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Those Magnificent Men
in Their Flying Machines,
Or How I Flew from London to Paris
in 25 Hours 11 Minutes

Theatrical poster
Directed by Ken Annakin
Produced by Stan Margulies
Written by Ken Annakin
Jack Davies
Starring Stuart Whitman
Sarah Miles
Robert Morley
James Fox
Music by Ron Goodwin
Cinematography Christopher Challis
Editing by Anne V. Coates
Distributed by 20th Century Fox
Release date(s) June 16, 1965 (US)
Running time 138 minutes
Country United Kingdom
Language English
Followed by Monte Carlo or Bust

Those Magnificent Men in their Flying Machines, Or How I Flew from London to Paris in 25 Hours 11 Minutes is a 1965 British comedy film directed by Ken Annakin. Based on a screenplay titled Flying Crazy, the story is set in 1910, when Lord Rawnsley, an English press magnate, offers £10,000 to the winner of the Daily Post air race from London to Paris, to prove Britain is "number one in the air".[1]



Director Ken Annakin had been interested in aviation from his early years when Sir Alan Cobham gave him a flight in a biplane. With co-writer Jack Davies, Annakin had been working on an adventure film about transatlantic flights when the producer's bankruptcy aborted the production. Fresh from his role as director of the British exterior segments in The Longest Day (1962), Annakin suggested an event from early aviation to Darryl F. Zanuck, his producer on The Longest Day.

Zanuck paid for an epic faithful to the era, deciding the name Those Magnificent Men in Their Flying Machines after Elmo Williams, managing director of 20th Century Fox in Europe, told him his wife had written an opening

Those magnificent men in their flying machines,
They go up diddley up-up, they go down diddley down-down!

for a song that Annakin complained would "seal the fate of the movie". However, after being put to music by Ron Goodwin, the Those Magnificent Men in their Flying Machines song went on to a life of its own, released in singles and on the soundtrack record.[2]

Annakin was born in 1914, just as the era of aviation depicted in this movie was ending, and though the movie is a farce, the behaviour of the various aviators depicts the tensions between the European countries prior to the First World War.

Music played an integral part in the film with the theme song later going on to "pop" fame.


The film opens with a brief, comic segment on the history of flight, narrated by James Robertson Justice and featuring American comedian Red Skelton depicting a recurring character whose adventures span the centuries, in a series of silent blackout vignettes that incorporate stock footage of unsuccessful attempts at early aircraft. This was Skelton's final feature film appearance; he was in Europe filming for the 1964-1965 season of his television series, The Red Skelton Show.

This is followed by a whimsical animated opening credit sequence drawn by caricaturist Ronald Searle, accompanied by the title song. A recurring "gag" suggested by Zanuck concerned his girlfriend, Irina Demick who played Brigitte (French), Marlene (German), Ingrid (Swedish), Françoise (Belgian), Yvette (Bulgarian) and Betty (British) as a lookalike flirt pursued by pilot Pierre Dubois, played by Jean-Pierre Cassel. The American lead, Stuart Whitman was selected over Dick Van Dyke, whose agents never contacted him about the offer, but most of the cast were British.[2]

Sarah Miles plays the daughter of Lord Rawnsley (Robert Morley), a newspaper magnate whose favourite to win is his daughter's fiancé, Richard Mays (James Fox), flying an Antoinette monoplane. Rawnsley sums up: "The trouble with these international affairs is they attract foreigners."[3] An international cast plays the array of contestants, most of whom live up to national stereotypes, including the by-the-book, monocle-wearing Prussian officer (Gert Fröbe) flying an Eardley-Billing biplane, impetuous Count Emilio Ponticelli (Alberto Sordi), an amorous Frenchman (Cassel) in a Santos-Dumont Demoiselle, the rugged American cowboy Orvil Newton (Stuart Whitman) flying a Bristol Boxkite (impersonating a Curtiss), who falls for Rawnsley's daughter Patricia, who was also Richard Mays' girlfriend, causing a love triangle.

