|One of Our Aircraft is Missing|
|Directed by||Michael Powell |
|Written by||Michael Powell |
|Produced by||Michael Powell |
|Edited by||David Lean|
|Distributed by||Anglo-Amalgamated Film Distributors|
|UK: 102 minutes|
US: 82 minutes
|Box office||$478,939 (US rentals)|
One of Our Aircraft is Missing is a 1942 British black-and-white war film, mainly set in the German-occupied Netherlands. It was the fourth collaboration between the British writer-director-producer team of Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger and the first film they made under the banner of The Archers.
Although considered a wartime propaganda film and made under the authority of the Ministry of Information as part of a series of film productions specifically aimed at morale in the United Kingdom, it is elevated by the story and production values above the usual jingoistic fare. Today, One of Our Aircraft is Missing is considered one of the "best of British films of the era".
A reversal of the plot of Powell and Pressburger's previous film, 49th Parallel (1941), One of Our Aircraft is Missing has the British trying to escape with the help of various locals. In the 49th Parallel, the Germans stranded in Canada argued and fought amongst themselves, while the British fliers in this film work well together as a team.
The crew of an RAF Vickers Wellington bomber are forced to bail out over the Netherlands near the Zuider Zee after one of their engines is damaged during a nighttime raid on Stuttgart. Five of the six airmen find each other; the sixth goes missing. The first Dutch citizens they encounter, led by English-speaking school teacher Else Meertens (Pamela Brown), are suspicious at first as no aircraft is reported to have crashed in the Netherlands (the abandoned bomber actually reaches England before hitting a pylon). After much debate and some questioning, the Dutch agree to help, despite their fear of German reprisals.
Accompanied by many of the Dutch, the disguised airmen, led by the pilots (Hugh Burden and Eric Portman), bicycle through the countryside to a football match where they are passed along to the local burgomaster (Burgemeester in Dutch, Hay Petrie). To their astonishment, they discover their missing crewman playing for one of the teams. Reunited, they hide in a truck carrying supplies to Jo de Vries (Googie Withers).
De Vries pretends to be pro-German, blaming the British for killing her husband in a bombing raid (whereas he is actually in England working as a radio announcer). She hides them in her mansion, despite the Germans being garrisoned there. Under cover of an air raid, she leads them to a rowing boat. The men row undetected to the sea, but a bridge sentry finally spots them and a shot seriously wounds the oldest man, Sir George Corbett (Godfrey Tearle). Nevertheless, they reach the North Sea.
They take shelter in a German rescue buoy, where they take two shot-down enemy aviators prisoner, but not before one sends a radio message. By chance, two British boats arrive first. Because Corbett cannot be moved, they simply tow the buoy back to England. Three months later, he is fully recovered, and the crew board their new four-engine heavy bomber, a Short Stirling.
As appearing in screen credits (main roles identified):
The title "One of Our Aircraft is Missing" is taken from a phrase that was often heard in contemporary news reports in the UK after a bombing raid, "one [or often more] of our aircraft failed to return", which originally served as the working title of the screenplay but was then altered to a less-downbeat form. Although the screenplay was not completely developed by the time of production, Powell considered it "half-finished ... it remained (that way) for most of the production." One of the reasons for continual revisions to the screenplay were the constant advances in wartime technology that were occurring.
The Admiralty informed the producers and directors of the use of "lobster pots", floating steel platforms, hitherto unknown to the public, that had been anchored in the North Sea to facilitate rescue of downed airmen. When Powell learned of this innovation, he pointedly rewrote the screenplay to include this refuge as the means to deliver the crew to safety. With help from the Ministry of Information, permission to use these platforms was obtained.
The actors that were gathered for the film included recognised stage and screen talents such as Eric Portman, Hugh Williams and Godfrey Tearle as well as newcomers such as Peter Ustinov making his film debut. Although mainly centred on male roles, Powell encouraged Pressburger to create a number of significant female characters. The result were strong, credible roles for both Pamela Brown and Googie Withers as female Dutch Resistance leaders. The main leads, Hugh Burden, Eric Portman, Hugh Williams, Emrys Jones, Bernard Miles, and Godfrey Tearle, formed the crew of "B for Bertie" and introduced themselves and their characters' positions on board the bomber in a progressive sequence that was filmed, like most of the aircraft interiors, in a Vickers Wellington "shell" supplied by the RAF, with working features such as lighting and electrically powered turrets.
To maintain an aura of authenticity, actual RAF bombers on "ops" (operations) were filmed but the aerial scene of the bombing of Stuttgart was created using a large-scale model at Riverside Studios, Hammersmith. The giant Wellington replica actually covered the entire studio floor and was rigged with lights and fitted for effects shots including explosions. On screen, the effect was striking and realistically duplicated the flight and bombing raid carried out at the start of the film.
Much of the outdoor sequences set in the Netherlands were shot at Boston in Lincolnshire, with many of the town's landmarks visible, for example, Shodfriars Quay and the railway swing bridge.
Notably, there is no scored music, Powell deliberately strove for "naturalism" relying on natural sounds that would be heard by the characters. However, the Dutch national anthem, Wilhelmus, is heard during the film as part of the campaign of passive resistance by the population, and the film finishes with the coat of arms of the Netherlands on screen while the opening bars of the anthem are sung by a choir.
One of Our Aircraft is Missing was cut by 20 minutes for its original American release.
According to Kinematograph Weekly the film was one of the most popular at the British box office in 1942, after Mrs Miniver, First of the Few, How Green was My Valley, Reap the Wild Wind, Holiday Inn, Captains of the Clouds, and Sergeant York and before Hatter's Castle and Young Mr Pitt.
One of Our Aircraft is Missing received two Oscar nominations, Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger for Best Writing, Original Screenplay, and Ronald Neame (photography) and C. C. Stevens (sound) for Best Effects, Special Effects. Powell's nomination was the only Academy Award nomination he ever received in his career – Pressburger won an Academy Award for 49th Parallel and was nominated for The Red Shoes as well.
One of Our Aircraft Is Missing joins other British war films as one of the most "well-remembered, accomplished, and enjoyed" realist films of the period.
In 2014, One of Our Aircraft is Missing was included in a set of war films packaged together and sold to raise funds for The Royal British Legion veterans organisation.
One of Our Aircraft is Missing is mentioned in the Dad's Army episode "The Lion Has Phones". When Lance-Corporal Jones tries to ring up GHQ, he mistakenly gets the cinema, whose operator tells him the film is on. There is a mention of Eric Portman and Googie Withers. A poster for the film is on display at the cinema. Correspondingly, in the episode of Dad's Army, "Time on My Hands", Pike knows how to open a parachute because, he says, he's seen it done in One of Our Aircraft is Missing. The episode "Sons of the Sea" also contains numerous elements from this film.
In the James Bond film From Russia With Love, after dispatching an attack helicopter sent by SPECTRE, 007 observes, “I’d say one of their aircraft is missing.”
The title is parodied by many other works: