War movies, and in particular, World War II propaganda war movies do not come as blatant as this piece of English cinema. Produced by London Films with Hungarian born Alexander Korda (1893 - 1956), part director, part producer and this being his bit for the British war effort shows the world both at peace and on the verge of Nazi domination. The Lion Has Wings was to become one of the most influential and pivotal war movies to date, if one can call it "war movie".
This style, this technique is more akin to the documentary and the stiff upper-lip newsreels, an extended newsreel so to speak here, seen for so long in the English cinemas around this time. This is exactly the point of this film. To show the people of Britain, who, on the verge of their second great war, that England, its principles, its freedoms and its history, when compared and conjoined with news footage of the German armies' and the oppressive might of Hitler and his black plague slowly spreading across Europe during the nineteen thirties, was the fairer, peaceful and more tolerant nation. Seeing the English perceptive can, for a short while, also be seen as a little problematic, it in itself can seem a little too narcissist, too biased and while giving the impression of a them and us scenario, to the "other side" just may be seen as too wonderful and too modest for its own good.
One only has to listen to the narrative spoken here, and it really is un-reassuring, in parts, shown are the parallels of the German war machine being nurtured during peace time in the 1930's and the film footage of the English factories hard at work in readdressing this unbalance via the making of vast amounts of bullets, bombs and long range guns. We make these weapons of our own free will to justify this strategy is because it is "they" who are armed for the "wrong reasons". Our cause is righteous and just.
Starring Ralph Richardson (1902 - 1983) as the Royal Air Force Commander willing and ready to do his duty and nurse Merle Oberon (1911 - 1979) as his sweetheart, and both having worked with Alexander Korda on numerous occasions before, play their parts eloquently, very eloquently, the stiff-upper-lip of the English nation stands on these two enduring shoulders. Stout and proud are these two peacetime winged angels who tread on pastures new, staged and rehearsed to the point of perfection and astonishment.
This three directional film by Adrian Brunel, Brian Desmond Hurst and Michael Powell, each had their parts to play. The twelve-day shoot and two weeks of putting this work together made it impossible for one director alone. This was wartime propaganda at its zenith, the shape of things to come. Like the pulling together of these three directors, we also see the country, of all classes, pulling together to defend and defeat this plague. With its resources of weapons and modern technology fighting to withhold the might of Hitler with "good Chaps" and the brave women of England. This delivery of patronage as Merle Oberon is giving her monologue on the plight of the women and their husbands and sons of England, and don't forget, written by men, is shot up tight to her face, her spirit, her resolve and experiences shine through as the brave consciousness of a well prepared, but, only too daunting people. This is The Lion Has Wings coming into its own, pure undiluted propaganda. The Ministry of Information would be proud; this is an extremely well calculated publicity stunt for the British Colonies', her allies, her foes and beyond.
As in yesterday's methods, and looking at today's methods too, we are not too far removed from how propaganda exploits it favourite medium: from the large screen of yesteryear to the small screen in the corner of our living rooms today. The medium of cinema was a powerful tool, during The Great War of 1914 to 1918 cinemas were closed down and propaganda took other routes, but, during the 1930's and beyond and before the advent of television, the medium of cinema was to reach out to the minds of its peoples.
Soon after the release of The Lion Has Wings there were other, more successful, films of this ilk, jumping on the band-wagon with differing styles and techniques, films such as The Life and Death Of Colonel Blimp (1943), 49th Parallel (1941) and the stunning Ealing Studios great Went the Day Well (1942) were to play their part for freedoms and morality. On the other hand, too, there are just as great propaganda films from the dark side of Nationalism: Joseph Goebbels's Nazi Cinema; With soundtracks of note such as Titanic (1943), S.A.-Mann Brand (1933) and also from 1933 Hitlerjunge Quex. Some to enlighten, some to dictate, some to frighten, but all to propel a message of fervour in some shape and form and depending on which side of the fence you may sit, the rest are just historical films of propaganda from "the other side".
The effect of The Lion Has Wings on the British war machine was slight, though crude but effective propaganda cinema, spliced together to form both newsreel and acting, it set the standard. With World War 2 gone, the Cold War had too come then disbanded, and then during the eighties and nineties, we had the demise of the Eastern Bloc and the division of Yugoslavia. All this had great consequence that shaped the European Union once more, these were the events and their opportunities for the propaganda machine to keep itself in perpetual motion, and having left its mark for all to see. Finally, and rightly so, leaving the last word to the now defunct Belgrade underground radio station RADIO B92, with its passing epitaph: "Trust no one - not even us - but keep the faith