As fanciful and nostalgic a piece of clever picture-making as has hit the screen in recent years, this backward look into the pioneer days of aviation, when most planes were built with spit and bailing wire, is a warming entertainment experience.
A newspaper circulation gimmick serves nicely as the story premise, with a London newspaper publisher offering a £10,000 prize to winner of an event which will focus worldwide attention on the fledgling sport of flying – circa 1910 – subsequently attracting a flock of international contestants.
While there is naturally a plotline, and a nice romance, the planes themselves, a startling collection of uniquely-designed oddities, which actually fly, probably merit the most attention.
Top characters are played by Stuart Whitman, as an American entrant; James Fox, an English flier who interests publisher Robert Morley in the race to promote aviation; Sarah Miles, publisher’s daughter understood to be the intended of Fox (arrangement with father) but beloved by Whitman. Terry-Thomas is a dastardly English lord not above the most abject skullduggery to win the race. Alberto Sordi as an Italian count with a worrying wife and immense family, Gert Frobe a German cavalry officer intent upon bringing glory to the Fatherland, Jean-Pierre Cassel, a whimsical Frenchman, are the chief Continental contestants.
[Original roadshow version of the pic featured a musical overture.]
1965: Nomination: Best Story & Screenplay