Sir Giles Thompson (Cecil Parker) is at the head of a British aeroplane manufacturing business and is currently wooing an American, Paul Fisher (Alan Hale Jr), to offer to create passenger planes for his airline, though he has a rival who are keen to secure the contract too. But Thompson has an ace up his sleeve, as his top designer is Jack Hopkins (Michael Craig), and his latest model is sure to impress, unlike Hopkins himself, who has the well-deserved reputation of being irascible and bull-headed when it comes to his work. He hasn’t even given the aircraft a name yet, and in the boardroom they are frantically trying to concoct something appropriate, especially as Fisher is due in the country soon...
Genevieve remains one of the most beloved British films of all time with its mixture of vintage cars, quaint humour and the fighting spirit to succeed against the odds well to the fore, so was there a formula for creating a classic that moviemakers who came after could follow? Producer Peter Rogers, best known for the Carry On series, evidently thought there was; he didn't solely spawn saucy British comedy, he had other strings to his bow as well, and he produced many, not quite as well remembered comedies (and dramas and thrillers, for that matter) that did not rely so much on the ribaldry he made his name with. Gerald Thomas, his frequent director, was onboard here as well.
The formula according to this, as set out by Genevieve, would go on to influence many a nostalgic sitcom consciously or otherwise, but it wasn't vintage cars this hinged upon for the Iron Maiden of the title was no torture device but a steam traction engine, owned by the Hopkins character and the thing he is obsessed with. So preoccupied was he that the nation’s pluck as exemplified by that effort of the previous decade here translated into what was sad to say, somewhat obnoxious as he preferred his engine above the company of everyone, or anything, else, and believed this gave him all the permission he needed to behave as he liked in his interpersonal relationships, professional or otherwise.
Hopkins was pretty hard to watch as he steamrollered (literally) over everyone, fixated on entering a contest at Woburn Abbey (the Duke of Bedford appeared as himself, as he was wont to do, being something of a self-publicist). Somehow, while out for a run, he manages to crash into Fisher and his wife (Jeff Donnell) and daughter Kathy (Canadian television actress Anne Helm) who are driving to the airfield in their imported for the occasion Cadillac, and makes enemies of them all, a public relations disaster that he takes more or less in his stride. Having seen this sort of comedy before, we can tell he and Kathy will get together romantically by the end of the movie, yet he treated her so badly in the lead up to that union that you would be justified in seriously questioning her judgement.
At one point, after she nearly gets herself killed by crashing the runaway engine while trying to drive it out of the way of her car, Hopkins drags her out of the cab, puts her over his knee and spanks her, an activity the American publicity considered significant enough to place on their poster (retitled The Swingin' Maiden, unconvincingly). The overall impression was that steam engines turned you into a fanatical maniac, and it was hard to forgive Hopkins no matter how charming an actor Michael Craig was ordinarily. He had a rival for the contest (Noel Purcell) who was similarly afflicted and if anything even worse, a rabidly competitive contestant who digs a booby trap in his own road to sabotage Hopkins' chances of winning. Fair enough, it was a comedy and that would often involve exaggerated antics, but these engine drivers had been turned insane by their life’s passion; there were scattered laughs, mostly of the culture clash variety, but you could tweak this into an action thriller with very little difference. Music by Eric Rogers.
[Network's British Film DVD has trailers, the U.S. title sequence and a gallery as extras.]