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SPIRIT OF ST. LOUIS, THE(director/writer: Billy Wilder; screenwriters: Wendell Mayes/Charles Lederer/based on the book “The Spirit of St. Louis” by Charles A. Lindbergh; cinematographers: Robert Burks/J. Peverell Marley; editor: Arthur P. Schmidt; music: Franz Waxman; cast: James Stewart (Charles Lindbergh), Murray Hamilton (Bud Gurney), Patricia Smith (Mirror Girl), Bartlett Robinson (B. F. Mahoney), Marc Connelly (Father Hussman), Arthur Space (Donald Hall), Charles Watts (O. W. Schultz); Runtime: 136; MPAA Rating: NR; producer: Leland Hayward; Warner Brothers; 1957)
“The adventure of the historical making flight was captured, but not its spirit.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

The six million dollar movie, shot in CinemaScope, was one of the biggest financial flops in Warner Bros’ history (it grossed only $2,600,000 in its initial run). Billy Wilder (“Sunset Boulevard”/”Double Indemnity”/”Fedora”) directs this overlong, soporific biopic, filming it as mostly a one-man movie with the forty-seven-year-old James Stewart playing the role of the boyish Charles ‘Slim’ Lindbergh of twenty-five. It’s based on the 1953 Pulitzer Prize-winning book by Charles Lindbergh, which was adapted to the screen by Charles Lederer, Wendell Mayes and the director. It tells the inspiring story of the bachelor airmail pilot who became the first to fly non-stop in the 3,610 mile Trans-Atlantic journey from New York’s Roosevelt Field to the Le Bourget Field in Paris in May of 1927, in a 33-hour-and-30-minute solo flight. The film ignores Lindbergh’s well-known sympathies with the Nazi party and that Hermann Goering decorated him in the 1930s with the Service Cross of the German Eagle. The American hero who was affectionately called ‘Lucky Lindy’ is made into just a plain ole good guy by having Jimmy Stewart play him. Stewart’s engrossing performance is the reason to see the uneven film, if you must. It’s rich in the lore of the 1920s, and its aviation sequences are first-class.

Wilder keeps the story going by telling of the struggle to raise the cash for building the single-engine plane that Lindbergh got investors to put up the $15,000 to buy for him and the exciting aviation sequences of the flight. On the flight, in the plane dubbed The Spirit Of St. Louis, Lindbergh fights loneliness (his only companion in the cockpit is a fly, whom he talks to). The film goes into flashback as the diffident Lindbergh recalls his past as an airmail pilot and a barnstormer. It returns to the flight with Lindbergh fighting off lack of sleep, ice on the wings and fog.

Though it’s well-crafted, technically accurate, and the production values are first-classs, the film doesn’t have much to offer in entertainment or educational value. Most of the film takes place in the cockpit and Stewart’s monologues are merely boring, making the movie seem like it took thirty-three hours. The film abruptly ends in a ragged fashion with the landing of Lindbergh at Le Bourget and the showing of a brief news clip of his actual New York reception. The adventure of the historical making flight was captured, but not its spirit.


Dennis Schwartz: “Ozus’ World Movie Reviews”