The Film Behind The Poster - Reach For The Sky (1956)
In this series of blog posts, we select a poster from our Catalogue of original movie posters and take a look at the film that it was produced to promote.
In this, the second of the series, we look at 1956's "Reach for the Sky”. Directed by Lewis Gilbert and produced by Daniel M. Angel, the film premiered in London on 5th July 1956. The U.S. release followed, almost a year later, on 30th April 1957.
The Second World War produced many incredible stories of heroism and astonishing courage. Amongst them, that of Douglas Bader.
Bader was born in London in 1910, losing his father as a result of injuries sustained in the First World War. This resulted in a disjointed up-bringing for the young Bader, whose notable aggression and competitive spirit was only properly released on the sports field, where he excelled.
In 1928 Douglas joined the Royal Air Force and was posted to RAF Cranwell in Lincolnshire. Despite a poor disciplinary and academic record, Bader flew his first solo flight on 19th February 1929, after less than twelve hours instructed training.
In 1930 he joined No. 23 Squadron, where he gained a reputation as a daredevil who flouted the safety regulations of the time. In December 1931, this devil-may-care attitude cost Bader both of his legs. Attempting a low altitude stunt in a Bulldog Mk. IIA (which was renowned for instability at slow speeds), Bader clipped a wing against the ground. His right leg was amputated the same day, his left leg a few days later.
Bader was invalided out of the RAF, taking up a desk job in the petroleum industry.
Despite repeated attempts to re-join the forces, it was only the inevitability of War that allowed Bader to return to the RAF. In 1940 he was posted to No. 19 Squadron at RAF Duxford (now home of the Imperial War Museum’s aircraft collection).
Despite his disability (or perhaps helped by it as he may have been able to better cope with the effects of G-forces), Bader’s exploits during the Battle of Britain became legendary, including twenty two confirmed downings of enemy aircraft.
In 1941, while escorting a daylight bombing raid over France, he was shot down and captured. Having made several attempts to escape, he eventually spent the later years of the War within the infamous Colditz Castle.
After the War, an Australian fighter pilot, Paul Brickhill, published a 1954 biography of Bader entitled “Reach for the Sky”. In Britain, it became the biggest selling hardback book since the War.
Commissioned due to the success of the book, “Reach for the Sky” stars Kenneth More as Bader (Richard Burton turned down the part, choosing instead to play Alexander the Great), with Muriel Pavlow as his wife, Thelma.
While More’s own father had served as a Royal Naval Air Force pilot, his own application to join the RAF was turned down on medical grounds.
His early acting career was interrupted by distinguished service as a lieutenant in the Royal Navy. Having been demobilised in 1946, he returned to acting, eventually rising to leading man in a number of successful British films.
Filmed at Pinewood Studios and RAF Kenley, “Reach for the Sky” was released in the U.K. to public and critical acclaim, becoming the highest grossing film of 1956 and winning that year’s BAFTA for Best British Film.
Despite its home soil success, and a large American publicity campaign, the film fared less well in the U.S.. Nevertheless, it returned a total box office of £1.5M against its £365,000 budget.
Bader could apparently be a difficult and headstrong man. Having fallen out with Paul Brickhill over royalties for the book, he did not attend the premiere of the film, allegedly only seeing it on TV, eleven years later.
Group Captain Sir Douglas Bader C.B.E., D.S.O, D.F.C died of a heart attack in 1982, aged 72. This remarkable man had not only made a major contribution to war time Britain, but also to the cause of the disabled. It was for this later contribution that he received his Knighthood.
Kenneth More reputedly turned down offers to go to Hollywood, remaining in Britain to play the affable British gent, often with great comedic timing. He released two biographies, “Happy Go Lucky” and “More or Less” and, married three times. He also died in 1982, as a result of Muscular Dystrophy. An official website can be found here.
More's "More or Less" includes the following very poignant passage...
"Bader’s philosophy was my philosophy. His whole attitude to life was mine. I wanted this part, not just because I felt I could do full justice to it, but because it was an embodiment of my own belief that courage, faith and determination can overcome all obstacles."
“Reach for the Sky” is available to buy on DVD from VCI Entertainment.
And so to the poster, which features artwork by an Italian artist, Giuliano Nistri. He, and his brother, Enzo, were responsible for a number of stunning posters of the 1950s and 1960s, for films such as "My Fair Lady", "Batman" and Bruce Lee's "Big Boss".
More, as Bader, stands defiant in uniform, in front of a brilliantly blue sky, dreams of Spitfires surround him. The dark menace at the bottom of the poster surrounds Bader's legs, hinting at the tragedy to come. A truly evocative poster.
Our particular copy has been stunningly linen-backed and professionally restored. It must be one of the best copies in existence.
Both the film and poster are real pieces of original movie history, providing great appeal for anyone with an interest in the armed forces, or the 1940s, and, inspiration for anyone facing up to adversity, in any of its forms.
To find more posters like this, please do take a look in our Catalogue of guaranteed original vintage movie posters.
We hope you find something you love.
Adam and the 'Art of the Movies' team.