User Reviews (30)

Add a Review

  • george70966 January 2005
    I saw "The Sound Barrier" in 1952 and it had a great impact on this young moviegoer. The opening sequence on an abandoned air base and the theme music have stayed with me for 50 years. Apparently this film is not available in the USA at present, but I hope it will return to our shores. The technical side of the movie may be less relevant now, when men and women fly far beyond the speed of sound and far beyond the earth's atmosphere. But the story of the characters is what I remember best: the closeness of the small band of test pilots and their loved ones, how they are inspired by the promise of supersonic flight, and how they react when things go wrong.
  • Warning: Spoilers
    You can't help comparing this to "The Right Stuff," particularly the sections that deal with Chuck Yeager's exploits. This movie stands up at least as well as the more expensive epic based on Tom Wolf's book, although "Breaking the Sound Barrier" is in black and white, virtually without special effects, and characterized not by arguments and competition, but by stiff upper-lipness and British taciturnity.

    Ralph Richardson plays the head of an aircraft manufacturing empire. His effete but game son feels compelled to become a flier because that's what the rigid Richardson seems to expect of him. End of son, played by a surprisingly undebauched looking Denholm Elliot.

    Richardson has a daughter too, Ann Todd. She marries a test pilot, Nigel Patrick, "not of your level," who is given a job flying new jets for Richardson's company. She wants them and their baby to have their own place and leave Richardson's house. "You must have noticed the distance between father and me," she confesses. "He's always resented me for not being a son." Patrick hasn't noticed. And at least one viewer (ie., me) had to think over earlier scenes to pick up on the hints. The Brits are like American Southerners, adept at reading others' emotional states from the smallest indications, and women are better at it than men.

    The director and writer -- David Lean and Terrence Rattigan -- pull a fast one on us two thirds of the way through. Owing nothing to Hitchcock's "Psycho" they kill off the protagonist and leave us gaping , the way Patrick leaves an untidy hole gaping in what appears to be an astonishingly tidy farm field, a bit of smoking wreckage scattered about.

    Patrick's friend and fellow pilot takes over the final mission to crack the sound barrier. The solution to the problem is too simple to be taken seriously but at any rate the pilot survives. An hour later, alone in a room, he begins giggling hysterically and turns to sobbing. Ya'd never see somethin' like that in an American movie like "The Right Stuff." Sobbin' is fer wimmin.

    But at least Richardson's humanity and horror and anguish are revealed when his daughter visits him more or less by accident. The final test is in progress and the radio transmissions are being piped into Richardson's office. "Forty-seven thousand now," says the pilot. "I'm taking her down for a final run." Richardson and Todd have had a brief argument and she is about to storm out when he begs her, "Please don't go! Don't leave me alone!" The human feeta clay after all.

    I want to emphasize that there are some novel techniques on view here. In 1950, when this was shot, jet propulsion was still something of a novelty. People didn't know what made jet engines go, and they had never heard of a sound barrier. So it comes as a surprise when we see a tiny object in the distance. It is a jet plane and is speeding towards us. But -- there is no SOUND. Its image looms larger on the screen until it is almost overhead and then -- WHOOSH. And we can figure out that there is no noise ahead of the aircraft because it is traveling almost as fast as the noise itself.

    There are two plane crashes. In any modern action flick they call for an enormous fireball of an explosion. But not here. One airplane, a fragile biplane, tumbles to earth and comes to rest tail up, seemingly in pretty good shape. The camera stays at a distance as people rush across the field towards the wreck. Then we see a wisp of oily smoke. Then billows of it, and then flame, and we realize that the pilot we thought was safe is now doomed. And Lean cuts from the other pilot to a distant office just before the crash. We not only don't see the crash. We don't even hear it.

    There's something else worth mentioning too. "The Right Stuff" at some moments gives us the excitement and the danger of flying but never the exhilarating joy of slipping around noisily in three dimensions. The first opening minutes of "Breaking the Sound Barrier" show us a Spitfire over Dover with a youthful pilot doing aerobatics, and the actor, the director, and the composer let us know exactly how he feels.

    Very good movie.
  • This mid-period David Lean picture is one of his most unusual – a drama woven out of a story of scientific exploration. Not an easy kind of picture to make, but one held together by Lean's refined direction, a great cast and a surprisingly good script by Terence Rattigan.

    Although Lean was to make two small-scale pictures between this and Bridge on the River Kwai, this is perhaps more than any other a transition film between his early intimate dramas and the later massive epics he is now best known for. From the start Lean had always tried to photograph the psychological states of his characters, but The Sound Barrier is the first time he tells a bigger story through the personal experiences of individuals. This is the formula that has made Kwai and Lawrence of Arabia so popular and enduring. Like those later pictures, in the Sound Barrier the narrative switches to carry on the story through the eyes of other characters.

