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Film / Those Magnificent Men in Their Flying Machines

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Those magnificent men in their flying machines,
They go up diddley up-up, they go down diddley down-down!

Those Magnificent Men in Their Flying Machines, or How I Flew from London to Paris in 25 Hours 11 Minutes, to give its full title, is a 1965 British-American period comedy film (released through Twentieth Century Fox) about an international air race held during the early, pre-World War I days of aviation. A wacky cast of characters assembles with their wacky aircraft, a love triangle develops, Worthy Opponents square off, and great fun is had by all... except for those who can't stay in the air.

The brilliant international cast includes Stuart Whitman, Sarah Miles, James Fox, Alberto Sordi, Robert Morley, Gert Fröbe, Jean-Pierre Cassel, Yujiro Ishihara, John Le Mesurier, Benny Hill, and Terry-Thomas. Extra footage added to the film's American release featured popular comedian Red Skelton as a hapless victim of flight tests throughout the ages.

The 1969 sequel, Monte Carlo Or Bust (aka Those Daring Young Men in Their Jaunty Jalopies), does with vintage cars what this movie does with vintage planes.

The film directly inspired Hanna-Barbera's Wacky Races Spin-Off Dastardly & Muttley in Their Flying Machines. Dick Dastardly, whose Wacky Races self was heavily inspired by Professor Fate from Magnificent Men's rival motion picture The Great Race, was altered to heavily resemble Terry-Thomas' character, Sir Percy Ware-Armitage.

Has a character sheet.

Contains examples of:

