Powell and Pressburger (director)
103 min (length)
27 September 2021 (released)
08 October 2021
It would be unfair to dismiss this film as jingoistic rubbish as it was made as a deliberate morale booster and on that level it succeeds. Would we expect anything less from the talented team of 'The Archers' (Messrs Powell and Pressburger)? Hardly!
A RAF Vickers Wellington bomber is damaged after a nighttime raid over Stuttgart and its six crewmembers are forced to bail out over the Netherlands after engine failure. Unmanned the plane actually makes it back to dear old Blighty where it hits a pylon - admittedly this does seem a little contrived - but it looks effective in a spooky sort of way. Of the six parachutists five manage to re-unite and one is missing. The major problem is how our lads can remain in Nazi-occupied Holland undetected (when only one of them can speak Dutch) and manage to get back to England…and obviously there has been no report of a crashed aircraft.
As this is the kind of film I referred to earlier the British lads would have to be a mixed bunch to be identifiable to all and sundry. New York born Shakespearian veteran Sir Godfrey Tearle lends considerable authority to his portrayal of rear gunner Sir George Corbett - the senior member of our brave upright and sterling chaps ('they don't make 'em like that anymore'), Bernard Miles does his west country bit as front gunner Geoff Hickman, Hugh Williams (father of ‘Upstairs Downstairs’ star Simon Williams) is observer/navigator Frank Shelley - an actor in ‘Civvy Street’ – meaning a real life actor and naturally a dashing young fellow who looks most fetching in drag (we need a bit of fun). After all, the chaps have to adopt some disguise do they not? Hugh Burden is the heroic pilot John Glyn Haggard and has the major part here. He’s also the only Dutch speaker - thank goodness for that! Raspy voiced ‘matinee idol’ Eric Portman ditches his posh accent and returns to his native Yorkshire one as second pilot Tom Earnshaw and Emrys Jones is wireless operator Bob Ashley - a Welshman.
After some Dutch kids discover the stranded airmen in the woods the comrades in arms encounter difficulties in persuading the Dutch resistance fighters that they are not German spies. After a ropey start they do manage to get the help they desperately need, mainly from Els Meertens (Powell favourite Pamela Brown) with whom Dutch-speaking John immediately establishes a rapport. But is the apparent Nazi-collaborator Jo de Vries (Googie Withers playing the part in an unsympathetic Margaret Thatcher type mode) quite all she appears to be? Certainly rabid Nazi De Jong (another Powell favourite - ballet dancer and Shakespearian actor Robert Helpmann) is what he appears to be and something will have to be done about this little swine. Btw Bob Ashley, a survivor if ever there was one, is discovered playing football - that's the Brits for you. Eventually our intrepid six find themselves escaping in a rowing boat - will they make it with the vile Germans patrolling all along the coastline? The message here is (one supposes it would have been then) that all Germans are rotten bastards – obviously back then no one bothered to separate Nazis from civilians.
A solid cast (a young Peter Ustinov has a small part as priest) and a sound story from Emeric Pressburger ensured this 1942 British ‘propaganda’ film served its purpose at the time. Two soon to become revered directors are on board as cinematographer and editor respectively: Ronald Neame and David Lean.
ONE OF OUR AIRCRAFT IS MISSING has just been released in Limited Edition Blu-ray Format and the Bonus Material includes (rather predictably) propaganda shorts, audio commentary and illustrated booklet (first pressing only):
‘An Airman’s Letter to His Mother’ (1941, 5 mins): Michael Powell’s powerful propaganda short, narrated by John Gielgud.
‘The Volunteer’ (1944, 44 mins): an entertaining look at the Fleet Air Arm starring Ralph Richardson.
‘Target for Tonight’ (1941, 50 mins): Harry Watt’s acclaimed documentary reconstruction of a Wellington bomber’s mission over Germany.
‘The Biter Bit’ (1943, 14 mins): A propaganda short detailing the destructive force of wartime aerial bombardment, produced by Alexander Korda and narrated by Ralph Richardson.