    A story like this, concerning test pilots, engineering and scientific breakthroughs, will only work if there is a strong drama underlying it – otherwise it's only going to be of interest to techies. Lean seems totally aware of this and emphasises the human story behind the science. He directs with his editor's eye, composing action sequences with series of still shots, then throwing in the occasional sharp camera move to punctuate an emotional moment. He is moving away a little from the rather obvious expressionistic techniques of his earliest films towards a more straightforward yet effective style.

    By the early 50s the golden age of British film was over, but there was still a good crop of acting talent on offer, and there are plenty of names to mention in The Sound Barrier. Ralph Richardson plays (as he often did) the overbearing father-in-law, and lends the film a touch of class. Ann Todd, who was Lean's wife and not an exceptional actress, here gives what is probably her best performance – she has the most difficult part in terms of emoting, but she carries it off brilliantly. This is also a great before-they-were-famous film, featuring a young Denholm Elliott (best known as Marcus Brody from the Indiana Jones films) and Leslie Phillips in his pre-Ding Dong days. The real acting treat here though is the rarely-seen John Justin, who failed to achieve stardom not through lack of talent, but through lack of interest on his part. His poignant final scene is one of the strongest in the whole picture.

    Of course, it's not just the plot of The Sound Barrier that is a work of fiction – the science is complete nonsense as well, so don't go thinking that pilots really reverse their controls to get through the sound barrier. In many ways, this film reminds me of Dive Bomber, made ten years earlier with Errol Flynn and Fred MacMurray. That's also a test pilot drama, with a fair few plot similarities. One major difference though is that whereas Dive Bomber deliberately and bluntly disposes of any romantic angle, writing the female characters out of the story halfway through, in The Sound Barrier it is the pressures on the wives and sisters that is pushed to the fore. Ultimately, it is the way The Sound Barrier deals with loss and guilt that make it a strong and satisfying film.
  • This black and white early 50s movie shows crusty Britain at its stiff upper lip best. It is the story of mans obsession with speed, and a ruthless plane makers ambition to succeed in building a supersonic jet. Richardson plays the tycoon whose dream kills his son and son-in-law, but who finally sees the error of his ways and whose daughter returns to the cold family home with his grandson.

    The film is also a vehicle to show the world Britain's proud lead in jet technology. There is a classic sequence in the film where the happy daughter and son-in-law deliver a De Havilland Vampire jet fighter to Egypt. They set off at breakfast time in England and hurtle over the English Channel, the Alps, Ancient Greece and the Pyramids before arriving in at the airfield. Of course we take this for granted now, but 47 years ago this was unheard of. The director contrasts the old ruins and remains of our ancient ancestors with the marvel of the modern age: the jet plane.

    The film also introduced THE marvel of the early fifties, the De Havilland Comet jet liner. This beautiful but flawed machine was in service SIX years before any other jet liner and for a while, the world rushed to De Havillands, and Britains door. For two years the worldwide fleet gave the travelling of the future.

    In every other way this is an eccentrically English film with creaky old houses, cottages with roses around the door and eccentric engineers. Shout in glorious black and white it conveys a sense of wonder and optimism in the future, whilst being thoroughly old fashioned
  • Warning: Spoilers
    Imagine the sky,cloudless,deep blue as only at the height of an English summer,stretching from horizon to horizon.A small boy about 12 years old is happily searching rockpools left at low tide on a south coast beach.A shadow flashes across him,followed by a deep roaring sound.He looks up and spots a pencil-slim red jet plane disappearing into the distance followed shortly by the familiar "double boom" that signalled the breaking of the sound barrier.He lowers his fishing net and shields his eyes against the sun as the plane returns for another low-ceiling run over the sea.It could be the pre-title sequence for a movie about the perils of high-speed flight,but,in fact,the small boy was me,and I had just watched one of my heroes(the other one was Stanley Matthews) Squadron Leader Neville Duke regaining the world air speed record. Those were heady days to be a young Briton.The recent coronation of the lovely Queen Elizabeth the second,the climbing of Mount Everest,the end of the war in Korea - all these events combined to create a huge air of optimism.There was even a children's magazine called "The New Elizabethan" with no articles about how to avoid getting pregnant at 12 years of age(without being at all judgemental of course),how to spot dodgy "Ecstasy" tablets or how to get a start in modelling.To us modelling meant making planes from balsa wood.Moss and Campbell meant Stirling and Malcolm,reassuringly British names. No one calls the post 1952 era the Elizabethan age any more.Starting with Macmillan,the era became associated with the names of politicians,culminating with our present Dear Leader.It is becoming increasingly likely that history will remember only one Elizabethan Age,and it won't be this one. But it all could have been so different.The land fit for heroes didn't have to become the land fit for nothing,it just sort of happened without anybody noticing.Courage,self-sacrifice,idealism,patriotism and the pioneering spirit became merely the stuff of "sophisticated" comedy. "The Sound Barrier",demonstrably lauding all these attributes,could never get made in this brave new century. Somehow it has become "racist" to love your country,"elitist" to want to set high goals and achieve them.The men who flew jet lanes in the early post-war years were racist and elitist by modern definition. They had fought in a war(albeit against fascism)which made them post-imperialist dupes at the very least.And(worst sin of all) were mostly middle-class public school/boarding school products. Mr Nigel Patrick and Mr Denholm Elliot very accurately reflect this. A test pilot didn't climb into his cockpit,turn to his groundcrew chief and say"Gawd bless you governor,you've got a lucky fice",he really didn't.If you have a problem with that,then I suggest you watch "Top Gun" or "Officer and a Gentleman" and see how our more egalitarian American allies do things.Then think of what happened to them in Vietnam without a traditional Officer Class to lead their troops. Back in the days when "Flight" and "The Aeroplane" were staple reading for schoolboys,it was taken for granted that "breaking the sound barrier" was an essential first step towards space flight - that panacea-like dream of the 1950s.That proved to be correct and the first astronauts were beholden to men like Chuck Yeager whose courage was recognised in "The Right Stuff",albeit in a post-modern ironic sort of way.The British supersonic flight programme rather petered out in comparison,due possibly to lack of will and vision,but more probably,lack of money."The Sound Barrier" is its filmed legacy. The late Squadron Leader Duke was a man of high courage.A few months before his record breaking flight over the Sussex beaches a ,De Havilland 110,piloted by John Derry who had flown a Mosquito filming aerial views of Paris for "The Sound Barrier" broke up in supersonic flight at the Farnborough Air show,its wreckage causing many casualties in the crowd,which included David Lean and Ann Todd.In the deadly hush that followed,he walked out to his plane and took off.Flying low over the Hampshire hills,he banked round to the aerodrome and began his pass.The Hunter screamed over the runway and climbed rapidly,the resulting sonic boom offering a fitting tribute to his fallen colleagues and all the victims of man's restless urge to leave the confines of the Earth.
  • This is an outstanding film about the human cost of progress and obsession. Richardson is great as the aviation mogul willing to pay the necessary price for reaching new realms and new worlds. Historically and technically, the film is so out in left field as to be almost laughable (the plot point about control reversal is apparently the result of a writer hearing a valid aeronautical term and misunderstanding it completely) but in the end, the issues raised and the fine performances make Sound Barrier a winner. The aerial photography is outstanding, and there is one beautifully composed shot from below the nose of the Comet airliner that perfectly emphasizes the sleek lines of that most beautiful jet.
  • The movie really does capture a sense of time and the tremendous bravery of those involved in the breaking of the sound barrier.The cast is excellent and as usual Denholm Elliot steals every scene he's involved in. I feel this film is under-rated and is typical of much of the good work of British Cinema in the 50's
  • By many standards, David Lean's production of the film he directed in 1952, "The Sound Barrier" is both unusual and I suggest rewarding. The screenplay by Terence Rattigan I found to be riveting throughout. This I judge stems from the fact that its subject is men of vision, and what they do to about their greed for something unnameable, necessary and sometimes deadly. The author in the film is at pains not to paint such men as glory hunters, nor seekers after excitement alone; in one scene, the central character talks about the fliers of the past, and then suggests the men of the future will need vision even more than flying skills to conquer what awaits us--and the answer to what that is is given as "the stars"--called the final frontier in this film in all but name. There are three fliers we meet in the film at a fictitious industrial empire called Ridgefield. The boss's son who hasn't got what a flier needs, Tony, who marries his daughter and reaches his limit because he lacks the necessary genius, and Philip, who has "the right stuff". What I find extraordinary about this very well-directed cinematic tale is that it is always about the people and the joy and danger of flight at the same time, without the focus ever losing sight of the people. The music for this film was supplied by Malcolm Arnold, and it is extraordinary almost everywhere but I find never intrusive. One sequence involves one of the three pilots taking his new wife for a swift flight to Cairo from England; the scene accomplishes many things at once. She learns because of her journey, what some men see in the serenity of the sky, and even its danger; it introduces us to the third pilot and his wife; and we are given a sense of the camaraderie of the men who flew in those days; another such moment occurs when the French ace Geoffrey de Havilland is killed trying to break the sound barrier ahead of all others. Jack Hildyard and several others supplied the cinematography and aerial scenes; Elizabeth Hemminges did a fine subdued job on the costumes; Vincent Korda is credited with the Art Department's superb work while Muir Matheson is acknowledged as music director. Among the smallish cast, the pilots are all beautifully played. bright Nigel Patrick is likable ace Tony, young Denholm Elliot stands out as the boss's son, and John Justin is just right as the third of the trio, Philip. Joseph Tomelty is admirable as Will Sparks, the designer tormented by his own part in causing test pilots to risk their lives; Ann Todd is good as the tormented Susan, wife to Tony and daughter of the boss of Ridgefield. Dinah Sheridan is also lovely as Philip's brave wife; but it is Ralph Richardson's powerful realization of John Ridgefield, former pilot, towering presence and inspiring and dangerous leader of men who along with Justin gives the film its unusual dimension of mind and purpose. One may quarrel with the motivations attributed to Richardson in the last scenes; but he has been so alone in his vision and at such a cost, he may be forgiven for asking at last to be understood. The ending I find to be most satisfying, the film's climax tremendously moving. This is a great film, which has never been appreciated as it should have been. It is B/W film-making at its dramatic best for my money. Its science may not be perfect, but its depiction of human merit and what happens when that quality is lacking in a man is powerful indeed. Not to be missed.
  • Warning: Spoilers
    Although many people will naturally think the claim that Britain broke the sound barrier before the Americans is its most obvious flaw, the really serious mistake in this film is the death of Denholm Elliott as a student pilot whilst making his first solo. The aircraft concerned was a De Havilland Tiger Moth. Not only is this easier to fly than any modern light aircraft, but no student pilot in history - to my knowledge - has ever died on a first solo, and certainly not in a Tiger Moth! No aircraft could possibly be more pleasant to fly, as any ex-Tiger pilot will tell you...

