THE SPIRIT OF ST. LOUIS (Billy Wilder, 1957)

James Stewart is wonderful as Charles Augustus Lindbergh in Billy Wilder’s thrilling, moving, mesmerizing The Spirit of St. Louis. It centers on the young former army airmail pilot’s historic 1927 trans-Atlantic flight, from New York to Paris, in a small, minimalist airplane he helped design. This incident inaugurated two eras: those of aviation (which the next world war would bring to fruition) and modern celebrity. “Lucky Lindy,” whose luck would turn in the 1930s with his twenty-month-old son’s kidnapping and murder, was amazingly courageous during the flight. The script, by Charles Lederer, Wilder and Wendell Mayes, is based on Lindbergh’s 1953 account.
     Wilder demonstrates considerable bravery of his own—on two fronts. One concerns the disfavor into which Lindbergh’s reputation had fallen. Wrongly, Lindbergh had been branded a “Nazi sympathizer”: wrongly—for instance, Lindbergh’s visits to Nazi Germany in the 1930s were at the behest of the U.S. government, which sought information about the state of German aviation—but not ridiculously, owing to two of Lindbergh’s attitudes: white supremacism; at least borderline anti-Semitism. (Lindbergh felt it more important that the “white race” survive in Europe than democracy survive there; he felt that Krystallnacht, rather than an abomination, evidenced German overreaction.) Wilder, who was Jewish (and who had lost his mother to the Holocaust), risked backlash by assisting Lindbergh in his postwar attempt to rehabilitate his reputation.
     But Wilder is braver still by his bold experiments with elements of time in the film’s second half. During the flight, Lindbergh (whose thoughts we hear either as voiceover or his speaking aloud) flashes back to incidents in his history as a pilot.
     The landing at Bourget Field, fiercely stirring, makes one tremendously proud to be an American—and tremendously proud, too, that Wilder was one.

One thought on “THE SPIRIT OF ST. LOUIS (Billy Wilder, 1957)

  1. Ironcally, Charles Augustus Lindbergh is anti-semitic and Billy Wilder is Jewish. Wilder’s parents are victims of the uncle of William Patrick Stuart-Houston.

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