The entertainment comes from the dialogue and characterizations and the aerial stunts, with heroism and gentlemanly conduct. Terry-Thomas plays the cheating Sir Percival Ware-Armitage, an Avro Triplane-flying rogue who "never leaves anything to chance". With his bullied servant Courtney (Eric Sykes), he sabotages other aircraft or drugs their pilots, getting his comeuppance . The race sets out with 14 competitors but one by one they drop out until, after stops at Dover and Calais, only a few land in Paris. Orvil Newton loses his chance to win when he stops to rescue Emilio Ponticelli from his burning aircraft. Richard Mays wins for Britain, but insists on a tie with Orvil Newton and sharing the prize with the now-bankrupt Newton. The final scene shows Orvil and Patricia kissing, then being interrupted by a strange noise. Those at the flying field look up to see a flight of jet fighters overhead, as the narrator notes that the jet can make the trip in minutes. But then the film shows a fogbound airport as a cancellation is announced. One frustrated passenger turns out to be Skelton, who starts wing-flapping motions with his arms.


Cast credits in order of screen credits include onscreen and uncredited roles:[4]

Actor Role
Stuart Whitman Orvil Newton
Sarah Miles Patricia Rawnsley
James Fox Richard Mays
Alberto Sordi Count Emilio Ponticelli
Robert Morley Lord Rawnsley
Gert Fröbe Colonel Manfred von Holstein
Jean-Pierre Cassel Pierre Dubois
Irina Demick Brigitte/Marlene/Ingrid/Françoise/Yvette/Betty
Eric Sykes Courtney
Red Skelton Neanderthal Man, Greek birdman, Middle Ages inventor, Victorian-era pilot, Modern airline passenger
Terry-Thomas Sir Percy Ware-Armitage
Benny Hill Fire Chief Perkins
Yujiro Ishihara Yamamoto (voice dubbed by James Villiers)
Dame Flora Robson Mother Superior
Karl Michael Vogler Captain Rumpelstoss
Sam Wanamaker George Gruber
Eric Barker French postman
Maurice Denham Trawler skipper
Fred Emney Colonel
Gordon Jackson MacDougal
Davy Kaye Jean, Pierre Dubois' Chief Mechanic
John Le Mesurier French painter
Jeremy Lloyd Lieutenant Parsons
Zena Marshall Countess Sophia Ponticelli
Millicent Martin Hostess
Eric Pohlmann Italian mayor
Cast notes
  • Character actor Michael Trubshawe ("Niven, Lord Rawnsley's aide") and David Niven served together in the Highland Light Infantry in the 1930s; they made it a point to refer to uncredited characters in their films as "Trubshawe" or "Niven" as an inside joke.


One of strengths was British and international character actors who enlivened each contestant's nationality's foibles. Benny Hill, Eric Sykes, Terry-Thomas and Tony Hancock provided madcap misadventures; Hancock had broken his leg prior to filming and Annakin wrote it into the story. The two lead actors, Stuart Whitman and Sarah Miles fell out early in the production. Director Ken Annakin commented that "she hated his guts," and rarely deigned to speak to him if it wasn't part of the script.[2] Annakin had to employ various manipulations in order to ensure the production proceeded smoothly despite his stars' animosity towards each other.[2]

Another aspect was the fluid writing and directing with Annakin and Davies feeding off each other. They had worked together on Very Important Person (1961), The Fast Lady (1962), and Crooks Anonymous (1962). Annakin and Davies continued to develop the script with zany interpretations. When the German character, Gert Fröbe, contemplates piloting his country's entry, he climbs into the cockpit and retrieves a manual. Annakin and Davies devised a quip on the spot, having him read out: "No. 1. Sit down." .[5]

Although a comedy, elements of Annakin's documentary background were evident with authentic sets, props and costumes. More than 2,000 extras out in authentic costumes were in the climactic race launch.


Location sets

The film used life-size working aeroplane models and replicas to create an early 20 century airfield, the Brookley Motor Racing Track (fashioned after Brooklands where early aviators staged test flights. All Brookley's associated trappings of structures, aircraft and vehicles (including a rare 1908 Rolls-Royce Silver Ghost estimated to be worth 50 million dollars [2]) were part of the Booker Airfield set, High Wycombe, Buckinghamshire, England. The completed set featured a windmill as a lookout tower as well as serving as a restaurant (the "Old Mill Cafe"). Hangars were constructed in rows, bearing the names of real and fictional manufacturers: A.V. Roe & Co., The Bristol: The British and Colonial Aeroplane Company, Humber, Sopwith, Vickers, Ware-Armitage Manufacturing CoY (sic), and Works. A grandstand was added for spectators.