    If you want proof of this, shortly before he died, I spoke to John Justin, who played the pilot who broke the sound barrier in this film. He told me that he learned to fly in Argentina aged 12. He was taught on a Moth, and his instructor wanted to send him solo. However, the authorities found out he was only 12, and refused permission...

    I hope readers enjoy this anecdote!

    Paul Murphy (ex Tiger Moth pilot).
  • A young RAF pilot test's his father-in-law's prototype supersonic aircraft to the limit, at a time of intense development activity in the field of aviation, just as commercial jet airliners are about to come into service.

    This is one of David Lean's less well-known films, in which some of the development milestones and incidents in contemporary UK aviation were put into a dramatic context. It should be mentioned that the aero industry was probably the UK's largest single industry by the end of WWII; it is thought that approximately 25% of the entire UK economy was devoted to aircraft manufacturing and allied industries; for four long years air power had been Britain's main means of striking back at Germany. Although activities were somewhat reduced in peacetime, the UK lead the way in several key aviation fields in the late 1940s and early 1950s; there was a new Cold War to be fought.

    Now, lot of reviews here assume that the events portrayed were completely fictional (a la U571); whilst no film is beyond reproach in this respect in point of fact in this case nothing could be further from the truth; this film used no fewer than eight of the UK's most experienced test pilots as consultants. One of the eight, John Derry, reached supersonic speeds on 9th september 1948, whilst in a shallow dive in the third DH108 prototype.

    The phenomenon of 'control reversal' at transonic speeds can and does occur with some wing designs; essentially at very high speeds the angle of attack of the wing is dramatically altered (because the control surface loads twist the wing essentially) and thus the intended effect of the controls can be reversed. This phenomenon is known to have afflicted aircraft such as early marks of spitfire, and this could limit the safe speed in a dive until a (torsionally stiffer) revised wing was introduced. It is just one of the many things that can occur in or near the transonic regime, and was probably chosen for the film because it is both simple and dramatic, and by then fairly well-known.

    Flying military jet aircraft at that time was incredibly dangerous even without being shot at; peacetime training accidents were numerous. On some types an aircraft would be lost for every 1000 hours flying time and in a little under half of those losses the pilot was killed too. Test pilots had it worse than that; one of the eight test pilots who was consultant on this film was credited posthumously; he passed away between when the film was shot and released. Indeed the film refers to the loss of Geoffrey de Havilland (which in reality occured in 1946) again in a DH108 prototype. It is sobering to note that there are no surviving DH108 prototypes because they were all lost in (fatal) crashes.

    In this film the human drama is played well enough with fine ating and good production values, but all this definitely takes second place to the aircraft and the flying. We see (apparently) a wartime spitfire in a high speed dive, Supermarine Attacker WA485, De Havilland Comet G-ALYR, a De Havilland Vampire and a Supermarine Swift.

    In one magical sequence they have breakfast in the UK, fly to Cairo for lunch whilst delivering an aircraft, and then cadge a ride home on a Comet undergoing evaluation testing for BOAC. All at high altitude, high speed, jet-smooth, way above the clouds; something airline passengers of the time could only imagine until the Comet entered service during 1952.

    Comet G-ALYR (one of the first batch of production Comet Mk 1 aircraft) was badly damaged in a taxi-ing accident a year or so after this film was made. Nonetheless it had already flown about 750 times and the fuselage was eventually used for water-tank fatigue testing, the lessons of which were learned from world-wide and are still relevant to this day.

    This film isn't technically perfect but it is by no means as flawed as others would have you believe. It is stronger as a film about flying than a drama, but it is by no means bad in either respect. It gets a solid 8/10 from me.
  • The opening of the film, when a World War II fighter pilot hit what used to be called "compressibility," was a suspenseful interlude for the audience, particularly since it wasn't explained at the time.

    The film was shot in monochrome, and was produced during a time that technology was accelerating, and this was one of the early films outside some of the science-fiction films of the era that was pro-technology. It is interesting that most of the major characters were obsessed with pushing the envelope.

