This is not a one-man film, but it might as well be. James Stewart plays aviator Charles Lindbergh in the story of the first solo flight, from New York to Paris, across the Atlantic Ocean. For a Hollywood bio-pic, the script by Billy Wilder and Wendell Mayes is surprisingly fact-based and cut bare to the bone. There is no forced romance, no villain (except lack of sleep and ice on the wings) and only some minor Hollywood touches, such as a medal of St. Christopher being credited with Lindbergh not blowing off course. Otherwise, THE SPIRIT OF ST. LOUIS is the story of one man, one plane and one long trip. Stewart, two decades older than Lindbergh was when he made his historic flight, nevertheless captures the man's spirit of adventure and dogged determination. The film accurately depicts major events of the flight, such as Lindbergh's battle with sleep just after clearing Nova Scotia (he had been up for 40 hours straight!), an encounter with some fishing boats off the coast of what he hoped was Ireland (it was), and the thronging crowds eagerly awaiting his arrival in Paris. To break up the long flight on film, Stewart is given internal monologues which often turn external, as he remembers, via flashbacks, some of the highlights of his life as an aviator.
The film is atypical for director Billy Wilder in several ways. It was a big, colorful picture for a man who always preferred black and white, and it was based on a true story where Wilder's usual films of the period were either original or adaptations from the stage. Most strikingly, Lindbergh had gained a reputation - rightly or wrongly; the man's politics and social theories were all over the place - of being a Nazi sympathizer and an anti-Semite. Wilder, a German-Jew, hated Nazis even more than he hated artsy cinematography. Nevertheless, Wilder developed a friendship with the man and created a well-crafted moving picture in tribute to him. For a film where you know the hero makes it, THE SPIRIT OF ST. LOUIS is also remarkably suspenseful in parts, thanks to some magnificent editing. ½ - JB
A WILDER SENSE OF HUMOR
Billy Wilder had some fun with the notion that Charles Lindbergh was anti-Semitic. While on a bumpy plane ride with the famed aviator during production, Wilder joked that it would be funny if the plane crashed, because the headlines would embarrass Lindbergh: ' LUCKY LINDY IN CRASH WITH JEWISH FRIEND!".