Flight of the Tea Party

© gps333@charter.net, 2010

In “The Flight of the Phoenix,” arguably the best film of the 1960s, we have a forecast of the 2010 elections.

In the film (not the wretched recent remake), a small band of men find themselves fighting for their lives after their scruffy cargo plane crashes in Libya. With only enough water for 12 days, if they stretch it, they are looking at death by exposure in the merciless desert. The film is a bit ripe, with the characters being presented in a melodramatic way, but the guts of the film remain compelling. Pilot Harry Townes (Jimmy Stewart) is an old-timer who has flown everything from “bits and pieces” to current large aircraft and, (“I’ve been flying for some time now, and it hasn’t always been for crummy outfits like this one!”) as is so well put by Heinrich Dorfmann (Hardy Kruger), “he has remembered everything and learned nothing!” These two sharply-drawn characters dominate the film. After the crash, Dorfmann examines the wreck and then announces that he is an aircraft designer and believes a new aircraft can be built from the wreck of the old one so the crew can fly themselves to safety – a small drilling operation and water hole 110 miles away. There are a number of interesting sub-plots, one involving murderous Arabs (cut from the remake so as not to insult our Arab friends), but they are a side-show. The battle between Townes – who fights the idea of rebuilding the wreck as crazy – and Dorfmann – who insists it can be done – is the real plot.

The first climax comes when navigator Lew Moran (Richard Attenborough) – a discredited drunk who helped them get into this mess – talks to Dorfmann during a break in the work. Townes is sitting nearby and picks-up a magazine that deals with model aircraft. He asks Dorfmann if this is the company for which Dorfmann works. Dorfmann proudly shows the models he has designed. Townes and Moran give each other strange looks. Townes interrupts Dorfmann. “I didn’t know this company made the big stuff.” Dorfmann: “No, no; you misunderstand. We make only model aircraft.” The look Townes and Moran share is memorable. Dorfmann than leaves to get back to work. Townes: “He’s crazy, Lou. He doesn’t think there is any difference between a real and a model airplane.” Townes wanders off in a daze. Moran then gives a soliloquy to the camera. “He didn’t even try to hide it. He really doesn’t think there’s any difference between a real and a toy airplane.” As he becomes hysterical he continues, “What’s the matter, Frank? Have you no curiosity left? Don’t you want to learn what it’s like to fly a toy airplane!” More

Of course, in the end, the airplane does fly and takes the ragged remaining survivors to the life-saving water hole.

How is this relevant now? The Tea Party is Dorfmann, stubborn, self-assured, even prickly. The Republican Establishment is Townes, sure that any drastic changes in politics will result in their deaths.

I submit that determination and hard work will triumph again.


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