I’ve mentioned before that when I was a kid, war films were my go-to genre. I wasn’t specific enough. I specifically loved films about World War II. There’s a little part of me that gets excited when I encounter a film of the period that I haven’t seen before. Such was the case with One of Our Aircraft is Missing. I hadn’t heard of this before I made my current Oscar list, and it didn’t take me too long to request it from the library. I wasn’t sure what to expect from the film. Truth be told, I expected this to be something like a police procedural, albeit a military one. You know, missing aircraft, investigation of what happened…
But that’s not it. Instead, we have a bomber crew of a plane known as “B for Bertie” shot down on a bombing raid over Holland. The crew bails out and five of the six men land close enough to each other to make a small unit, with hopes of finding the sixth man. They are eventually found by people from the local Dutch village and are brought back to meet Else Meertens (Pamela Brown), the local schoolteacher and an English speaker. After a few tense moments, the Dutch citizens pledge to help the English. They do this by disguising them in Dutch clothing and smuggling them through the town.
During this time, the Dutch citizens and the downed airmen encounter the local equivalent of a Quisling and arrange his comeuppance directed in part by the local priest (played by an extremely young and almost unrecognizable Peter Ustinov). They then prepare to move toward the coast and hopefully back to England by attending a soccer game where they are switched to their next safe house. It’s here that they encounter their sixth crewmember, who is posing as a member of one of the teams.
Eventually, the six crewmen are sent into the arms of Jo de Vries (Googie Withers), who is operating under the cover of being a Nazi sympathizer. She claims to blame the English for the death of her husband, killed in a British air raid. In truth, her husband is safe in England and is working as a radio operator/broadcaster, and Jo de Vries helps downed airmen return to England to keep the fight going. This is a dangerous moment, since the de Vries house is the current headquarters of the German army in the area.
I won’t go full spoiler here, but it’s not that difficult to figure out, is it? This is a British film designed in no small part to boost the morale not only of the home troops but of the Dutch as well. If you guess that someone might come close to death but that the British will end up victorious and we’ll all go home with a song in our heart more convinced that the British will put a stop to the Germans, well, you know just how propaganda works.
That’s really what this is. It’s a slow starter except for someone dedicated to knowing exactly how bomber aircraft work in the air, which would be a good portion of the audience in 1942. These days, that portion is quite a bit smaller, I would imagine. Once the plane goes down, though, things start to get quite a bit more interesting.
There’s not really a great deal of plot to One of Our Aircraft is Missing, which both works in its favor and against it. On the one hand, there is so little going on that it’s a simple thing to follow along and keep everything straight, even if it’s not that simple to keep all of the six members of the aircrew straight over time. On the downside, it’s so linear that it almost feels rushed, as if the script had to be put together quickly and was sent into production before anything like real complications could be added to the story.
All in all, this isn’t a terrible war film, but it’s also not a great one. It’s good, and it does what it sets out to do—it gives a boost to the British military when spirits needed constant reinforcing and it does the same for Dutch pride and resolve. It even throws in a bit to make the British feel okay for bombing the cities and towns of their allies to knock out the Germans. One of Our Aircraft is Missing was obviously made with this goal in mind, and it handles that goal admirably.
Why to watch One of Our Aircraft is Missing: It’s a very solid war film.
Why not to watch: It’s just so obviously propaganda.