High Flight (film)

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High Flight
Theatrical poster
Directed by John Gilling
Screenplay by Ken Hughes
Joseph Landon
John Gilling
Jack Davies (story)
Produced by Irving Allen
Albert R. Broccoli
Phil C. Samuel
Starring Ray Milland
Kenneth Haigh
Anthony Newley
Bernard Lee
Cinematography Ted Moore
Edited byJack Slade
Music by Douglas Gamley
Eric Coates (High Flight March) [1]
Kenneth V. Jones
Walford Davies (composer)
Anthony Newley (composer) [N 1]
Distributed by Columbia Pictures
Release date
12 September 1957 (World Premiere)
Running time
89 minutes colour (Europe)
86 minutes black and white (US)
CountryUnited States

High Flight is a 1957, CinemaScope, American, cold war children’s film in Technicolor, directed by John Gilling and featuring Ray Milland, Bernard Lee and Leslie Phillips. High Flight was filmed with the co-operation of the Royal Air Force (RAF). The title of the film was derived from the poem of the same title by Pilot Officer John Gillespie Magee, Jr., an American aviator who flew for the Royal Canadian Air Force (RCAF) and lost his life in 1941 over RAF Cranwell, where much of the film was shot. [3] [N 2]



A group of flight cadets arrive at RAF Cranwell to begin a three-year training course to become RAF pilots. Amongst the group is Tony Winchester (Kenneth Haigh) who makes a memorable entrance by landing his civilian Taylorcraft Auster aircraft with his girlfriend (Anne Aubrey) aboard on the RAF runway just ahead of a de Havilland Vampire jet trainer piloted by Wing Commander Rudge (Ray Milland).

During the Second World War, Winchester's father had been Rudge's commanding officer and was killed protecting Rudge, who had disobeyed orders. Winchester is a difficult individual who harbours animosity towards Rudge over his father's death. Another of the aspiring pilots is the scientific minded Roger Endicott (Anthony Newley) who is also determined to create a working flying saucer. Endicott's flying radio-controlled model develops difficulties and crashes into the middle of a Bishop's (Ian Fleming) tea party.

Winchester doesn't learn the meaning of teamwork and is nearly killed when he disobeys orders, flying into a storm. Rudge demands his resignation but reconsiders, remembering his own rash behaviour had been the cause of the death of Winchester's father. Rudge ultimately selects Winchester to fly in a precision aerial team training for the Farnborough Airshow. When the squadron is temporarily posted to a forward base in West Germany, Winchester flies close to hostile territory near the inner-German border and is nearly shot down by East German anti-aircraft guns firing across the border. The wounded airman and his stricken aircraft are rescued by Rudge, who brings him back safely to a crash landing at his home base. Finally, Winchester comes to understand his role in the RAF and that he is part of a team effort.


As appearing in screen credits (main roles identified): [5]

Ray Milland Wing Commander Granite Rudge
Bernard Lee Flight Sergeant Harris
Kenneth Haigh Anthony "Tony" Winchester
Anthony Newley Cadet Roger Endicott
Kenneth FortescueJohn Fletcher
Sean KellyCadet Day
Helen Cherry Louise Dawson
Leslie Phillips Squadron Leader Blake
Duncan Lamont Weapons Corporal
M. E. Clifton James Field Marshal Montgomery
Kynaston Reeves Air Minister
John Le Mesurier Commandant
Jan BrooksDiana
Jan Holden Jackie
Frank Atkinson Parker
Ian Fleming Bishop
Nancy Nevinson Bishop's Wife
Grace Arnold Commandant's Wife
Hal Osmond Barman
Bernard Horsfall Radar Operator
George Woodbridge (actor)


High Flight Lobby card High Flight FilmPoster.jpeg
High Flight Lobby card


Irving Allen and Albert Broccoli commissioned Jack Davies to write a screenplay about the present day Royal Air Force. Davies visited various RAF stations in Britain and Germany as well as the RAF College at Cranwell. "To say that I was impressed with what I saw and learnt was an understatement", said Davies. "These young men who fly daily at supersonic speeds are the flower of our youth. They work hard and they play hard." [6] Ken Hughes worked on the script [7]

Photography was originally scheduled around No. 111 Squadron RAF, nicknamed "Treble One" or "Tremblers", stationed at RAF Wattisham. The squadron was in the process of, or had been recently selected as the Royal Air Force Fighter Command Aerobatics Display Team, which became known as the Black Arrows. [8] Film of the team at the 1956 Farnborough Airshow was featured. [9] When inclement weather interrupted filming at their home base, the production moved to RAF Leuchars in Fife. Scotland, base of No. 43 Squadron RAF. RAF Leuchars later stood in for RAF Wunsdorf in West Germany. Principal photography which began on 10 April 1957, also took place at RAF Cranwell, Lincolnshire, using not only the facility but also film of the graduating ceremony of a training course, as well as RAF Chivenor, Devon, United Kingdom.

