Won in the Clouds (1928)

Aviation film has a long history. One of the first films to use an aeroplane as an integrated part of the story was Dash Through the Clouds (1912), a trivial comedy which today is only worth remembering for the amazing Wright aeroplane which is its real main character. A long range of films, today mostly forgotten, followed during the rest of the silent era.

Almost the only one of the silent aviation films that is still remembered today is Wings (1927), but that classic (the first to win the Academy Award for best picture) is not available at the Internet Archive. Fortunately, there is another typical (though considerably less lavish) representative of the genre in the form of Won in the Clouds.

Al Wilson and his Curtiss JN-4 "Jenny" in Won in the Clouds (1928)

I have previously stated that the late 1920s was a period of very high film-making standards. But of course, not every film can be innovative and ground-breaking. Won in the Clouds is not one of those films that will leave you deeply touched and perhaps even with a changed perspective on some aspect of life, such as Sunrise: A Song of two Humans (1927) or La passion de Jeanne d’Arc (1928).

Fortunately, it has other qualities. Won in the Clouds is a good example of light entertainment of the kind that Hollywood has always done best. The story is a bit silly, but not as silly as many other films, both new and old. The acting is typical of the silent era. But most importantly, some of the stunts made in this film are absolutely spectactular. Not that they cannot be reproduced and improved upon with modern film-making techniques. It is just that when you see these stunts, you know that it has to be the real thing. There is little opportunity for trick filming, and no room for extreme safety measures. And there are definitely no stunt men.

The story is a fast-moving one involving diamonds, a crooked mine manager, cars, jungle animals, sick natives, romance, and, of course, aeroplanes. Unless you place too high demands on credibility, this is good entertainment.

With its African setting, Won in the Clouds definitely does contain some racial stereotyping. Racism can never be excused by the passage of time, but racism in popular culture is one source that can help us analyze the time and the culture that it mirrors. As such, it can perhaps also help us understand our own time and help avoid making the same mistakes that previous generations did.

This film is best enjoyed for the wonderful aeroplanes and neat stunts.

Grace James and Percy Hogan in Won in the Clouds (1928)

Won in the Clouds
Download link
Year: 1928
Running time: 52 min
Director: Bruce M Mitchell
Stars: Al Wilson
Image quality: Poor
Resolution: Medium (640×480)
Soundtrack: Good; synchronized with the images
Sound quality: Acceptable
Best file format: Windows Media (2.0 G)

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The Stars Look Down (1940)

There is something about British film, and I just cannot seem to put my finger on what it is. For one thing, a film with such pronounced social relism as The Stars Look Down could never have been made by a major Hollywood studio. Just compare it with John Ford’s The Grapes of Wrath from the same year, which is an excellent film but much more romanticized.

Mine workers rioting in The Stars Look Down (1940)

But there is something else as well. Even when looking at a film such as Q Planes (1939), a film which is clearly influenced by Hollywood in terms of theme and dramaturgy, there is a kind of British fingerprint. It seems to me that there is something in the dialogue and body language of the actors, and it lies beyond superficial things like that lovely British accent.

But let us go back to The Stars Look Down. Davey lives in a small English town. He works in the coal mine, just like his father and his brother, but his sharp intelligence has earned him a scholarship at a university, and he starts to become politically active. Love gets in the way of his academic aspirations, but there are still important fights to fight for his fellow coal miners.

The Stars Look Down is not only a film about the hard life of the miners. It is also about the conflicts between family and career, between different social classes, and between profit and maximum welfare for all.

The edition available at the Internat Archive is, unfortunately, the American release, which has minor but unnecessary changes at the beginning and end, making it significantly more romanticized, melodramatic, even. Speaking of differences between British and American film.

This film is best enjoyed for its believable and warm portrayal of the lives of English miners. It handles all of its various themes well, and weaves them together into a balanced whole, but the beginning and end, which let us into the miners’ lives, are clearly the high points of a very good film.

Michael Redgrave in The Stars Look Down (1940)

The Stars Look Down
Download link
Year: 1940
Running time: 1 h 34 min
Director: Carol Reed
Stars: Michael Redgrave
Image quality: Good
Resolution: Medium (512×384)
Sound quality: Acceptable
Best file format: Cinepack (700 M)