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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 20th 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 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 and Muttley in Their Flying Machines. Dick Dastardly, whose Wacky Races self was heavily inspired by Professor Fate from Magnificent Men's rival 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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. 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.
  • Epic Fail:
    • The flight-test fiasco footage at the beginning of the film.
    • 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 helmet, causing it to crash. (And makes 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.
  • Fanservice: The nude painter's model at the sea near the start.
  • The Fantastic Trope of Wonderous Titles
  • 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."
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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!
  • 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.
  • Spiritual Successor: Monte Carlo or Bust 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.
  • Stylistic Suck: The badly lip-synced dubbing of the Japanese pilot's voice was a deliberate imitation of Godzilla movies.
  • Theme Tune Cameo: A string quartet can be heard playing the film's theme song at the reception in Dover.
  • 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?: 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.


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