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The Lion Has Wings (1940)

The Screen; Alexander Korda Presents an Exciting Propaganda Film in 'Lion Has Wings' at Globe

By Frank S. Nugent
Published: January 22, 1940

Although it is as propagandistic as a White Book, "The Lion Has Wings," filmed by Alexander Korda with the blessing and cooperation of the British Royal Air Force, happens also to be a tremendously interesting and exiting motion picture which the Globe's melodrama-habituated patrons need not fear simply because it deals with fact rather than fiction. For the facts are, in themselves, wildly melodramatic; as wildly melodramatic indeed as a British air raid on the Kiel Canal, as England defending its shores against an enemy bombing flight, as a glimpse into the Sax Rohmerish master control room where the war in the skies is marshaled.

The film employs the March of Time technique (although not its objectivity) in that it has newsreel shots, re-enacted scenes of previous fact and a commentator's voice (Lowell Thomas's) bridging the gaps in the dialogue and covering the film's expository phases. It deviates from that formula and makes its modest concession to fiction and editorial in adding a slight personal story acted out by Ralph Richardson, Merle Oberon and a few other players. It is Miss Oberon, as the wife of the Air Force headquarters man, who makes the film's ultimate plea, on behalf of England's wives and mothers, for a speedy and honorable end to this war for the right to freedom and justice and human dignity. And Mr. Richardson, with typical British reserve and dislike for emotional displays, falls asleep as she makes her little speech.

That scene is illustrative of the general spirit of the film; illustrative, in a way, of the general spirit of England at war as "The Lion Has Wings" has captured it; purposeful, proud, firmly resolved, yet not so sober about it all as not to indulge in a grin now and then. The re-enactment of the British raid over Kiel, with a pocket battleship its target, is a grim and suspenseful bit of film business, but the picture that lodges in the back of our mind, for good cheer's sake, is the sight of the chap chalking "One for Adolf" on the bomb he has just fastened in its rack.

The German raid, with its ensuing marshaling of Britain's defenses - the balloon barrage, the men at the listening posts, the chessboard tactics in the control room, the flight of counter-attacking Spitfires, the dogfights and the firing of the antiaircraft batteries - is a gripping and fearful sequence. But what stands out is the comment of a cockney at an anti-aircraft gun: "'Ere comes the Narsties!"

It isn't cricket to take sides, and there's no disputing that "The Lion Has Wings" is confident of finding its spectators on England's - or of getting them there. But labeling it propaganda doesn't alter the fact that it makes an interesting, informative and thrilling show.

The Lion Has Wings, a film of the British Royal Air Force written by Ian Dalrymple; directed by Michael Powell, Brian Desmond Hurst and Adrian Brunel; with commentary by Lowell Thomas; produced by Alexander Korda for release by United Artists. At the Globe.

Air Force Officer . . . . . Ralph Richardson
His Wife . . . . . Merle Oberon
Junior Officer . . . . . Brian Worth
His Sweetheart . . . . . June Duprez
Also Flora Robson, Robert Douglas, Derrick De Marney, Anthony Bushell and members of the Royal Air Force.

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