Thursday, 13 December 2007

Those Magnificent Men in their Flying Machines (1965)

Those Magnificent Men in Their Flying Machines: Or How I Flew from London to Paris in 25 Hours and 11 Minutes, directed by Swiss Family Robinson's Ken Annakin, was released in the same year as the first Scientific Romance farce, The Great Race. Like it's predecessor by a few months, Magnificent Men appears to want to play with the inherent absurdity of Victorian-Edwardian technology and the obsessions about it, but it quickly veers off into humour that comes off as dated as Great Race's sexual politics.

From the outset, Magnificent Men bypasses the aesthetic motifs of early cinema and opens with the a cavalcade of aeronautic follies that, interestingly, is very similar to that which opens Vincent Price's Master of the World. This actual historic footage is supposed to give the audience the opportunity to laugh at failed attempts at flight, but even this gives way to droll humour dolled out in small doses of racial stereotypes. There are a few crazed flying contraptions that make their way into the movie, based on some genuine designs from the Edwardian Era, but these are few and far between. The planes that actually do make it into the air are all reproductions of actual working aircraft. To the flight enthusiast, that is at least one bonus that the feature has.

Otherwise, the movie is carried by a parade of racial caricatures that run just shy of being outright offensive. There are a couple different types of Briton represented, from the stiff-upper-lipped nobleman to the priggish git nobleman to the bumbling Royal Navy officer. The lone Scot is, of course, perpetually drunk. The Italian contestant is a wealthy and stylish mafioso with an extremely large family and nagging wife. Thankfully, his Roman Catholicism comes in handy when conscripting a monastery full of nuns to help him get his flyer back in the air so the Protestants don't win the race.

The racial conflict comes to humorous boil between the French and the Germans... The French are naturally irreverent and libidinous, with the pilot taking frequent time out of the race in order to woo the girls. Together, the French crew constantly antagonizes the Germans, who don't know how to fly but accomplish it by following the instruction manual to the letter. Spending the entire film in uniform, the Germans are taken to flag lowering ceremonies every evening and goosestepping their craft onto the tarmac every morning.

About the only race not derogatorily profiled in this film are the Americans, who are still presented as wild and woolly cowboys but are treated with unbelievable reverence. Is there any doubt that the rugged American will get the girl who's fed up with restrictive British society? In fact, both Magnificent Men and Great Race - British productions - have an almost annoying fetish with idolizing America's virtues.

Annakin tried again a few years later in 1969 with Those Daring Young Men in Their Jaunty Jalopies, also know as Monte Carlo or Bust. This one was based on the famed Monte Carlo rally and included Tony Curtis trying to relive his success with The Great Race.

1 comment:

The Rush Blog said...

I have one major problem with this film . . . the race didn't start until the last third of the movie - the last 45 minutes. The previous 90 minutes was spent setting up the characters and indulging in Keystone Cops style humor.