One of Our Aircraft Is Missing is an important moment in cinema because it’s the first film where Emeric Pressburger and Michael Powell are credited together as directors—although it was actually their fourth collaboration. The film itself is not that great, however. It’s a wartime propaganda movie, which they made a few of. You have this very nationalist title, One of OUR Aircraft Is Missing, and it was made under the aegis of the Ministry of Information specifically to raise morale during the war.
It’s about a group of RAF bombers who are forced to bail out near the Zuider Zee, when they were aiming to bomb Stuttgart. Five RAF have to parachute out, but the 6th of the sixth goes missing (of course) but they discover some Dutch citizens who are wearing safety pins to signal that they are part of the Resistance. They help them to escape under the noses of the Nazi occupiers, a process that involves disguises and tense situations.
It’s easily the weakest Powell and Pressburger film I’ve seen, but when you’ve made so many great films in the 40s and 50s, as they did, they can’t all be that good. It’s much more naturalistic than many of their more famous films, and of course it’s in black and white. It has no score, other than the Dutch national anthem at one point. The film was all shot in Lincolnshire, and there are some very cool large-scale models that were done at Riverside Studios in Hammersmith. The model work is very impressive.
It’s absolutely fine as a propaganda film for that time. A very young Peter Ustinov plays a priest in his first major film role, with the rest of the case featuring well-known actors of the time like Eric Portman. It’s well-made, but a bit of a slog to get through. The title itself has been used loads of times for television parodies (e.g. “One of Our Olives is Missing” was a Get Smart episode, and so on).
The disk includes a selection of propaganda films from the BFI archives, two of which were directed by Michael Powell, as well as a commentary by critic Ian Christie. The accompanying illustrated booklet features new essays by Christie and Professor Sarah Street, plus material on the extras by Alex Prideaux. The limited edition also includes the storybook version released for kids at the time of the film.