While Biggles won’t mean much to the average American viewer, he was a legendary children’s character in Great Britain, a dashing, World War One pilot who starred in over a hundred adventure novels by W.E. Johns.
This attempt to film his adventures started out as a yet another copy of The Raiders of the Lost Ark, but then Back to the Future came out and they decided to make a very different film.
Somehow, Jim Ferguson, the founder of a TV dinner company gets yanked back in time, into No Man’s Land in World War I, where he arrives in time to save James Bigglesworth (“Biggles”) from a plane crash. The two are apparently “time twins” and mysteriously linked to each other: when one is in trouble, the other gets yanked through a hole in time to help him. Apparently, this sort of things happens far more often than we think, and time isn’t as straightforward as people believe. And we know that it has to be true because Peter Cushing, in his most quietly convincing and authoritative way, assures us that it is.
This was also Peter Cushing’s final film and he gets a magnificent last entrance: we first see him as a dark and sinister figure perfectly framed in a brightly lit hall and walking towards the camera. The Director, John Hough, had worked with Cushing before on one of the last good Hammer Horror films (Twins of Evil). He had a rather oddly mixed career, starting with two excellent horror films (the other being Legend of Hell House), but ended up mostly directing Disney children’s films like Escape to Witch Mountain and The Watcher in the Woods and later TV and DTV movies. Still, he knew how to film an entrance!
Jim and Biggles have to stop the Germans before they can use their new Secret Weapon and change the outcome of the war. And Jim somehow has to survive a new product launch, an unreliable employee wished upon him by one of his backers, a huge police search, and a romance.
This is a pleasantly goofy little film, with some rousing action, a bit of humor, great flying sequences (even if the aircraft are obviously not World War I fighters!) and a generally light-hearted approach. I’ll confess that I find the Eighties music a touch jarring (most people wouldn’t mention Biggles and Motley Crue in the same breath), but it isn’t enough to take away from the fun.
And, while it may not be a great film, it is definitely a lot of fun.
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