Review: Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger’s “One of Our Aircraft is Missing,” Starring Hugh Burden

Bernard Miles, Hugh Burden, Eric Portman, and Hugh Williams in “One of Our Aircraft is Missing”
Bernard Miles, Hugh Burden, Eric Portman, and Hugh Williams in “One of Our Aircraft is Missing”

Following the success of their propaganda thriller 49th Parallel, the British writer/director team of Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger reversed the plot for their next feature One of Our Aircraft is Missing. Rather than Nazis stranded in Canada, here the story follows six British airmen (Eric Portman, Hugh Williams, Hugh Burden, Godfrey Tearle, Bernard Miles, and Emrys Jones) whose plane crashes in occupied Holland. With help from members of the Dutch resistance, the men hide from Nazi soldiers as they attempt to escape back to England.

Powell and Pressburger (the latter credited as co-director for the first time) pushed for realism on the picture; Powell would write how “I had decided on complete naturalism. There would be not music. There would only be the natural sounds of a country at war. It was not a documentary; it was a detached narrative, told from the inside, of what it is like to be a pawn in the game of total war.”1 At times, that approach is tremendously effective—a slow-paced flying sequence prior to the crash dazzles both with Oscar-nominated special effects and the realistic sound design.

But while 49th Parallel was rigorously paced with lots of location shooting, much of the later scenes in One of Our Aircraft is Missing take place on soundstages and are full of the same heavy-handed speeches about the war delivered by mediocre actors. Warner Brothers’ Desperate Journey, a more mindless action-packed take on the same plot, at least has the likes of Ronald Reagan and Errol Flynn to sell similar speechifying. However, the film was successful enough that Powell and Pressburger were able to follow it up with the epic Technicolor production The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp, their first great picture that led them to become among the most respected filmmakers in England.

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For More on One of Our Aircraft is Missing

Read the review in The New York Times

References   [ + ]

1. Michael Powell, A Life in Movies (New York: Knopf, 1986), 389.