Monday, January 09, 2012

Fabulous Films: The Spirit of St Louis

In 1927, a young man, alone in a single engine airplane, flew non-stop across the entire North Atlanic Ocean to the Le Bourget Field in Paris.  A distance of three thousand six hundred and ten miles.

In this triumph of mind, body and spirit, Charles A. Lindbergh influenced the lives of everyone on earth - for in the 33 hours and 30 minutes of his flight the air age became a reality.
This is the story of that flight.

Poster - Spirit of St. Louis, The_02.jpg (1878×2922)
This film was a delightful discovery for me. My father and his father before him have a rich heritage in aviation, so seeing the epic story of Charles Lindbergh's dream of the first solo Transatlantic flight, from conception to reality - masterfully portrayed by the incomparable Jimmy Stewart - was a real treat!

The 1957 biopic starts out on the eve of the historic flight - Lindbergh is on his bed in the airport hotel, trying to find the sleep that evades him.  The full import of what he is about to undertake is starting to bear down on him, and his mind wanders back to the beginning of his quest to prove the possibility of a  Transatlantic flight.

We see him flash back in his mind's eye to the early days of his flying career, developing from a crazy young barnstormer to a skilled and daredevil mail pilot.

We watch as the plane was built from scratch as Lindbergh tenaciously pursued his dream, and see the origins of the famous flight and the talented team of men that drew together to design and manufacture the plane that would be known as The Spirit of St Louis.  There's plenty of humor, grit, and a undertone of intense excitement as the film progresses to the day of the voyage.

My dad used to build radial engines just like the one below, and I remember playing in a big shop just like the one below as a little girl!  It was so neat to have all of those memories recalled by the set where the plane construction took place.

At last, the morning dawns.  The film flashes back to the hotel, where Lindbergh, who never did get any sleep that night, finally heads out to the hangar where the Spirit is waiting.  Reporters, aviators, and tourists from miles around are waiting to see him off.

Lindbergh did everything possible to keep the cargo weight down, making more room for precious fuel.  He even decided to go without a radio or instrument panel.  The following dialogue gives an idea of the self-sufficient and stubborn will Stewart portrayed for Lindbergh as he started out on his flight:

Lindbergh: I take up a compass heading of 65 degrees out of New York, keep correcting the heading every 100 miles. 

Benjamin Frank Mahoney, President Ryan Airlines Co.: What happens over the water? 
Lindbergh: Over the water I keep watching the waves, see which direction the wind's blowing in, allow for the drift... 
Mahoney, President Ryan Airlines Co.: And hope the Lord will do the rest. 
Lindbergh: No, I never bother the Lord. I'll do the rest. 
Mahoney, President Ryan Airlines Co.: Might need a little help up there, don't you think? 
 Lindbergh: No, it will only get in the way. 

Well, by sheer will power and luck (or was it something else...?) he stayed awake for the  33 hours and 30 minutes of his flight, battling the frigid North Atlantic which nearly took him down by freezing the cylinders of the plane's engine.  By pulling off course to warmer air, the ice was melted and he continued toward the Eastern horizon.

Utterly exhausted, and having no idea where he was, land was sighted!
Ireland was sighted.  The very point he set out for three thousand miles before, with an ocean and no map between.
I just love the yell of joy he gives as he soars by some Irish fishermen.  Only Jimmy could put all of the weariness, the triumph, and the edge of hysteria into that yell;)

But his destination was still hours away, on Le Bourget Field in Paris.  This has to be my favorite part of the film.  Remember, Lindbergh had to find the runway, somewhere in all the vast, glittering carpet of Paris at night, without instruments.

Also recall his earlier conviction of his own ability to do anything he set out to do, relying on his own power and skill.
Now, exhausted to the edge of insensibility, at the very pinnacle of his triumph and the depths of his weakness, he calls out in a desperate cry to the Creator to give him the strength to land.

And when the solid earth of Le Bourget Field rushes up to meet the landing gear of his craft, and the motor cuts, there is a sense that more than one great victory has been accomplished.

I love this movie.  It's bursting with talent, humor, determination, history, and human spirit.
Watch it!  Watch it and tell me what you think.  Hope you love it as much as I do! ;)

{More screen caps on my Pinterest board}


  1. Jimmy Stewart was the BEST!

  2. I absolutely love this movie! Excellent review, dear. You made me want to watch it again:)

  3. I got so wrapped up in your story that the part about his engine's cylinders freezing caught me completely by surprise. Good one, but please don't ever do that again - one such moment of mental anguish is surely enough for a lifetime.

    Perhaps you were thinking of carb ice, or simply parasitic weight and drag caused by ice buildup on the fuselage and airfoils?

  4. My dear brother:
    This, your first ever comment on my blog, does in every way fulfill my expectation of your prowess. Your ability to detect even the most minute of discrepancies in my narrative does my heart good with the knowledge of your concern for my journalistic accuracy, but I may as well inform you that my terminology, though not to your scientifically precise ears entirely correct, had the same general idea in mind as your parasitic weight and drag caused by ice buildup on the fuselage and airfoils. Ice. Frozen. Loosing altitude. Bad.

  5. Wow! My family prides itself on knowing the classics, but we've never seen this! I'll have to make sure we do, soon!!! Thank you for the inspiring review ; )

  6. Oh, and have you seen Hatari? It's one of our favorites, with John Wayne (but it's not a western) filmed in 1962. Great story, fun actors, and fantastic action with wild animals on the serengeti...

  7. "Ice. Frozen. Loosing altitude. Bad." lol!
    Thank you for the laugh, dear.;)

  8. I've wanted to see this movie forever. I guess maybe I'll break down and just buy it. :)

  9. @ Eva girl - don't you just love discovering a great now movie? =) Hatari sounds really neat too - Have to admit I'm not much of a John Wayne fan, but he did do some truly great films. *ducks* :D And I always love tales of the serengeti...

    @ Tasha: =D not at all!

    and Amanda, yep, if you're going to buy something, I'd recommend this. There's something for everyone to enjoy;)

  10. This movie sounds great! I'll definitely have to watch it sometime soon! Jimmy Stuart is one of my most favorite actors of all time, too:)!


  11. Looks interesting, Ill have to look for it...



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