» » They Flew Alone (1942)

Short summary

The story of flyer Amy Johnson who won the hearts of the British public in the 1930s with her record-breaking solo flights around the world. Her marriage to fellow aviator Jim Mallison was less noteworthy.

The first film of Leslie Dwyer.

Opening credits: Here's the story of a girl from Yorkshire; born to be one of millions, she became one in a million. This career - rather like a rocket out of a match-box - was her own. She dreamed it; planned it; lived it; until all that happened to her shouted from...


Closing credits: And to all the Amy Johnsons of today, who have fought and won the battle of the straw hat - who have driven through centuries of convention - who have abandoned the slogan 'Safety First' in their fight for freedom 'from fear-from want-from persecution'- we dedicate this film.

User reviews

  • comment
    • Author: Jogrnd
    I think that thorwald should bear in mind the circumstances that lead to the making of this film. In 1942 Britain's wartime courage had slipped to it's lowest,and many people were doubting whether we could win the war.The US did not enter WW2 until Dec 1941,and this film was made before that. The main reason that this film was made when it was,is the fact that Amy Johnson died on January 5th 1941,whilst ferrying RAF planes to airfields(her plane crashed in the Thames Estuary).So the filmmakers used this as a tribute,AND a propaganda film. If it HAD been left until after the war the impetus would probably have gone and the film would not have been made at all.There are probably quite a few(US & UK) poor quality films that apart from propaganda would not have been made.It is unwise to judge such film from the distance of 70 years or so,given that the motives for making them might seem dubious to us now.We may criticise old films that are just plain bad,but to judge wartime films purely on their film value(without their historic context) is just stupid and demeans the memory of those that took part in WW2,whether in the forces,or in the filmmaking world. It would be nice to be able to alter history,but we can't.These wartime films (good or bad) are part of WW2 and if we judge them out of context,and we alter the history they are represent.
  • comment
    • Author: Arador
    As the British film business hit its all-time height of popular patronage, Anna Neagle overtook Gracie Fields with productions such as 'They Flew Alone'. For seven years Neagle would be the country's favourite female star. Today, a century after she was born, we may well wonder why.

    Neagle is not so "fratefully refained" that she cannot be watched without wincing, but she is neither restrainedly sexy like Greer Garson nor noisily gamesome like Jessie Matthews. Anna's bony, handsome features rarely modulate much further than well-bred puzzlement or amusement, ideal for stiff upper lip roles but hardly electrifying: Graham Greene compared her to 'a mechanical marvel from the World's Fair'. Perhaps her soothing reliability suited the national mood between tense wartime and shabby peace.

    Few husband/wife partnerships were more fruitful than Herbert Wilcox's with Anna. As a producer-director with ambitious plans and a taste for spectacle, the Irishman resembles Korda. But this Svengali did more for his Trilby than Korda for Merle Oberon.

    Anna looked nothing like the gallant lone flier Amy Johnson, but having already played Nell Gwynn, Peg Woffington, Queen Victoria (twice) and Edith Cavell, she exercised a prescriptive right to impersonate British heroines. This flagwaver was her first British picture since returning from Hollywood, anxious not to be tarred with the same unpatriotic brush as Gracie Fields.

    Accordingly the script fades up the topical echoes from Amy's exploits a decade or so earlier. She speaks to Australians about air-minded youth binding the Empire closer together with airplanes, as the Royal Navy had done with ships. Memories of the Battle of Britain and the current area bombing of Germany would be on the original audience's minds. Amy is shown as a visionary of the strategic importance of air power.

    For modern viewers the feminist angle is more intriguing. The film is dedicated to all women 'who have driven through the centuries of convention.' Amy is a rebel who refuses to wear a straw hat at school, is tutted over and will 'never amount to anything'. She graduates from university and is bored by office and shop work. Only two years after her generation of women were given the vote, she becomes the first female to fly solo from London to Australia, months after getting her pilot's licence. Many other records fall to her Yorkshire grit. Robert Newton, not yet the eyeball-rolling ham of 'Henry V' and 'Treasure Island', discreetly assists Neagle's virtual one-woman show as her husband, Jim Mollison.

