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Biggles (1986)

At long last I’ve caught up with the final film of Peter Cushing. While he doesn’t go out on a horror note, it is a very good role for the aging Peter who had been looking frail for a number of years on screen. As for the Biggles character, it’s new to me. I don’t think I was aware that it was a fairly popular character in print for a number of years from author W.E. Johns.

“Props” Peter plays the connecting figure in this tale of time travel that sees a young man (Alex Hyde-White) from the contemporary United States finding himself thrown back in time to the days of World War One where he will meet British Flying Ace, James “Biggles” Bigglesworth played by Neil Dickson. Giving the young Alex a scare, a gaunt looking Peter will appear at his apartment door wondering if “it” has happened yet. The youngster quickly dismisses the old man and shuts the door. Moments later the “it” will happen as he finds himself zapped back in time to the battlefields of 1914 where he’ll connect with Biggles and leave him his business card before finding himself thrust back to his own time and place.

Upon a second meeting with the iconic Cushing, the young man will have the card returned to him with a good seventy years of wear and tear attached to it. Now he isn’t so sure but after another trip back in time for a brief skirmish with Biggles and the German war machine, he heeds Peter’s advice upon his return and heads to London to Peter’s living quarters looking for answers. Following after him is girlfriend Fiona Hutchinson worried about her boyfriend’s sanity.

Another trip backwards will bring the young man into the battle zones with Biggles and his British buddies as they fight the Germans led by the main villain and Ace flyer Marcus Gilbert who will have various skirmishes with the stars over the course of the film. Injecting a bit of comedy onto the film Alex will return to the present in a nun’s outfit causing Fiona to have her serious doubts as to his mental stability. That is until she is present during the next electrical storm and latches on to Alex finding herself in the trenches of WW1.

Plenty more adventures follow both in the past and the present with Biggles, Alex and Fiona. During these time trips, you’ll find out what Cushing’s connection is to the past and considering there is a series of stories in book form, we shouldn’t be surprised that the film leaves itself wide open for more adventures. Adventures that didn’t materialize. Geared towards a younger audience, it could have worked but on this side of the pond, I’m pretty sure this wound up as a direct to video release. If it did see the inside of theaters, I can’t recall which tells me that if it did, it must have been a short run in select cities.

Cushing was reunited in Biggles with John Hough as director. Hough had helmed the totally wild and thoroughly entertaining Hammer flick Twins of Evil that saw Peter portraying a stern task master by day and evil witch hunter by night. Hough would also direct the 1973 Richard Matheson classic, The Legend of Hell House. Calling it quits following this production, Peter Cushing would pass away 8 years later in 1994. Miraculously, he was raised from the dead via CGI for the most recent Star Wars film which leads me to wonder if we may some day see a new John Wayne western in theaters worldwide as I predict every now and then.

Included in Biggles aside from a comic styled adventure are some fine aerial dog fights minus the CGI of today (sorry can’t help myself) and slightly titled camera angles that work well for the film, time travelling and it’s top secret weapons. Thankfully this has turned up on blu ray via the Kino Lorber label giving me a chance to finally see this one after passing on it years ago though I’m not sure why as I’m as big a fan of Peter Cushing as the next Hammer aficionado.

Worth a look if you get a chance and even more so if you’ve got a youngster to sit in and watch alongside.

7 Comments »

  1. I don’t think I was aware that it was a fairly popular character in print for a number of years from author W.E. Johns.

    This may actually be an advantage when approaching the movie. Having read every Biggles book I could lay hands on during childhood (which may well have been all of them, and I read all of Johns’s bloody awful science-untroubled science fiction too), I anticipated the movie, in my adulthood, as a great trip down Memory Lane . . . and, on seeing it, thought it was a complete and utter stinker. I should have listened to my kid daughter, there in the cinema beside me. She’d had no idea who Biggles was, and just thought the movie was a great skiffy adventure romp.

    Years later, reluctantly watching the thing again for The Encyclopedia of Fantasy, I discovered how right she’d been. Not the greatest movie ever, but there’s an astonishing amount to like about it. The trouble with it is that it’s not a Biggles movie, which I think is what everyone (quite reasonably) thought it was going to be when it was released. If you’re expecting a Biggles movie, it’s a disaster. If you’re expecting a fun time-travel adventure, this is a pretty damn’ good one — up there with Back to the Future, I’d say (although without Christopher Lloyd, which is a big “without”).

    • Glad you piped in on this one since you’re familiar with the character. The movie isn’t all that bad for those in my shoes and it surely was aimed at the younger ones at the time like your own. It’s always a challenge I suppose for filmmakers and the movies to meet expectations of folks who have been fans of books and characters for years, I don’t recall hearing such stuff about this one on it’s release but one that always sticks out that I do remember are fans of Anne Rice’s novels in an uproar when Tom Cruise was announced as the vampire Lestat. Isn’t it funny that Jack Reacher fans said the same thing about Cruise years later. Anyway, I was long overdue to see Mr. Cushing’s final film role so glad I finally caught up with it.

      • It’s not to do with the casting — Dickson makes a perfectly okay Biggles. And the WWI scenes are in general perfectly in keeping with the books.

        Imagine they’d done Interview with a Vampire as a song-and-dance comedy musical with a drag Lestat. That could have worked pretty well (in fact, the more I think about it, the more I think it’s a damn’ good idea — get me Spielberg on the phone), but you can imagine the reaction of Ann Rice fans who’d turned up expecting a kinkysex’n’gorefest. Same goes for the several adult generations in the UK who turned up to Biggles expecting to see an adaptation of the books.

        I’m not surprised there was no such reaction here. I don’t think anyone outside the UK knew anything about Biggles and Algy and Ginger. Sort of like Billy Bunter, or Jennings.

        Damn! Nostalgic tears are dripping onto my keyboard. Gotta stop before I electrocute myself . . .

  2. No way I never realised it was Peter Cushing’s last film. I was brought up with Biggles stories as my Dad used to read them when he was a teenager and they were then passed on to me. Probably around 30 plus of them, stored away in a cupboard. Didn’t feel the need to pass them on to my son even though I did enjoy reading them as a kid.
    I believe I saw this at the cinema on release, though I truly can’t remember anything about it apart from recalling the faces of Biggles and his partner from the poster. Might have to re-visit one day.

  3. My one and only association with Biggles, up until now, was that I saw him as ‘Senor Biggles’ on a sketch of Monty Python’s Flying Circus. I always thought THEY created him! And too bad Cushing didn’t wrap up his career with a vampire flick!

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