  • All-Stereotype Cast: The Germans are uptight efficiency freaks with pointy helmets, the French pilot is more interested in flirting and having fun than working, the Italian pilot is a loudmouth devout Catholic and has a lot of kids, the American is a cowboy, the British are stuffy and formal, and so on and so forth.
  • Animated Credits Opening: Featuring the magnificent art of Ronald Searle.
  • Been There, Shaped History: Per the narrator at the end of the opening's Failure Montage, in the film's world it's the fictional Emilio Ponticelli (one of the air race's competitors) who pulled off the first successful controlled, powered and sustained heavier-than-air human flight and not The Wright Brothers.
  • Berserk Button: Do not take Patricia flying and let her father hear about it. Orvil was lucky to not be DQ'd on her account.
  • The Big Race
  • Book Ends: The American release features footage of Red Skelton at both ends of the films. The first set of clips features him in a series of "historic" flight tests, such as a caveman flapping his elbows like a bird. At the end of the film, a modern Red Skelton is stuck in the airport, waiting for scheduling troubles to get sorted out, when he suddenly hits upon an idea... and begins flapping his elbows like a bird.
  • Brick Joke: During the Germans' test flight (the one that goes horribly wrong) the fire engine knocks out a section of wall between the field and the sewage farm. At the end of the scene when the German officer has lost control of the motorbike, he ends up going through that section of wall straight into the sewage farm.
  • Buzzing the Deck: Dubois does this to give the Germans a good scare.
  • Cool Plane: Well, in the era of the setting, any plane that can stay aloft for more than five minutes is essentially cool by default. But the amusing early flying machines are certainly a focal point of the film. And some, like Richard's Antoinette IV, are downright beautiful.
  • Diegetic Soundtrack Usage: A string quartet can be heard playing the film's theme song at the reception in Dover.
  • Dudley Do-Right Stops to Help: Orvil was winning the race in the final stretch, but when he saw the Italian pilot in 3rd place was about to crash, he veered off to rescue the other pilot. This gave the race to Richard, but since he had seen Orvil leave the race to save the Italian, he freely decides to split the prize money with him.
  • Duel to the Death: Two characters try to have one in balloons. (Ahem: "Balloons... AND BLUNDERBUSSES!")
  • Dwindling Party: Non-fatally, as all the pilots survive and are rescued, but the planes crash with increasing frequency as the race progresses. The race starts with fourteen planes (Out of eighty-four entries, suggesting that most of the competitors had to withdraw after wrecking their planes in practice flights). Yamamoto crashes on takeoff due to Sir Percy's sabotage. Four unseen pilots fail to reach the Dover checkpoint. Popperwell ends up flying in the wrong direction. MacDougal reaches Dover, but is not shown landing in Calais. Lieutenant Parsons and Colonel von Holstein both crash in the English Channel. Sir Percy attempts to cheat by ferrying across the Channel, but his plane lands on a train and it is smashed when it enters a tunnel. Ponticelli nearly wins, but his engine catches fire as he approaches the finish line. Only Richard, Orvil, and Dubois complete the race in first, second, and third place, respectively.
  • Epic Fail:
    • The flight-test failure montage with Red Skelton before the start of the story.
    • More or less every plane test before the race begins.
    • Colonel von Holstein wins the balloon duel, shooting down his opponents' balloon, but he gloats a little too much after doing so, and punctures his own balloon with his pointy helmet, causing it to crash in the sewage farm as well, making a fool out of himself.
  • Epic Race: An air race from London to Paris, with all the primitive contraptions of the day.
  • Exact Words: A reporter asks Yamamoto if he flew at all during his 10,000 mile journey from Japan to England. He replies that he did fly...four miles from Folkestone to Dover, after traveling by ship and train for the rest of the journey.
  • Failure Montage: Red Skelton's cartoonish flight test failures through the ages at the beginning.
  • Fanservice: The nude painter's model at the sea near the start.
  • The Fantastic Trope of Wonderous Titles
  • The Ghost: Courtney's daughter, who is used as a Honey Trap by Percy, is mentioned but never seen.
  • Glad I Thought of It: Richard Mays is the man who came up with the idea for the race, but he asked Priscilla to float the idea to him, and she advises him on how best to portray it to Lord Rawnsley. After which, Lord Rawnsley promotes it as his own idea.
  • Gorgeous Period Dress: Sarah Miles and the other actresses are clad in a veritable cornucopia of elegant Edwardian Era fashions.
  • Great Big Book of Everything: The Prussian Army's Big Book of Instructions includes instructions on how to fly an airplane. "Step one: sit down."
    • "Sit down" was apparently an Ad Lib by Gert Fröbe which they kept in.
    • Dependence on the instructions actually costs Holstein the race, as he doesn't know what he's doing without it, and crashes after the book gets blown away and he has to get out of the cockpit to try to get it back.
  • Had the Silly Thing in Reverse: Harry Popperwell sits in his plane backwards and flies it... backwards all the way to Scotland, and never seems to notice.
  • Hong Kong Dub: As a nod to the Godzilla films the lip-synching for Yamamoto's dubbed voice is deliberately awful, with his lips continuing to move a split second after each line.
  • Intermission
  • Interesting Situation Duel: Balloons and blunderbusses.
  • Kaiserreich: The German team, Captain Rumpelstoss (Karl Michael Vogler) and Colonel Manfred von Holstein (Gert Fröbe).
  • Laxative Prank: Sir Percy pulls this on Rumpelstoss just before the race begins, forcing von Holstein to pilot the plane himself using the manual (It was originally intended for Yamamoto, but the Japanese man didn't drink wine, so the German took it).