Dover Castle and cliffs and beaches played a prominent role as well as mock-ups at the film set that stood in for Calais and Paris. Exterior and interior footage of Rawnsley's Manor House was shot at Pinewood Studios at Iver Heath, Buckinghamshire. Interior and studio sets at Pinewood Studios were used for bluescreen and special effects. The location where Sir Percy's aircraft lands on a train is the now closed line from Bedford to Hitchin. The tunnel into which they fly is the Old Warden Tunnel near the village of the same name in Bedfordshire; the tunnel had only recently been closed, and in the panning shot through the railway cutting, the cooling towers of the now demolished Bedford power station can be seen. The locomotive is former Highland Railway Jones Goods No 103. About 1910 French Railways built duplicates of a Highland Railway class "The Castles" which were a passenger version of the Jones Goods.[6]

Principal photography

The film was photographed in 70 mm Todd-AO by Christopher Challis. Royal Air Force Air Commodore Allen H. Wheeler was head technical consultant during planning. Wheeler had restored a 1900 era Bleriot with his son.

The camera platforms included a modified Citroen sedan, camera trucks, helicopters and a flying rig constructed by Dick Parker. Parker had built it for model sequences in Strategic Air Command (1955); the rig was two construction cranes and a hydraulically operated device to tilt and position a model, along with 200ft of cables. Parker's rig allowed actors to sit inside full-scale models suspended 50 ft above the ground, yet provide safety and realism for staged flying sequences. A further hydraulic platform did away with matte shots of aircraft in flight. The platform was large enough to mount an aircraft and Parker or stunt pilots could manipulate its controls for realistic bluescreen sequences. Composite photography was used when scenes called for difficult shots; these were completed at Pinewood Studios. Some shots were created with rudimentary cockpits and noses grafted to a Alouette helicopter. One scene over Paris was staged with small models when Paris refused an overflight. However, for the majority of flying scenes,flying full-scale movie models were assembled.[2]


The film is notable for reproductions of 1910-era aircraft, including a triplane, a monoplanes and biplanes. Air Commodore Wheeler insisted on authentic materials but modern engines and modifications to ensure safety. Of 20 types built in 1964 at £5,000 pounds each, six could fly, flown by six stunt pilots and maintained by 14 mechanics. The race takeoff scene where seven aircraft are in the air at once included a composite addition . Flying conditions were monitored with aerial scenes filmed before 10am or in early evening when the air was least turbulent, for the replicas were flimsy. If the weather was poor, interiors or other incidental sequences were substituted. Wheeler eventually served as the technical adviser and aerial supervisor throughout the production and later wrote a comprehensive background account of the film and the replicas that were constructed to portray period aircraft.[2][7]

The following competitors were listed:

  • Number 1: Richard Mays, "Antoinette IV" (Aircraft number 8)
  • Number 2: Sir Percy Ware-Armitage, "Avro Triplane" (Aircraft number 12)
  • Number 3: Orvil Newton, "Bristol Boxkite" nicknamed "The Phoenix Flyer" (Aircraft number 7)
  • Number 4: Lieutenant Parsons, "Picaut Dubrieul" nicknamed "HMS Victory" (Aircraft number 4)
  • Number 5: Harry Popperwell, "Little Tiddler" (Aircraft number 5)
  • Number 6: Colonel Manfred von Holstein and Captain Rumpelstoss, "Eardley Billing Tractor Biplane" (Aircraft number 11)
  • Number 7: Mr Wallace. (Aircraft number 14)
  • Number 8: Charles Wade. (Aircraft number unknown)
  • Number 9: Mr Yamamoto, "Japanese Eardley Billing Tractor Biplane" (Aircraft number 1)
  • Number 10: Count Emilio Ponticelli, "Philips Multiplane," "Passat Ornithopter," "Lee Richards Annular Biplane" and "Vickers 22 Monoplane" (Aircraft number 2)
  • Number 11: Henri Monteux. (Aircraft number unknown)
  • Number 12: Pierre Dubois, "Santos-Dumont Demoiselle" (Aircraft number 9)
  • Number 13: Mr Mac Dougall, "Blackburn Monoplane" nicknamed "Wake up Scotland" (Aircraft number 6)
  • Number 14: Harry Walton (no number assigned).
1963 Replica of the Bristol Boxkite, now hanging in the Bristol City Museum and Art Gallery.