    As has been mentioned elsewhere, the "solution" presented to maintaining control of a supersonic aircraft actually is inaccurate. When a reporter asked the person who first actually broke the sound barrier, Gen. Chuck Yaeger, about that "solution," he indicated that doing what was proposed would have ensured the death of the pilot.

    The film is well worth watching, if for no other reason than to get a taste of people taking baby steps in the new world of postwar technology.
  • This is an impressively made movie from 1952 spanning the years between the end of WW2 and the Sputnik era.

    In some ways, it is a science fiction movie. It has the right spirit for a classic, "real" sci fi novel or movie, as distinguished from almost all of those produced in the last 25+ years, which are primarily filled with irony, self- deprecating humor, pessimism, decadence, and gratuitous violence. Everyone born since, say, 1965, should see this to get the real spirit of science fiction.

    As others have posted, it really is fiction. The fact that Chuck Yeager broke the sound barrier in 1947 was kept top-secret for several years. This movie was in the middle of production when the story broke. According to Robert Osborne on TCM, the director and producer considered including a reference to Yeager, but wisely, I think, decided to continue with the original plot and screen play. It is also fictional in the explanation for how to control the plane as it passes Mach 1, but that is a minor point.

    However, it is also based on fact. The problems and fears about exceeding Mach 1 were very real. Some of the basic characters are clearly modeled on Geoffrey de Havilland, father and son. It would be almost, but not quite, a spoiler to read about them before seeing the movie.

    The script and acting are excellent. It is very good that they emphasize the tension between the father and daughter. The resolution of that tension is very good indeed.

    About the only criticism I can make is the choice of the actress to play Susan, the daughter and wife. She seems too old, and in real life, was only seven years younger than her "father."

    I am very glad that I saw this optimistic, yet realistic, look at the motivation and risks of aeronautic and space exploration, coming from the golden age of British cinema.

    • henry
  • BREAKING THE SOUND BARRIER is the U.S. title for this film which I missed seeing when originally released. It was a pleasure seeing it for the first time tonight on TCM. RALPH RICHARDSON once again plays a father who was emotionally distant from his son (DENHOLM ELLIOT) and daughter (ANN TODD) and shows more concern for the progress of scientific investigation in solving the problem of supersonic flight than the welfare of individuals who sacrifice their lives to please him. He shows more constraint here as the father than he did in THE HEIRESS a few years previous.

    Under David Lean's direction, the film moves briskly through a series of events involved in breaking the sound barrier through jet propulsion at a time when the aircraft industry was making great strides after WWII.

    While the characters are fictional, so are the events depicted, since a British airman was not the first to break the sound barrier--something that American pilot Chuck Yaeger was quick to point out when he was invited to attend the world premiere of the film in London. It was broken by an American pilot as early as 1947.

    Tension between Richardson and his children helps make the fictional story more compelling and the acting by RALPH RICHARDSON, NIGEL PATRICK (as Ann Todd's pilot husband) and ANN TODD is excellent.

    Summing up: Interesting from many viewpoints despite being a bit too talky with a good background score from Malcolm Arnold.
  • I noticed that an older review said that this film was not yet available on DVD in the States. Well, at least here in 2011 it is--and Netflix has a copy if you want to see the film.

