Monday, May 3, 2010


A gigantic blimp, a small passenger gondola slung below, one woman among the score of journalists and an around-the world trip. Lady Grace Drummond Hay was the first woman to circle the globe by air, and she did it in the Graf Zeppelin in 1929. The film consists of archival footage from the period and the story is narrated by a Julie Andrewish voice, as if reading from the journal of Lady Grace.

Graf Zeppelin was designed and built by Germans and the trip described in the film had a German captain flying the dirigible. However, the Germans ran out of money, and the around-the-world trip was paid for by William Randolph Hearst. Lady Grace Hay, a journalist looking to make her mark, enthusiastically accepts Hearst's invitation to provide the women's point of view, only to discover she's to be under the wing of an experienced journalist - her former lover Karl von Wiegand.

The film weaves together three stories. There's the story of life on board the ship, and the images of the journalists working away at their ancient typewriters, writing both about the trip and the political situations in the countries they fly over. The depiction of tumultuous welcomes on their landings in Frederichshafen, Tokyo, Los Angeles and finally New York provides the backdrop for further comment on political situation, as we see swastika armbands in Germany and marches protesting war reparations.

There's the adventure story of the trip itself . There's the counterintuitive image of the wind blowing through open windows as they move majestically through the sky. They have to jettison water as they struggle to rise about mountains in Russia that were supposed to have been 3,000 feet high and turned out to be 6,000 feet. The description of a ferocious storm in the Pacific that had them out of touch and stranded on the water making repairs on the Tokyo to LA leg, was apparently 'borrowed' from a different trip across the Atlantic but lent drama to the film.

Then, there's the third story - the love story between Gracie and the married Karl. Their romance was on again off again during the trip. But the pair were to be lifelong companions and traveled to cover many stories over the globe, with many adventures, including internment in a Japanese prisoner of war camp.

I saw some 'cheats' in this supposedly totally documentary film (e.g. same men reaching up to grab the ship on landing in US and Germany) and read of more online today. Nevertheless, the mood of the film was totally coherent and charming, and this is another film I would recommend.

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