THOSE MAGNIFICENT MEN IN THEIR FLYING MACHINES —following the success of Stanley Kramer’s 1963 classic comedy spectacle It’s A Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World, other movie makers jumped on the epic-sized bandwagon and in 1965 there were three big, long, star-studded farces competing for favor and bucks. The Great Race had autos circling the globe and The Hallelujah Trail had wagons full of whiskey pursued by various varmints in the Old West.
The magnificent men in this one—the biggest hit of the three—are flying from London to Paris* in 1910, using a wild variety of contraptions to get there. I enjoyed it as a ten-year old, but found it a tiresome slog to get through recently. Overlong at 132 minutes, it’s nice to look at, the bright production has a $6,500,000 finish, with choice period detail in the costumes, sets and especially the props, a collection of vintage and ridiculous aircraft taking center stage and top honors. Flying buffs will swoon, and there is a ton of info available online about the variety of colorful old crates used in the film.
But director Ken Annakin prods it along glacially, and much of the once-cute international humor now nosedives: the French and Germans do their best to humiliate each other, the Italians get excited, the Japanese and Scots are extra-polite, the American cowboy bumbles amiably and the British strive to keep them all in line.
The leads—Stuart Whitman, Sarah Miles and James Fox— generate zip (Whitman and Miles got wires crossed from the get-go, the director remarking that they “hated each other’s guts”). Gert Frobe has to overdo his Prussian shtick and Ron Goodwin’s score wears itself out signaling laughs for that character.
Robert Morley is amusing as always, but the best man on scene by far is the late, great Terry-Thomas as the dastardly ‘Sir Percy Ware-Armitage’. Fox honcho Darryl Zanuck’s mistress Irina Demick gets another shot, this time playing six characters. He’d already fit her into The Longest Day and its forgotten spin-off Up From The Beach (fellow ‘Day‘ co-star Whitman** as well).
It was a hit, both with critics and the public, grossing more than $31,000,000, the 4th biggest haul of the year, and retains a sentimental pull for many. I do have a fond memory of enjoying its antics back when, but I have to bail out today.
Oscar-nominated for Screenplay, it co-stars Alberto Sordi, Jean-Pierre Cassel, Eric Sykes, Karl Michael Vogler, Benny Hill, Sam Wanamaker, Yujiro Ishihara, Flora Robson, Eric Pohlmann, Gordon Jackson, Maurice Denham, Zena Marshall (immortal from Dr.No as the first in a line of evil Bond vixens), Millicent Martin, and, in a prologue segment, Red Skelton.
- *The laboriously twee subtitle was Or: How I Flew From London to Paris in 25 Hours 11 Minutes. This gambit, launched by Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb continued with How To Succeed In Business Without Really Trying, Those Daring Young Men In Their Jaunty Jalopies and others, perhaps reaching an “enough!-stop!” point with the woeful flop Can Heironymuus Merkin Ever Forget Mercy Humppe And Find True Happiness?
- ** ‘Stu’ Whitman had been in films since a bit part in 1951s The Day The Earth Stood Still. A surprise Best Actor Oscar nomination in 1960 for The Mark was a boon, but his movie career topped out with this and the neat but ignored Sands Of The Kalahari. He moved to less flashy but steady TV work and real estate ventures that brought him $100,000,000. I have it on good authority that was a nice guy, to boot. He passed away in 2020, at 92.