While each aircraft was an accurate reproduction, some impersonated other types. For instance, The Phoenix Flyer Bristol Boxkite built by F.G. Miles Engineering Co. at Ford, Sussex, represented a typical American biplane of 1910. The Bristol was chosen because Annakin thought it looked like a Wright biplane of the era, although the American pilot character, Orvil Newton describes it as a "Curtiss Pusher with an Anzani engine", it actually is a British derivative of the French 1909 Farman biplane. For the impersonation, the replica had "The Phoenix Flyer" painted on its outer rudder surfaces and was identified as a Gruber-Newton Flyer.

F. George Miles, chiefly responsible for its design and manufacture, incorporated a third rudder for control and powered the replica with a Rolls-Royce C90 (90 hp) engine that provided a 45mph top speed. The Boxkite was tractable and when pilot Derek Piggott lost a main wheel, he managed a smooth landing and repeated the wheel-off takeoff and landing 20 times for the cameras. In the penultimate flying scene, a stuntman was carried in the Boxkite's undercarriage and carried out a fall and roll (the stunt had to be repeated to match the principal actor's roll and revival). Slapstick stunts on the ground and in the air were a major element and often the directors requested repeated stunts; the stuntmen were more than accommodating - it meant more pay.[7]

The Eardley Billing Tractor Biplane replica flown by David Watson appeared in two guises, as the German pilot's aircraft, in more or less authentic form, but impersonating an early German tractor biplane, and with boxkite-like side curtains over the interplane struts and other decoration, as the Japanese pilot's mount.

Santos-Dumont flying his Demoiselle in Paris, 1907

In addition to the flying aircraft - several unsuccessful aircraft of the period were represented by non-flying replicas including contraptions such as an ornithopter (the Passat Ornithopter) flown by the Italian contender, the Walton Edwards Rhomboidal, Picaut Dubrieul, Philips Multiplane or the Little Tiddler (a backwards-facing design). The movie models all flew with the help of "movie magic." The Lee Richards Annular Biplane with circular wings was built by Denton Partners on Woodley Aerodrome near Reading. It flew better than its 1910 namesake, although the movie model was towed into the air.[7]

The flying replicas were different enough that an ordinary audience could distinguish them. They were types reputed to have flown well, in or about 1910. In most cases this worked well, but there were a few surprises, adding to an accurate historical reassessment of the aircraft concerned. For example, the Santos-Dumont Demoiselle, a forerunners of today's ultralight aircraft could be made to leave the ground only in hops. When Doug Bianchi and the Personal Planes production staff who constructed the replica consulted with Alan Wheeler, he recalled that its designer and first pilot, Alberto Santos-Dumont was a very tiny man. A suitably small pilot, Joan Hughes, a wartime member of the Air Transport Auxiliary who was the Airways Flying Club chief instructor, was hired. With the reduced payload, and a replacement Ardem 50hp engine, the diminutive Demoiselle flew "fantastically" as Hughes proved a consummate stunt flyer.[7]

The Shuttleworth Collection's replica A.V. Roe IV Triplane

Bianchi had in 1960 created a one-off Vickers 22 (Bleriot type) Monoplane, using Vickers company drawings intended for the Vickers Flying Club in 1910. The completed prototype was available and 20th Century Fox purchased the replica, though it required a new engine and modifications including replacing the wooden fuselage structure with welded steel tubing as well as incorporating ailerons instead of wing-warping. The Vickers 22 became the final type used by the Italian contestant.[7] Sometime after the film, the Vickers was sold in New Zealand. It is believed to have flown once, at Wellington Airport in the hands of Keith Trillo, and is now at the SouthWard Museum.[citation needed]

