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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 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, Yûjirô Ishihara, John Le Mesurier, Benny Hill, and Terry-Thomas as Sir Percy Ware-Armitage. 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. (To be fair, that took little effort, as both Fate and Ware-Armitage are more or less based on the classic Dastardly Whiplash villain).


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.
  • Ambiguously Gay: Richard. He's oddly hesitant to marry Patricia despite her being attractive, intelligent, upper class, and interested in him. He also notes how handsome Orvil is before Patricia... while talking to Patricia. He doesn't mind her getting with Orvil at the end in the slightest.
  • Amusing Injuries
  • Animated Credits Opening: Featuring the magnificent art of Ronald Searle.
  • Artistic License – Awards: Captain Rumpelstoss is shown wearing the Iron Cross, Germany's most iconic military decoration. However, he's too young to have served in the Franco-Prussian War, the last time it was awarded prior to World War I.
  • 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.
  • But I Read a Book About It: Colonel Manfred von Holstein attempts to teach himself how to fly by reading the official German army handbook on piloting; while he is flying. He does surprisingly well until he drops the book.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • Crazy Jealous Guy: Richard
  • Dastardly Whiplash: Sir Percy Ware-Armitage.
  • Disposable Fiancé: Richard gradually emerges as one.
  • 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!")
  • 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
  • Fanservice: the girl 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.
  • Innocent Innuendo: Richard Mays would like to take Patricia "up". Her father is okay with that... until Mays reveals that he means physically flying with her in his plane.
  • 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.
  • 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 Harakiri, 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.
  • Overprotective Dad: Patricia's father absolutely forbids his daughter from riding in a plane, getting angry at anyone who even suggests it. (Don't forget though how primitive - and dangerous - they were at this time; it's hard to blame him.)
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • Stiff Upper Lip: Richard and the Navy pilot.
  • Those Magnificent Flying Machines: The Trope Namer.
  • Wacky Racing: If nothing else, the amusing characters and the very nature of the race make it quite wacky.
  • Worthy Opponent: Richard and Orvil eventually develop respect for each other.


Example of: