Bil’s rating (out of 5): BBB.5. USA, 1957. Leland Hayward Productions, Warner Bros., Billy Wilder Productions. Screenplay by Billy Wilder, Wendell Mayes, adaptation by Charles Lederer, based on the book by Charles A. Lindbergh. Cinematography by Robert Burks, J. Peverell Marley. Produced by Leland Hayward. Music by Franz Waxman. Production Design by Art Loel. Costume Design by Jane Leonard, Vic Vallejo. Film Editing by Arthur P. Schmidt. Academy Awards 1957.
Growing up obsessed with airplanes, Charles Lindbergh (James Stewart) purchased a junk heap of a little flyer that he used to make a living, from delivering air mail to giving flying lessons to the public. Having known for a long time of the Orteig Prize, a cash reward offered to anyone who can cross the Atlantic Ocean on a single flight, Lindbergh pursues his dream of winning the contest, believing he can fly his small propeller airplane from Roosevelt Island to Paris in one go. He raises funding from dubious but dedicated businessmen, assembles his personal crew and then, in a very impressively intimate sequence of scenes, spends forty hours alone in a cockpit. Despite a weighty running time, this film has no unnecessary fat to it, focusing on its protagonist as he goes step by step through accomplishing his dream against a great many odds. Beautifully photographed, the scenes of him crossing the Atlantic really do feel like he is up in the air (with visual effects that hold up quite nicely), and while Stewart didn’t need to prove his value as a movie star at this point, it’s wonderful to see how exceptional he is at commanding your attention with so little opportunity for movement or interaction (his only companion for most of the film is a fly). Stewart had for years campaigned to make the film and star as the man who, at this point, was in his early twenties, and his being forty-nine cannot be hidden by some very good wig work, but he still maintains the straight-arrow morality and passionate intelligence that movie audiences always loved about him. Billy Wilder directs with sincerity and little flourish, trusting the narrative to be enough but still including the odd moment of his trademark witty sparkle: in a film overloaded by scenes of men in suits arguing, the inclusion of a small but sharp scene in which a female admirer gifts Lindbergh the makeup mirror in her purse goes a long way.