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  • Those 'in the know' about classic films instantly perk up when they see that a film is made by Ealing Studios. That's because this small British film company had a wonderful string of small films that were absolute gems in the 1940s and 50s. Most of these were wonderful little comedies, though pretty much all the Ealing films I have seen have been excellent or even better. Their track record was absolutely astonishing. When I saw this was an Ealing production, I made sure to tune in when it came on Turner Classic Movies.

    Unlike most of the famous Ealing films (such as PASSPORT TO PIMLICO and THE LADY KILLERS), this one is not a comedy but a rather tense drama. However, when I read the TCM plot summary of the film it was very inaccurate. It read "a test pilot thinks back on his past as he fights to survive a burning plane". However, this film is NOT a series of flashbacks (thankfully) and exactly what the pilot (Jack Hawkins) is thinking isn't really investigated until the last few minutes or so of the film! So what is the film all about, then? Well, Hawkins is a test pilot and the plane does catch fire, but once the fire is extinguished it's difficult to control the plane and he circles for about a half hour to burn up fuel. And during all this time the film is told in real-time and shows how many members of the crew (who had parachuted to safety), the airplane company's owner and others react to impending doom for Hawkins--as it appears that successfully landing the craft is a fool's errand! Despite this very simple plot, the film earns a lot of respect and a high score on IMDb because of exquisite acting and especially writing. For the subject matter, the absolute most is squeezed out of the plot and the tension is amazing. It's a great film fill of wonderful character studies and is a whole heck of a lot better than many of the more recent and special effects intensive films we've gotten from Hollywood. Acting and writing--that's what it's all about, isn't it?
  • This is a very simple film, and it is not giving a thing away to reveal that it concerns a test pilot trying to cope with landing a damaged experimental plane. After the engine of his test plane catches fire and it becomes only marginally airworthy, he singlehandedly over-rides ground orders to bail out and ditch the plane and tries to save it. What happens next forms the core of the story. There are several things that make this film especially watchable, and I enjoyed it tremendously.

    The best reason to watch the film is the fine performance by Jack Hawkins. He gives a wonderful portrayal of an ordinary man called on to go above and beyond the call of duty, and he manages to maintain a stiff upper lip throughout (call it what you will, that's a compliment, not a slur).

    The film essentially is a character study, both of the Hawkins character and of the people flying with him and watching on the ground, and of his quite ordinary family. We get a range of emotional reactions, all rational but some diametrically opposed to each other. Everybody has a different interest in the outcome, some venal. I particularly liked how the children were handled, that is a tricky situation. And how do you tell your wife when you come home quite normally, to whom you have not spoken since breakfast, that you almost died today? The shots of the plane in the air are fabulous if you like classic airplanes, and the suspense is maintained until the very end of the flight.

    The scene I like the best is one in which Hawkins makes a long, strained walk to the aviation office, barely maintaining his composure after all the stress he has faced. I know what that is like, and Hawkins does a fabulous job of showing how built-up pressure becomes hardest to control only after the difficult task is done. A very human way to react. A brilliant acting job.

    Notable also for being one of Donald Pleasance's first film roles - he always looked basically the same throughout his long career! - and the fact that this is a purely British film, made at Ealing, featuring British actors who fit their roles nicely. No false Hollywood touches. Recommended.
  • Thanks to Planktonrules for the thoughtful analysis/appreciation. However, there are just a few comments I'd like to add to his review.

    "The Man in the Sky" (a.k.a. "Decision Against Time") is a fairly representative example of the kinds of dramas that Ealing produced in addition to their better-known comedies. In fact, out of the 96 feature-length films that Ealing released between 1938 and 1959, only about 15 to 20 were comedies, depending on what you count. The other 80% was made up of virtually every kind of movie that was being made in Britain at the time: war pictures, crime thrillers, period pieces, and even a couple of literary adaptations, musicals, and horror films. So it's not really correct to claim that "most" of Ealing's output was comedy -- though the comedies have come to overshadow everything else that Ealing did.

    Since this movie is representative of Ealing's dramatic style, it's a good place to start if you only know the comedies. Like "The Cruel Sea" (an Ealing war film with Jack Hawkins), this one is primarily about the human stories that lie at the heart of tragedies or potential tragedies. We first see Hawkins' character as a family man facing typical problems, like being unable to purchase a new home, before we see him in the crisis situation that dominates the film. So like many of Ealing's dramas, this one is primarily about how an ordinary man meets an extraordinary situation. In many ways, Hawkins' character is not unlike one of Hemingway's "code" heroes. In order to succeed, he must maintain self-control and absolute professionalism. It's easy to dismiss films like this as uncritical celebrations of the stereotypically British "stiff upper lip." But in fact, the film is really about how its characters handle emotions that cannot be talked about because those emotions are conflicting and difficult to understand anyway. When the resolution comes, it is played out in silence -- a daring choice on the part of director Charles Crichton, but one that results in greater profundity than you might expect.

