Skip to main content

The trouble with these international affairs is they attract foreigners.


Those Magnificent Men in Their Flying Machines 
or How I Flew from London to Paris in 25 hours 11 minutes
(1965)

Ken Anakin’s jocular air race movie falls into the minor subgenre of “epic” comedies that were being produced during this period, the best other example of which is probably It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad, World. Like that film, Magnificent Men suffers from equating bigger spectacle and longer duration with amusing content. And, like that film, it offers one consistent saving grace in the form of caddish rotter Terry-Thomas.

Magnificent Men comes in at nearly 2 hours 20 minutes, but it feels longer. The premise of a London to Paris air race featuring planes form the early days of manned flight (it is set in 1910) is loose and broad enough to unfurl a canvas hosting a whole raft of entrants and potential objects of humour. Much of the material riffs on national stereotypes, but the success of the gags (of very variable quality to begin with) is dependent on the comic abilities of the cast. Too many of the performers here just aren’t especially funny, and too many of the sequences are repetitive variations on a silly looking plane developing a fault, crashing, and the pilot ending up covered in sewage. I’m not levelling that charge in a high-minded way, but Annakin is so laborious and indulgent with his aviation fancy that he just lets scenes go on and on and on.

The “lead” characters turn out to be Stuart Whitman’s Yank, Orvil Newton (no doubt referencing the Wright brothers and Isaac), and Sarah Miles’ flying-mad Patricia Rawnsley. It’s her father, Lord Rawnsley (Robert Morley doing exactly what Robert Morley always does) who is organising the race. She’s engaged to James Fox’s chinless toff Richard Mays, also an entrant. Then there’s T-T’s absolute stinker Sir Percy Ware-Armitage, Jean-Pierre Cassel’s sex-mad Pierre Dubois (he’s French, you see), Alberto Sordi’s virile Count Emilio Ponticelli (he’s Italian, you see) and Gert Fröbe’s highly-regimented Colonel Manfred Von Holstein (he’s German, you know). A dubbed Yujiro Ishihara makes a brief appearance as the Japanese contestant.

As with the loose sequel, the vastly superior Monte Carlo or Bust, the producers appear to think that a noble and heroic American character is necessary to ensure success across the Pond. Unfortunately, this means there is very little taking the piss out of our cousins; Tony Curtis fares much better in Monte Carlo as he’s a natural comedian, but Whitman is a bafflingly-cast charisma vacuum. His most memorable qualities are his jug lugs and what appears to be a padded shirt (no doubt to make him look extra-manly). Orvil’s budding romance with Patricia is tediously chemistry-free (Miles and Whitman reportedly hated each other), and the result is a film crippled from the off by its misplaced “star” casting. It doesn’t help that Ron Goodwin accompanies Orvil’s every scene with an irritating “Born under a Wanderin’ Star”, hokey, good ol’ cowboy theme.

Sordi and Cassel are unable to make much out of their upbeat Europeans, although the former does have a nice little scene with some nuns who are reluctant to aid him in getting back into the race until they learn a Protestant might win. Meanwhile Fox studiously essays his courteous upper class chap (in other words, he’s not very funny). Miles is okay, but she doesn’t look her best hidden under layers of make-up.

So it’s left to a couple of pros to milk the laughs for all they’re worth. Terry-Thomas delights in being a frightfully awful bounder, plotting sabotage at every turn and surreptitiously making the channel crossing by boat (with his plane aboard). He’s aided and abetted by Eric Sykes as his only-so-loyal servant Courtney; the duo have a magnificent rapport, with the beleaguered Sykes ever more repelled by his master’s machinations. They’re as much, if not even more, fun in Monte Carlo or Bust. Gert Fröbe, who would also return to greater effect in Monte Carlo, is very nearly as good.  His pompous belief that there is nothing a German officer cannot do, and strict adherence to the instruction manual (“Step one: sit down”), confirm that some nations are more dependable than others in eliciting an easy laugh.

