The Spirit of St. Louis
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Spirit of St. Louis, The (DVD)
Celebrate the historic May 20, 1927 flight of "The Spirit of St. Louis" with screen legend Jimmy Stewart ("It's a Wonderful Life," "The Philadelphia Story") as aerial legend Charles Lindbergh. Writer-director Billy Wilder ("Some Like It Hot," "Double Indemnity") brings a lavish, suspense-filled recounting of Lindbergh's historic trip from New York to Paris, the first non-stop solo flight across the Atlantic, based on the famous pilot's autobiography.]]>
Two Hollywood giants came together for The Spirit of St. Louis: James Stewart and director Billy Wilder. Both were slightly miscast for the material, an account of Charles Lindbergh's galvanizing solo flight across the Atlantic in 1927. Stewart was at least 20 years too old to play the young pilot, and his enormous personal warmth was at odds with the rather frosty real-life demeanor of the Lone Eagle. Wilder was better known for his sardonic critiques of man's lesser instincts, which makes the choice of this flat-out study of heroism somewhat peculiar. The mismatch shows in the movie, which is arranged around Lindy's historic puddle jump but is also checkerboarded together by a series of awkward flashbacks showing his background. Once the flight begins, in a thrilling sequence of the plane's near-miss takeoff, the film settles into a generally engrossing study of man against the elements. In a great Wilder touch, Stewart spends part of the journey conversing with a stowaway house fly. The aerial photography is stunning, and it's impossible to resist the unalloyed joy of Stewart's realization that he's spotted the Irish coast after a very long night over the ocean. Not unlike the pilot himself, this movie is happiest and most secure when it's in the seat of the plane, unencumbered by anything but forward motion and a goal. --Robert Horton
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On the surface recounts the famous 1927 flight of Charles Lindbergh - the first successful TransAtlantic crossing via airplane; fulfilling the dream of quickly bridging Europe to The Americas and vastly expanding global commerce and communication. The same dream that had killed or seriously injured more than a dozen courageous pilots prior to Lindy's successful attempt.
But this movie is so much more than a docudrama, it's a film that defines understated heroism - the heart of adventure without the sappy sentimental tropes of so many productions. Simultaneously showcasing the impact one person can produce when they have a singular focus and belief. That, coupled with exquisitely rich Technicolor cinematography, captures the compelling story of Lindbergh's death-defying journey over the open ocean.
Suspect younger audiences, even if they were to screen the film, will never fully appreciate the sheer terror that these early aviators faced. There was no rescue plan, no back-up, no hope of being saved. In volunteering to undertake this challenge - death was the end result for many. What happened to Charles Nungesser and Francois Coli, competitors of Lindbergh who are mentioned in the film, has never been solved. The team along with their plane, The White Bird, was never found and is considered one of aviation's longest unanswered mysteries.
Outside of our armed forces, you just don't see that kind of bravery anymore. Everything today is just so completely wired for safety, safety, safety - it's not at all impressive when someone flies around the world or sails the open seas "alone" - when they're literally hooked into every known modern convenience and dozens of safety nets/supports, just in case. It's not worthy of inclusion in the same breath when discussing these pioneers. Actually, it's quite insulting.
And believe me when I say: I do understand and appreciate that the film doesn't delve into the man's life with an equally detailed eye toward his less than admirable traits; glossing over his racist underpinnings and an engineer's coldly calculating view of the world versus the effect on real living people. Which makes Jimmy's interpretation all the more enjoyable; lending a warm humanity to the character that Lindbergh himself seemingly lacked, at least publicly. *Importantly, none of that was known in 1927*.
In screening films like this, but especially from the 50's period in American filmmaking, I treat them just like any film: Life-like representations, not real-life depictions.
Interestingly, Lindbergh himself wasn't at all pleased that Stewart, who was almost 50 years old at the time, would be portraying him in the film. When he took The Spirit into the air he was all of 25, nearly half the age of the veteran actor during production. But Jimmy felt, correctly based on my first introduction to the film, that he could capture the essence of the character - to properly portray the courage and energy of that young man. Again, it was disheartening to hear that Lindbergh was rude to Stewart when they first sat down across from each other, a meeting for the actor to get a better sense of the man. Courteous and polite was Jimmy defined. But still, it must've been a huge letdown for him to be treated that way, not because he was a 'star' but because he was a real-life aviator and fellow combat veteran.
