The structure can be very simply deduced, combining Pygmalion and The Scarlet Pimpernel and Night Train to Munich just before the start of the war, with a sense of Sherlock Holmes called up (his own Watson, what son?).
Prof. Smith is a regular Dodgson at Cambridge, rooting around Germany for relics of “an Aryan civilization” (there isn’t any).
Wyler’s “Come to Germany” poster in Mrs. Miniver is a very intelligent appraisal of Howard’s “Come to Romantic Germany” with Hitler fulminating off-camera.
The Reichsminister, who sees himself as the future Gauleiter of London, believes humor is the British secret weapon, but he can’t fathom it, which later on is a Monty Python routine.
The sum total of all these elements, and a German player-piano so abundantly out of tune Alban Berg would have demanded it for Wozzeck with a laugh, is the film, though it would seem that critics have not quite succeeded in adding it all up.
From the Aphrodite Kallipygos in the Cambridge Museum of Antiquities to the daughter of Freedom (a Polish newspaper) in Berlin, with students in tow like Welles’ in The Stranger on a paper chase after the war, founded on real events.
The First of the Few
Howard builds up two great sequences, first the Schneider Trophy competition at Venice, when Mitchell encountered the Italians under Mussolini, then his trip to Germany under Hitler, where he met Messerschmidt.
The first is reminiscent of Pygmalion’s opening scene, though it’s spectacularly staged, seaplane and all (there’s a beautiful one-second shot of sundown in Venice). The second is a real tour de force. It took the dazzlingly dapper comedian Howard was to devise it, partly out of The Scarlet Pimpernel, and structure it so perfectly. Up to its climax, there’s nothing like it for amazing calm in disastrous circumstances, except Lubitsch’s To Be or Not to Be. And then there’s a great moment of recognition like something out of The School for Scandal, which gives rise to the Spitfire.
The Gentle Sex
At one end of the ATS (rhymes with bats) is the corporal who admires Nazi efficiency, at the other a refugee who’s seen it.
The girls go in, march up and down in training camp, and are assigned to various duties (marvelous the regular army sergeant who drills them with a parody and a right march).
They have supply and kitchen duties, driving lorries the long haul (cf. Boetticher’s Red Ball Express) or ambulances the short way like their mothers in France, or manning the ack-ack batteries, time is pressing.
Women in it, the ruddy grandeur of that, women’s eyes on the dog’s life a Tommy leads.
Variety had a cold apperception not too keen, Time Out Film Guide’s feminist analysis is poppycock, Halliwell found it interesting.