6 June 2020 | SimonJack
Who knew about steam traction engine fairs? Now I do!
While I had seen a couple other British movies in which there were old tractors and vehicles of this sort, until "The Iron Maiden" [aka, "The Swingin' Maiden"), I had never heard of (or thought about, for that matter) steam fairs or traction engine derbies and competitions. That is one of the delights of this movie - it gives a nice picture of a tradition and apparent fad amongst the upper crust and/or eccentrics in the UK. But, wait a minute. In looking it up online, I discovered that there are about 30 such events held annually in the U.S. And, there are a few in half a dozen other countries as well. But, with more than 40 events in the UK, it has more than all the other countries - save the U.S., combined.
So, having discovered all this, I delight in realizing once again that one is never too old to learn.
This is a delightful little comedy, built around the historical aspect of these early inventions. The plot has a nice contrast of the old with the new, in that the various parties come together (one way or another) over the sale or acquisition of the latest super passenger plane design. It, too, is a competition in this film. Not between races or aerial demonstrations, but over a production purchase contract. Again, that's what brings the characters together. As others point out, the planes used for the film are military aircraft of the day, not new passenger planes.
The humor is mostly situational and a very good cast does well. The cast is a mix of prominent and lesser known actors of the day. The most familiar to movie buffs will be Michael Craig as Jack Hopkins, Cecil Parker as Sir Giles Thompson, Roland Culver as Lord Upshot, and Alan Hale Jr. as Paul Fisher. On screen, Michael Craig frequently reminds me of Rod Taylor. They look alike in films around that 30-40 age, but of course, in their personal photos and up close their different appearances are clear.
Toward the end, all the main characters wind up at the National Traction Engine Championship which is held at the abbey. This is a nice picture with scenes of the country and Woburn Abbey. This English landmark dates to 1145 when it was founded as a Cistercian abbey (a branch of the Benedictine Order). When Henry VIII split with the Catholic Church in the 1530s, he confiscated all the Catholic properties. Most of the churches became Anglican Churches. Henry dispersed other properties for various political purposes. In 1547, he gave the Woburn Abbey to John Russell, whom he made the 1st Earl of Bedford. It has been the seat of the family and the Dukes of Bedford since then. The early Dukes demolished the original abbey buildings and in 1744 the abbey was mostly rebuilt. The abbey today, seen in the film, had undergone considerable changes due to deterioration and renovation over time - the last just before World War II. Today, it's grounds include a large wild animal park, and the estate endures mostly through tourism.
This is another one of those films that had it's original title changed. And, another example of a dumb, if not poor choice, considering that the script refers to the Iron Maiden innumerable times and it becomes the name of the new aircraft at the end. One wonders about the minds of the moguls who make such decisions. Were they hallucinating in Hollywood at the time? Or, were the Brits balmy? The only possible interpretation for "The Swingin" Maiden," would have to refer to the female lead, Jeff Donnell, who plays Miriam Fisher. But, if she was the image of "swinging" by those who renamed this film, they must just have emerged after 60 years in a dungeon.
This isn't a fast-moving film, so younger audiences of modern days may not be able to sit still for it. But everyone else should enjoy it.
Here are some favorite lines.
Lord Upshot, "And for heaven's sake, don't try and talk business." Humphrey Gore-Brown, "Yes, father." Lord Upshot, "You know absolutely nothing about it."
Lord Upshot, "Remember, the quickest way to any American millionaire's checkbook is through his women folk."
Paul Fisher, "It's very nice of you to come down and meet us. Perhaps we'll see you in London." Humphrey Gore-Brown, "Well, I didn't realize you had your own car with you. You see, I brought the Rolls to take you to London, as it were." Paul Fisher, "Oh. Well again, that's very kind of you, but uh, well, just a plain old Cadillac is good enough for us."
Vicar, "Now, admiral, please." Admiral, "Oh, hells bells, Vicar, it's about time you realize that all's fair in love and war and the Woburn Running. Now get aboard."
Miriam. Fisher, "Come on, Kathy. We may be just in time to save your father from making an international fool of himself." Kathy, "Mother, why is it that every time your pleased with daddy, he's your husband, and when he's fallen he's my father?
Miriam Fisher, "Paul, say something." Paul fisher, "Shut up!"
Admiral, "Don't stand there, vicar. Pray! Pray!"