    Finally, it's worth noting that this was the first movie that Ealing produced/released after it sold and left its home studio. In 1956, producer Michael Balcon was forced to negotiate a new distribution deal. (The British film industry was going through one of its frequent crises.) As a result, Balcon moved his production unit to MGM's British base, where Balcon had worked briefly in the mid-1930s before moving on to Ealing. After this film, Ealing would make only six more before closing down for good in 1959, thus ending one of the most brilliant chapters in British film history. Movies like "Man in the Sky," which examines reticence and self-control, just weren't what younger British audiences wanted to see, and the age of James Bond, the Beatles, and the "angry young men" was just around the corner.
  • I agree with all the user comments above and enjoyed this film immensely.It's amazing I have never seen it before, it certainly is not an any DVD I have seen.It kept my attention for the full 80 minutes and I did not mind the filming in B&W as it gave the film a stark reality, missing in many 21st century films with their CGI/Special effects.

    Britain had developed quite a lead internationally in aero engine design in the mid-late 1950s, and the air industry's export earnings were vital to the country's economy to help repay the massive overhang of WWII debts not finally repaid until 1996.The film mentioned a sobering statistic one out of three test pilots lost their lives flying new aircraft being produced at this time.This is another Jack Hawkins Ealing film classic is his portrayal of captain Ericcson in "The Cruel Sea" (1952).Look out for John Stratton who also appeared in the latter film and who this time plays the number two test pilot.
  • Warning: Spoilers
    THE MAN IN THE SKY is a strong little British aviation drama with a simple yet thrilling premise. Jack Hawkins plays the everyday pilot driven to new levels of heroism when the test plane he's flying develops an engine fault and he refuses to ditch it. I found huge similarities between this film and the modern-day likes of SPEED, but THE MAN IN THE SKY got there decades before. Hawkins is supported by a strong character cast in support that includes Elizabeth Sellars, Donald Pleasence, Lionel Jeffries, Victor Maddern and Eddie Byrne, but the real winner here is Charles Crichton, who wrings every drop of feeling and emotion out of his premise.
  • Nothing could be more straightforward than this story-line : a pilot - alone in the aircraft - is unable to land it. Yet the director and cast not only build up the suspense, but they also present to the audience, through the opinions of those on the ground, conflicting interpretations of what is going on in the pilot's mind. The result is that the simple story-line is seen to contain moral dilemmas which have no simple solution.
  • It is unforgivable that a film should be made in black and white, that is devoid of CGI and populated by first class actors who can do more that the strutting, posing and mumbling so evident in today's films. OK. I know this was made in 1957 but for 80 or so engrossing minutes I was captivated by the dialogue driven story. Jack Hawkins and the delectable Elizabeth Sellers remind us what is missing in today's popcorn extravaganzas where virtually the same story is recycled, action replaces dialogue and the 'STARS' just stand there trying to look either menacing or provocative. Actors need not apply.

    Highly recommended film that reminds us what we are missing.
  • If Andrew Stone had ever worked for Ealing he would have come up with something like this neglected gem, which for over an hour keeps you on the edge of your seat as with elegant simplicity it deftly juggles Jack Hawkins' attempts (reminiscent of 'Doris Day in Julie') to land a damaged plane and his even more harrowing problems at home; the plane's ominous creaks echoing Stone's skilful use of sound.

    Made in the days when Sonic Booms were called 'Bangs' and the make-or-break sum in a house purchase was £500; it has a contemporary resonance in the cynical response of a newspaper editor that "If he doesn't crash there's no story".

