When I was a kid, I loved the grand epic comedies of the 60's. You remember them. Blake Edwards's The Great Race and Stanley Kramer's It's a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World are the most famous examples but at the time my favorite was Those Magnificent Men in Their Flying Machines, or How I Flew From London to Paris in 25 Hours, 11 Minutes directed by Ken Annakin. How could you not like that film when you were 10? Even the name is funny. Over the years it's been largely forgotten, along with the sequel Those Daring Young Men in Their Jaunty Jalopies, as has the whole epic comedy race flick genre. Not totally forgotten however, as the great people at Twilight Time has obtained the rights and released this road-show picture on a wonderful looking (and sounding) Blu-ray exclusively through Screen Archives Entertainment. (It's a limited edition too, so be forewarned that they may sell out.) But the big question is: How has it aged? Actually it stands the test of time better than I thought it would. While it's not uproariously hilarious the film is quite amusing through the entire 2 hour and 18 minute run time which is quite impressive.
Sarah Miles, Stuart Whitman, and James Fox lead an all-star cast of mainly British actors in this epic race-farce film. Set in 1910, British Naval officer Richard Mays (Fox) is one of the few airplane pilots in Britain and has become enthralled with flight. He wants to promote aviation and so he approaches his girl friend Patricia's (Miles) father, Lord Rawnsley (Robert Morley), about having his newspaper sponsor a flying race, London to Paris. Rawnsley goes for the idea and puts up a huge prize for the winner. That attracts entries from all over the world including Scotland, Italy, France, Germany, the western US (Orville Newton played by Whitman), and even Japan. The contestants bring a wide and eclectic assortment of flying machines to the UK, tune them up, and set off for Paris!
That's pretty much the plot. Sure there's a subplot involving Orville and Richard competing for Patricia's affections, and one about a dastardly Englishman who is trying to win by sabotaging the other planes, but that's about it. The race is just an excuse to come up with a lot of jokes about a) early planes and aviation, b) stereotypes of several nations and c) people falling into a pond of raw sewage. There are also several running gags including an amusing one where a rich Italian buys, and wrecks, a series of odd planes. If you're coming to the film for more than that, you'll be disappointed.
Surprisingly it still holds up fairly well, though it's certainly not as funny as it was back in 1965. Instead of presenting a laugh-a-minute, when seen today this film is an enjoyable and amusing two-plus-hour romp. While I only laughed out loud a couple of times, there was a smile on my face through the entire movie and I never was bored or wanting a distraction. Yes, some of the jokes are corny, but that doesn't mean that they're not funny, and slapstick is always enjoyable.
It's also fun to play "where have I seen that actor before" with the large cast. Benny Hill plays the local fire chief who is constantly sending his crew out to after a plane crash, and Upstairs, Downstairs fans will want to keep an eye out for Gordon Jackson (Mr. Hudson). Other notables include Eric Skyles, perennial nogoodnik Terry-Thomas (who was also in It's a Mad Mad Mad Mad World), Zena Marshall (the villainess Miss Taro from the Bond film Dr. No), and Red Skelton (in his last theatrical role). Be sure to watch both sets of credits for some great art by legendary cartoonist Ronald Searle.
The DTS-HD Master Audio 5.0 (yep, no dedicated subwoofer channel) sounds wonderful. The incredibly catchy theme song (which is still going through my head a day after screening the film) and other incidental music is clean, clear, and strong. It's also mixed well with the audio effects and dialog. Granted, it was recorded 45 years ago so there isn't the punch and wallop that today's movie soundtracks boast, but the audio is surprisingly full (especially given that there isn't a sub track.)
Like the audio, Twilight Time's 2.20:1 image is fantastic. The movie was filmed in 70mm, and the fine detail that the format boasts really shines through on this Blu-ray. The colors are magnificent too. The last time I saw this was in a faded copy on TV decades ago and my eyes grew wide when I saw the impressive picture. I can't really find any flaws with it.
Like most of Twilight Time's offerings, this disc includes an isolated music track. There's also a commentary by director Ken Annakin which is a bit dry but still informative and well worth listening to. He talks about the process shots that they did and how they decided to film certain scenes as well as discussing the genesis of the project. The extras also include trailers and TV spots for the film.
When all is said and done, this is a fun, amusing film that while not hilarious, is a joy to watch. The folks at Twilight Time have done a wonderful job mastering this Blu-ray disc too. The image if spot-on and the sound is very good too. If you know you like this movie, you should run out and get a copy right now. If you haven't seen it before it comes with a solid recommendation.