The Spirit Of St. Louis

The Spirit Of St. Louis (1957)
Warner Home Video
Cast: James Stewart, Murray Hamilton, Patricia Smith, Bartlett Robinson
Extras: Newsreel Footage, Short Film, Cartoon

Available individually or as part of the James Stewart Collection, Warner Home Video is presenting one of Jimmy Stewart's greatest films on DVD finally by giving us "The Spirit Of St. Louis." As the title suggests, the film chronicles the historic events of 1927 during which Charles Lindbergh became the first man to do a solo-flight across the Atlantic Ocean, hopping from New York to Paris in little over 33 hours.

Young mail flyer Charles Augustus Lindbergh (James Stewart) is completely enamored with airplanes and whether it is through rain, fog or snowstorms, he loves to take his airplane up into the skies as often as he can. In a time when flying was still considered "unnatural" and overly dangerous, a race was under way. The race to be the first man to cross the Atlantic Ocean in a solo flight and with his boundless energy, Charles Lindbergh wants to be part of that race. He tries to convince financiers to help him buy an airplane suitable for the need and back his efforts and after a long search he finds the right group of people in St. Louis.

After a few setbacks, Lindbergh decides to have an airplane custom-built for the flight and spends a lot of time in San Diego helping putting the plane together in record time, always aware that one of his competitors could take off at any day. And they do, and they all fail. They either crash or get lost over the vast ocean, never to be seen again. But Lindbergh is determined – and skilled.

On the rainy morning of May 20, 1927 he took off from Roosevelt Field in New York and began his dangerous journey, flying north along the coast to Nova Scotia, then over to Newfoundland and then to cross the Atlantic, heading for Ireland. 33 and one half hours later he set his airplane, the "Spirit Of St. Louis" down on Le Bourget airfield in Paris to the jubilation of a roaring crowd of hundreds of thousands. Charles Lindbergh had done what most people had thought impossible. He had crossed the Atlantic alone in an airplane and he did so in record time. He made history and became one of the most celebrated pilots in the annals of aviation.

Shot in beautiful Technicolor, "The Spirit Of St. Louis" is one of those grand classic movies that simply don't age in a way. The film may be almost 50 years old and may look and sound dated, but it never feels old. It has something to do with the spirit of adventure it conveys, the power of willpower and genius, the timeless attraction of humankind to push the envelope.

Under the direction Billy Wilder, James Stewart's performance as Charles Lindbergh is wonderfully warm and oftentimes innocent. In his early 20s at the time, I can easily imagine that Lindbergh was that kind of character. A bit reckless, always gung-ho, warm and charming, incredibly clever and feverishly determined. James Stewart easily wraps up all these traits in his portrayal, making Charles Lindbergh a tangible person, someone to root for, someone we like.

The movie's production is beautifully recreating the era as we see a state of early industrialization and witness how the "Spirit Of St. Louis" is put together piece by piece by hand, one piece of wood, one piece of cloth, one stitch at a time. It is a reminder that aviation was still in its infancy in those days and that the undertaking Lindbergh was about to embark on was exceedingly extraordinary.

Warner Home Video has created a restored transfer of the movie for this DVD release and it turned out to be beauty. The film is virtually free of any blemishes and defects. No speckles or dust marks mar the image and the picture is always stable and clear.
Color reproduction is marvelous bringing out those Technicolor hues in all their beauty, giving them film a warm, nostalgic look. Definition in the image is very good bringing out even small details, offering up a sharp image at all times. Solid black levels give the image good visual depth and create shadows that don't break up. Free of edge-enhancement or compression artifacts, "The Spirit Of St. Louis" is a beauty to behold.

The audio track on the release has been remastered and comes as a 5.1 channel Dolby Digital track. Don't expect an engaging surround sound field, however, as the mix is subtle to remain faithful to its origins and intentions. The track is clear and free of any hiss or notable distortion, making for a great presentation with clear dialogues that never sound overly harsh.

As extras, Warner included newsreel footage from the premiere of the movie in 1957, as well as two shorts that preceded the feature film in theaters, namely the Joe McDoakes comedy short "So Your Wife Wants to Work" and the Speedy Gonzalez carton "Tabasco Road."

It had been some time since I had last seen "The Spirit Of St. Louis" but this DVD wrapped me up all over again. It is a great film about a great pioneer and it has never looked better than on this DVD. If you're a sucker for classic movies, like I am, this is a DVD you have to add to your collection.