  • Let's Fight Like Gentlemen: After Richard knocks him out, Orvil complains that it was against British fair play that Richard hit him while he wasn't looking. That he had done the exact same thing to Richard a few scenes earlier (and something very similar to Sir Percy even earlier) does not bother him, though.
    • The French and German pilots... in gas balloons and with blunderbusses.
  • Let's Get Dangerous!: The nuns are initially apathetic to the Count's airplane problems... until the Count pines that the race will be won by a Protestant because of his situation, at which point the nuns decide to help him get back in the air anyway.
  • Logo Joke: For the American release and right before the Red Skelton sequence, the 20th Century Fox logo opens in a 1910s-1920s theater setting, and the studio's iconic fanfare has a honkytonk remix to match the movie's main theme, which also plays honkytonkishly in the Red Skelton sequence.
  • Midair Repair: Orville takes Patricia up in his flying machine, and even lets her control it. But one of the interplane struts between the wings breaks, so he walks out on the wing and fixes it by wrapping his belt around it, losing his pants in the process. All turns out well.
  • Mockumentary: The film opens with a narrator describing Man's age-old quest for flight with relevant clips, some real, some not. It's amazing we ever succeeded...
    • Some of the silent footage was lifted wholesale from a 1920s compilation short.
  • National Stereotypes: Most of the participants of the race are humorous caricatures of their nationality. There's the lustful Frenchman, the strict, pointy-hatted Prussian soldier, the cocksure American cowboy, the boisterous Italian bringing his whole family with him, etc. Though it is a British film, British Stuffiness is certainly there, too.
    • One YouTube review points out that some of the offensiveness is mitigated by the fact that all of the actors are the nationalities of the characters they're playing and are clearly having a ball playing up their roles to the hilt. Maybe it's because absolutely nobody gets off scot-free; everyone is painted in a stereotypical way.
      • In fact, it wouldn't be difficult to say that the British get the brunt of the negative stereotypes, even hosting the film's main villain.
    • It is somewhat subverted in the case of the Japanese pilot in that he fails to conform to 1910-era expectations, not only by speaking flawless English and having a taste for Scotch whisky, but also in the scene when his plane crashes on take-off. When he asks for a knife it is not, as the fireman fears, to commit Seppuku, but to free himself from entangling wires. Interestingly, he does fit more modern stereotypes by being perhaps the single most intelligent and polite character in the film.
  • Patriotic Fervor: Many of the pilots join the race to bring honor to their home countries, especially Ponticelli and the Germans. Lord Rawnsley specifically mentions that he expects an Englishman to win.
  • Reality Has No Subtitles: Yamamoto's introduction, in which he learns about the race and receives a hachimaki from his instructor, is entirely in Japanese and has no subtitles. The other non-English lines do have subtitles, but only in the original language.
  • Roll in the Hay: Pierre Dubois (the French pilot) makes an emergency landing near a haystack in France. While a farmer is going to get help, which will cost him 30 minutes to get to the nearest farm, he uses this as an ideal opportunity to woo (and presumably, make love to) the farmer's girlfriend in the hay.
  • Running Gag: The French pilot chats up a series of beauties whom he keeps confusing the names of, so that they have to introduce themselves as being of different nationalities and names. The suggestion is that all beautiful women look alike to him. The joke is that they're all played by the same actress!
    • Patricia ends up having her skirt fall off around Orvil repeatedly. To be fair, when they go flying together, Orvil ends up losing his pants instead.
  • Same Language Dub: Yamamoto's posh English accent is courtesy of character actor James Villiers.
  • Screw the Rules, I Have Money!: Sir Percy Ware-Armitage's attitude. Orvil on the other hand clearly thinks he deserves special consideration because unlike the other participants, he is poor.
  • Shout-Out: Among the girls Dubois chats up are Brigitte from France, Marlene from Germany, and Ingrid from Sweden.
  • Shown Their Work:
    • All the race planes in the film are fairly faithful reproductions of actual early aircraft, with some modern updates to ensure safety.
    • Lord Rawnsley mentions that a French fellow managed to fly across the English Channel last year. That fellow was inventor Louis Blériot, who actually won a £1000 prize from the Daily Mail for his accomplishment.
  • Stylistic Suck: The badly lip-synced dubbing of the Japanese pilot's voice was a deliberate imitation of Godzilla movies.
  • Technology Marches On: Invoked Trope: At the ending, the narrator says that the race took 25 hours, 11 minutes, followed by a shot of fighter jets and a comment that supersonic jets can now fly the distance from London to Paris in 7 minutes. Then, in a Take That! to the commercial airline business, the narrator points out that it can still take longer, and the film cuts to a shot of people in an airport being told that their flight has been delayed... again.
  • Those Magnificent Flying Machines: The Trope Namer.
  • Villains Out Shopping: At Dover, Sir Percy begins formulating a plan of how to cheat when he takes notice of the beach resort and heads down for some seaside fun.
  • Wacky Racing: If nothing else, the amusing characters and the very nature of the race make it quite wacky.
  • What Happened to the Mouse?:
    • Lord Rawnsley mentions that there are 83 entries in the race, which becomes 84 when he learns of Orville's entry shortly afterwards. Only 14 planes are mentioned to be partaking in the race, leaving it unclear what happened to the other 70 applicants.
    • MacDougal, the Scottish aviator, is shown arriving in Dover, but not Calais. This leaves it unclear as to whether he crashed on takeoff or landed in the English Channel.
  • Worthy Opponent: Richard and Orvil eventually develop respect for each other.

