My View: Thumbs up for 'Amelia'

My View
Jim Malone

Fasten your seat belt at the opening of "Amelia." A Lockheed aircraft thunders on takeoff heading directly for the viewer of this film about aviation pioneer Amelia Earhart.

Suddenly, you are 1,000 feet up as the trimotor craft banks over tidy farmland and coastal terrain. It's the first of a number of memorable flights you'll take with cool Hilary Swank at the controls.

There are so many records to this slender flier's credit, the film leaves it wisely to clips taken from Movietone News: "She has already set a woman's world altitude record. Last year (1927) Charles Lindbergh flew across the Atlantic. Will Miss Earhart be next? ..."

The film risks balancing two or three different flights but generally pulls it off. Early on, there is a lovely foreshadowing sequence of a pre-teen Amelia, the so-called "Kansas tomboy," riding a farmhouse as if in a race with a biplane.

Not all of real-life Earhart makes the cut. The book "The Sound of Wings" reveals ties to family in Medford and work at a Boston settlement house. Every spare dime went for flying lessons at Squantum air base in Quincy.

Amelia was recruited by George Putnam (played by Richard Gere), her mentor and later her husband. The film dialogue shows her great love of flying and determination.

After the float plane churned out of Boston Harbor to the jumping-off area in Newfoundland, in a weather delay the pilot went drinking again. Stern Amelia somehow hauls him aboard. She has the right stuff.

The pontoon plane's landfall on the Wales shoreline comes with Welsh villagers rowing out and singing their welcome, a special moment.

London embraced Amelia; ticker tape and book deals followed in New York City. And Amelia finally gave in to marriage (though "We're both still free," she advised George).

Ever restless, one morning she asked her husband, "Would you mind if I flew the Atlantic?" Seven women had been killed trying, but a meteorologist gave the OK.

Now a solo pilot, the camera follows her May 20, 1932, return to Newfoundland, Europe-bound into a storm front that roiled and thundered around her.

Her plane laden with ice, she barely recovered from a deadly oceanward spin. But the sun broke through to light up her landing on the rich green fields of Northern Ireland.

Her final flight, departing Miami on June 1, 1937, with navigator Fred Noonan, aimed to encircle the globe at the equator, another woman's "first."

Wrote author Paul L. Briand Jr. in "Daughter of the Sky," by June 30 the 22,000 miles of flying had taken an "unremitting toll." The 2,566-mile leg from Lae, New Guinea, to tiny Howland Island in mid-Pacific was marked by long radio silences.

Near dawn from about 200 miles out, the Coast Guard cutter Itasca heard her request a bearing, then at 100 miles, perhaps closer.

The film captures the drama as the Lockheed's gas runs low, though there are no precise theories on the cause of its disappearance.

Describing an imaginary "line of position" on Howland, the intrepid Amelia advises that their aircraft would search up and down that navigation "ladder."

"We are running north and south" were her last words. Ahead lay Valhalla.

*Jim Malone is a freelance writer from Middleton.

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