The use of RAF Percival Provost piston and de Havilland Vampire T.11 jet training aircraft and operational Hawker Hunter fighter aircraft heightened the authenticity of the film. [10] During the course of production at RAF Leuchars, a Hunter "wheeled up" which allowed the film crew to use the wreck to simulate a Hunter crash. When the RAF did not allow the film crew to use an operational airframe as a camera aircraft, one Hunter was converted into a "PR" version, specially modified at great cost, to carry a forward-facing Cinemascope camera. A screen was drawn on the front windscreen of the camera Hunter with a chinagraph crayon. The pilot was instructed to fill the windscreen with aircraft. Additional air-to-air shots were taken from an Avro Lincoln bomber. [11] [N 3] Other aircraft visible in the film include Handley Page Hastings transport aircraft and Bristol Sycamore helicopters.

The casting of Ray Milland was typical of the Warwick Films productions, in using the star power of an American actor but in the case of Milland, he was also well suited to the film and its subject matter. During the 1930s and into the 1940s, the Welsh-born actor had moved to Hollywood and during the Second World War, had served as a civilian instructor for the United States Army Air Forces. [3]


The film had a Gala World Premiere on 12 September 1957 at the Empire, Leicester Square. Released in England during Battle of Britain Week, High Flight did not fare well with critics. The film was a commercial success, leading to a studio re-release in 1961. [12] The authoritative Flight magazine noted that the aviation theme dominated, with 40 minutes of film time devoted to flying sequences. [11] Later reviewers commented that the film was "... well written and acted. Lots of authentic jet flying sequences". [10] Leonard Maltin indicated " (a) stale British drama of recruits in training for the RAF ... Last reel, in the air, (was the) only exciting part." [13]

Home video release

Although rarely seen on television and at times the US version, only in black and white, is broadcast, a DVD in colour is now available. [14]

See also

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  1. Newley composed and sang "The Open Boat Song", his first major song credit. Originally written as a ballad; it was performed in a small stage review in 1952. [2]
  2. The poem, "High Flight" has endured as a favourite poem among aviators and recently, astronauts; even President Ronald Reagan, on the occasion of the loss of the Challenger Space Shuttle. It serves as the official poem of the Royal Canadian Air Force and Royal Air Force and it is required to be recited by memory by fourth class cadets (freshmen) at the United States Air Force Academy (USAFA) where it is also depicted in its Field House. [4]
  3. A blatant continuity error occurs in Winchester's solo flight in a Vampire T.11 when stock in-flight and landing footage of a single-seat Vampire fighter are interspersed with live-action and animation shots of the jet trainer.


  1. Mullenger, Len. "Eric Coates: Thoughts on and Recollections of his Music." Classical Music on the Web. Retrieved: 2 December 2011.
  2. Markham, Bailey. "The Open Boat Song" from High Flight (1957) — Anthony Newley on YouTube Retrieved: 2 December 2011.
  3. 1 2 Landazuri, Margarita. "High Flight (1958)." Turner Classic Movies. Retrieved: 2 December 2011.
  4. Boswell, Randy. "High Flight: Renowned RCAF pilot who penned famous poem to receive tribute." Montreal Gazette, 11 November 2011.
  5. "Credits: High Flight (1957)." IMDb. Retrieved: 29 November 2011.
  6. Davies, Jack. "A and B Won't Let Them Down". Kinematograph Weekly, 31 May 1956, pp. 16–17.
  7. Vagg, Stephen (14 November 2020). "Ken Hughes Forgotten Auteur". Filmink.
  8. Paris 1995, p. 177.
  9. Goold, Ian. "60 years of Farnborough air shows." Flight, 3 July 2008.
  10. 1 2 Hardwick and Schnepf 1989, p. 57.
  11. 1 2 "A Fine Flying Film in Prospect." Flight, 6 September 1957.
  12. Mackenzie 2001, p. 155.
  13. Maltin, Leonard. "Leonard Maltin Movie Review." Turner Classic Movies. Retrieved: 2 December 2011.
  14. "High Flight DVD." Rare movies UK. Retrieved: 2 December 2011.


  • Granfield, Linda. High Flight: A Story of World War II. Toronto, Ontario: Tundra Books, 1999. ISBN   978-0-88776-469-1.
  • Hardwick, Jack and Ed Schnepf. "A Viewer's Guide to Aviation Movies." The Making of the Great Aviation Films, General Aviation Series, Volume 2, 1989.
  • Mackenzie, S.P. British War Films, 1939–1945: The Cinema and the Services. New York: Continuum International Publishing Group, 2001. ISBN   978-1-85285-586-4.
  • Paris, Michael. From the Wright Brothers to Top gun: Aviation, Nationalism, and Popular Cinema. Manchester, UK: Manchester University Press, 1995. ISBN   978-0-7190-4074-0.