Peter Hillwood of Hampshire Aero Club constructed a Avro Triplane Mk IV, using drawings provided by Geoffrey Verdon Roe, son of A.V. Roe, the designer. The construction of the triplane followed A.V. Roe's specifications and was the only replica that utilized wing-warping successfully. With a more powerful 90 hp Cirrus II replacing the 35 hp Green engine that was in the original design, the Avro Triplane proved to be a lively performer even with a stuntman dangling from the fuselage.[7]

Original Daguerreotype of an Antoinette IV c. 1910 - note triangular ailerons hinged on trailing edge of wing

The Antoinette IV movie model closely replicated the slim, graceful monoplane that was very nearly the first aircraft to fly the English Channel, in the hands of Hubert Latham, and won several prizes in early competitions. When the Hants and Sussex Aviation Company from Portsmouth Aerodrome undertook its construction, the company followed the original structural specifications carefully, although an out-of-period de Havilland Gypsy I engine was used. The Antoinette's wing structure proved, however, to be dangerously flexible, and lateral control was very poor, even after the wing bracing was reinforced with extra wires, and the original wing-warping was replaced with "modern" ailerons (hinged on the rear spar rather than from the trailing edge, as in the "real" Antoinette). The final configuration was still considered marginal in terms of stability and lateral control.[7]

The realism and the attention to detail in the replicas of vintage machines are a major contributor to the enjoyment of the film, and although a few of the flying stunts were achieved through the use of models and cleverly disguised wires, most aerial scenes featured actual flying aircraft. One of the few vintage aircraft used, including a Deperdussin used as "set dressing", the flyable 1912 Blackburn Monoplane “D” (the oldest "genuine" British aircraft still flying[8]) belonged to the Shuttleworth Trust based at Old Warden, Bedfordshire. When the filming was completed, the "1910 Bristol Boxkite" and the "1911 Roe IV Triplane" were retained in the Shuttleworth Collection.[9] Both replicas are still in flyable condition, albeit flying with different engines.[10] For his role in promoting the film, the non-flying "Passat Ornithopter" was given to aircraft restorer, Cole Palen who displayed it at the Old Rhinebeck Aerodrome, New York, where it still exists.

During the promotional "junkets" accompanying the film in 1965, a number of the vintage aircraft and film replicas used in the production were flown in both the United Kingdom and the United States. The pilots who had been part of the aerial team readily agreed to accompany the promotional tour in order to have a chance to fly the movie models again.[2]


Contemporary reviews judged the film as "good fun", and even the usually hyper-critical New York Times reviewer Bosley Crowther was effusive in that the film was a good-natured "large-canvas" comedy with costumes, authentic-looking props and good character acting. Variety had a similar reaction: "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."[11] When the film turned up on television for the first time in 1969, TV Guide summed up most critical reviews: "Good, clean fun, with fast and furious action, good cinematography, crisp dialogue, wonderful planes, and a host of some of the funniest people in movies in the cast."[12]

Running at over two hours' length, Those Magnificent Men In Their Flying Machines... (most theatre marquees abbreviated the full title and it was eventually re-released with the shorter title) was treated as a major production, one of only three full-length 70 mm Todd-AO Fox releases in 1965 with an intermission and musical interlude spliced into the original screenings.[2] Due to the Todd-AO process, Those Magnificent Men In Their Flying Machines was considered an exclusive feature shown in deluxe Cinerama venues where customers needed reserved seats purchased ahead of time to see it.[13] Considered one of the most popular exemplars of the '60s "epic comedy" genre, it was an immediate box-office success, far outgrossing the similar car-race comedy The Great Race and even eclipsing the perennial favorite It's a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World.[5] Audience reaction both in first release and even today is nearly universal in assessing the film as one of the "classic" aviation films.[14]

Awards and honors

Those Magnificent Men In Their Flying Machines was nominated and received awards in both the United States and the United Kingdom. The original screenplay written by Ken Annakin and Jack Davies was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Writing Directly for the Screen (1966). The film was also nominated in the category of Best Writing, Story and Screenplay - Written. At the 1966 Golden Globes, the film won Best Motion Picture Actor - Musical/Comedy for Alberto Sordi, as well as being nominated in Best Motion Picture - Musical/Comedy and Most Promising Newcomer - Male for James Fox. Those Magnificent Men In Their Flying Machines went on to win 1966 British Academy of Film and Television Arts Awards (BAFTA) for Best British Costume (Colour), winners: Osbert Lancaster and Dinah Greet, Best British Art Direction (Colour), winner: Thomas N. Morahan and Best British Cinematography (Colour), winner: Christopher Challis. The film also was nominated for Best Comedy in the 1966 Laurel Awards where it was awarded a fourth place finish.

