The Sound Barrier (1952)

The Sound Barrier (1952), produced and directed by David Lean.

Aka Breaking Through the Sound Barrier and Breaking the Sound Barrier.

A tale of a visionary, somewhat tyrannical aviation industrialist, his daughter and their test pilots.

As the Blu-ray commentary track points out, this is kind of a transition piece for Lean, between his intimate domestic films -- Blithe Spirit (1945), Brief Encounter (1945) -- and his large scale epics like The Bridge on the River Kwai (1957) and Lawrence of Arabia (1962).

The story partakes of both phases: the family tensions of father and daughter, husbands and wives, but also a visionary look at the future. Good films that show technical invention -- made at the time -- are rare and I'm glad we have this one.

Once upon a time no one had ever heard a steam engine, but a few years later the sound was very common, particularly that distinctive "whacka-whacka-whacka" of the belts of an engine driven line shaft. Now the sound is almost extinct.

Similarly, not that long ago someone (like our pilot at the secret hanger in this film) first heard the scream of a jet engine. It is now a common sound of the modern world; when might it fade away?

The film starts in the last years of WW2 and it is startling how fast everything was moving. Jets -- including airliners -- were in wide use soon after their invention. Flying higher than ever before our pilots are already thinking about outer space. We have a shot of the moon as seen from the cockpit, a scene I think was quoted in The Right Stuff (1983) when Sam Shepard playing Chuck Yeager sees the moon at the apogee of his test flight before crashing.

Yeager is credited as the man who first broke Mach 1, although that was not widely known when this film was made.

We have a scene of our couple ferrying a jet from England to Cairo in five hours, passing over Paris and the Alps and Athens. Then back home the same day on another jet. What must that have been like? Unimaginable speed and a shrinking world.

Screenplay by Terence Rattigan. Photographed by Jack Hildyard, score by Malcolm Arnold, both of who would return for The Bridge on the River Kwai (1957).

Available on Blu-ray from Kino. Grainy image and the black levels are not very deep. Intermittent hidef detail.