Those Magnificent Men in their Flying Machines; Or, How I Flew from London to Paris in 25 Hours 11 Minutes is a 1965 British comedy film starring Stuart Whitman, Sarah Miles, Robert Morley, Terry-Thomas and James Fox, directed and co-written by Ken Annakin.
Based on a screenplay entitled Flying Crazy, the fictional account is set in 1910, when Lord Rawnsley, an English press magnate, offers £10,000 to the winner of the Daily Post air race from London to Paris, to prove that Britain is "number one in the air".
The film begins with a brief narration of man's first attempts to fly since the Stone Age due to inspiration by a bird's flight, complemented by actual vintage footage from the Silent Film Era and man being represented by a "test pilot" (Red Skelton) encountering periodic misfortune in his attempts.
In 1910, just seven years after the first heavier-than-air flight, aircraft are fragile and unreliable contraptions, piloted by "intrepid birdmen". Lord Rawnsley (Robert Morley) is a British newspaper magnate and a stuffed shirt. His daughter, ardent suffragette Patricia (Sarah Miles), is a would-be aviatrix who can't fly because her father forbids it. Aviator Richard Mays (James Fox), a young Army officer and (at least in his own eyes) Patricia's fiancé, conceives the idea of an air race from London to Paris to advance the cause of British aviation (and his career). With Patricia's support, he persuades Lord Rawnsley to sponsor the race as a publicity stunt for his newspaper. Rawnsley, who takes full credit for the idea, announces the event to the press, shocking everyone with the amount of the prize.
Invitations and newspaper advertising go out worldwide, and dozens of participants arrive in England with their aircraft. The aircraft are housed and maintained in the hangars at the airfield on the Brookley Motor Racing Track, where the fliers make practice runs in the days prior to the race. During this time, predictable patriotic antagonisms quickly develop. Most of the contestants conform to national stereotypes, including the by-the-book, monocle-wearing Prussian officer Colonel Manfred von Holstein (Gert Fröbe); the impetuous Italian Count Emilio Ponticelli (Alberto Sordi), whose test flights wreck one aircraft after another; and the amorous Frenchman Pierre Dubois (Jean-Pierre Cassel). Yujiro Ishihara is the late-arriving Japanese naval officer Yamamoto, with a perfect (dubbed) Etonian accent.
The rivalries between their respective nations degenerate into a ridiculous hot-air balloon duel between the German and French fliers, and the nefarious actions of baronet Sir Percy Ware-Armitage (Terry-Thomas), an unscrupulous British flier who "never leaves anything to chance". With his bullied servant, Courtney (Eric Sykes), he sabotages two aircraft, drugs one pilot, and cheats by shipping his aeroplane across the channel at night. More complications occur when the rugged American cowboy Orvil Newton (Stuart Whitman) falls for Patricia, forming a love triangle with her and Mays.
Wishing the fliers "good luck" before the race starts, Lord Rawnsley complains to his associate: "The trouble with these international affairs is that they attract foreigners". Fourteen competitors take off but, one by one, their engines fail or they crash, until only four remain (arriving in three aircraft) to land in Paris. Newton loses time when he slows down to rescue Ponticelli from his burning aircraft, and comes in second. Mays wins for Britain, but he recognises Newton's heroism and insists on sharing the glory and the prize with the penniless American. The other successful aviator is Dubois, completing his race for France.
Newton's and Patricia's final kiss is interrupted by a strange noise. They and the others at the field look up to see a flyover by six English Electric Lightning jet fighters, as the time period reverts to the "present" (1965). The film concludes with the still-persisting hazards of modern flying despite today's advanced technology, as a nighttime civilian flight across the British Channel is cancelled due to heavy fog. One of the delayed passengers (Red Skelton) gets the idea of learning to fly under his own power, perpetuating man's pioneering spirit.