    Now comes my typical rant. As an ex-history teacher, I really pay attention to historical accuracy in films. This film, sadly, is a mess historically. The Brits are lovely people--but we Americans (specifically Chuck Yeager) broke the sound barrier. Many other facts are also wrong--see the IMDb trivia section for more on this. Plus, it's sadly ironic that near the end the film seems to sing the praises of the Comet--a plane that soon became known as a deathtrap and was yanked from service because it had the annoying tendency to break apart in mid-air! HOWEVER, since the film was made by David Lean and features lovely actors such as Ralph Richardson, Ann Todd and Denholm Elliot, then it STILL is worth seeing despite its many deficiencies. Certainly NOT a must-see--but a decent fictional film.
  • brogmiller11 April 2020
    Upon its release this enjoyed tremendous success critically and commercially but has sadly become one of David Lean's 'forgotten' films. This is a great pity as he has here achieved the perfect balance between matter-of-factness and emotional impact. This is aided not inconsiderably by the marvellous screenplay of Terence Rattigan who writes so well for actors and the score of Malcolm Arnold in this, his first collaboration with Lean. One of the hallmarks of a great director is the instinct of when to use and when not to use music. The absence of music is especially effective in the devastating sequence of Tony's final test flight. The perfomances are all out of the top drawer. Lean was apparently reluctant to use Ralph Richardson but was very impressed with the finished performance and used his talents again in 'Dr. Zhivago'. He fully deserved his British Academy award as JR, loosely based on de Havilland. Some considered Nigel Patrick a little too slick and lightweight to play a test pilot but we care what happens to his character which is all that really matters. This is easily the best of the three performances that Ann Todd gave for Lean although he is supposed to have remarked to a colleague: 'never put your wife in a film'. Her scenes with Richardson are fabulous and their troubled relationship beautifully written and played. There is a first-class performance also from John Justin who coincidentally served as a test pilot and flying instructor in WW2. This film succeeds in packing a punch whilst avoiding any melodramatics and needs to be filed under 'sorely in need of reappraisal'.
  • I first watched THE SOUND BARRIER on TV in 1975, and liked it immensely, finding it both informative and intelligent in its presentation- It keeps the viewer interested to the end, no doubt because David Lean's direction is very good, at times even inspired, and it is helped by extremely competent cinematography and a credible screenplay. Sir Ralph Richardson is superb as JR, a man obsessed with building ever better aircraft in competition with de Havilland and other companies, to the point of driving his son (well played by Denholm Eliott) and his son in law (Nigel Patrick) to their deaths. I also liked John Justin as the pilot who finally breaks the sound barrier. Ann Todd, who was married to David Lean at the time, somehow does not seem right for the part. I would have liked to see Vivien Leigh or Kay Walsh in that part, as both conveyed their emotions more readily and in greater depth. The technical aspects are succintly but clearly presented, and the discussion about the telescope and how what you see there is from 700,000 light years, and more, ago, certainly makes me realize my insignificance, every time I see THE SOUND BARRIER. David Lean had just come from making three masterpieces. BRIEF ENCOUNTER, GREAT EXPECTATIONS and OLIVER TWIST, and this is a transitional film, which already carries some signs of the epic that would emerge with the superlative THE BRIDGE ON THE RIVER KWAI, and be continued with LAWRENCE OF ARABIA, DR ZHIVAGO, RYAN'S DAUGHTER and, just before his death, PASSAGE TO INDIA. Recommended. 7/10
  • Warning: Spoilers
    It's a fact universally acknowledge that some writers work better with some directors than others and vice versa. Working separately director Marcel Carne made one great film (Hotel du Nord), several decent films (Therese Raquin, Julia ou le cle des songes) and several ho-hum entries; also working separately Jacques Prevert fared slightly better writing Le Crime de Monsieur Lange, Les Amants de Verone, Voyage Surprise, Un oiseau rare among other but TOGETHER they made seven of the most distinguished movies in French cinema and if you want me to list them you clearly stepped in here to get out of the rain, the Multiplex is three blocks down. Terry Rattigan worked best with Puffin Asquith and David Lean with Noel Coward yet here we have Lean directing a Rattigan screenplay. You can see Lean's thinking; he didn't want to go through life riding on the coat-tails of Coward, what Rattigan didn't know about constructing a play could fit in an eye-dropper and still leave room for an eight-to-one martini, he'd served in the RAF during the war and had written one of the two finest British war films actually produced during the war, The Way To The Stars - the other was In Which We Serve, written, produced, starring and co-directed by Coward with Lean. On paper this was great, get some stats about supersonic flight, turn them over to Terry and let him flesh them out and humanise them. Mostly it's good but it COULD have been great - think Sinatra and Lawrence Welk; put these two together and you'll get an album that neither has to be ashamed of but team Sinatra with Billy May, Gordon Jenkins, Nelson Riddle and we're talking Hall of Fame. So: We have a lyrical opening sequence in which a plane is 'stooging' about over the channel with the cliffs of Dover prominent; there's a carefree, buoyant, waltz-time feel that sets us up for the revelation that this is wartime. Pilot John Justin goes into a dive and when the plane begins to shudder he finds it difficult to throttle back, an experience he discusses with chum Nigel Patrick back on the aerodrome; Patrick, however, is in love and not interested but the object of his affection, Ann Todd, just happens to be the daughter of a leading aircraft manufacturer, Ralph Richardson, who offers Patrick a job as test pilot after the war. Rattigan gets this over economically so that we can cut to the chase, which, in this case, is the quest for fire i.e. designing and building a plane capable of supersonic flight. In only his second film Denholm Elliott unveils the prototype for his series of weak, callow youths, in the role of Todd's kid brother who funks his first solo and winds up on the menu. Leslie Phillips, sans moustache gets twice as much screen-time as Elliott but is totally forgettable leaving the real acting to the big boys. Nigel Patrick had just come off Rattigan's The Browning Version - with Puffin Asquith at the helm - and played essentially the same role if schoolteachers were piloting jet planes or pilots were flying desks. Nigel Patrick was one of the old school stage actors, shoot cuffs first, ask anyone for tennis later and enhanced virtually every film in which he played. This is a film you want to like and mostly do if only ...
  • tony-124-75736310 September 2018
    To all the US reviewers complaining about this film misrepresenting history, I have two things to say. One - it's a drama, not a documentary Two - U-571.
  • sol-17 February 2017
    British aviation enthusiasts seek to break the sound barrier by dangerously pushing their jets beyond their limits in this solidly crafted drama starring Ralph Richardson. The film has copped a lot of flak over the years for its historical inaccuracies (the Americans were actually the first to break the sound barrier with very different techniques), however, 'The Sound Barrier' works well as a character drama as long as one takes all the pseudoscience on hand with a pinch of salt. The movie is rather slow to warm up, focusing on a formulaic courtship between Richardson's daughter and an up and coming pilot, however, as soon as Richardson enters the scene, it becomes an experience that rarely lets up. It is quite a sight to see Richardson's boyish enthusiasm for the task at hand, waxing poetic about a "whole new world ... in the grasp of man", demonstrating how aerial flight works during dinner and proclaiming that "it's just got to be done". His character also comes with shades of ambiguity; is he at all guilt-ridden over the deaths of those trying to complete the quest or does he see the deaths as acceptable in the name of human progress? Richardson does very well adding such shades to his character and while none of the supporting players come close to equaling him, he is enough alone to carry the film, or at least when on-screen. The film is also blessed by some great spinning shots within mysterious clouds and as one might expect from a film with such a title, the Oscar winning sound mixing here is highly effective.
  • robertguttman13 August 2016
    Written by Terrance Rattigan, this early 1950s British aviation movie is long on human drama, but somewhat deficient in the area of technical expertise. The British were NOT the first to exceed the sound barrier, and the manner in which it is accomplished in the film is rubbish. Although Terrance Rattigan was among the very best writers of his day, in this particular instance the producers might have done better to have hired Nevil Shute ("No Highway in the Sky"), who was not only a first-rate writer but was also a genuine expert on aeronautics. That being said, under the expert direction of David Lean there's plenty of good, British stiff-upper-lippishness, provided by the likes of Ralph Richardson, Ann Todd, Nigel Patrick, Denholm Elliot and John Justin.

