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THE SOUND BARRIER

Director: DAVID LEAN

U.K. • 1952 • BLACK AND WHITE • 116 MIN.


Ralph Richardson gives one of his finest screen performances (it won him the new York Film Critics award) as John Ridgefield, a self-made man whose obsession with breaking the sound barrier endangers life and threatens the stability of his own family, and even his own mind.
Terence Rattigan’s screenplay ensures an articulate debate on the cost of progress, chiefly put into the mouth of Ridgefield’s long-suffering daughter (Ann Todd), but there is no doubt whose side director David Lean is on. The flying sequences are tremendous and, of all his early British films, this is the one that most clearly signposts the future, particularly its portraiture of a visionary hero who could also be dangerously deluded. It might be that Lean saw in the main character something of his own obsessive dedication as a filmmaker: in five years time, a great admirer of Lean’s, Billy Wilder would make a film which develops a similar analogy between aviation and cinema, ‘The Spirit of St. Louis’.—Neil Sinyard.

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