Breaking the Sound Barrier (1952)

Breaking the Sound Barrier (1952)

“It was almost as if I’d suddenly run into a solid sheet of water.”

An RAF pilot (Nigel Patrick) marries the daughter (Ann Todd) of an airplane manufacturing magnate (Ralph Richardson) who is determined to send a test pilot through the sound barrier.

Genres, Themes, Actors, and Directors:

  • Airplanes and Pilots
  • David Lean Films
  • Ralph Richardson Films
  • Science Fiction Films

Inspired by the life of British aviation pioneer Geoffrey de Havilland, this David Lean flick is an interesting mix of revisionist history and science fiction. By claiming victory over one of the most profound challenges of aeroscience (flying faster than “Mach 1”), Breaking the Sound Barrier plants a false narrative of how this endeavor was achieved; those wanting a more authentic history must watch The Right Stuff (1983) about Chuck Yeager. With that enormous caveat in mind, this film succeeds in showing how a “stiff upper lip” is apparently an endemic British cultural trait, and how the desire to advance scientific knowledge sometimes trumps common sense and one’s personal survival-instinct. Less compelling is the overall storyline about a tough-as-nails magnate (Richardson) who seems willing to risk the happiness of both his son (Denholm Elliott) and daughter (Ann Todd) for the sake of his empire (and knowledge); if this were based on a true story, it would be easier to accept the conveniently plotted twists and turns — but, it’s not. The direction and cinematography are excellent, though.

Redeeming Qualities and Moments:

  • Many expertly filmed dramatic moments

  • Jack Hildyard’s cinematography

Must See?
No. Listed as a film with Historical Importance in the back of Peary’s book.


One thought on “Breaking the Sound Barrier (1952)

  1. Not must-see – for (the unfortunate) reasons brought out in the assessment.

Leave a Reply