    What makes the film even more interesting, however, at least to aviation buffs, is the presence of a variety of late 1940s British jet aircraft. Even more interesting is the fact that they are actually mentioned in the credits, as if they were members of the cast. In addition, it is worth mentioning that the aerial photography, although filmed in black-and-white, is quite excellent. Give this one a 7-out-of-10 for the aeronautical ironmongery and the flying scenes, and overlook the trite stuff on the ground.
  • David Lean apparently did a mountain of research before handing everything over to his screenwriter, Terence Rattigan, and Chuck Yeager still thought it was technical nonsense, chuckling that the final move of the pilot would have killed him not saved him. And yet, there's still an air of authority over this film despite it convincing the world for a time that it was the British who broke the sound barrier instead of Yeager, the American Air Force pilot of The Right Stuff. First and foremost, though, The Sound Barrier (or, as they released it in America, Breaking the Sound Barrier) is a drama about a pilot, his wife, and her father.

    During World War II Tony marries Susan, the daughter of an airplane engineer and man of some wealth, J.R. We get our taste of the dangers of flight early when, just after their marriage, Tony and Susan witness her younger brother's death on his first solo flight in training for a combat pilot position. That sort of haunting feeling is always around Susan as she moves beyond the war and watches her husband begin working with her father in developing jet engines and the effort to push an airplane past the sound barrier.

    There's a common motif and question that pops up through this movie that points to the drive of the men who go out and risk their lives for such things. Susan asks it directly, and the answers she gets she simply doesn't understand. It's there doesn't seem like a good enough explanation. It's also manifested in J.R.'s telescope which he uses to peer up into the night sky to wonder what else is out there. There's a drive among these sorts of men to simply see beyond, to reach further than anyone else, and Susan must deal with that drive quietly as the wife of a test pilot.

    It's Tony who drives most of the first hour or so of the film, though. He's the one flying, working with J.R., and testing new planes. He even takes Susan on a quick jet ride from England to Egypt just to meet a friend, a fellow pilot who later joins the company as another test pilot, Philip. She has to fly back commercial, though, relegated to second class when sorting out the priorities of Tony's life with work and the planes coming first. When Tony dies chasing the sound barrier, losing control in a dive that ends in a crash, Susan is left alone, and the movie almost seems lost. However, it's doing something rather intelligent.

    Up until this point, it really seems like Tony is the main character, but with another half hour to go, everything else that plays out is from Susan's perspective. We discover that she's always been the main character, and it becomes tragic. She tries to cut off J.R. from his grandchild, and she gives him as little attention as possible, blaming him for her husband's death. Yet she still can't get away. When she goes to his office to tell him that she's taking little John to London away from him, it happens to occur the very night that Philip goes up to make his own attempt at the sound barrier (it works better in the film than writing it out which feels arbitrary). She listens as Philip manages to do what her husband failed to do, and she's met with such conflicting feelings.

