Thursday, 20 August 2015
Angels One Five (1952)
I'll admit that when Angels One Five started I was all ready to tolerate the film with a smirk on my face throughout. The first act, showing a newcomer at a RAF fighter station making a bad impression when he has to hop his aircraft over another that is crossing his path, just felt a bit too jolly spiffing and quick to paint every character as a shining example of the stiff upper-lipped Brits who won the war for us. But, despite the 21st century seeming to increase our sense of cynicism on a daily basis, that's sort of, well, based in truth. Showing fantastic mettle in the face of a fearsome enemy, Great Britain really WAS great when it was needed most.
But let me get back to the actual film.
Pilot Officer T. B. 'Septic' Baird (John Gregson) is the poor sod who has to face his fellow airmen after that embarrassing near-miss. He's a rigid follower of the rules, and keen to get back in the cockpit. Unfortunately, he's forced to stay grounded for a while, to allow a minor neck injury to fully heal. While working on the ground, in the operations center, Baird begins to see why the chain of command needs every link to be in strong, working order. But that doesn't stop him from running to the planes when the opportunity arises. While Baird tries to do right by the men alongside him, Group Captain 'Tiger' Small (Jack Hawkins) empathises, Michael Denison, Andrew Osborn and Cyril Raymond portray various Squadron Leaders, and Dulcie Gray and Veronica Hurst ensure that the proceedings aren't completely male-dominated. Hawkins and Gray, in particular, stand out as two determined individuals who somehow manage to lead and motivate others even when admitting to their own failings.
Here's an interesting point that someone has placed on the IMDb Trivia page for this movie: "The film was used as part of the RAF Initial Officer Training at RAF Cranwell (at least until the 1990s), as it deals with the conflict of man-management of others versus having to perform the task as well, whilst put in a setting that would be relevant to future officers." I'm not sure if that's true, but if it is then a) it helps to explain what the movie provides to viewers much better than my jumbled plot precis above and b) many thanks to the user who submitted that information.
With major input from writers Pelham Groom, Derek N. Twist and director George More O'Ferrall, Angels One Five feels steeped in an authenticity that all of the cliched bantering and "by jove, skipper" statements can't destroy.The performances may not be the best, in terms of great acting, but they're absolutely in line with how the characters need to be, and what the storyline demands. As is the script, and the pacing (which starts to ratchet up the tension in the final third).
And that is, ironically, how to best view the movie. Everyone, and every thing, is there to best service a story that celebrates the men and women who helped defeat Germany in a battlefield surrounded by clouds. As the end credits roll, you will remember just how much they all deserve celebrating. Which makes Angels One Five a success.
Angels One Five has been given a top notch re-release to coincide with the 75th anniversary of the Battle of Britain. The disc itself may not be packed full of extras, but a restoration featurette shows how much work has gone in to sprucing the film up, and "Max Arthur on the Battle Of Britain" allows viewers to receive an interesting, and highly informative, summary of the war up to that point, in approximately 11 minutes.