The matter of installing the new Ring Doorbell that afternoon had not gone as expected by a long stretch. Repeated attempts to download the very last element of its software had seen that step arrested at 90% of completion, and the technical support person from Ring was, to that point, unable to get the darn thing to go any further. Finally, she acknowledged the impasse, ordered a new unit, and dispatched it to my location, a process which would likely take the proverbial two-to-three business days. One more trip to the hardware store for a more traditional doorbell pushbutton, maybe 10 minutes to install and test it, and I was done for the day. I was also EXHAUSTED.
After sharing a simple dinner with my wife, we both retreated to the family room, where my home theater awaited our pleasure. However, the program material that evening would not be the usual fare. “I think that June Osborne can take the day off, for all of me,” I told my gal. Indeed, “Offred,” the Waterfords, Aunt Lydia, and the rest of the denizens of Gilead had my unspoken permission to take a long walk off a short pier. That brand of intense, emotionally pitched drama would have been about as welcome as hobnailed boots on a dance floor, the way I was feeling. What was needed here was something far less fraught, simpler, more relaxed, and most of all, FUN. As it happened, I had just the prescription in mind, and I retrieved a particular DVD from my collection, dropped the silver disc into the transport tray and pressed “Play.”
A tinny, out-of-tune piano plays a few raucous chords, to be joined by warbling trumpets and drums, performing the familiar 20th Century Fox fanfare, as the screen opened up to see Red Skelton as a caveman, watching a bird fly, wishing he could do the same, and predictably failing at the attempt. A history of such efforts unfolds after that, with narration by James Robertson Justice. Then, as Emilio Ponticelli took off on what is described as the first long-distance flight, the screen, which had been a bordered 4-by-3, expands out to full width, accompanied by lush strings in a total change of visual and musical attitude. Ponticelli’s landing is a bit less graceful than his takeoff, but the narrator is undisturbed by this minor peccadillo. “There was no doubt about it; by nineteen hundred and ten, flying had become the rage - man had conquered the air, and people everywhere were all agog about Those Magnificent Men In Their Flying Machines.”
I first saw Those Magnificent Men with my family on the big screen in a downtown Chicago theater, back in the mid-60s, and from that time on, it has been a favorite of mine. To this day, I marvel at the work that was done to recreate those old aircraft, the detail and difficulties involved, not just in reengineering them but getting them to fly at all, and over top of everything, Ron Goodwin’s delightful musical score and rollicking theme song. All that said, the film is still very much a product of the time it was made in and the time it represents, with men in charge and women being little more than decoration, as evinced by Irina Demick as Brigitte / Ingrid / Marlene / Françoise / Yvette / Betty. Sarah Miles’ take on Patricia Rawnsley does manage to dance the line between radical suffragette and proper British daughter as she plays against her father, her would-be fiancé, and American newcomer Orvil Newton. The whole movie is about as politically correct as the proverbial hole in the equally proverbial head, of course, and I can imagine some Millennials and GenZ types and perhaps even some Boomers and GenXers might take a look and say, “Seriously?” Whereupon I’ll look them square in the eye and give ’em the proverbial Bronx Cheer! This – Was – FUN, and it was the perfect anodyne for what up to that point had been a less-than-optimum day.
It's a fact, though: they don’t make ‘em like that anymore. I rather wonder if, in our sophisticated, sometimes too-self-aware 2022 environment that anyone could make something like Those Magnificent Men again. I wish they would, though.