The First of the Few

Overview

The First of the Few is a dramatization of the life of R.J. Mitchell, the aeronautical engineer who designed the Spitfire fighter plane, which saved England in the Battle of Britain. Produced, directed by, and starring Leslie Howard, with David Niven as a pilot friend of the engineer, the movie starts with the 1940 Battle of Britain and flashes back, as wing commander Geoffrey Crisp (Niven) recounts his friendship with Mitchell and the years from 1918 to 1937, across which he helped move aviation into the modern ...
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Overview

The First of the Few is a dramatization of the life of R.J. Mitchell, the aeronautical engineer who designed the Spitfire fighter plane, which saved England in the Battle of Britain. Produced, directed by, and starring Leslie Howard, with David Niven as a pilot friend of the engineer, the movie starts with the 1940 Battle of Britain and flashes back, as wing commander Geoffrey Crisp (Niven) recounts his friendship with Mitchell and the years from 1918 to 1937, across which he helped move aviation into the modern age -- starting with racing competitions after the First World War, Mitchell is depicted as a design visionary, perceiving both the possibility and then the desperate need for faster and better aircraft. The latter becomes a matter of national survival, and he sacrifices the last years of his life to perfecting the plane that makes him a legend. As with most biographical films of this era, the picture does take some liberties with fact -- Mitchell did not spend time watching and talking dreamily of birds in flight, and comparing them to the box-like bi-planes of the early 1920s; and he never visited Germany in the early Hitler years and, thus, never heard first-hand hints (or threats) about glider clubs masquerading as training units for military pilots, an event depicted here as his motivation for designing the Spitfire; and the man's own son felt that Robert Donat, rather than Leslie Howard, would have been a more accurate portrayal of Mitchell. But in the main the movie -- which was made with the approval of Mitchell's widow and son, who were present for much of the shooting -- gets the essentials correct, and is surprisingly suspenseful for a bio-pic of this type. As a result of the presence of David Niven in the cast, The First of the Few was picked up for distribution in the US by Samuel Goldwyn, who had Niven under contract, and distributed by RKO in an edited 88 minute version under the title Spitfire, by which it is best known in the United States.
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Editorial Reviews

All Movie Guide - Bruce Eder
Leslie Howard's The First of the Few was, like the other projects in his tragically brief career as a director/producer, a film spawned by the exigencies of war. The story of aeronautical engineer R. J. Mitchell and the Spitfire fighter was a natural for a movie, a tale of sacrifice and triumph rivaling that of Lord Nelson that helped decide the fate of a nation -- a fate that had only become clear perhaps a year before this picture went into production. Howard was a natural as a director, and knew how to quietly dominate the screen as an actor, but the presence of David Niven as his pilot friend Geoffrey Crisp and Rosamund John as a fictionalized rendition of Mitchell's wife, prevent this from being a near-solo effort a la Orson Welles's work. They both turn in involved, convincing performances, with John's reaction in particular, in a pivotal scene near the end of the movie, one of the most quietly wrenching emotional moments that one will find in a film of this type and era. Niven's character is actually a composite of two test pilots who were part of Mitchell's circle of friends. There is a certain stiffness to the movie, especially in the early scenes, that modern audiences may find off-putting, although the overall film achieves a bracing level of excitement, helped in no small measure by Sir William Walton's music. The latter, extracted as a concert piece ("The Spitfire Prelude and Fugue") subsequently achieved a long life of its own in the concert hall (and set the stage for what would have been the last film music triumph of Walton's career, his music for the film Battle of Britain a generation later, had the producers of the latter movie not gotten cold feet about its commercial prospects and substituted another score). The movie also achieved some unintended importance in its use of actual wartime aerial combat footage, a portion of which seems to have disappeared from circulation in any other form, and the presence of several celebrated World War II Royal Air Force fighter pilots in the opening and closing sequences.
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Product Details

  • Release Date: 7/17/2012
  • EAN: 5060082516573
  • Original Release: 1942
  • Source: Ais
  • Format: Blu-ray
  • Sales rank: 50,495

Cast & Crew

Performance Credits
Leslie Howard R.J. Mitchell
David Niven Geoffrey Crisp
Rosamund John Diana Mitchell
Roland Culver Commander Bride
Anne Firth Miss Harper
David Horne Mr. Higgins
Rosalyn Boulter Mabel Livesey
Tonie Edgar Bruce Lady Houston
George Skillan Mr. Royce
Herbert Cameron MacPherson
Gordon McLeod Maj. Buchan
Erik Freund Willi Messerschmidt
Filippo del Guidice Betiorelli
Robert Beatty
Victor Beaumont Von Crantz
Adrian Brunel
John Chandos Kranz
Bunny Currant Himself
Derrick de Marney S.L. Jefferson
George King
George King
Miles Malleson
Patricia Medina
Bernard Miles
Brefni O'Rorke Specialist
John H. Roberts Sir Robert MacLean
John Stafford
Frederick Wendhausen
Gerry Wilmot Announcer
Technical Credits
Leslie Howard Director, Producer
Adrian Brunel Producer
Anatole de Grunwald Screenwriter
John Dennis Sound/Sound Designer
Jack Hildyard Camera Operator, Cinematographer
George King Producer
Miles Malleson Screenwriter
Muir Mathieson Musical Direction/Supervision
Douglas Myers Editor
Georges Périnal Cinematographer
Phil C. Samuel Production Manager
Paul Sheriff Art Director
John Stafford Producer
Katherine Strueby Original Story
William Walton Score Composer
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