Reach For The Sky (1956) Biopic of a Famous RAF Bomber Pilot

Reach for the Sky

If Reach for the Sky wasn’t a true story it would be one of those movies which you’d just shrug off as way over the top but since it is based on a true story it leaves you astonished.

Reach for The Sky is the story of one man’s love for flying which was so intense that it made him  overcome one of the worst things that can happen to a man and later turned him into a legend.

Douglas Bader is a passionate and reckless young RAF pilot when in 1931, while showing off his talents in front of other pilots, he has a terrible accident which costs him both legs.

Determined and optimistic as he is, he makes the impossible possible and soon learns to walk on tin legs, without help or a crutch. Shortly after leaving the hospital, still on crutches during that time, he meets his future wife and love of his life Thelma.

The only bitter moment comes for him when they don’t accept him as a pilot anymore and he has to do desk duty.

If it wasn’t for WWII he may never have flown again but when war breaks out he undergoes tests and is judged fit for service.

The story which is already quite remarkable until that point, gets truly astonishing now. Not only does he fly one mission after the other, survives the Battle of Britain but he becomes one of the best-loved wing commanders until he is shot down in 1941.

He survives and is captured by the Germans. As a POW he shows the same determination as earlier in his life and escapes several times from different camps until he’s finally sent to Colditz castle where he remains until the end of the war.

Douglas Bader’s story is truly amazing. It would have been so easy to just fall into a deep depression and withdraw from life but Bader was a fighter and nothing, absolutely nothing, could put that man down or stop him. And he was a passionate pilot. As much as he loved his wife, we get the impression that he loved flying even more.

A story like this is quite inspiring but that wouldn’t make this a great movie. What makes it great is the way it is told. While the first half focusses on Bader, his accident and how he learned to walk again, the second half focusses on WWII, the Battle of Britain, the dog fights… It’s quite suspenseful and interesting. It’s not easy for Bader to be accepted at first. The young pilots are a bit taken aback when they find out their wing commander has no legs.

I wasn’t familiar with the main actors Kenneth Moore and the lovely Muriel Pavlow but they were both really good.

It’s certainly a movie I would recommend to anyone interested in WWII, the Battle of Britain and true stories about resilience and overcoming a tragedy.

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10 thoughts on “Reach For The Sky (1956) Biopic of a Famous RAF Bomber Pilot

  1. the war movie buff says:

    Douglas Bader is a tremendous role model for the handicapped. His story is amazing. This movie does a good job of giving him the recognition he deserves. However, it is definitely old school. Overly dramatic, schmaltzy score, cliche-ridden. Too simplistic. Moore is one of my favorites from that era and he is good. Pretty good blend of actual with filmed footage.

    He needs a new movie with modern effects and plotting. Especially since hardly anyone knows about this movie. Kudos for making others aware of this movie. It may be flawed, but it’s all there is on the subject.

    • I agree with you, it is old-school. I try to watch these movies leaving this aside.
      It is also lacking back story. We don’t know much about Bader or what he becomes after the war.
      Still, I found it very watchable but I think I’m more into old and black and white movies. And we know what they do with remakes.
      On the other hand, it wouldn’t be a real remake, it would be a retelling of the same story.
      And it has gotten me out of my war movie watching slump!

  2. nem baj says:

    Nice! Two days ago I watched Ford’s The Wings of Eagles, the 1957 biopic of ‘Spig’ Wead — another aviator who ‘came back’, this time from near paralysis.

    Brickhill’s biography of Bader was published in 1954. I wonder if MGM and Ford (who was in Ireland in 1955/56) were influenced by the production of Reach for the Sky

    • I think his story is unique and may have influenced them.
      I found it quite extraordinary.
      Thanks for mentioning The Wings of Eagles, I’ll have to see if I can find it.

      • nem baj says:

        The success of the book may have had an influence, and maybe that of the film: Reach for the Sky premiered in London in July ’56; a preview of the Ford movie was held in december 1957, so it was probably shot in the fall of ’56. But this is pure speculation based on the coincidence, and the fact that though Frank Wead had long been a good friend of John Ford, it’s the studio who came up with the idea of the biopic.

        The aerial scenes in The Wings of Eagle are scarce, you might be disappointed (M. Wead didn’t fly again after his accident, but he re-enlisted in the Navy after Pearl Harbor and saw some action on a battleship). And honestly, although pleasant if you like the Wayne / O’Hara dynamics, it’s not a very good film overall. It even lacks moments of cinematic brilliance such as the first 15 minutes of What Price Glory.

      • I didn’t realize it was a Joh Wayne movie… I’m not that keen on him. He’s doen afew good movie but I’ve also seen a few dud. The Alamo has scarred me for life. 🙂

      • nem baj says:

        Understandable. John Wayne + almost no aerial scenes = bottom of your list for a long, long time!

        PS: as I said, watch The Searchers or Stagecoach if you want a chance to get rid of that ‘Duke’ curse. Things get easier afterwards, although his bad movies remain bad. 🙂

      • Yes, it took a tumble and is now somewhere far down 🙂 I like Rio Bravo. It could be I have The Searchers.
        He certainly made a few awfully bad movies.

  3. lazybill says:

    A great film which I’ve seen several times with one of England’s finest character actors in the lead role; Kenneth Moore (who also played the roll of the eccentric beach master in The Longest Day). I actually have a copy of the book which my grand-father owned although I’ve never read it…perhaps I will after reading this. I saw Douglas Bader at an air display in Nottinghamshire, UK in the 1970’s, he remained a keen flyer after the war and in inspiration to disabled people. A complex character, I believe he was more highly strung and volatile than the movie portrayed in real life but certainly a famous British war hero. One small thing, in your title you refer to him as a bomber pilot; he was in fact a Spitfire fighter pilot.

    • That must have been something, to see him at an air display. His story is incredibly inspiring but I thougth they might have chnaged a few things for the movie. The book should be qzuite interesting too. Let me know how you liked should you read it.
      Thanks for the correction. I’ll amend the title.

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