Spirit of St. Louis, The (1957)

Spirit of St. Louis, The (1957)

“I believe in an instrument panel, a pressure gauge, a compass — things I can see and touch. I can’t touch God.”

While preparing for and then living through his 36-hour flight from New York to Paris, Charles Lindbergh (Jimmy Stewart) reflects back on his past as a barnstormer and mail carrier.

Genres, Themes, Actors, and Directors:

  • Airplanes and Pilots
  • Billy Wilder Films
  • Jimmy Stewart Films

Billy Wilder directed this adaptation of Charles Lindbergh’s Pulitzer Prize-winning memoir about his 1927 trans-Atlantic flight, which (much to Lindbergh’s consternation) starred 47-year-old Stewart as the 25-year-old aviator. Nothing is mentioned at all about Lindbergh’s infamously toxic political beliefs, leaving us instead with simply a tale of a determined young man who won’t give up on his dreams — which, as we know, he achieved. The film’s intrinsic excitement comes first from seeing Lindbergh’s attempts to secure financing for a custom-built plane:

… and then ample footage of his harrowing flight, which included falling asleep numerous times, accidentally allowing ice to build on the wings, and losing navigational abilities, among many other challenges:

Along the way, we see Lindbergh chatting with a rogue fly stuck in the cockpit:

… and watch some of flashbacks that filled his mind during the long hours of the flight — including reflecting back on his friendship with a fellow pilot (Murray Hamilton):

… making a living as a barnstormer:

… and teaching an incompetent yet perennially cheerful priest (Marc Connelly) how to fly.

While this well-crafted aviation flick isn’t must-see viewing, it’s worth a look.

Notable Performances, Qualities, and Moments:

  • Jimmy Stewart as Charles Lindbergh
  • Good attention to period detail
  • Fine cinematography by Robert Burks and J. Peverell Marley

Must See?
No, though it’s recommended for one-time viewing.


One thought on “Spirit of St. Louis, The (1957)

  1. First viewing (4/18/17). A once-must, for its place in cinema history as an interesting (and rather satisfying) anomaly in Wilder’s career (which wisely chooses to downplay certain specifics in Lindbergh’s life). As per my post in ‘The ’40s-’50s in Film’:

    “Well, Mr. Bixby, when I was a kid and the smallest in my class, I made up my mind I was gonna be 6’3 inches tall – and I made it, with a half an inch to spare.”

    ‘The Spirit of St. Louis’ (1957): Hadn’t seen this before, strangely. 1957 was Billy Wilder’s busiest year – he made 3 movies, starting with this one (followed by ‘Love in the Afternoon’ and ‘Witness for the Prosecution’). I’m not sure why I didn’t see it before – though I can’t claim to have a huge interest in planes or aviation. I wasn’t prepared for Wilder’s success in turning something potentially static and more of a history lesson into something genuinely exciting – and even occasionally quite tense (esp. when ice threatens the plane in flight).

    The screenplay is quite clever while James Stewart (as Lindbergh) is en route for the transatlantic race – it dovetails significant events in Lindbergh’s aerial education. (Wilder even manages to get some of his signature humor into what is one of his rare non-comedies – just can’t help himself, I guess.)

    I don’t know how closely the film sticks to Lindbergh’s book but the end result reads as believable (there are no silly extras, like a love interest – though there is a fun scene that includes a young woman who happens to have a small mirror that Lindbergh needs for his flight).

    This is Stewart’s movie all the way – so his fans will get special enjoyment from him here. Just good solid storytelling – a well-made flick!

    By the way…the flight was 33 hours and 30 minutes. And I don’t think I knew (or I forgot) that a number of others were trying to accomplish the same thing, right around the time that Lindbergh beat everyone else to being first.

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