To compete with television in the treacherous Sixties, movie studios transferred the Epic scale of things even to the comedy realm, creating cult favorites like “It's a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World” (1963) for the adults (broad slapstick, with major stars and old vaudevillians); and “Chitty Chitty Bang Bang” (1968), for the kiddies. In the case of “Those Magnificent Men In Their Flying Machines or How I Flew From London To Paris In 25 Hours 11 Minutes” (hereon referred to, quite affectionately, as “Men”), the filmmakers and studio wisely chose to keep the pace brisk, keeping the film just a foot over the 2-hour mark.
An original idea fleshed out by director Ken Annakin and writer Jack Davies, “Men” was another comedic super-production, fondly recalled by several generations. Some of those lucky enough to have seen the film during it's original Todd-AO theatrical run witnessed the road show engagement (a frou-frou presentation which co-writer/director Ken Annakin astutely summarizes in his largely consistent feature-length commentary track). Many others simply grew up with the film on TV, and received an early education of broad, British wit from the cast of iconic actors (like gap-toothed, crescent-grinning Terry-Thomas).
“Men” can finally be enjoyed in a good anamorphic transfer, with the original intermission music dividing up the fanciful race sequences. The cinematography by Christopher Challis (later to lens “Chitty Chitty Bang Bang”) is sumptuous; capturing elegant sunsets, and wide views of the fully-functional recreations of vintage planes, there's also some amusing examples of keeping the wide panorama interesting, such as a white pooch that expertly sits, follows and wanders correctly out of frame during an elaborate tracking shot with a car, early in the film.
Ken Annakin is interviewed in an informative making-of featurette, and it should be watched ideally before switching to Annakin's commentary track. Lavishly illustrated with snapshots, artwork, and vivid descriptions of the unique planes and stunt work, the featurette offers a good breakdown of the film's unusually quick turnover from screenplay to finished film, with an international cast that includes a very young James Fox, and scene-stealing Jean-Pierre Cassel (a.k.a Vincent Cassel's pop).
Stuart Whitman had already appeared in several noteworthy British films by the time “Men” was offered, and director Annakin discusses initial casting choices, and recounts several juicy and amusing anecdotes of conflicts & relationships, and adding unscripted moments that merely enhanced already memorable characters. Annakin's calm, decisive description of major stunts and location work reveal a pro fully comfortable with complex productions, and it's no wonder Annakin's other notable works includes the British sequences in “The Longest Day” (1962), and the epic “Battle of the Bulge” (1965).
A huge series of still galleries, arranged to cover major production stages, are organized with large text cards, perhaps originally intended for a planned but unreleased laserdisc edition (which may explain the widescreen print that was issued to some Pay TV stations in the mid-Nineties). Those familiar with laserdiscs will recognize the gallery structure, stepping through myriad images, and pausing to read various factually detailed intertitles.
Perhaps tiring of the more cacophonous epics, Annakin and Davies later re-teamed for a similar-themed comedy, with “Monte Carlo Or Bust” (also called “Those Daring Young Men In Their Jaunty Jalopies” for the American market), in 1969.
© 2004 Mark R. Hasan