Magnificent flying machines
Those Magnificent Men in their Flying Machines (20th Century Fox, 1965) reviewed by Everard Cunion in November 2021
Despite the male oriented title of this movie, women play key roles both in the fictional story and in the real flying.
The year is 1910 and these guys catch a page from a newspaper being blown by a desert wind. It announces an air race from London to Paris (“The two most important capitals in the world”) with a big money prize.
In addition to the flying replicas, several non-flying airplanes were ‘flown’ on wires for short distances at the fictional Brookley aerodrome.
As well as being a serious film about early aviation, this movie is also a comedy.
The following dialog is in response to British comic actor Tony Hancock explaining to newspaper owner and financial backer of the race Lord Rawnsley a bizarre theory to account for the odd design of his aircraft…
Lord Rawnsley: “I don’t know what he’s talking about.”
Race official: “Neither does he sir.”
How my brother Ed and I laughed at that! We saw it at the cinema (movie theater) in about 1966 when we were 9 and 10 years old, respectively. I guess that is an age when boys from north London are overly dedicated to reason and strict cause-and-effect, including the erroneous idea that speech follows conscious thought. Therefore, how is it possible for anyone to not know what he (or she) is talking about?
American Orvil Newton describes his aircraft, the Phoenix Flyer, as a Curtiss, but it is a flying replica of a 1910 Bristol Boxkite.
Several of the aircraft were fitted with cameras for air-to-air filming, mostly next to the pilot to put the viewer in the virtual pilot’s seat — unlike here.
They clearly used a rig on which they mounted the airplanes for the actors to sit in for close-ups. While it would not fool anyone, the result is that the cuts from real flying to acting and back are seamless enough to impart the impression that the character played by the actor is doing the flying.
In many scenes the background includes its own activity, whether on an airfield or, as here, on a country estate. Notice the hay wagon and farm workers in period costume.
According to the wiki, the male pilots were all too heavy for the Demoiselle, its original designer Alberto Santos-Dumont of Brazil being a little guy. Fortunately, former World War 2 Air Transport Auxiliary pilot Joan Hughes was instructing near where the initial filming took place and she was able to fly it.
The Demoiselle lives on in the modern age in the shape of first, the Weedhopper powered ultralight of the 1970s, and then the Thruster.
The little screenshots on this page do not do justice to the spectacular filming of these aircraft, both air-to-air and from the ground. Even the interior scenes are spectacular with crowds of people in costume all convincingly imparting the feel of a time when technology was about to set mankind free of the need for toil and free to pursue adventures only dreamed of before.
Even its comedy aspects are of the highest caliber, for example employing exaggerated national stereotypes to portray rivalries between the competitors and their ground crews from different countries.
The horror of the First World War, 1914-18, and the subsequent flu pandemic that killed more people than that war and the 1939-45 war (in which Joan Hughes flew) combined, were still years away in a future likely unimagined by most people.
The Inpact company manufactured 1/48th scale kits of some of the aircraft in the film. The Boxkite to my mind made the most visual impact. (My brother had one.) These old kits often crop up on eBay.
Unfortunately, Inpact did not include a Demoiselle in their range of 1/48th scale kits. What on earth were they thinking of? Fortunately, AJP Maquettes make (in 2021) a 1/48th scale kit and Aircraft In Miniature Limited offer a 1/72nd scale kit in brass, but in that scale it is tiny.
Aircraft In Miniature Limited for 1/72nd scale kits in brass, including the Demoiselle
AJP Maquettes for 1/48th scale kits, including the Demoiselle
Early powered ultralights part 2 in Hang Gliding History for a late 1970s revival of this kind of low speed and light weight seat-of-the pants flying, but with the greater safety and performance of hang glider technology
Santos-Dumont Demoiselle 1908, AJP Maquette 1/48 on the Britmodeller forum