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Warner Home Video presents
The Spirit of St. Louis (1957)

"I've just flown across the Atlantic Ocean!"
- Charles A. Lindbergh (James Stewart)

Review By: Jon Danziger   
Published: August 14, 2006

Stars: James Stewart
Director: Billy Wilder

MPAA Rating: Not Rated
Run Time: 02h:14m:58s
Release Date: August 15, 2006
UPC: 012569816183
Genre: drama

Image Transfer
Audio Transfer
B- B-C-B C

DVD Review

Golly gee willikers, can this really be a Billy Wilder movie? Fans of the director would have to consider this one an outlier—it's got none of the jaundiced, skeptical wit that became the signature Wilder style in movies like Double Indemnity and Sunset Boulevard, and it's got a rah-rah quality that you can only imagine Wilder himself found more than a little saccharine and cornpone. But then, this is the tale of the great triumph of a genuine American hero, and the film pulls out all the cylinders in its effort to print the legend.

This is of course the story of the first trans-Atlantic crossing, by Charles A. Lindbergh, in 1927, and the title of the movie was the name of Lindbergh's plane. The film opens with a sleepless Lindbergh vainly attempting to get some rest the night before his landmark journey, and the trip itself becomes the framing story for a series of flashbacks, cluing us in to just how the pilot came to this rendezvous with history. His lanky frame earned him the nickname Slim, and from the jump he was a go-getter with a firm belief in the future of commercial aviation. We see him win over a series of investors to his cause; when he's rebuffed by the corporatist aircraft manufacturers in New York, he heads to San Diego, where some farsighted engineers with the frontier spirit agree to build a plane to his specifications.

The race is on, for a number of other pilots are eager to be the first to make the voyage from New York to Paris; the perils of failure couldn't be more clear, and there is no shortage of naysayers who suggest that Lindbergh is in for nothing more than a very public suicide. With the benefit of hindsight, we know that this movie wouldn't have been made, and we wouldn't know Lindbergh's name, were he to crash and burn, and the can-do spirit in this pilot brimming with the right stuff is sure to lead him to Valhalla.

After a time, certainly, we get antsy for him to get up there, already; when he does, the dramatic conceit is that his companion is a housefly who has hitched a ride across the pond, giving Lindbergh someone to talk to. Yeah, it's incredibly corny, and it's hard to imagine an actor besides James Stewart who could pull this off. His hair has been given a dose of peroxide, but otherwise he's all Stewart, perhaps as much of an icon of Americana as Lindbergh himself. (We get here, of course, only the heroic Lindbergh, not the isolationist one of later years, not the Lindbergh featured most recently in Philip Roth's The Plot Against America.)

It's easy to make fun of this, but truly Lindbergh's arrival in Paris after thirty-three hours aloft (I cannot imagine that I am spoiling the ending for you) is quite moving and stirring, though the mad crowd that rips Lindbergh from his cockpit (even to the strains of Le Marseillaise) is a bit unnerving. If you already know the cursory facts of Lindbergh's flight, there's not much in here that will surprise you, but no matter the age, we do need our heroes, and we get one here with all the trimmings.

Rating for Style: B-
Rating for Substance: B-


Image Transfer

Aspect Ratio2.35:1 - Widescreen
Original Aspect Ratioyes

Image Transfer Review: It's in CinemaScope! And WarnerColor! But still, it doesn't look so good! The saturation is garish, which makes the frequent discolorations that much more glaring, and there's enough debris on the print to make you think that someone gave it a good going over with a can of Silly String.

Image Transfer Grade: C-


Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access
Dolby Digital

Audio Transfer Review: Frequent Wilder collaborator Franz Waxman provides a Sousa-like score, which is generally pretty well balanced with the dialogue, though the 5.1 track seems most overmixed.

Audio Transfer Grade: B


Disc Extras

Static menu with music
Scene Access with 37 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in English, French, Spanish with remote access
1 Original Trailer(s)
3 Featurette(s)
Packaging: Amaray
Picture Disc
1 Disc
1-Sided disc(s)
Layers: dual

Extras Review: Along with an original trailer comes footage (03m:26s) from the film's premiere at the Egyptian Theater on Hollywood Boulevard—among those in attendance were Clark Gable, Jayne Mansfield, Charlton Heston and Gary Cooper. Then there are two shorts that seem almost designed to offend. So Your Wife Wants to Work (08m:58s), from the Joe McDoakes series, thinks that the very notion of a professional woman—a woman! In an office! With a job! Har di har har har!—is the funniest thing in the world. And coming with its own warning label is Tabasco Road (06m:31s), a Merrie Melodies cartoon starring drunken Mexican mice swilling tequila, doing a hat dance, and singing "La Cucaracha." Sexist "comedy" + racist rodents = Hollywood hilarity, circa 1957.

Extras Grade: C


Final Comments

A rousing, worshipful account of Lindbergh's great accomplishment, it's a heartfelt movie, though certainly not Wilder's or Stewart's finest hour.


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