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  One of Our Aircraft is Missing Bomber's Moon
Year: 1942
Director: Michael Powell, Emeric Pressburger
Stars: Godfrey Tearle, Eric Portman, Hugh Williams, Bernard Miles, Hugh Burden, Emrys Jones, Pamela Brown, Joyce Redman, Googie Withers, Hay Petrie, Selma Vaz Dias, Arnold Marle, Robert Helpmann, Peter Ustinov, Alec Clunes, Hector Abbas, James B. Carson
Genre: WarBuy from Amazon
Rating:  7 (from 1 vote)
Review: B for Bertie is the Royal Air Force bomber that was sent over the Netherlands during World War II to destroy Nazi property, but as we see, it meets a sticky end as it crashes to the ground, through a pylon and its overhead cables, in a shower of sparks. But our story starts fifteen hours before when the crew were receiving their orders and preparing to leave on their mission, where they were told they would have a replacement for their rear gunner: Sir George Corbett (Godfrey Tearle), who demanded to be part of the set-up. They take this in their stride, but it seems to bode ill for the rest of the flight into enemy territory...

The previous film helmed by the dream team of Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger had been 49th Parallel, a hit based around the story of a German U-boat crew trying to make it to the neutral United States through their own enemy territory of Canada. One of Our Aircraft is Missing could be regarded as the complement to that, for it depicted a British bunch making their way through the Netherlands while the Nazis tried to hunt them down. Indeed, despite the turnabout with the main characters' sympathies, it was very similar, and you had to admit if you compared the two the previous effort was superior.

Not that this 1942 follow-up was without interest, for a start it was the first film in which Powell and Pressburger used The Archers as their production name (though the famous image of the arrows landing in the target was nowhere to be seen at this stage), so historically it was intriguing. In its presentation there were innovations, too, as they endeavoured to render the plot as realistic as possible, so for example there was no music to be heard, not even in the most dramatic scenes - the opening credits play out over the sound of the bomber's engines, and though there is organ music and singing in the church, that's about it for the melodies.

The acting, too, was studiedly naturalistic as an excellent cast of names who would have been more recognisable then than now were put through their paces with a screenplay that ensured they were as conversational as possible, to impressive effect. The opening scenes in particular where the crew are chatting to each other over their radios to keep their nerves at bay were extremely absorbing, and you could imagine a genuine bomber crew would have had almost identical discussions as they flew off to serve their country. This was all to appeal to the audiences of the day who did not appreciate being patronised, a "tell it like it is" approach was appreciated in the British propaganda of the war years, and this was a good sample of that.

Once the crew bail out with their parachutes, their plane having been hit by anti-aircraft fire, they land in a rural Dutch location though one of their number is lost in the abandonment, leaving the remaining five to try and reach safety. Before they know it, they have been found by some local kids (one of the refugees speaks Dutch, helpfully) and given cover by a nearby village, their representative (Pamela Brown) equally helpfully speaking English, though there was subtitled Dutch spoken intermittently throughout. After successfully putting the Nazis off the scent, for a while at least, an elaborate plan unfolds which culminates in a row boat out to the North Sea, with a brief stopover at Googie Withers, and if the second half has been rather weighted down with earnest talk, the point of the exercise, to do for the Netherlands what 49th Parallel did for Canada, can be deemed achieved. It wasn't the best Archers film, but they were a mark of quality.

[The BFI release this film on Blu-ray with the following features:

Presented in High Definition
Newly recorded audio commentary by film scholar Ian Christie
An Airman's Letter to His Mother (1941, 5 mins): Michael Powell's powerful propaganda short, narrated by John Gielgud
The Volunteer (1944, 44 mins): an entertaining look at the Fleet Air Arm, directed by Powell & Pressburger and starring Ralph Richardson
Target for Tonight (1941, 50 mins): Harry Watt's acclaimed documentary reconstruction of a Wellington bomber's mission over Germany
The Biter Bit (1943, 14 mins): A propaganda short detailing the destructive force of wartime aerial bombardment, produced by Alexander Korda and narrated by Ralph Richardson
Image gallery
Includes reproduction of the original storybook based on the film by Emeric Pressburger
Reversible sleeve featuring original and newly commissioned artwork by Jennifer Dionisio
***First pressing only*** Illustrated booklet with essays by Ian Christine and Sarah Street, an excerpt from A Life in Movies: An Autobiography by Michael Powell, a selection of original film reviews, notes on the special features and full credits]
Reviewer: Graeme Clark

 

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