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Notes from the Mass Observation Report
Dec 1939, Report No. 15
"The Lion Has Wings"
(Reactions of audiences to film)

Terry Hanstock kindly got me a copy of the Mass Observation Report that deals with The Lion Has Wings. A few interesting points in amongst tables of figures.

They sampled audiences at 5 cinemas, Leicester Square, Tottenham Court Road, Cricklewood, the Gaumont in Streatham and the Lido in Bolton. So it's VERY biased towards London and the South East.

In fact one interviewee commented on the opening sequence with all the nice schools, houses & hospitals "It was the sort of England that you meet with once in a lifetime". I wonder if he was from Bolton? :)

A few, nearly all women, said there was too much of the love scenes between Ralph Richardson & Merle Oberon.

Some were a bit puzzled when they played the national anthem (at the end of the radio broadcast announcing that war had been declared). They didn't know if they should stand up or not.

One wondered how they got away with showing so many things that should be kept secret. In a way that was the *real* propaganda value. Most of the radar & control set-up wasn't as extensive as they made it out to be in the film :)
(although they didn't actually show any radar)

We knew that they included a section from "Fire Over England (1937)" with Dame Flora doing the "Heart of an Englishman" speech. But it seems they also included quite a few scenes from "The Gap", an instructional film (instructional for who?) on the state of Britain's air defences. They also included a few bits from an uncompleted MGM feature on the RAF called "Shadow of the Wing". One of the interviewees attended a screening where they also showed a documentary "The Londoners (1940)" (Realist Films, Dir: John Taylor, Prod: Basil Wright). He said that some scenes in The Lion has Wings were in The Londoners as well, although which "borrowed" from which isn't specified :)

No wonder they could make it so quickly if they "borrowed" so much from other films!!

Most of the general comments seem to be to the effect of "It was quite a good film but it's obviously propaganda and we never believe propaganda."

One said "I think it un-British to shove propaganda down your throat like that. They should regard us as more intelligent than that."

A few even said they doubted the Germans were really as silly as they were portrayed (marching to the tune of The Lambeth Walk).

There's a letter from Christopher Brunel, son of Adrian Brunel (one of the 3 credited directors and also wrote the screenplay) Christopher was an assistant cameraman (uncredited) on the film. In it he makes it fairly clear who did what ... "The shooting took about three weeks. There were three units working - Michael Powell's doing most of it such as aeroplane scenes, control rooms; Brian Desmond Hurst's doing the Merle Oberon - Ralph Richardson stuff together with some other bits such as civilian observer posts; my father's doing a lot of crisis scenes and about the Dutch spy on the quayside ... I think I am right in saying that Micky Powell went and did some of the flying stuff - I don't mean the inside-the-bombers stuff - as soon as the film was proposed, before the story was written; anyway some of the shooting took place before they had finished writing it. The cutting took about 3-4 weeks; immediately the first feet had come from the labs. the cutting started and so it is difficult to say how long the cutting took. It is correct to say, though, that from the time the last shot was taken to the time the film was ready for exhibition was about 3-4 weeks. I think some use was made of The Gap but I don't think any of The Conquest of the Air. No doubt both films were viewed while The Lion Has Wings was being planned. All the control room stuff (although I believe there was a lot of it in The Gap) was shot specifically for The Lion the set being constructed at Denham with technical advice from the Air Ministry. I think that Vincent Korda, the Art Director, actually visited the real thing ... As far as I know very little of the Kiel raid is the real stuff ... but there is a shot from the air of one of the German ships, rather a misty shot - this is genuine."

We can also presume that the bomber raid was totally made up as the blitz hadn't started then. The same bomber can be seen crashing twice !! Damned clever these Nazis :)

Interesting stuff, thanks Terry


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