The sequel contains examples of:

  • Becoming the Mask: The German drivers only join the race to give themselves cover for a smuggling run. However, they become genuinely invested in the race and set out to win it rather than just Run for the Border with the gems when their boss is arrested.
  • The Bet: Sir Percy lost half his shares in his car company in a card game. His son tries to win them back by wagering his shares against Scofield's in the Monte Carlo rally.
  • Bungling Inventor: The only invention of the army team that actually works as intended is the kit to convert their car into a tracked snowmobile.
  • Cheaters Never Prosper: Cuthbert gets disqualified during the trophy awarding because his final act of cheating gets him arrested.
  • Disqualification-Induced Victory: The trophy ends up going to the third-place racers because the first and second place racers end up getting arrested. Scofield comes in fourth (upgraded to second because of said disqualifications), and wins the bet with Cuthbert despite having a poorer time because Ware-Armitage was disqualified.
  • Dropped a Bridge on Him: Sir Percy died in a vehicular crash between films, with his son getting the news in his first scene.
  • Dudley Do-Right Stops to Help:
    • The army team and the women's team stop to save Scofield when he nearly goes off a cliff.
    • The women's team drops out of the race in the final stretch because they come across a serious car crash, and decide their pride as medical professionals is more important than their pride as racers.
  • The Dog Bites Back: Cuthbert's much-put-upon assistant Perkins (Eric Sykes) is only loyal to him because of blackmail. The moment the blackmail files are destroyed, he turns on him. After one of Cuthbert's schemes is foiled Perkins turns to him and says "Hoist with your own petard! Well, it serves you jolly well right."
  • Gambit Pileup: While in the previous movie everyone was competing either for national pride or the prize purse, here every team has a different objective:
    • Cuthbert Ware-Armitage and Thomas Scofield each own half the shares of Armitage Motors, and have wagered them on the outcome of the race.
    • The German team are just trying to get to Monte Carlo, as they're smuggling stolen gems in their spare tires, using the race to get through customs without getting thoroughly inspected.
    • The British Army team is trying to showcase their driver's various inventions.
    • The women's team is trying to gain publicity for the feminist's movement by competing in the race.
    • The Italian team just wants to get wealth and girls.
  • Identical Grandson: Sir Cuthbert is the identical son of Terry-Thomas' character from the previous movie, Sir Percy - the archetypal upper-class scoundrel. In fact, Cuthbert may be even more of a scoundrel than his father, as he cheats far more often.
  • Intoxication Ensues: The master of ceremonies ends up falling down drunk during the trophy awarding, which involves filling the trophy with champagne and drinking it with the winners. To be fair, thanks to multiple disqualifications causing the winner to repeatedly change, he has to perform the ceremony three times over the course of a few minutes.
  • It's All About Me: Cuthbert. When he learns of his father's death, his reaction is delight over the fact that he now inherits the Ware-Armitage estate. A major part of his hatred of Scofield is that he was reinvesting their company's profits back into the company instead of allowing him to sponge off the dividends for no work.
  • Jerk With A Heart Of Jerk: Downplayed with Major Digby. He's not a villainous character, but he spends most of the time being haughty and mildly xenophobic. Then he sacrifices a lead to save Scofield's life, only to say later that it was a mistake after failing to regain his lost position.
  • Never Trust a Trailer: The plot summary of the movie on the DVD cover is wrong. It talks about Scofield teaming up with a Count, played by Terry-Thomas. Terry-Thomas' character is a Baronet, who is Scofield's immediate adversary in the film. There is a Count in the movie, but he's a totally different character, who has no connection to Scofield - he's backing the German team.
  • Spiritual Successor: Averts this by the skin of its teeth. It's another race movie with vintage vehicles, made by the same production team and featuring several returning cast members, but its only in-universe link to Those Magnificent Men in their Flying Machines is that Terry-Thomas appears as the son of his character from the earlier film.
  • Third Line, Some Waiting: Because the rally has multiple tracks, the story jumps back and forth between racers on the Britain/France route, the Sweden/Germany route, and the Italy route, with the Italy route getting the least focus. There's also a Portugal/Spain route that gets no coverage whatsoever, as the film only covers a pair of racers on each of the other three routes.
  • Women Drivers:
    • The women's team is introduced chattering among themselves while driving without paying any attention to the road, causing an accident. They don't drive like that in any later scenes.
    • The sole time Betty is shown driving, she nearly goes over a cliff. To be fair, it happens on a steep, narrow mountain road that would be difficult to navigate even when it isn't covered in snow.