Breaking the Sound Barrier (1952) B+
United Artists (UK, London Films)
David Lean’s first independent project, “Breaking the Sound Barrier” was a huge critical and commercial success, sharply scripted by Terence Rattigan and beautifully photographed by aerial specialist Jack Hildyard.
This suspenseful, tautly directed e movie places the history of British jet aviation against the context of an intensely personal (and largely fictional) family melodrama.
Ralph Richardson gives a brilliant performance as John Richfield, a wealthy aircraft manufacturer, stubbornly determined to develop a jet that will travel faster than the speed of sound.
Richfield has displayed a seemingly cavalier attitude toward the pilots who have died due to his dream, including his own son (Denholm Elliott), and has turned his daughter (Ann Todd) against him.
When the daughter’s fighter-pilot husband (Nigel Patrick) agrees to test Richfield’s jet, he too loses his life. The daughter walks out of her father’s life and sets up residence with the wife (Dinah Sheridan) of another pilot (John Junkin).
Unfazed, Richfield then approaches this pilot with his challenge, and this time the “sound barrier” is successfully broken. Recognizing the fact that her father’s apparent cold-heartedness was in the interest of scientific progress, the daughter and her newborn child are reconciled with him.
The film’s original British title was “The Sound Barrier,” but the American distributor didn’t want filmgoers to mistake the movie as a tale about the record industry.
Oscar Nominations: 2
Story and Screenplay: Terence Rattigan
Sound Recording: London Film Sound Department
Oscar Awards: 1
In 1952, the Story and Screenplay Oscar went to another Brit, T.E. B. Clarke for the Alec Guinness comedy, “The Lavender Hill Mob.” Playwright Terrence Rattigan received a second nomination in 1958, for “Separate Tables,” for a script he co-penned with John Gay.
Running time: 115 Minutes.
Directed By: David Lean.
Released: July 22, 1952 Wide
DVD: May 27, 2008
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