Editor, U.S. ; Dallas, Texas (@HatefulJosh)
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Those Mag-ni-fi-cent Men in their Flying Machines
They Go Up Tiddly Up Up
They Go Down Tiddly Um Down
It's taken me a little while to get to Twilight Time's limited edition Blu-ray release of Those Magnificent Men in their Flying Machines, but now that it's done, I find myself wondering what I could possibly have done in all that time that would have been more enjoyable than this. Ken Annakin's epic comedy is another in the popular series of large scale films aimed directly at the funny bones of '60s theatergoers. The unlikely comic pretense of a massive aeronautical race to determine the British dominance of the skies in the earliest part of the 20th century yields unusually successful gags aplenty. This is a fantastically funny film given an equally fantastic Blu-ray presentation that belongs in the collection of any fan of '60s comedy.

The plot of Those Magnificent Men follows an early English flyer who has convinced his fiancee's father, publisher of a large UK periodical, to sponsor a international flying race to prove Britain's dominion over the skies. The incredibly huge prize of £10,000 draws competitors from around the globe, and each of them bring their own aeronautical and comic gifts to share. For the first half of the film, the story focuses on setting up the different teams and delivering gag after gag to get the audience warmed up. While there are very few banner names in the cast, most of them are very accomplished character actors who acquit themselves quite well and never let the film slow down. The post-intermission section of the film gives us the race and the drama that comes with it, the gags come less quickly in this section, but there is some good tension as each of the flyers takes aim at the prize and we learn who the best men are. The story is really secondary to the action, and that's just fine, because the action is amazing.

Those Magnificent Men was shot by Ken Annakin following his successful performances on the UK section of The Longest Day and Disney's Swiss Family Robinson. Annakin was in one of the most productive parts of his career and his successes had bought him some leverage to make this film which was his own brainchild. Those Magnificent Men in their Flying Machines was one of the tentpole films for the Todd-AO process, most famously used in the Oklahoma! and Around the World in Eighty Days. The massive 70mm negative from the film gave Those Magnificent Men usually beautiful detail, and this Blu-ray is absolutely gorgeous as a result.

In addition to the technical brilliance found behind the camera, Those Magnificent Men also employed some of the most incredible reproduction planes ever built. Annakin had each of the planes in the film built from scratch and fitted with modern engines for safety. However, they all flew very much the way they would have in the good old days. With as much crashing, skidding, and all around shenanigans as we see on screen, it's a miracle they all survived as well as they did. Some of the designs appear on screen for less than a minute, but all are beautiful and probably as close to the original designs as we're likely to see.

As fantastic as the technical aspects of the film were, none of it would've worked without a cast to pull off Annakin's script. Thankfully the cast of character actors pulled it off beautifully. Especially successful was Alberto Sordi, who received a Golden Globe for his performance and had just come off of Alberto Lattuada's mafia comedy Mafioso. In a film full of great performances, it is difficult to choose favorites, but worth noting some of the names and where you may have seen them. Benny Hill makes an appearance as the top spun fire chief in charge of the fire brigade, Jean-Pierre Cassel (father of Vincent Cassel) portrays the amorous Pierre DuBois, Gert Frobe, as Colonel Manfred von Holstein, came to the film directly after finishing up his role as the titular character in Goldfinger, the list goes on and on. Not many who'd be recognized by the casual modern film fan, but for fans of '60s cinema, this cast is a treasure trove of talent.

Those Magnificent Men in their Flying Machines has nary a dull moment and remains a classic comedy that deserves more attention than it has gotten. While it is in no way obscure, the film doesn't hold the same kind of cache as Around the World in Eighty Days or other similar titles. Thank goodness that Twilight Time has chosen to be a part of their extremely well curated collection. Is it pricey? Yes. However, If you've got the disposable income, it is well worthwhile.

The Disc:

Twilight Time has gifted us with another fantastic presentation in Those Magnificent Men in their Flying Machines. The image quality, presumably due to its Todd-AO origins, is impeccable. Not a pixel is out of place and this is the rare disc that even stands up to close inspection with no problems. The image is clean, bright, colorful, and tack sharp. Really amazing stuff and among the best HD presentations of a color classic that I've seen. Equally fantastic are the audio tracks, both the dialogue track and the isolated score are beautiful and both warrant their own kudos. I have no complaints. A great film and a gorgeous presentation will get a thumbs up from me every time.

Typically Twilight Time discs are barebones apart from a possible trailer or two due to the nature of their licensing contracts which stipulate that no new bonus content be included. However, Those Magnificent Men gives us a fantastic archival commentary track from Ken Annakin that has been ported over from past releases. Annakin isn't the most active commentator, and the track goes quiet on several occasions, but the anecdotes he provides are both funny and informative. As with all Twilight Time discs, the extras round out with a wonderful essay by Julie Kirgo. This time around she tackles the cast, crew, and production of the film, giving the reader a wonderful bird's eye view of Those Magnificent Men. This isn't a film that required quite as probing an essay as, perhaps, Rapture, but it is, nonetheless, an interesting read and a real asset to the package as a whole.

I know that Twilight Time discs are expensive, but some of them are really worth the dough, and this is one of the first ones I'd recommend to a newbie, so check it out!
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Order Those Magnificent Men in Their Flying Machines on Blu-ray at Screen Archives
Ard VijnAugust 15, 2012 10:42 AM

One of my favorite matineé films from when I was little. Must have seen this countless times on VHS, and cannot resist this BluRay. I cannot wait to watch "Those Magnificent Men in Their Flying Machines" with my children as well.

So hurry up people: it's limited to only 3,000 copies. Josh and me have 1 each so that leaves only 2998 for the rest of you.