Those Magnificent Men in their Flying Machines Or: How I flew from London to Paris in 25 Hours and 11 Minutes

Because I like random films as much as like random books, I have decided to branch out and include ramblings about films, too. Once in a while anyway. First up: Those Magnificent Men.

From the first few notes of the catchy theme tune the film hooks in the viewer – warning: you will probably find yourself humming the tune for the next few days. Filmed in the 1960s, the comedy is set in the early days of aviation, at the beginning of the 20th century. However, another brief warning: If you are very concerned about political correctness, do not watch this film. The plot is based on all sorts of stereotypes and derives most of its comedy from them – apart from the occasional Laurel and Hardy moment, when one of the characters gets a pie in the face. In a nutshell, the only important thing for the plot is that a rich Englishman organises an air race in order to learn the tricks of the trade from other countries whilst showing that, really, the English are best at everything. There is a romantic sub-plot which is a little annoying and pointless and which will be discussed later on.

So! The cast of characters

The Good Englishman: A young aristocrat with a stick so far up his backside that he forgets to ask his lady-love to marry him because he is too busy wooing the father, the sort-of protagonist turns out to be a fairly decent chap after all.

The Bad Englishman: The Good Englishman’s rival in love (well he likes to think so anyway), the Bad Englishman is determined to win the race in any way possible – entrusting his sidekick to help him sabotage the other participants. Complete with sinister moustache and ever-present eccentric head-gear, the scheming Bad Aristocrat gets his comeuppance when his plane… well. I won’t spoil that moment for you but it is absolutely hilarious.

The Frenchman: He makes love (sometimes metaphorically, sometimes literally) to a different girl in every place he goes to but because all the different girls are played by the same actress, the effect is hilarity rather than creepiness.

The Italian: Permanently surrounded by his wife and all his bambini, the Italian is supposedly a great pilot. He does, however, have a very long stroke of bad luck with the planes he flies and constantly promises his wife that this flight will be the last one. There is a very amusing episode when he crash-lands in a convent and convinces the nuns to help him so that he, a good Catholic, might beat those Protestants!

The Japanese: Doesn’t appear much, but flies very well when he does. Is apparently such a threat to English supremacy that he is sabotaged before the race even starts. Disappears after that.

The German: Ah the wonderful Gert Froebe, whom most people will probably know as that bad guy from Goldfinger, is absolutely brilliant as the correct German officer. He insists that Germans can do ‘anysink’ because all they need to do is follow the rulebook but his, ahem, ‘German-ness’ gets him into more than one fight with other nations. Especially the French.

The American: I think this character is intended to be the ultimate good guy but I’m not entirely sure. There is a bit where he and his friend are driving through some desert somewhere in Arizona or something and, of course, he is a young fellow looking to find his fortune, but other than that there seems a lot less comic potential in him than in the other characters. A bit weak.

The Lady: A young aristocratic woman, the daughter of the race’s sponsor, is sort-of in love with the Good Englishman, but more in love with flying and engines. At the beginning of the film she is great – a feisty suffragette who is a genius at engineering. However, once the men and their flying machines take centre stage she becomes nothing more than the sighing lady on the sidelines which is such a pity.

 

The romantic sub-plot involving the Lady, the Good Englishman and the American is a little silly, mainly because it’s obvious who she will choose and because it detracts from a really well conceived character and a fun, energetic plot. We don’t need long sighing speeches when there is a race with rickety planes and mad pilots to watch! And I think the race would have been even better if the Lady had ended up taking part.