George Formby’s sixth film for Associated Talking Pictures, 1938’s It’s in the Air finds the ukulele man in his imperial phase. Formby’s first film for ATP, 1935’s No Limit, saw him play a Wigan chimney sweep who achieves his dream of winning the Isle of Man TT. The formula was repeated for subsequent films with George as the gormless, incompetent ‘little man’ achieving unlikely success in various fields. 1937 saw ATP boss Basil Dean establish a regular troupe to handle Formby’s films, among them fledging director Anthony Kimmins, as the Lancastrian rose to become Britain’s number one box office star. It’s in the Air has George sneakily become an airman despite being rejected, after donning his brother-in-law’s uniform and finding an urgent communiqué in the pocket. Polly Ward co-stars as his love interest Peggy.
Perhaps in anticipation of imminent hostilities, life in the RAF is portrayed as all beer and skittles in It’s in the Air. More than other Formby films, it is a total farce. It is fast-paced and heavy on slapstick humour compared to the more character-driven films that sandwiched it, I See Ice and Trouble Brewing. There are, of course, a few music hall-styled jokes that will illicit giggles or groans depending on your disposition (“I’m an airman!” “An airman? I could do with an ‘aircut!”); it’s the former for me. Formby’s lovable idiot is even more idiotic than usual here – he arrives with a loud crash and says “turned out nice again” within minutes – but he’s an engrossing star whatever he’s doing.
Julien Mitchell‘s irascible sergeant major provides the antagonism and he becomes the target of one of Formby’s best-known songs, Our Sergeant Major. It’s a song that encapsulates the cheekiness that made Formby so endearing to audiences (“His medals break our hearts, he won them playing darts / and while competing, who was cheating? Our Sergeant Major”). The film’s other two songs – the winning You Can’t Fool Me and the rousing It’s in the Air – are also strong and all three are neatly woven into the plot. The film reaches its climax when George finds himself piloting a biplane. This well-executed sequence may remind some viewers of the finale to Laurel and Hardy’s The Flying Deuces and it’s just as funny.
As ever with Network’s The British Film range, It’s in the Air is presented beautifully as a brand-new High Definition transfer from original film elements in its original theatrical aspect ratio. An extensive photo gallery is included as an extra and the release smartly opens with original theatrical trailers for others in the range. It’s in the Air is a charming, captivating romp and one of the best films Formby made.