The film is sprinkled with recognisable comedy actors, including Benny Hill, Tony Hancock, Willie Rushton and John Le Mesurier (as a French artist!) There are also some curious running jokes that don’t work, such as Irinia Demick appearing in six different roles as the object of Cassel’s lust.

Ultimately Annakin goes wrong by assuming his audience will be as enraptured by this odd assortment of flying vehicles as he is. Additionally, he takes an age to actually get the race started (it seems like a good hour). But, the theme song is as irresistibly catchy as ever, and Ronald Searle’s titles set the tone perfectly. And, the success of Magnificent Men paved the way for Monte Carlo or Bust four years later. Contrary to received opinion, it is far more than a just so-so auto-fixated cash-in and improves on its predecessor in almost every respect.

***


Comments

Popular posts from this blog

He’s probably paranoid, high-strung, doesn’t like daylight. You know, has a lot of crumbs in his beard, if he has a beard.

Godzilla vs. Kong (2021) (SPOILERS) I’d like to report I had a blast with Godzilla vs. Kong . It’s lighter on its oversized, city-stomping feet than its slog of a MonsterVerse predecessor, Godzilla: King of the Monsters , and there are flashes of visual inspiration along with several engaging core ideas (which, to be fair, the series had already laid the seeds for). But this sequel still stumbles in its chief task: assembling an engaging, lively story that successfully integrates both tiny humans and towering titans.

It's Dark Age, by Jupiter!

The Dig (2021) (SPOILERS) An account of the greatest archaeological find Britain would know until Professor Horner opened the barrow at Devil’s End. And should you scoff at such “ fiction ”, that’s nothing on this adaptation of John Preston’s 2007 novel concerning the Sutton Hoo excavations of the late 1930s. The Dig , as is the onus of any compelling fictional account, takes liberties with the source material, but the erring from the straight and narrow in this case is less an issue than the shift in focus from characters and elements successfully established during the first hour.

You stink, my friend.

Mulan (2020) (SPOILERS) Let that be a lesson to Disney. It’s a fool’s errand to try and beat the Chinese at their own game, no matter how painstakingly respectful – or rather, pandering – you are. Indeed, Mulan ’s abysmal $40m box office take in the country – where it did get a proper release, so no plandemic excuses can be cited – feels like a direct rebuke; don’t try and tell us how to suck eggs. There’s an additional explanation too, of course. That Mulan sucks.

Our "Bullshit!" team has unearthed spectacular new evidence, which suggests, that Jack the Ripper was, in fact, the Loch Ness Monster.

Amazon Women on the Moon (1987) Cheeseburger Film Sandwich . Apparently, that’s what the French call Amazon Women on the Moon . Except that it probably sounds a little more elegant, since they’d be saying it in French (I hope so, anyway). Given the title, it should be no surprise that it is regarded as a sequel to Kentucky Fried Movie . Which, in some respects, it is. John Landis originally planned to direct the whole of Amazon Women himself, but brought in other directors due to scheduling issues. The finished film is as much of a mess as Kentucky Fried Movie , arrayed with more miss sketches than hit ones, although it’s decidedly less crude and haphazard than the earlier picture. Some have attempted to reclaim Amazon Women as a dazzling satire on TV’s takeover of our lives, but that’s stretching it. There is a fair bit of satire in there, but the filmmakers were just trying to be funny; there’s no polemic or express commentary. But even on such moderate t

Roswell was a smokescreen, we've had a half a dozen better salvage operations.

The X-Files 1.24: The Erlenmeyer Flask The Erlenmeyer Flask makes for a fast-paced, tense and eventful ride, but does it make any sense? That less than mattered at the time, but revisiting the mythology arc (for probably the fourth or fifth time) reveals increasingly tenuous internal coherence as the various conspiracy elements begin to pile up and the situations become ever-more convoluted. This will become the Chris Carter’s signature: don’t examine the details too closely, go with the flow. Trust Chris implicitly.

UFO IN MOSSINGHAM?