    The movie emphasises her triumphs and failed marriage with fellow-flyer Mollison more than her early struggles. There are endless montages of telegrams and newspaper headlines, fake radio and newsreel commentaries, stock shots of far-flung places. The few scenes on aircraft are obviously back-projected. Nonetheless, the spills which punctuated the Mollisons' career are not glossed over and the film zips confidently along, as smooth as a Hollywood biopic but laced with snatches of British understatement:

    'There's nowt much wrong wi' them' (Amy's dad on the Royal Family after the King gives her a medal).

    'What happened, Jim?' 'I crashed.' (Mollison, rising from wreckage.)

    'We'll have to take a chance. Are you scared?' 'Yes.' 'So am I'. (The couple, caught in more wreckage.)

    Amy Johnson was killed in January 1941 on active service in the Air Transport Auxiliary, ferrying a new Airspeed Oxford. She was 37. Her body was never recovered, but the 'stringbag' Gypsy Moth biplane in which she first flew to Australia is preserved in London's Science Museum.
  • comment
    • Author: Celen
    They Flew Alone is directed by Herbert Wilcox, has a story by Viscount Castleross, has a screenplay by Miles Malleson and stars Anna Neagle and Robert Newton.

    They Flew Alone tells the story of British born pilot Amy Johnson (Anna Neagle). Since she was little Amy was not content to just stay at home and become a housewife, she wanted more than life seemingly had to offer her and when she was older became a pilot. During the 1930's Amy won the hearts of the British public and gained world wide fame as she set world records and took on flying challenge after challenge.

    The film also focuses on her personal life, looking at her marriage to fellow flyer Jim Mollison(Robert Newton). Their union was passionate but ultimately doomed to fail as the pairs egos and Mollison's alcoholism caused cracks to appear in the marriage.

    Amy served in the Air Transport Auxiliary during World War Two, she was tragically killed in a plane crash over the Thames Estuary in January 1941.

    They Flew Alone works well as a call to British women of the time to help out during the war by doing jobs (like flying or being mechanics for example)that they would never have thought of previously. It's almost as if Amy is speaking to all women and telling us don't let anything hold you back from making your dreams a reality.

    Neagle is excellent as Amy and comes across as strong willed, dedicated and driven. Neagle shows us how much Amy loves what she does and knows the risks involved and accepts them fully.

    Newton gives the real standout performance for me though as Mollison. Newton conveys to us that Mollison loves Amy dearly but that public attention towards her keeps coming between them, as do his own self doubts and personal demons. There is never any doubt though that he loves her dearly and that if the pair had been anything but flyers their marriage may well have lasted longer than it did.

    It would have been nice if the film had been a bit longer, so more time could have been taken over certain things like flights and the couples marriage. What's here is very good though and is a must see for anyone interested in Amy.
  • comment
    • Author: Funny duck
    This film tells the story of Amy Johnson, the first female pilot to make all sorts of solo flights and set records in the 1930s. She meets fellow aviator Jim Mollison who, likewise, sets all kinds of records in what can be seen as a rivalry. Fate brings them together and they marry. However, the marriage has problems and then the 2nd World War breaks out where they both take their places and play a role. Unfortunately, for Amy...