Pathetically, in the second decade of the 21st century, due to a fractured societal landscape and completely dysfunctional educational system - this astounding achievement is quickly becoming (has become?) a forgotten chapter in American History. His incredible adventure fading away in the tsunami wash of vacuous social media, pointless mind-numbing apps and thoroughly worthless singing/dancing clubs. Truly, we are entering a new dark age.
I was not disappointed. If anyone wants to know the nuts and bolts about the flight, this is an excellent and detailed exposition, and generally very accurate, as I later found out.
The first half of the movie goes into great detail about how the flight was planned, and how the plane -- "The Spirit of St. Louis" -- was named and made to order in San Diego, all of this is in flashback from the night before Lindbergh leaves. Then, when he finally takes off, the film does a wonderful montage accompanied by Franz Waxman's soaring divided strings that recapitulates all the characters from earlier in the film. Just beautifully done.
The second half of the film is the flight itself, which has some tense moments, but boredom is alleviated by a few flashbacks on Lindbergh's earlier life. Finally, he lands in Paris, is mobbed, and the film ends somewhat abruptly.
I was surpised by the film on many levels. The acting, the set design, the score, the edits, were all first class (I did not know it was a Billy Wilder film.) Not surprising for a Billy Wilder film was the emphasis on being a good person (a "mensch" as described in some of his other films), somewhat surprising was the emphasis -- especially at the end -- on faith, togetherness, and working together for a common goal. Just a wonderful evocation of Americanism from a bygone day, and a film that actually manages to communicate the importance of Lindbergh's accomplishment. Wilder also had a hand in the script, with many clever plants and payoffs and witty cross references. Highly Recommended.
Watching this movie on a 12 foot home theater screen, I was impressed by how accurately and faithfully they recreated the world of 1927, when Lindbergh made his historic flight.
The shots of the tiny Ryan monoplane flying over the vast expanse of the Atlantic Ocean, really bring home how daring and dangerous the flight was.
Still holds up great after all these years. Much better than today's "docu-dramas", with their cheesy "re-enactments".
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And SPIRIT is yet another film in which music plays a significant part and, in this case, it practically becomes another character in the story, especially in the long flying sequences devoid of dialogue. One particularly moving scene deserves a brief mention here and it occurs when Lindbergh is preparing for his flight. A huge crowd has gathered, and when he calls for assistance in the shape of a mirror, a woman emerges from the throng and offers her make-up mirror. She tells him that not only has she been waiting out on Roosevelt field all night to see him off, but that she has also travelled all the way from Philadelphia for the privelege. When Lindbergh asks her why she should have come all that way, she replies "I had to! You needed the mirror!" Later, as part of a montage sequence, we see her travelling home by train, and as she looks in the bag for the mirror, she remembers who she has given it to, and her face turns slowly up to the sky. The point is highlighted and turned into a pivot by Franz Waxman's wonderful score. Such moments are quintessentially cinema, and all the rarer for that.
The colour photography is great - Hitch's favourite cameraman Robert Burks, who had recently won an Academy Award for TO CATCH A THIEF, shares credit with J.Peverall Marley. The screenplay is co-written by Wilder and the talented Wendell Mayes. A final mention too for the score, the opening bars of the main-title being strongly reminiscent of Waxman's own OBJECTIVE,BURMA! As Lindy approaches Ireland, a high-spirited Irish jig accompanies this sequence, before a beautiful segue (continuous in the movie) into a very "English" sound for the Devon coastline and Plymouth.
This review is for the Warner Home Video release, which is presented in the original cinema ratio and, best of all, in 5.1 Dolby Stereo, a unique experience for anyone with an ear for that unforgettable music. What is more, the disc plays perfectly on my old Sanyo Region 2 player, a feature I have discovered with a number of other Warner Region 1 DVDs.