  • Great movie, english flavour, great performers. Jack Hawkins has been one of the best English actors ever. Aviation fans must ab-so-lu-te-ly see this movie, altough not available in the VHS circuit. As far as I know, this is the only feature film where it is possible to admire the ubiquitous Bristol 170 Freighter. She was a cargo plane built in the late forties by the english aviation firm Bristol. A must for all you aviation minded people. The cast is at his best, the drama and suspense still thrill a lot. Highly reccomended !
  • Warning: Spoilers
    Struggling aeroplane manufacturer pioneers RATO (rocket - assisted take off) on what looks suspiciously like a Bristol170 Freighter in an attempt to fill its order books. This works fine,but,don't you know it,one of the orthodox piston engines catches fire and all the boffins and odds and sods are made to bale out,leaving former RAF pilot Mr J.Hawkins alone at the controls. His job and the future of the company depend on his ability to land the plane safely. Unusually for a 1950s film,the hero's marriage is shown as going through a sticky patch so not only is he responsible for the future of hundreds of workers he is also anxious for his family's future. No pressure then. Cue rather too many long shots of the stricken plane droning across the sky as the director tries to rack up tension in the tower with lots of smartly dressed chaps snapping out RP English to the monosyllabic Mr Hawkins whilst he goes through a rather quiet wobbly. There is never any doubt that he will land safely despite Mr Crichton's attempts to string out the ending,and the last 10 minutes are by far the best part of the picture as Mr Hawkins alights from the plane with hardly a word,gets into his Standard Roadster and rives home through the ranks of the company's employees who stand in complete silence,where a lesser director might have made them break out in a cheer. "Hello,old thing",he says to his wife by way of greeting. Again a lesser director could have ended it with a tearful embrace,but Mr Crichton suddenly turns on the heat and Mr Hawkins and Miss Sellars go toe to toe as his façade crumbles and he literally shakes with suppressed emotion and all his fear and feelings of guilt show themselves. It is the only time he ever seemed like a real person in the whole film. Gut - wrenchingly honest,decent,brave and dependable. A typical Jack Hawkins part but through no fault of his own,most of this film doesn't deserve him.
  • If you already like Jack Hawkins' acting work you will like this film. He has a central role which he delivers in his usual commanding style. The drama works on two levels - the technical challenge of trying to land a stricken aircraft and the emotional challenge and responsibility of being married and trying to provide for a family. Both are dealt with admirably in this excellent drama. My only criticism is that Elizabeth Sellars is miscast as Jack's wife. Her contribution of wasp waist glamour is an unwanted distraction and probably even reduces the power of the film a little.
  • A British suspense drama. A bold but cautious former RAF pilot is testing a prototype transport plane when his engine bursts into flame. The aircraft firm is in financial diffiuclty and Jack Hawkin's pilot is feeling the strain after years of flying and an over-sensitive wife. Jettisoning the plane in favour of parachuting would almost certainly mean he loses his job too and further marital strain. It is a competently acted and skillfully directed film, if a little over-earnest. The action sequences race toward tedium in the second act but the family drama is convincing.
  • edwagreen19 November 2016
    Warning: Spoilers
    For a moral dilemma, the picture would ordinarily rate much higher, but the way it plods along was overbearing and very boring. Jack Hawkins is always going to come down and then he doesn't.

    His company is about to hit the skids if they don't sell this airplane. He goes up with others only for one of the engines to catch fire and the others parachute out to safety.

    It is only that when he successfully lands the plane without incident or tragedy occurring, in returning to his wife and children, he finds his wife outraged that he would sacrifice himself to his two young sons and her to prove a point-the airplane was valuable. He speaks of the morality issue and what is right in defending his decision. It is at this point that Hawkins and movie wife Elizabeth Sellars show some real depth in acting. The problem was the getting to this point in this rather otherwise dull film.
  • Warning: Spoilers
    It's rare in a film like this where I enjoyed the domestic scenes more than the goings-on of the main plot which involves pilot Jack Hawkins stuck up in the sky in a plane with defective landing gear something he was aware of before, and creating a new sensation with the fact that he might have to crash to get the plane out of the sky. Hawkins and Elizabeth Sellars are having issues of whether or not they should buy a house, raising their two boys who provides some amusing moments in the opening scenes of the film. When Hawkins gets to the base where he ends up on the plane, the matter of whether or not his wife should be contacted becomes a major subject of conversation with the tea lady taking it upon herself to call her, having established herself as the worried old biddy sticking her nose into everybody else's business.

    An interesting phone conversation with a reporter covering the story gives insight to a ruthless press who doesn't think that it could sell newspapers even though a man's life may be on the line. Then the reporter is confronted by someone who works there who tells them off for their insensitivity of being there in the first place. A few great moments in an otherwise frustrating and often dull film, culminating in a confrontation between husband and wife at the very end. A lot of the problem with the script is that it becomes very technical in regards to Hawkins' profession which will either confused or bore viewers who aren't interested or educated in that line of work.
  • Warning: Spoilers
    Using a script that seems to have been unmercifully padded out from a half-hour television drama, "Decision Against Time" (as Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer re-titled the British film, "The Man in the Sky", for its release in the United States and Canada) has little to recommend it.