A Shaun the Sheep Movie: Farmageddon (2020) (SPOILERS) One might reasonably suggest the recourse of the ailing or desperate franchise is to resort, seemingly out of nowhere, to space aliens. Even Police Academy didn’t go that far (to Moscow, yes, but not to space). Perhaps animators think kids have no skills of discernment and will swallow any old sugar-coated crap. Perhaps they don’t, and they will. Ice Age had been enjoying absurd success until Collision Course sent Scrat spinning into the cosmos and grosses tumbled. Shaun the Sheep has been around for a quarter of a century, but this is only his second movie outing and already he’s pulling an E.T. on us. Of course, this may all be part of the grand scheme, and Nick Park is simply doing his bit to familiarise the tots in time for Project Blue Beam.

Wow. Asteroids are made of farts. Okay. I got it.

Greenland (2020) (SPOILERS) Global terror porn for overpopulation adherents as Gerard Butler and his family do their darnedest to reach the safety of a bunker in the titular country in the face of an imminent comet impact. Basically, what if 2012 were played straight? These things come to test cinemas in cycles, of course. Sean Connery struggled with a duff rug and a stack of mud in Meteor , while Deep Impact plumbed for another dread comet and Armageddon an asteroid. The former, owing to the combined forces of Bruce Joel Rubin and Michael Tolkin, was a – relatively – more meditative fare. The latter was directed by Michael Bay. And then there’s Roland Emmerich, who having hoisted a big freeze on us in The Day After Tomorrow then wreaked a relatively original source of devastation in the form of 2012 ’s overheating Earth’s core. Greenland , meanwhile, is pretty much what you’d expect from the director of Angel Has Fallen .

Careful how much boat you’re eating.

Onward (2020) (SPOILERS) Pixar’s Bright , or thereabouts. The interesting thing – perhaps the only interesting thing – about Onward is that it’s almost indiscernible from a DreamWorks Animation effort, where once they cocked a snook at such cheap-seats fare, seeing themselves as better class of animation house altogether. Just about everything in Onward is shamelessly derivative, from the Harry Potter /fantasy genre cash-in to the use of the standard Pixar formula whereby any scenario remotely eccentric or exotic is buried beneath the banal signifiers of modern society: because anything you can imagine must be dragged down to tangible everyday reference points or kids won’t be able to assimilate it. And then there’s the choice of lead voices, in-Disney star-slaves Chris Pratt and Tom Holland.

By heaven, I’d thrash the life out of you… if I didn’t have to read the Nine O’Clock News.

The Green Man (1956) (SPOILERS) The Green movie from Launder and Gilliat starring Alastair Sim that isn’t Green for Danger. Which is to say, The Green Man can’t quite scale the heady heights of that decade-earlier murder mystery triumph, but neither is it any slouch. Sim is the antagonist this time – albeit a very affable, Sim-ish one – and his sometime protégée, a young George Cole, the hero. If the plot is entirely absurd, Robert Day’s movie wastes no time probing such insufficiencies, ensuring it is very funny, lively and beautifully performed.

Well, I’ll be damned. It’s the gentleman guppy.

Waterworld (1995) (SPOILERS) The production and budgetary woes of “ Kevin’s Gate ” will forever overshadow the movie’s content (and while it may have been the most expensive movie ever to that point – adjusted for inflation, it seems only Cleopatra came close – it has since turned a profit). However, should you somehow manage to avoid the distraction of those legendary problems, the real qualitative concerns are sure to come sailing over the cognitive horizon eventually; Waterworld is just so damned derivative. It’s a seafaring Mad Max. Peter Rader, who first came up with the idea in 1986, admitted as much. David Twohy, who later came aboard, also cited Mad Max 2 ; that kind of rip-off aspect – Jaws birthing Piranha – makes it unsurprising Waterworld was once under consideration by Roger Corman (he couldn’t cost it cheaply enough). Ultimately, there’s never a sufficient sense the movie has managed to become its own thing. Which is a bummer, because it’s frequently quite good fun.