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Spirit of St. LouisAirs Sunday, February 10 at 2:00 PM The Spirit of St. Louis is a 1957 biographical film directed by Billy Wilder and starring James Stewart as Charles Lindbergh. The screenplay was adapted by Charles Lederer, Wendell Mayes, and Billy Wilder from Lindbergh's 1953 autobiographical account of his historic flight, which won the Pulitzer Prize in 1954. Along with reminiscences of his early days in aviation, the film depicts Lindbergh's historic 33-hour transatlantic flight in the Spirit of St. Louis monoplane from his take off at Roosevelt Field to his landing at Le Bourget Field in Paris on May 21, 1927.
On May 19, 1927, pilot Charles A. "Slim" Lindbergh (James Stewart) tries to rest in a hotel near Roosevelt Field on Long Island, New York. He has been waiting for a week for the rain to stop so he can attempt the first successful nonstop solo transatlantic flight from New York to Paris. While Lindbergh tries to fall asleep, his friend Frank Mahoney (Bartlett Robinson) guards his hotel room door from reporters who have also been waiting for a break in the weather. Unable to sleep, Lindbergh reminisces about his recent days as an airmail pilot flying from St. Louis to Chicago.
Flying to Chicago in winter, Lindbergh lands his old de Havilland biplane in a small airfield to refuel. Despite the bad weather, Lindbergh takes off, unaware that the Chicago landing field has closed due to snow. Lindbergh's aircraft ices up and stalls, forcing him to parachute out with the mailbag. He continues his journey by train and meets a suspender salesman who tells Lindbergh that two airmen just died competing for the Orteig Prize to be awarded to the first pilots to fly from New York City to Paris (or in a reverse direction[N 1]), nonstop.
From a diner at Lambert Flying Field in St. Louis, Lindbergh calls Columbia Aircraft Corporation in New York City, pretending to represent a group of prominent businessmen. Lindbergh is quoted the price of $15,000 (equal to $200,690 today) for a Bellanca aircraft. For the next six weeks, Lindbergh presents his idea of entering the competition to St. Louis financiers and prominent St. Louis citizens, explaining he can cross the ocean in 40 hours in a single-engine aircraft if he strips it of all non-essential weight, allowing room for extra fuel tanks. The men are excited by Lindbergh's vision and name the aircraft, Spirit of St. Louis.
At the request of his backers, Lindbergh travels to San Diego, California to check out a small aircraft factory, Ryan Aeronautical Company. There he meets Mahoney, the president of the company, who promises to build him an aircraft in just 90 days. At the factory, Frank, Lindbergh, and Ryan's chief engineer Donald Hall (Arthur Space) agree on a design. To decrease weight, Lindbergh refuses to install radios or heavy equipment and plans to navigate by "dead reckoning". [N 2]. In the race to complete the aircraft ahead of schedule, workers at the factory agree to work 24-hour shifts. Lindbergh learns that two pilots, who were vying for the Orteig Prize, were killed during their flight test.
When the Ryan aircraft is complete, Lindbergh flies his new aircraft to St. Louis, and then on to New York. Unable to sleep, Lindbergh leaves his hotel room and goes to Roosevelt Field, where his aircraft is being filled with three hundred gallons of fuel. To decrease weight, he even eliminates the parachute. Because of limited space in the cockpit, the magnetic compass was placed in an awkward position. A young woman offers her mirror, which is then glued into place for the pilot's view. When Lindbergh is not watching, Mahoney slips a Saint Christopher medal into the pilot's lunch bag.
With the weather clearing, Lindbergh and the heavy Spirit of St. Louis trundle down the muddy runway and barely clear the treetops at the end of the field. Every hour, Lindbergh switches fuel tanks to keep the weight load balanced. As he flies over Cape Cod, he realizes he has not slept in 28 hours. He remembers back to times when he slept on railroad tracks, on short bunk beds, and under a windmill. When Lindbergh begins to doze aboard the Spirit of St. Louis, he is awakened by a fly. When he flies over Nova Scotia and sees a motorcyclist below, he remembers his own Harley-Davidson, which he traded for his first aircraft, a war-surplus Curtiss Jenny.
As Lindbergh flies over the seemingly endless Atlantic, he remembers barnstorming across the Midwest and performing dangerous stunts in a flying circus. At the 16th hour, as darkness descends, he worries that an engine cylinder might crack from the cold. The sight of a "white ship", which he soon realizes is an iceberg, is evidence that he is near the Arctic Circle. After 18 hours, the aircraft's wings ice up and the engine stalls. The Spirit of St. Louis begins to drop, but the ice breaks off in the warmer air and he is able to restart the engine. Back on course, Lindbergh discovers that his compasses are malfunctionings, forcing him to navigate by the stars. By dawn, he is so tired he falls asleep, causing the aircraft to circle and descend, but sunlight reflecting off the mirror awakens him in time to regain control.
After Lindbergh sees a seagull and realizes he is close to land, he tries without success to hail a fisherman below. He soon sights land and determines from map features that he has reached Dingle Bay, Ireland. As he reaches for one of his sandwiches, Lindbergh discovers the hidden Saint Christopher medal. Hanging the medal on the instrument panel, he flies on, crossing the English Channel and then up the coast of France, following the Seine to Paris. Once again the engine cuts out, from lack of fuel, but he is able to recover by switching tanks. Evening descends and Lindbergh finally sees the lights of Paris ahead of him. As he approaches Le Bourget Airfield, he is confused by the spotlights. He doesn't understand that the strange movements below him are actually crowds of people. Exhausted and panicked, Lindbergh makes his descent whispering a prayer, "Oh, God help me!" After landing, hordes of people rush to Lindbergh, blind him with camera flashes, and carry him off triumphantly to the hangar. Tired and confused, Lindbergh eventually realizes that the crowds are cheering for his great achievement. When Lindbergh returns to New York, he is given a huge parade in his honor.