The Sound Barrier

aka Breaking the Sound Barrier (USA Title)

David Lean

Terence Rattigan

Ralph Richardson – John Ridgefield
Ann Todd – Susan Garthwaite
Nigel Patrick – Tony Garthwaite
John Justin – Philip Peel
Dinah Sheridan – Jess Peel
Joseph Tomelty – Will Sparks
Denholm Elliott – Christopher Ridgefield

Release Dates:
UK – 22 July 1952
France – 10 October 1952
USA – 6 November 1952

1952 National Board of Review, USA: Best Actor – Ralph Richardson; Best Director – David Lean; Best Foreign Film

1952 New York Film Critics Circle Awards: Best Actor – Ralph Richardson

1953 Academy Awards, USA: Best Sound Recording; Best Writing, Story and Screenplay – Terence Rattigan (Nominated)

1953 BAFTA Awards: Best British Actor – Ralph Richardson; Best British Film; Best Film from any Source; Best British Actor – Nigel Patrick (Nominated); Best British Actress – Ann Todd (Nominated)

IMDB – 7.0/10
Netflix – 3.1/5

Nigel Patrick (L) and Sir Ralph Richardson

It’s hard to imagine in this day and age, but not long ago the sound barrier – and the breaking of it – was quite an accomplishment. I’m old enough to remember hearing sonic booms growing up in California. Nowadays we don’t think about it much, it’s kind of a relic from World War II, the Cold War, and the Space Race. Today the terms “sonic” and “supersonic” conjure only a fast food chain and a defunct basketball team.

Back in the day, however, breaking the sound barrier was quite a thing; and this early film from Sir David Lean is a fictionalized version of the efforts of pilots and jet manufacturers to break it, and the dangers that this feat entailed. I won’t go into the details here, the movie does a good job of explaining it and, of course, so does the source of all knowledge.

Nigel Patrick plays Tony Garthwaite, a crack WWII pilot who marries Susan, the daughter of Sir John Ridgefield, a manufacturer of planes. Susan is played by Ann Todd, Sir David Lean’s second wife (of six…yikes!), and Sir John is played by Sir Ralph Richardson.

I love how the Brits honor accomplished people by giving them knighthoods and such. We have a few honors here, but nothing as cool as that. Hell, we’d probably get it wrong even if we did. Could you imagine Sir Donald Trump or Lady Kim Kardashian?

Anyway, Susan has a troubled relationship with her father because Sir John seems hell bent on this breaking the sound barrier thing in spite of the danger involved. What makes it worse is that after the war, her father hires Tony as a test pilot.

Ralph Richardson does a great job showing Sir John wrestling with his demons, while it’s never explicitly stated one gets the impression that, despite the dangers to the test pilots, Sir John wishes that he could still be one of them. By the way, Ralph Richardson would later do my favorite screen interpretation of God, in 1981’s Time Bandits: “Yes, well, I am the nice one.”

The movie also stars another favorite from the 80’s: Denholm Elliott from Trading Places and the Indiana Jones movies.

Another fun fact: David Lean was one of the original Inklings.

The Misplaced Boy MST3K Scale:

The Sound Barrier may not be as exciting as the above poster might suggest, but it kept my interest and made me care about the characters and the times they lived in. I’m giving it a high flying…


Random Quote Whore Quote:

The Sound Barrier is an unconnected, lime, fuzziness of a movie! Sir Ralph Richardson is vermillion!!!


5 thoughts on “Random Movie Review – The Sound Barrier

  1. Like you, I’m old enough to remember sonic booms. And ducking under our desks during air raid tests (whatever they were called). I’ll certainly give this a shot if it ever appears on Netflix streaming.

  2. Movie stuff . . . cool . . . movie stuff . . . awesome . . . movie stuff . . . interesting. Now tell me, where the hell can I get that poster?

    Seriously, you make me actually consider watching the movie. I definitely will remember it if it pops up on TCM and I’m sure I’ll have to take a look. “No, no. Go back. I know Wheel of Fortune is on, but I want to watch Joe’s movie.”

    You’re going to get me in trouble.

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