This is a very simple film, and it is not giving a thing away to reveal
that it concerns a test pilot trying to cope with landing a damaged
experimental plane. After the engine of his test plane catches fire and
it becomes only marginally airworthy, he singlehandedly over-rides
ground orders to bail out and ditch the plane and tries to save it.
What happens next forms the core of the story. There are several things
that make this film especially watchable, and I enjoyed it
The best reason to watch the film is the fine performance by Jack
Hawkins. He gives a wonderful portrayal of an ordinary man called on to
go above and beyond the call of duty, and he manages to maintain a
stiff upper lip throughout (call it what you will, that's a compliment,
not a slur).
The film essentially is a character study, both of the Hawkins
character and of the people flying with him and watching on the ground,
and of his quite ordinary family. We get a range of emotional
reactions, all rational but some diametrically opposed to each other.
Everybody has a different interest in the outcome, some venal. I
particularly liked how the children were handled, that is a tricky
situation. And how do you tell your wife when you come home quite
normally, to whom you have not spoken since breakfast, that you almost
died today? The shots of the plane in the air are fabulous if you like
classic airplanes, and the suspense is maintained until the very end of
The scene I like the best is one in which Hawkins makes a long,
strained walk to the aviation office, barely maintaining his composure
after all the stress he has faced. I know what that is like, and
Hawkins does a fabulous job of showing how built-up pressure becomes
hardest to control only after the difficult task is done. A very human
way to react. A brilliant acting job.
Notable also for being one of Donald Pleasance's first film roles - he
always looked basically the same throughout his long career! - and the
fact that this is a purely British film, made at Ealing, featuring
British actors who fit their roles nicely. No false Hollywood touches.