A movie for modelers

By Dave Wingate
MAC Film Critic

If you build model airplanes you will probably enjoy “The Flight of the Phoenix.” I mean the original (1965) version, not the recent remake. This is a good movie and model aviation is part of the story.

What happens when you combine the Sahara Desert, a surplus C-82 transport, aging pilot, alcoholic navigator, and a sandstorm? If you think this is a recipe for disaster, you’re right.

“The Flight of the Phoenix” is a psychological thriller with interesting, realistic characters. The film owes its success to a fine cast starring Jimmy Stewart, Richard Attenborough, Ernest Borgnine, Peter Finch, and Hardy Kruger.

At the center of the plot is an intense conflict between the pilot (Stewart) and one of the passengers, an aircraft designer (Kruger) who wants to rebuild the crashed plane. These two don’t always act rationally, but being stranded in the desert seems to have that effect on people.

How does this relate to model airplanes? I don’t want to give away too many details, but I will say “The Flight of the Phoenix” explains the difference between a toy airplane and a model airplane . . . emphatically.

One last note regarding models: Richard Crossley has created a highly detailed, free flight version of “the Phoenix” that can be seen on Mike Stuart's website: 2005 BFMA Indoor Scale Nationals


flyin_brian said...

Nice post Dave, for a change of pace.
Yes, it is a great story...finely crafted into a fascinating movie.

Another one of interest to modelers is "Birdy" with Cliff Robertson. Features ornithopter action.

Dave W. said...

Thanks Brian. I don't think I've heard of "Birdy" but I will put it on my Netflix queue. There have been many films about aviation; "The Great Waldo Pepper" is a good one that comes to mind.

The closing credits in "The Flight of the Phoenix" remind us that Paul Mantz, the famous Hollywood stunt pilot and 3-time Bendix Trophy winner, died during filming when the experimental "Phoenix" aircraft broke apart and crashed. A collection of Mantz's films would make good viewing for aviation enthusiasts.

flyin_brian said...

Yes, Paul Mantz was and awesome pilot. He and Frank Tallman used to co-own an air museum at Orange County airport in S.Calif, which I visited on many occasions. It was called Tall-Mantz aviation I believe.
Tallman did the incredible piloting in the movie "Its a mad mad mad world", in which he flew a plane through a hangar at Sonoma Co airport (bout half a mile from my house). Amazing.

planecrazy said...

I would like to add my two cents worth as to my favorite aviation-related movies (most of these have fair to lousy plots and acting, but the flying footage is GREAT!):
- "Those Magnificent Men and Their Flying Machines" - very early 'planes like the Demoiselle and Curtiss Pusher -really "atmospheric" of that era
- "The Blue Max" - dumb plot and mostly wooden acting, but GORGEOUS flying photography of WWI fighters
- "The Great Waldo Pepper" - again, a somewhat dumb plot, but some great flying seqences; watch for the differences between the Curtiss Jenny and the Standard J-1 biplanes (hint - the J-1 is the one with swept wings - purportedly a better airplane than the ever-famous Jenny)
- "The Battle of Britain" - WWII action filmed with mostly real WWII airplanes.
- "The Gypsy Moths" - melodrama about Burt Lancaster and a troop of vagabond "flying circus" parachute jumpers, but the real star of the movie to me is the Howard DGA-15 that they use as a jump plane - a GORGEOUS airplane!!
- "Flight of the Phoenix" - (as Dave said, the original with Jimmy Stewart, not the later remake) - the plot kind of drags at times, but the concept of the airplane "rebuild" (not to give too much away) and the flying sequences at the end are worth sticking with it.

planecrazy said...

DOH!!! I forgot what may be THE best all-time aviation movie - "The Spirit of St. Louis" starring the same Jimmy Stewart. Stewart campaigned hard to get the part, even though he was really a bit too old at the time, as Lindbergh had been a personal hero of his. If you've never seen this one, you've really missed an aviation movie classic!