    It's not a great film, but it's a handsomely produced, well-acted one. Ann Todd is good as Susan, but it's Ralph Richardson as J.R. who is best, carrying a complex character through several bouts of emotion that he, as a proper Englishman, must hide until he finally breaks down late. The quiet understanding that Susan would never tell anyone about J.R.'s break in decorum is a touching one and a nice way for them to begin to repair their relationship. It's a solid entertainment with an almost tricky focus that ends up working out quite well. Probably one of Lean's most underrated films.
  • Fictional account based upon aerospace magnate De Havilland's efforts to break the sound barrier. It takes one unexpected turn, but other than that is an entirely predictable tale of Ann Todd's fretting over dashing hubbie Nigel Patrick flying at ever increasing speeds. Ralph Richardson's Northern accent fades in and out likely a badly tuned radio.
  • Warning: Spoilers
    First rate flying drama set in the days after 1945 while Britain was still at the forefront of aeronautical research and Test Pilots were the modern successors to Sir Lancelot and Sir Gawain. I noticed one anachronism: after Nigel Patrick and Ann Todd fly home on Comet 1, they see a headline Geoffrey de Havilland Jr dies in attempt to break the Sound Barrier. But that event was in 1946, 3 years before Comet 1. The tension centres in a conflict between Ralph Richardson as the aircraft magnate and his daughter Ann Todd who holds him responsible for the deaths of first her brother (Denholm Elliott in an early role ) and her husband Nigel Patrick. Ralph Richardson's final scene in an astronomical observatory reminded me a bit of Raymond Massey's big speech at the end of Things To Come where he foresees Humanity conquering the Universe.
  • Absolute classic. If you push away it is not a true representation of the race to break the sound barrier it is a fantastic representation of the race itself at the cost of lost pilots willingly risking their lives in the thing they love doing. The technology is simplified and incorrect in many ways but it goes unimportant as the movies blends the emotional cost weighs against the increasing technology to the extent you feel the pain in the drama. Ralph Richardson brilliantly plays his character making you wonder if he actually cares about the human cost or is just suppressing emotion in the way many people do. David Leans direction is excellent and it is a shame this film was not made in colour but an excellent film nonetheless. I have watched this film more than once which I dont do for a lot of films but many I do are David Lean's. Not his greatest film. But still a classic.
  • Warning: Spoilers
    I remember liking this movie as a child on TV on Saturdays, and I wasn't the only one apparently since it won the BAFTA for best picture. Alas, now that I've searched out the DVD and have looked at it as a 21st-century adult, I regretfully conclude that it hasn't held up well at all.

    There is still some suspense in the test dives. Of course now that we've seen "The Right Stuff" we know that the sound barrier was not broken over the skies of England by some guy working for a company with a management team of one and a design team of one. (Oops, that's your big spoiler right there: a guy actually breaks the sound barrier in the movie.) We have a lot more appreciation for scientific and engineering progress as a team effort, and we are less likely to demand that for dramatic purposes everything be run by some one businessMan like in an old Heinlein story.

    But that's not my main problem with the movie. For me, the thing that makes it really hard to watch is the "human drama" side which is precisely the thing which I suppose originally made the film particularly "interesting" back in 1952. It brings in the wives. And it brings them in to educate them, or really to mansplain to them. And the message to them is, "Yes, we understand that your cute little female minds would like to keep your husbands alive, and can't fathom why Progress is so Important that your men want to go and give their lives for it. But it really is, so you should just be supportive and smile through your tears and go home and live at Downton Abbey and raise another generation of sons. Or go shopping!"

    Yes, it really IS just that gender-laden a film from first to last. You think when you see Ann Todd for the first time in uniform during the war that maybe she will be a role model of some kind, but you catch on quick that WWII was an emergency situation, when women were forced to do unnatural things like work in military offices and drive staff jeeps, but as soon as it's won they should go home and be mommies and raise children. ("SONS!") Right, sons. There's of course a whole literature now on postwar anti-feminist reaction in which this film ought to get a mention.

    Ann Todd's character is later called upon to be the doofus who knows nothing of sound so that men can explain the whole speed of sound business to her. Despite the fact that her father is an aircraft manufacturing magnate, she has never had a conversation with him about air apparently!

    There are two ways that Test Pilot Wives react, we find; one of them is to mope around like Ann Todd, trying to nag their husbands into letting someone else do the risky stuff and wondering why it's so important to get a plane to go 800 miles an hour. (Of course it's to beat the Russians, but that isn't driven home in the film, so let's just focus on phrases like "It's just got to be done, that's all".) (She might also wonder why her dad doesn't invest in a wind tunnel or find some way to test the properties of the plane other than just send up a guy to dive at the ground and see what happens.)

    The other way is to be a proto-Stepford airhead like Dinah Sheridan's character, who provides comic relief by bursting in with fabric samples and not giving her husband a second to tell her about his triumph of the day. (Isn't that just like a woman, after all?)

    I could go on, but it would be tedious and boring. But, you may say, this movie was a product of its reactionary time and place! So true. So, what are our numbers supposed to represent though? Are they meant to sum up Lean's place in cinema heaven, like in Mark Twain's "Captain Stormalong" where people's lives are judged on the basis of what, in the view of omniscience, they did with what they had? My aims are more limited - I'm just saying how much I, today, here (Chicago), liked the movie and why. And it wasn't pleasant.
An error has occured. Please try again.