    Anna Neagle portrays Amy Johnson and Robert Newton plays Jim Mollison and it's not a bad film. It certainly seems shorter than its hour and three quarters running time. We have the obvious patriotic call for all women to join in the war effort at the film's end and it's a shame that Neagle tries a northern accent. She kind of slips in and out of it and sounds like a posh person putting on a northern accent. Still, we get an accurate portrayal of events in her life including a glimpse of the alcoholism that was to plague Mollison. What do you expect, he's Scottish!
  • comment
    • Author: Kamick
    This film is a bit "hambone," but when you filter out the time frame (1941) and the great actor Robert Newton, memorable as Long John Silver 9 years later and Anne Neagle, it works. The story does highlight the career of the struggle women had to gain recognition on the same level as men. But, it might be a bit slow for modern tastes. Still, I love watching Newton, who tragically died at 51 in 1956. Neagle went on to make other films, but Newton stole the scenes, in my book. Check it out.
  • comment
    • Author: Debeme
    Anna Neagle gives a sterling performance in this otherwise dreary and pedestrian biopic of flying ace Amy Johnson - she even manages a very credible northern accent for a lady with such natural RP delivery. Anna was always slighted as an actress of limited range, promoted to major stardom by her besotted husband Herbert Wilcox, however of the two personalities, Wilcox was really the lesser talent. His direction of this - and every Wilcox/Neagle film - is uninspiring and flat. No wonder Anna rarely came across brilliantly on the screen, under her husband's leaden workmanship. How sad that the man who did pick her from nowhere and promote her to stardom was a director of such limited skill: had she been spotted by a Hitchcock, or a Korda, for example, who knows how much more Miss Neagle might have brought to her roles.
  • comment
    • Author: Perdana
    If any scholar of film wants to know better why the British Film Industry died on its feet, then watch this one. Essentially a propaganda piece whose aim was to (belatedly) encourage women into the second-line in WWII, with the achievements of Amy Johnson merely as the McGuffin (pardon my Hitchcock phraseology!). The stiff-upper lip was rarely stiffer, though the legendary Newton was less hammy than usual (recall he gave us the Long John Silver that we automatically think of). Once the need for propaganda had passed (along with its better actors) the British Film Industry had no real subject matter to interest anyone other than parochial Brits (I would only exempt David Lean and his entourage from this) and died a slow and painful death. It would have been better if this subject had been tackled after the War and concentrated more on Amy's endeavours (and indeed those of the great Jim Mollison).
  • comment
    • Author: Gralmeena
    They Flew Alone is a creaky biopic of the British female flying legend Amy Johnson (Anna Neagle) who in the 1930s broke many solo flying records such as flying alone to Australia.

    Johnson had a tumultuous marriage with fellow aviator Jim Mollison (Robert Newton). Although they had flying in common their exploits to fly as a duo were rarely successful and the marriage ended in no part due to his alcoholism and womanising.

    During World War 2, Johnson served for the Air Transport Auxiliary and was tragically killed in a plane crash in January 1941.

    This film was rushed out a year later primarily as a propaganda piece to boost female employment during the war in skilled professions such as mechanics and flying.

    The film does a good job in showcasing a pre war female pioneer but Neagle despite a good attempt in doing a northern accent also shows her limited skills (although even a great actress would had found it difficult to pass herself off as a convincing schoolgirl at the beginning of the film.) She is just workmanlike and the film is pedestrian but works better with its feminist subtext.

    At least Newton who is more restrained here than he was in later years as Long John Silver stands out as someone who loves Johnson but is too flawed to be her constant companion.
  • Cast overview, first billed only:
    Anna Neagle Anna Neagle - Amy Johnson
    Robert Newton Robert Newton - Jim Mollison
    Edward Chapman Edward Chapman - Mr. Johnson
    Nora Swinburne Nora Swinburne - ATA Commandant
    Joan Kemp-Welch Joan Kemp-Welch - Mrs. Johnson
    Brefni O'Rorke Brefni O'Rorke - Mac
    Charles Carson Charles Carson - Lord Wakefield
    Martita Hunt Martita Hunt - Miss Bland
    Anthony Shaw Anthony Shaw - Official
    Eliot Makeham Eliot Makeham - Mayor of Croydon (as Eliott Makeham)
    David Horne David Horne - Solicitor
    Miles Malleson Miles Malleson - Vacuum Salesman
    Aubrey Mallalieu Aubrey Mallalieu - Bill, the Barber
    Charles Victor Charles Victor - Postmaster
    Hay Petrie Hay Petrie - Old General
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