Tue 28 Jul 2009
Q-PLANES. Columbia Pictures-UK, 1939. Aka Clouds Over Europe (US). Laurence Olivier, Ralph Richardson, Valerie Hobson. Cinematography by Harry Stradling; art direction by Vincent Korda and Frederick Pusey; director: Tim Whelan. Shown at Cinevent 41, Columbus OH, May 2009.
Also known as Clouds Over Europe, this is a dandy espionage thriller, with Ralph Richardson stealing the acting honors from Olivier (a bit grumpy, it seemed to me, although this was probably mostly due to the character he played).
Olivier is an impatient test pilot who keeps being passed over for flights because of his fiery temper, while Richardson is a secret operative, unflappable and prone to off-the-cuff humorous asides, with a sharp intelligence that his cover as a man-about-town conceals.
The program notes made much of Richardson’s character Tony McVane as a dapper precursor of James Bond, although Michael Klossner commented to me that he found him more like the Avengers’ John Steed, with his signature cane and posh outfits.
The production team and cast were all first class, with the director just a year or so away from his co-directing stint on The Thief of Bagdad.