The success of the film prompted Annakin to write (again with Jack Davies) and direct another race movie, Monte Carlo or Bust (aka Those Daring Young Men in Their Jaunty Jalopies), released in 1969, this time involving vintage cars with the story set around the Monte Carlo Rally.

See also


  1. ^ "Those Magnificent Men in their Flying Machines.", 2010. Retrieved: February 18, 2010.
  2. ^ a b c d e f g h i Those Magnificent Men in Their Flying Machines DVD, 2004
  3. ^ Those Magnificent Men in their Flying Machines VHS 1969
  4. ^ Lee 1974, p. 490.
  5. ^ a b Munn 1983, p. 161.
  6. ^ "Those Magnificent Men in Their Flying Machines: Locations." Retrieved: February 18, 2010.
  7. ^ a b c d e f g Wheeler 1965
  8. ^ Ellis 2005, p. 38.
  9. ^ Bowles, Robert. "Avro Triplane.", 2006. Retrieved: February 18, 2010.
  10. ^ Ellis 2005, p. 39.
  11. ^ "Those Magnificent Men in Their Flying Machines - Or How I Flew from London to Paris in 25 Hours 11 Minutes (UK) Variety Review." Variety, January 1, 1965. Retrieved: February 18, 2010.
  12. ^ ""Those Magnificent Men in Their Flying Machines - Or How I Flew from London to Paris in 25 Hours 11 Minutes: TV Guide Review." Retrieved: February 18, 2010.
  13. ^ "Customer reviews for Those Magnificent Men In Their Flying Machines." Retrieved: February 18, 2010.
  14. ^ Hardwick and Schnepf 1989, p. 58.
  • Burke, John. Those Magnificent Men in Their Flying Machines or How I Flew from London to Paris in 25 hours 11 minutes. New York: Pocket Cardinal, Pocket Books, 1965.
  • Ellis, Ken. "Evenin' All." Flypast No. 284, April 2005.
  • Hallion, Richard P. Taking Flight: Inventing the Aerial Age from Antiquity through the First World War. New York: Oxford University Press, 2003. ISBN 0-19-516035-5.
  • Hardwick, Jack and Ed Schnepf. "A Viewer's Guide to Aviation Movies". The Making of the Great Aviation Films, General Aviation Series, Volume 2, 1989.
  • Hodgens, R.M. "Those Magnificent Men in Their Flying Machines or How I Flew from London to Paris in Twenty-Five Hours and Eleven Minutes." Film Quarterly October 1965, Vol. 19, No. 1, p. 63.
  • Lee, Walt. Reference Guide to Fantastic Films: Science Fiction, Fantasy, and Horror. Los Angeles, CA: Chelsea-Lee Books, 1974. ISBN 0-91397-403-X.
  • Munn, Mike. Great Epic Films: The Stories Behind the Scenes. New York: Frederick Ungar, 1983. ISBN 0-85242-729-8.
  • Those Magnificent Men In Their Flying Machines (1965) DVD (Including bonus features on the background of the film.) 20th Century Fox, 2004.
  • Those Magnificent Men In Their Flying Machines (1965) VHS Tape. 20th Century Fox Home Entertainment, 1969.
  • Searle, Ronald, Bill Richardson and Allen Andrews. Those Magnificent Men in Their Flying Machines: Or How I Flew from London to Paris in 25 Hours 11 Minutes. New York: Dennis Dobson/ W.W. Norton, 1965.
  • Temple, Julian C. Wings Over Woodley - The Story of Miles Aircraft and the Adwest Group. Bourne End, Bucks, UK: Aston Publications, 1987. ISBN 0-946627-12-6.
  • Wheeler, Allen H. Building Aeroplanes for "Those Magnificent Men.". London: G.T. Foulis, 1965.

External links


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