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Sound Barrier, The (1952)

Courtesy of ITV Global Entertainment

Main image of Sound Barrier, The (1952)
Directed byDavid Lean
Production CompanyLondon Film Productions
In association withBritish Lion Film Corporation
Produced byDavid Lean
Story and Screenplay byTerence Rattigan
Photographed byJack Hildyard
Sets Designed byVincent Korda

Cast: Ralph Richardson (John 'J.R.' Ridgefield); Ann Todd (Susan Garthwaite); Nigel Patrick (Tony Garthwaite); John Justin (Philip Peel); Dinah Sheridan (Jess Peel); Joseph Tomelty (Will Sparks); Denholm Elliott (Christopher Ridgefield); Jack Allen ('Windy' Williams); Ralph Michael (Fletcher)

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A self-made aircraft manufacturer is determined that his company will be the first to build a plane which flies faster than sound.

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David Lean's third and final film with his wife Ann Todd was also his first for Alexander Korda's London Films, following the break-up of Cineguild. Prompted by a newspaper story, the film was fundamentally a tale of male courage in exploring the unknown, and the women who wait at home. With its exciting, if repetitive, flying sequences, the film marked a departure from the domestic or literary concerns which had characterised Lean's choice of subject matter to date. Its heroics look forward to Bridge on the River Kwai (1957) and Lawrence of Arabia (1962).

Lean devised some effective sequences, especially Tony and Susan's flight from London to Cairo, when the Alps and Greek and Egyptian antiquities are seen to the accompaniment of the jet's vapour trail in the sky, and the roar of its engine on the soundtrack. Also memorable is the prologue to Tony's fatal test flight, when he observes a bird climbing high into the sky before dropping like a stone towards the earth.

Distinguished playwright Terence Rattigan's script is strong when charting the difficult relationships of John Ridgefield with his daughter and his chief designer, but the domestic scenes between Tony and Susan, Phil and Jess, are weak. The mix of 'human stories' with supersonic thrills is an uneasy one. Renowned stage actor Ralph Richardson, who had appeared in several films for Korda, is a powerful presence as the ruthless tycoon and his two big scenes with Ann Todd are very effective.

The Sound Barrier was a great box-office success, but it is now rarely seen and has become one of the least-known of David Lean's films.

Janet Moat

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Video Clips
1. Flight to Cairo (4:42)
2. An omen (5:32)
3. Man with a vision (2:41)
Monthly Film Bulletin review
Ships with Wings (1941)
Arnold, Sir Malcolm (1921-2006)
Elliott, Denholm (1922-1992)
Hawkesworth, John (1920-2003)
Hildyard, Jack (1908-1990)
Lean, David (1908-1991)
Phillips, Leslie (1924-)
Rattigan, Terence (1911-1977)
Richardson, Ralph (1902-1983)
Sheridan, Dinah (1920-)
Todd, Ann (1909-1993)