The Spirit of St. Louis (1957)

<strong class="MovieTitle">The Spirit of St. Louis</strong> (1957)

(On Cable TV, February 2019) Considering Hollywood’s enduring love affair for American heroes (even if we have to scrub a bit of their non-heroics along the way), it was inevitable that sooner or later, Charles Lindbergh would be brought to the forefront with The Spirit of St. Louis. And while James Stewart was far too old at 49 to play Lindbergh (who was 25 at the time of the film’s event), you have to take into account Stewart’s obvious enthusiasm and technical qualifications to play the role of an experienced flyer—as a draftee and then a reserve officer, he flew bombers from WW2 to the Vietnam War. The script focuses tightly on Lindbergh’s trip and not so much on the less heroic aspects of his later life, but as co-written by Billy Wilder The Spirit of St. Louis becomes a fascinating aeronautical procedural as Lindbergh works to develop the plane that will carry him from one side of the Atlantic to the other, and then wait patiently for a good weather opportunity even as others are also racing to make the trip. Director Howard Hawks is in his element here as he describes the relationship between Lindbergh and his plane during the gruelling transatlantic flight. Even the film’s length and overused voiceovers help us feel the isolation and experimental nature of the solo trip. The predictable shout-outs to divine power become annoying, but the film’s clever structure keeps things more interesting than a strictly chronological approach would have done. Perhaps the most fascinating aspect of the film is how it manages to create suspense out of a story that everyone knows, with a foreordained conclusion. The Spirit of St. Louis is certainly not a perfect film, but it does create something very entertaining out of three legendary creators (Wilder, Hawks, Stewart) and a landmark historical event.

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