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...One of Our Aircraft is Missing (1942)

British Film Institute

Main image of ...One of Our Aircraft is Missing (1942)
35mm, 106 min, black & white
Written, Directed and Produced byMichael Powell and Emeric Pressburger
Production CompanyBritish National Films, Archers Film Productions
PhotographerRonald Neame
EditorDavid Lean

Cast: Hugh Burden (John Glyn Haggard), Eric Portman (Tom Earnshaw), Hugh Williams (Frank Shelley), Emrys Jones (Bob Ashley), Bernard Miles (Geoff Hickman), Godfrey Tearle (Sir George Corbett), Googie Withers (Jo De Vries)

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The crew of bomber B for Bertie are forced to bail out over occupied Holland, where they seek help from the resistance to return home.

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Made quickly and relatively cheaply (for £700,000) at the height of the war, One of Our Aircraft is Missing (1942) was one of Powell and Pressburger's early successes both critically and financially. Although the script is a little shapeless and the story tends to wander from one episode to another, the direction is taut and scenes are well handled by Powell. On the strength of its box-office, Powell and Pressburger were offered an unprecedented film-by-film deal with J. Arthur Rank, allowing them to choose their own projects.

Aircraft was one of the first major film roles for Googie Withers - who had previously appeared in four Powell 'quota quickies' - as the Dutch resistance leader who comes to the airmen's aid, and whose mixture of charm and determination baffles them. The character provides further evidence of the way the war was beginning to change society and the role of women, as does a similarly strong role for Pamela Brown. Both actresses attracted the attention of critic C.A. Lejeune in The Observer.

The gripping story of the airmen also impressed the New Statesman. Particularly striking is the opening sequence, in which Powell shoots each airman in close-up, creating intimacy and giving the audience a sense of the bomber's cramped conditions and the dangers its crew face. The low position of the camera, looking admiringly up at the airmen, reinforces their heroism.

For the flying scenes, art director David Rawnsley covered the entire studio floor with a model of Stuttgart in miniature; cameraman Freddie Ford completed the aerial camera shots by lying flat on his stomach for ten hours a day high in the roof of the studio. The painstaking work paid off: the viewer feels the terrifying danger the airman confront as they fly over enemy lines under fire from anti-aircraft guns.

The creation of such imaginary worlds was to become a hallmark of Powell and Pressburger's films. Aircraft signalled the end of the first phase of their partnership; with the freedom its success brought them, their work together now took an increasingly ambitious direction.

Nigel Arthur

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Video Clips
1. Pastoral (2:01)
2. The permit (4:31)
3. The escape (5:10)
Monthly Film Bulletin review
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Sky's the Limit, The (1943)
Sound Barrier, The (1952)
Brown, Pamela (1917-1975)
Culver, Roland (1900-1984)
Helpmann, Robert (1909-1986)
Lean, David (1908-1991)
Miles, Bernard (1907-1991)
Neame, Ronald (1911-2010)
Portman, Eric (1903-1969)
Powell, Michael (1905-1990)
Pressburger, Emeric (1902-1988)
Rome, Stewart (1886-1965)
Withers, Googie (1917-2011)
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