Biography / Drama


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September 21, 2012 at 5:55 am



Leslie Howard as R.J. Mitchell
David Niven as Geoffrey Crisp
Rosamund John as Diana Mitchell
Roland Culver as Commander Bride
750.59 MB
23.976 fps
1hr 30 min
P/S 5 / 5

Movie Reviews

Reviewed by bkoganbing 7 / 10

A Bird That Spits out Fire and Destruction

The development of the Spitfire fighter plane by the Royal Air Force is considered a crucial factor in winning the Battle of Britain in that crisis year of 1941. It could fly faster and higher than the best German fighters and of course being right at home base it had the advantage of being able to instantly refuel. Unless a German pilot could shoot one down, a tie was always to the defenders because the German eventually had to return home for fuel.

Though he didn't live to see it, credit for the design of the Spitfire and a share of winning the Battle of Britain goes to Reginald J. Mitchell who had been dead four years before the Battle of Britain. This film is a tribute to him as realized by Producer/Director/Star Leslie Howard.

The problem one encounters in biographical films of this sort occurs when the subject lead colorless lives. We don't get that much of Mitchell here I suspect because outside of designing aircraft he probably was a pretty dull fellow. But Howard and David Niven who played his friend and test pilot are capable players and there's enough aerial footage to satisfy any buff.

Howard's seminal moment in the film occurs when he goes to Germany to view their nascent airplane industry and realizes just who is the target of all these new warplanes. He comes back and through sheer persistence and conviction persuades the Air Ministry and the Baldwin government to start the development of a better fighter plane.

Curiously enough the American aviator hero Charles Lindbergh got the same treatment from the Germans and came back to America with a message of defeatism. Interesting the different reactions when aviation people start talking shop.

Had Leslie Howard not died ironically enough a battlefield casualty as the airliner he was on shot down in 1943 in the Bay of Biscay, The First of the Few might have been the beginning of a great career behind the camera. Probably would have extended into British television as well as the cinema.

Still this film is a fine farewell and a tribute to two British patriots, Leslie Howard and Reginald J. Mitchell.

Reviewed by music-room 9 / 10

Howard at his charismatic best.

'The First of the Few' shows Leslie Howard at his most reflective, almost to the point of diffidence. His only show of assertiveness is when he informs the haughty bigwigs of 'Supermarine'that he will design aeroplanes HIS way, despite David Horne's salutary warning that he will 'come an almighty cropper'. Howard plays R.J. Mitchell, legendary designer of the Spitfire, the revolutionary fighter plane that was to take centre stage in the Battle of Britain.

Throughout the film it is Howard himself who takes centre stage and never really leaves it, his star quality and charisma embracing all manner of scenes, from cheeky one - liners, 'you're not a bird, but you can fly', as a retort to Tonie Edgar - Bruce's mercurial Lady Houston, or modestly basking in the reflected glory of yet another Schneider Trophy triumph (the annual seaplane contest between Great Britain, USA and Italy which has now passed into folklore). Perhaps he is even more compelling in the touching solo scenes, with little or no dialogue, where, to William Walton's evocative music, he is found by his colleagues overworking himself deep into the night, trying to design the Spitfire before the imminent spread of Germanic imperialism, or, later on, close to death, scanning the skies for a sign of David Niven leading the way on the famous fighter plane.

An impressive cast of character actors give him great support, including Roland Culver as the supportive and insightful head of Supermarine, Anne Firth as a petite but highly efficient secretary, and future film maker Filippo Del Giudice as a foppish, hilarious Bertorelli, the high ranking Italian official who relays the message from 'Il duce' Mussolini, to the effect that the winning British Schneider Trophy entry could only have achieved such a feat 'in our glorious Italian sky'.

Howard's introverted Mitchell is in contrast to David Niven's jaunty, red blooded senior pilot, who demonstrates in this film just why he will go on to be the top British star in Hollywood, his easy acting style and unbridled optimism making Crisp a lovable character without ever seeming arrogant. Perhaps his inexplicable crash in one of the Schneider Trophy contests has the effect of 'bringing him down to earth', both literally and in character.

The only downside of the film is an oddly mechanical performance from Rosamund John, as Mitchell's wife. Obviously she could not come over as a dominant figure to Howard's subtle Mitchell, but the attempt to make her appear even more introverted than the star produces an uncharacteristically robotic outcome from this fine actress.

Both Mitchell and Howard were soon to pass beyond earthly constraints into immortality, the latter disappearing in mysterious circumstances, ironically, in a plane, over Portugal, in June, 1943. There is no finer epitaph to both of them, than 'The First of the Few', Mitchell as the genius aeroplane designer, and Howard as the first English actor (albeit of Hungarian parents) to make it big in Hollywood. In this respect, Niven may be regarded as 'the second of the few'. A gem of a film, whose great star never shone more brightly than here.

Reviewed by didi-5 5 / 10

fine swansong for Leslie Howard

This movie, a biopic of R.J. Mitchell, inventor of the Spitfire plane, saw the final appearance of that great British actor, Leslie Howard, who died in 1943 when his plane was shot down by the Germans. It was a fitting finale that one of his best roles, as the idealistic dreamer Mitchell, was his last.

Equally good (but perhaps a little young for the role) is David Niven as Mitchell's close pal Crisp. Niven was always good value and was convincing in uniform or official roles. Rosamund John has the remaining plum part as Mrs Mitchell, and plays the part very well.

'The First of the Few' works as propaganda, as an involving war actioner, and as a character study of an eccentric inventive mind. Howard's skill as a director ensures all angles are adequately covered and that the viewer is rarely bored. Dated it may be (and obviously so given the date of production) but should still appeal to a wide and discerning audience.

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