The Spirit of James Stewart
Whilst rightly regarded as one of the acting greats James Stewart was also an accomplished pilot, leading bombing missions deep into enemy territory during WWII. One of his biggest inspirations when it came to flying was Charles A. Lindbergh who in 1927 at the age of 25 became the first person to fly non stop from New York to Paris. So passionate about the story of Lindbergh that at the age of 47 Stewart managed to convince the studio that he was the man to play the inspirational flier.
Now let's be honest watching a movie about a man in a plane flying non stop between New York and Paris could be very dull. Yes there would be danger but it could end have ended up being shot of man, shot of plane, shot of water repeat. But "The Spirit of St. Louis" named after Lindbergh's plane is a cleverly crafted movie which builds on that storyline so it becomes a movie of two halves, both of which are very interesting.
Whilst the movie starts with Lindbergh struggling to sleep the night before he is due to start his dangerous flight, the first half builds up how he comes to be trying to fly from New York to Paris, part of the Orteig Prize which a few other pilots were also competing for. As such we get to see how as a U.S. Air Mail pilot Lindberg decided to take up the challenge and the difficulties he had in getting the financial backing to buy the plane. It's well worked because we come to understand a bit of what makes Lindberg tick and how despite disappointment managed to get a plane for this special flight. All of which has a touch of humour about it such as is in the scene when he first meets the owners of Ryan Airline inc who would build his plane.
The second half, and of a movie which is over 2 hours long is quite sizeable, focuses on the actual flight. How they made this side interesting is quite brilliant, because they created an element about a fly which happens to be on the plane, causing Lindberg to talk to it. This allows this second half to delve into Lindberg's story as to how he became a flyer in the first place with almost flash backs to buying his own plane, joining a flying circus and as a reserve in the air force. And when the fly basically decides to jump ship there is just the right amount of time left for the storyline to focus on the actual flight and the various difficulties like lack of sleep and the wings and engine freezing up.
All of this imaginative manufacturing of a storyline which encompasses Lindbergh's own story is cleverly done because it means the movie is never dull and manages to mix light hearted moments with genuine moments of tension. It also means it's brilliantly paced so when there is nothing really of interest going on in the flight we get some back story.
As already mentioned James Stewart who at 47 was 22 years old than Lindbergh at the time of his flight secured the role although he wasn't the first choice. But Stewart does a remarkably good job especially as there are plenty of scenes during the flight where he has to demonstrate the tension, stress and sheer tiredness without uttering a single word. But it is very much down to Stewart's likeability which is key because quite simply if you like James Stewart you will also end up liking Lindbergh.
How true "The Spirit of St. Louis" is to Lindbergh's record breaking flight is hard to say despite it using one of Lindbergh's own books as the basis. The manufactured storyline intertwines so effectively with those which seem factual that you just can't quite tell.
Something which is worth mentioning is that post this record breaking flight Lindbergh's life was full of incident, most notably the kidnapping of his child and his reported pro-Nazi sympathies. None of which end up in the movie as it purely concentrates on the record breaking flight.
What this all boils down to is that "The Spirit of St. Louis" is a thoroughly entertaining movie as it turns this story of one mans feat of endurance and danger into an intriguing, enlightening and entertaining story. And with James Stewart taking on a role he is obviously passionate about it features a brilliant performance from the acting legend.