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Lion Has Wings, The (1939)

Courtesy of ITV Global Entertainment Ltd

Main image of Lion Has Wings, The (1939)
DirectorMichael Powell, Brian Desmond Hurst, Adrian Brunel
Production Co.London Film Productions, Alexander Korda Film Productions
ProducerAlexander Korda

Cast: Ralph Richardson (Wing Commander Richardson); Merle Oberon (Mrs Richardson); June Duprez (June); Flora Robson (Queen Elizabeth I); Robert Douglas (briefing officer)

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A rousing and patriotic propaganda documentary which includes some fictional scenes.

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For some time in the 1930s, Alexander Korda apparently employed Winston Churchill as a writer. The two became friends and Korda promised Churchill that if war broke out he would put all the energies of Denham into making a great propaganda film. Unfortunately when it came to fulfilling his promise, Korda was not able to come up with funding for such a project (the Ministry of Information had not begun to put money into films at this point). Consequently, he raised the money on his own life insurance policy, so determined was he to realize his aim.

The Lion Has Wings, intended to reassure the public of the might of the British Air Force, was already well on the way to completion by the time war broke out. In the end, shooting took just twelve days. The Ministry of Information assigned an Air Force advisor to the production and several sites were identified for filming. This is the reason why the film has three directors - film was shot simultaneously in various locations, including Mildenhall in Suffolk for the preparations for the first bomber raid and Hornchurch in Essex for Fighter Operations.

The film was completed in five weeks and was released in early November. The all-star cast were all paid a flat fee of £5, although all were compensated by Korda once the film started to do well. The English version was narrated by E.V.H. Emmett, a well known newsreel narrator at the time, who gave the film a strong sense of authority. An American version was also recorded and it was dubbed into several other different European languages.

The film was not received well critically, though, and audiences saw through its rather simplistic messages quickly. The film journal Documentary Newsletter commented "Puerile it is that all the successes are on our side, that the Nazi pilots are cowardly morons, that Nazi Air Command is ignorant of balloon barrage". A Ministry of Information memo also noted that the film was "little more than three documentaries unconvincingly strung together".

The Lion Has Wings is significant as the first propaganda film to be released, and it is possible to see its influences in many other propaganda films made during World War Two, although this may have been because Korda became an MoI advisor after finishing the project.

Lou Alexander

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Video Clips
1. This is Britain (3:03)
2. Why we fight (3:45)
3. In the air (3:14)
Production stills
Monthly Film Bulletin review
Brunel, Adrian (1892-1958)
Dalrymple, Ian (1903-1989)
De Marney, Derrick (1906-1978)
Korda, Alexander (1893-1956)
Malleson, Miles (1888-1969)
Miles, Bernard (1907-1991)
Oberon, Merle (1911-1979)
Powell, Michael (1905-1990)
Robson, Flora (1902-1984)
Alexander Korda and London Films