This week was the most prestigious event in the history of The Day Hollywood Stood Still. We had a visit from the President. Yes, Dave Probert, President of the Galactic Alliance arrived to inspect the Mothership.
During his visit, Gort remained oddly silent, looming in the way that only he can. Once the tour was complete, however, Gort could no longer hold his vocal processors. "Sir," the mark of respect was uttered with effort, "you, at one point, seemed set on disintegrating this world for its cynical crimes against Galactic cinema. Why did you decide to give it another chance?"
"Two things, constable: Firstly," we mumbled along with him under our breath: "Megan Fox; and secondly, a little film called Biggles: Adventures in Time."
If you haven't seen this curio, I urge you to seek it out. It starred Alex Hyde-Whyte (son of screen legend Wilfred Hyde-Whyte and Reed Richards in Roger Corman's notorious Fantastic Four film) as a TV dinner entrepreneur who is visited one night by the mysterious Peter Cushing and soon after finds himself falling through a hole in time to the Western front, 1917. There he meet James 'Biggles' Bigglesworth. What follows is a boys-own, time-travel romp that involves German secret weapons, British stiff upper lips and, most awesomely of all, a helicopter dogfighting with a bi-plane.
I describe this as a curio for several reasons. Firstly, this is the only big-screen appearance of the famous hero created by Captain WE Johns in 1932. Biggles' adventures have been chronicled in 98 books and he has his own little niche in British popular culture. It's strange that such a recognisable British hero had to wait until the mid 80s to have a film made about him. It's even stranger that, when it was made, it was a science-fiction film. Biggles seemed ripe for adaptation in the wake of Raiders of the Lost Ark; he should have been the British Indiana Jones. As tragic as this missed opportunity is, I adore this film even more because its existence makes absolutely no sense whatsoever.
The name Biggles evokes images of leather flying helmets, daring dogfights and good old fashioned British pluck. Neil Dickson's (of She-wolf of London fame - Com) Biggles is everything that you would expect: brave, honourable and always the gentleman. What's so enjoyable about Biggles in the film is how well he adapts during a brief visit to 1986. It could have been a clunky, fish-out-of-water situation, but Biggles treats the 80s as another strange land his mission has taken him to and, like any well trained soldier, he adapts to survive. This is exemplified by a sequence where Biggles enlists a group of punks to help him slip past a police checkpoint. He thanks them afterwards by saying that they have been “great sports”.
Another thing that marks this film out is the fact that it is the last big-screen appearance of Cushing, who brings his trademark quiet dignity to the film. The moment where he is reunited with Biggles, who initially doesn't recognise him, is an unexpectedly-touching moment. His presence gives gravitas to the proceedings and continues a long tradition of legendary actors making their last screen appearances in strange films: see Orson Wells in Transformers: The Movie and Raul Julia in Streetfighter.
While the historical and scientific accuracy may be questionable and the basic premise perplexing, this is an under-rated, rip-roaring adventure. Find it, watch it and always remember the most important life lesson it has to offer: If you can fly a Sopwith Camel, you can fly anything.