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Sunday, March 18, 2012

The Sound Barrier (1952)

The owner (Ralph Richardson) of an aircraft company is determined to break the sound barrier. To this end, despite the trepidation from his daughter (Ann Todd), he recruits his son in law (Nigel Patrick) as a test pilot for his program in spite of the dangers. Thirty years before THE RIGHT STUFF, David Lean directed this fictionalized story from a screenplay by Terence Rattigan (SEPARATE TABLES) which was both a critical and popular hit in its day. While Oscar winner Jack Hildyard's (BRIDGE ON THE RIVER KWAI) aerial footage is spectacular, the narrative itself is a rather hoary piece with the daredevil pilot heroics and the waiting wives. What the film does convey very well is the excitement that those pilots and aircraft engineers must have felt during the transition from propeller planes to the jet travel. Richardson's tightly wound performance was greatly admired when the film came out, he won the New York Film Critics award for best actor. But today, the technical inaccuracies (not to mention that Chuck Yeager broke the sound barrier in 1947) preclude the film from being anything more than a curio and it's probably one of Lean's least seen films. The underscore is by Malcolm Arnold. With John Justin (THIEF OF BAGDAD), Denholm Elliott and Dinah Sheridan.

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