frenchman he essayed in many movies during this period. Red Skeleton begins and ends the movie in a series of slapstick stunts blending new footage with old newsreels of early attempts at aviation, and look quickly to see Benny Hill and Flora Robson make fleeting appearances (she’s only in one scene as a nun; Hill at least gets a series of running gags as the head of the field’s fire brigade).
The film’s theatrical 2.20:1 Todd-AO aspect ratio is presented in 1080p using the AVC codec. Despite its age, the picture is a joy to behold with expert sharpness, and color so rich and deep that it continually impresses and never comes close to bleeding reds or overemphatic greens or blues. Fleshtones are natural throughout, and everything about the transfer is first-rate. The film has been divided into 12 chapters.
The DTS-HD Master Audio 5.0 sound mix offers a sophisticated sound design that may surprise some viewers with its power. Though much more is done with Ron Goodwin’s whimsical and richly satisfying background score across the front three channels than with the rear soundstage, there is some use of the rears for music and also for ambient sounds on occasion. Dialogue is beautifully represented and has been placed in the center channel.
The audio commentary is provided by director Ken Annakin. Though he doesn’t talk quite continually, he certainly fills most of the running time with lots of interesting memories and opinions about the film and its making. Fans who haven’t heard this commentary before will certainly want to give it a listen.
Ron Goodwin’s precocious music score is offered in an isolated track and is presented in DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 stereo.
The film’s teaser trailer runs 1 minute while the theatrical trailer runs 3 minutes. Two TV spot ads run ¼-minute and 1 minute respectively.
The enclosed six-page booklet contains a rich selection of stills, the film’s poster art on the back cover, and film historian Julie Kirgo’s lovely rhapsody on the film’s pleasures and treasures.
4/5 (not an average)
Those Magnificent Men in Their Flying Machines is serious fun for all concerned. The near reference video and audio will likely thrill the viewer, and the bonuses here are all worthwhile. Only 3,000 copies of this marvelous comedy classic are available, and those interested in experiencing this hilarious romp should hop to www.screenarchives.com to see if copies are still available. They're also available via Facebook at www.facebook.com/twilighttimemovies .