Newest Reviews
Now, At Last!
Tales from the Hood
Radio Parade of 1935
Death at Broadcasting House
Ghost Strata
Call to Spy, A
Other Lamb, The
Every Time I Die
Lynn + Lucy
Honest Thief
Blood and Money
Rose: A Love Story
Antrum: The Deadliest Film Ever Made
Om Dar-B-Dar
Silencing, The
J.R. 'Bob' Dobbs and the Church of SubGenius
Dick Johnson is Dead
Legacy of Lies
I Am Woman
Alien Addiction
Dare, The
South Terminal
Little Monsters
Yield to the Night
My Zoe
Young Playthings
End of Summer
Times of Harvey Milk, The
Perfectly Normal Family, A
Newest Articles
Down to the Welles: Orson Welles Great Mysteries Volume 2 on DVD
Herding Cats: Sleepwalkers on Blu-ray
Confessions of a Porn Star: Adult Material on DVD
They're Still Not Sure It is a Baby: Eraserhead on Blu-ray
Werewolves are Real: Dog Soldiers on Digital
Rose: A Love Story - Producers April Kelley and Sara Huxley Interview
Phone Phreak: 976-EVIL on Blu-ray
Living the Nightmare: Dementia on Blu-ray
Becky and The Devil to Pay: Ruckus and Lane Skye Interview
Big Top Bloodbath: Circus of Horrors on Blu-ray
A Knock on the Door at 4 O'clock in the Morning: The Strangers on Blu-ray
Wives of the Skies: Honey Lauren Interview
To Catch a Thief: After the Fox on Blu-ray
Tackling the Football Film: The Arsenal Stadium Mystery on Blu-ray
Film Noir's Golden Couple: This Gun for Hire on Blu-ray
The Doctor Who Connection: Invasion on Blu-ray
Hill's Angles: Benny Hill and Who Done It? on Blu-ray
Big Willie Style: Keep It Up Downstairs on Blu-ray
Walt's Vault: 5 Cult Movies on Disney+
Paradise Lost: Walkabout on Blu-ray
Buster Makes Us Feel Good: Buster Keaton - 3 Films (Volume 3) on Blu-ray
Network On Air: Nights In with ABC 3 - Don't Go Away - I Could Do with a Bit of Cheer Now!
What Use is Grief to a Horse? Equus on Blu-ray
For God's Sake Strap Yourselves Down: Flash Gordon on 4K UHD Collector's Edition
Party Hard: Bill & Ted's Excellent Adventure on Blu-ray
  Conquest of the Air, The A Wing And A Prayer
Year: 1940
Director: Zoltan Korda, etc
Stars: Frederick Culley, Laurence Olivier, Franklin Dyall, Henry Victor, Hay Petrie, John Turnbull, Charles Lefeaux, Bryan Powley, Alan Wheatley, John Abbott, Winston Churchill, Charles Frend
Genre: Documentary, HistoricalBuy from Amazon
Rating:  6 (from 1 vote)
Review: History is littered with people who wanted to emulate the birds and defy gravity to take to the skies, but as the legend of Icarus demonstrated, simply strapping on a pair of wings wouldn’t necessarily lead to flight. Indeed, as with that mythological figure, it resulted in many deaths down the centuries when so many failed, leaping from the top of cliffs or tall buildings with their equipment only to be killed when they hit the ground below, their makeshift wings not enough to support them. But this did not stop the fascination with the subject, and there were time after time foolhardy souls taking their lives in their hands, from the days of Emperor Nero who witnessed a prototypical scientist come a cropper, to the medieval era when you could be locked up for trying to go against what was perceived to be the word of God. But try they did, try, try again…

This history of manned flight was accused even at the time it was belatedly released of merely recreating a school lesson only with illustrations in the form of re-enactments and actual footage of the events in question, and Charles Frend’s narration was often held up as the way not to perform that courtesy, a dry schoolmaster rather than inspirational tutor. That said, there was an authority to the presentation that could be quite engaging, and there was humour, so it wasn’t a dead loss by any means, it was more that The Conquest of the Air was a compromised effort that escaped onto British screens three years after it had been created, only with new footage to acknowledge that now it was 1940, there was another war on. Therefore Sir Winston Churchill was crowbarred in between the flight sequences, sitting at a desk to deliver a comment so brief you wondered why he bothered at all.

Obviously at this stage any lack of reference to this second global war was going to look pretty odd since that’s what everyone in the nation was concerned with, but it did sum up the rushed, thrown together tone of the documentary. It shouldn’t have been this way at all, for it had been concocted by Alexander Korda, possibly the most influential man British cinema ever saw, as part of a series of lavish films taking travel on land, sea and air as their subjects; this was the only lasting result of that, and even then it had sat on the shelf seemingly because nobody quite knew what to do with it. It opened with a succession of actors in period garb throwing themselves to their doom – what else could you say about those early years other than they were fumbling steps towards a goal that would not be reached for centuries to come? But once we get past Leonardo da Vinci (whose face, oddly, is never shown throughout his segment, an almost religious reverence) ballooning establishes itself and the Montgolfier Brothers make their presence felt.

The only really famous face as far as the cast went was Laurence Olivier, playing extravagant balloonist Vincent Lunardi, and he had barely a minute of screen time, the result of the editor apparently wanting what would have been an epic feature to be over with as soon as possible. This did make for a breezy race through history, but you felt they were glossing over details that could have fleshed out the personalities involved: Otto Lilienthal (Henry Victor) looks to have been built up as a real hero in from what remains of his section, but makes a minor impression in the final cut. By the point of the twentieth century they had actual footage to use, though the Wright Brothers were still portrayed in re-enactments by two actors who looked almost nothing like them, and they were keen to point out the contribution of the European pioneers who laid the groundwork. After that, there was a skip through the later big names like Louis Blériot, Amy Johnson, Amelia Earhart and so forth, with such clips as the World War I aerial dogfights and the still-unexplained Hindenburg airship disaster, though the toll the practice took on lives was never far from the film’s thoughts. From what was left, a lightly eccentric rush through history, but diverting for all that.

[Network's DVD has a better picture than the public domain versions, and a gallery as an extra.]
Reviewer: Graeme Clark


This review has been viewed 1398 time(s).

As a member you could Rate this film

Review Comments (0)

Untitled 1

Forgotten your details? Enter email address in Username box and click Reminder. Your details will be emailed to you.

Latest Poll
Which star is the best at shouting?
Arnold Schwarzenegger
Brian Blessed
Tiffany Haddish
Steve Carell
Olivia Colman
Captain Caveman
Sylvester Stallone
Gerard Butler
Samuel L. Jackson
Bipasha Basu

Recent Visitors
Graeme Clark
Paul Smith
Darren Jones
Andrew Pragasam
  Lee Fiveash
  Mick Stewart
Enoch Sneed
  Dsfgsdfg Dsgdsgsdg


Last Updated: