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

Genre: Adventure and Comedy Running Time: 2 hrs. 18 min.

Release Date: June 16th, 1965 MPAA Rating: G

Director: Ken Annakin Actors: Stuart Whitman, Sarah Miles, James Fox, Alberto Sordi, Robert Morley, Gert Frobe, Jean-Pierre Cassel, Irina Demick, Eric Sykes, Red Skelton, Terry-Thomas, Benny Hill, Yujiro Ishihara, Sam Wanamaker




he film begins immediately with spoofs of man’s failed attempts to fly (each successive stunt enacted by Red Skelton): from Neanderthals, to wings strapped to the arms of ancient Romans, to the more advanced designs of automobiles with rotors or things with propellers. It’s proclaimed that by 1910, flying is all the rage, though most birdmen are daredevils of ramshackle, untested, undependable contraptions. The film then segues into the colorfully animated opening title credits, featuring the alternate name “How I Flew from London to Paris in 25 Hours 11 Minutes,” adorned with momentous theme music.

From here, pilot Richard Mays (James Fox) arrives to discuss a business proposition with his girlfriend Patricia Rawnsley’s (Sarah Miles) father, hoping to convince him that they should bring together all the different theories of aviation if Britannia is ever to rule the skies. Though Lord Rawnsley (Robert Morley) promises to mull it over, he still forbids his daughter from flying with Mays. Keen on increasing the circulation of his newspaper, The Daily Post, Rawnsley orchestrates the Great London-Paris Air Race, across the English Channel, with a $50,000 (10,000 pounds or 250,000 lire) reward (expected to be won by an Englishman). Prideful, adventurous aviators from every corner of the world journey to England to participate in the internationally heralded contest.

Competitors include Arizonan cowboy Orvil Newton (Stuart Whitman, permanently accompanied by harmonica tunes), German colonel Manfred Von Holstein (Gert Frobe), stuffy English bounder Sir Percy Ware-Armitage (Terry-Thomas, with an obviously villainous mustache), Italian count Emilio Ponticelli (Alberto Sordi), Frenchman Pierre Dubois (Jean-Pierre Cassel), and the Japanese naval officer Yamamoto (Yujiro Ishihara). Shenanigans on the practice airfield result in all sorts of airborne creations (including accidentally soaring motorbikes) colliding with one another – right alongside quarrelsome patriotic views and clashing cultures. As Rawnsley oversees the start of his grand event, Patricia begins to fall for the handsome Orvil, creating further rivalry even before the race officially starts.

Comical stunts range from plane crashes caused by distracting glimpses of an artist’s nude model (Irina Demick, who plays several different women with varying accents throughout the picture); awkwardly-shaped projectiles with floppy wings plummeting due to unwieldy designs; sabotage; poor maneuvering; Miles repeatedly losing her skirt; and random moments of slapstick. Playful flirtations, disdainful dueling (with blunderbusses while aboard hot air balloons), pranks, and repeated mishaps initiated by trying to impress girls, proves that competing over national honor and the attention of the ladies are the primary motives for aerial boldness. And, as demonstrated in the film, the way to a woman’s heart is indeed up in a flying machine.

The feature is good-natured and routinely humorous, though noticeably overlong (complete with intermission). This epic length does build appropriate anticipation for the great race itself, which doesn’t even start until approximately 90 minutes in. Of the 14 entries, several planes are forced to land prior to the checkpoints (it’s not designed to be a nonstop flight), two wreck during takeoff, most malfunction, and only eight make it to the second day. With a massive ensemble cast, vivid De Luxe color, excellent use of the widescreen aspect ratio, unforgettable music, superb aerial choreography (including real and green-screen stunts and authentic reproductions of turn-of-the-century aircrafts), and dependable gags (though the winner of the race is something of a copout), “Those Magnificent Men in Their Flying Machines” is a sumptuous – if indulgent – affair.

– Mike Massie

  • 6/10