    It's sad to find a fine actor like Jack Hawkins trapped in this sort of rubbish, particularly as this cliché-ridden aviation drama was obviously inspired by William Wellman's fine account of "The High and the Mighty" (1954). True, director Charles Crichton does rise to the occasion with one or two imaginative touches, but generally he is content to trudge along in the trenches. As said, Jack Hawkins does his best to make his one-dimensional character come alive, but it's an uphill struggle in which he receives little support from Crichton, and none at all from the other players. Elizabeth Sellars, Jeremy Bodkin and Gerard Lohin are especially unconvincing.
  • I have just watched the film again because it brings back memories for me. I lived in Wolverhampton then only a mile or two from the airfield and I recognise where much of it was filmed. I frequently saw the plane flying around, sometimes with smoke trailing as it passed over the playing field of my school. Watching it again after all this time, I was surprised not only by how well it stood up, but also how much of it was clearly shot on location, including the air control tower. The other notable feature for me is the quality of the cast: just about everyone in it had significant acting careers, Donald Pleasance, Lionel Jeffries etc. It's also fascinating to hear such details as rent prices (£200 for a year's rent, I think was mentioned) and to see how deserted the roads were then.
  • fung016 May 2022
    This is probably my favorite Ealing film - and that's saying a lot. It tells a 'small' story but does it with absolute perfection in every way.

    The story is classic drama - the simple man, who faces desperate circumstances at home and then at work. The real conflict is internal - can he make the right decisions, handle the most delicate task, while weighed down with all the cares and doubts of life.

    The presentation is beyond brilliant. The photography of the airfield is impeccably composed and wonderfully evocative. Crichton uses a lot of up-angles to create a sense of space. (Has any one else noticed the importance of the open sky in so many Ealing films?)

    The performances are, of course, top notch. Hawkins is perfect as the middle-age test pilot. Elizabeth Sellars is superbly understated in what could have been a mawkish, melodramatic role. And a young Donald Pleasance adds a lovely touch of humor, with his bowler hat.

    Apart from its other virtues, The Man in the Sky - like so many Ealing films - offers a wonderful snapshot of its time and place. The struggling aircraft company represents a time when England was rebuilding itself, with hope and ingenuity. A time when the British had a unique affinity for aviation. A time when a young family could - just barely - aspire to a new home and a better life.

    The Man in the Sky is also evocative of seat-of-the-pants aviation. It recaptures the feeling I've known in many weekends spent hanging around airports. The helpless worry felt by onlookers when something goes wrong up in the sky. The do-or-die spirit of pilots who really love what they're doing, and would rather go down in flames than give up.

    Ealing's dramas are sadly underrated and overlooked. It's hard to say if The Man in the Sky is the best of them - the competition is stiff. But it's certainly my favorite. And one of my favorite films of all time.
  • I wasn't expecting it to be so very tense; the title character, the Man in the Sky, played wonderfully well by Jack Hawkins, is a test pilot with much on his mind. He seems to feel that he's reached the end of the line, that he has nowhere to go, because the company he works for is one month away from bankruptcy and soon he'll be out of a job with nothing to fall back on.

    His wife is disappointed, she wants a home of her own badly to bring up their two sons, but it looks like that too won't happen because her test pilot husband can't bring himself to finance the house they both want, since he knows he may soon be in financial straits.

    The only hope they have is that the plane he's testing is purchased, which will save the company. In this last flight, the plane (a cargo plane) is fully loaded, with the prospective buyer aboard as well as a complete crew. Everything is going well until the port engine starts on fire!

    All the others on board the plane bail out, leaving only our test pilot; he's subjected to the strain of deciding whether to bail out himself, as the company owner & everyone else is telling him to do, or to try to land the plane. The fire has left the plane with only one engine & has damaged the operation of the wings, so attempting to land may well be fatal. At risk is his life, the company & all its employees, his marriage, and his future; what a decision to have to make!

    I just loved the character development in this film, the acting was superb, and the actual aircraft was incredible too. This movie has very little action, but a lot of tension, and I thoroughly enjoyed it!

    9/10 stars is my rating!
  • notastripper16 February 2018
    Warning: Spoilers
    By now, most viewers are so aware of movie tropes that films like this are virtually devoid of suspense. At some point, filmmakers started throwing subplots and extraneous characters into disaster movies so that the audience could never be completely assured of anyone's survival; doing so might have helped here. Instead, we have the reliable Hawkins, up there by himself, refusing to bail out of an experimental plane which only he can land. Uh-huh. There's not enough character development or good dialogue to engage the viewer's interest. At one point, a journalist remarks to the effect that there's no story without a crash. He may be callous, but he's right.