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Sky's the Limit, The (1943)


Main image of Sky's the Limit, The (1943)
35mm, 14 min, black & white
DirectorAlberto Cavalcanti
Production CompanyEaling Studios
SponsorNational Savings Committee
ProducerMichael Balcon

Cast: Michael Rennie (George); John Mills (Tom)

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A recreation of one of thousands of RAF missions - in this case an intrepid bombing raid on Hanover - with the objective of promoting war savings bonds.

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This efficient and gripping account of a typical bombing raid on Hanover ("one out of the thousands of offensive operations conducted by the RAF all over the world", as John Mills explains at the end) was among a handful of films commissioned from Ealing in 1943 by the National Savings Committee, as part of its campaign to promote War Savings Bonds. Like the same year's Did You Ever See a Dream Talking? (d. Basil Dearden), The Sky's the Limit formed part of the NSC's 'Wings for Victory' campaign to raise funds to maintain the war in the air.

By 1943, with the shorts unit overseen by the hugely influential Brazilian Alberto Cavalcanti now into its third year, Ealing's project of fusing together documentary with more conventional fiction storytelling was well advanced. But despite the integration of 'found' documentary footage (notably the aerial shots and ground enemy anti-aircraft gunners), it's fair to say that The Sky's the Limit - believed to be directed by Cavalcanti - seems more fiction than documentary. The presence of rising stars John Mills and Michael Rennie (at the time a serving RAF pilot) among the bomber crew, and the recognisable - though impressive - model special effects put it in the territory of contemporary feature films.

All the same, there's an identifiable documentary element too. The reconstruction of a 'typical' mission based on real documented events is in keeping with well-established documentary practice, perhaps most famously exemplified in Humphrey Jennings' Fires Were Started, also released in 1943. A more direct influence on The Sky's the Limit is Harry Watt's classic feature-length 'story documentary' Target for Tonight, made for the Crown Film Unit in 1941. Target for Tonight's bomber crew 'T for Tommy' has its echo in The Sky's the Limit's own 'B for Bertie', and Cavalcanti's film feels in many ways like a condensed tribute to Watt's - not surprising, perhaps, given that the Brazilian had been a mentor to Watt at the GPO Film Unit, and was instrumental in bringing Watt to join him at Ealing in 1942.

Mark Duguid

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Video Clips
Complete film (12:56)
...One of Our Aircraft is Missing (1942)
Did You Ever See a Dream Talking? (1943)
Target for Tonight (1941)
Cavalcanti, Alberto (1897-1982)
Mills, John (1908-2005)
Ealing Studios (1938-59)
Ealing Propaganda Shorts