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Film / Wings Over Everest

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Wings Over Everest is a 1935 short film (22 minutes) directed by Geoffrey Barkas and Ivor Montagu.

It is a documentary short recounting the first Real Life attempt to fly over Mount Everest. This had never been attempted before, and it was no small feat in the 1930s when most airplanes did not fly anywhere near as high as the 9000 meters or so required to clear the mountain. Lady Lucy Houston (who, the film does not mention, was once a showgirl) agrees to fund the expedition. A party of adventurers led by Douglas Douglas-Hamilton, the Duke of Hamilton, then set out to conquer the mountain. The planes are assembled in England and then sent by boat to Karachi, India—not Karachi, Pakistan, but India, because this is The Raj.

The men wait for day after day to make their historic flight. Finally, when the weather clears, they go up on April 9, 1933 in two unpressurized biplanes, breathing bottled oxygen as they fly. Failure will mean death, because even if they survive a crash landing, they'd be stuck in the Himalayas without any gear or supplies. In the end they succeed, and wind up taking the first film footage of the "Top of the World".


In Real Life the actual expedition successfully made a second flight a few days later, because dust fouled up the still cameras of the first flight and prevented them from taking photos.


  • Documentary: Of the very first flight over the summit of Mount Everest.
  • Dramatization: Early documentarians had no problem with staging things, which is why we see a lot of scenes early of the explorers (and Lady Houston) very stiffly re-enacting their planning sessions for the expedition. (The aerial footage is of course real.)
  • Exploding Calendar: A page-a-day calendar flaps in the wind, as the narration reports that bad weather around Mt. Everest delays the flight. Then one page is blown off the calendar to bring us to April 3, finally a clear day, and the scout plane that measures the winds.
  • Gentleman Adventurer: Douglas Douglas-Hamilton, then addressed as Lord Clydesdale and who eventually succeeded his father to be the 14th Duke of Hamilton, who leads the expedition over Mt. Everest by air.
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  • Grande Dame: Lady Houston, who receives the explorers while wearing a turban, a fur stole, and pearls, and lounging on her own bed. (She was a former showgirl and Gold Digger.)
  • Hard-Work Montage: The designing, drafting, and construction of the two planes, as well as the women (the narrator specifies women) who sew the special suits and gloves the pilots will need to fly altitudes above 9000 m. The narrator makes sure to point out that the weight has to be just right, or the planes won't be able to clear the summit.
  • High-Class Glass: Amazingly, Blacker the "Chief Observer" of the expedition actually wears a High Class Glass. Even when he's taking film at 30,000 feet up.
  • Intro Dump: The interview of the last hire, one Peregrine Fellowes, gives the film a chance to introduce him and the audience to everyone else on the expedition.
  • Narrator: Fills in most of the story when the real people aren't awkwardly re-enacting their experiences.
  • P.O.V. Cam: A camera shows the POV of the expedition members who are driving up to Lady Houston's mansion, so they can hit her up for funding.
  • Scenery Porn: Mount Everest! Complete with an onscreen graphic that says "THE TOP OF THE WORLD" as the planes cross over the summit.
  • Stiff Upper Lip: Hilariously illustrated by an exchange between one of the pilots and the ground crew, after the planes have successfully returned.
    "Did you make it?"
    "How was it?"
    "All right."
  • Travel Montage: The transportation of the planes from England to India, complete with a graphic of a map with a line showing the ship going through the Suez Canal before making port in Karachi, followed by a montage of aerial shots as the planes fly over India to their forward base.