Amelia (2009)




Director:     Mira Nair. 

Starring:     Hilary Swank (Amelia Earhart),  Richard Gere (George Putnam),  Ewan McGregor (Gene Vidal),  Christopher Eccleston (Fred Noonan),  Joe Anderson (Bill),  Cherry Jones (Eleanor Roosevelt),  Mia Wasikowska (Elinor Smith),  Aaron Abrams (Slim Gordon),  Dylan Roberts (Leo Bellarts),  Scott Yaphe (William Dalten),  Tom Fairfoot (Balfour),  Ryann Shane (Young Amelia),  William Cuddy (Gore Vidal),  Elizabeth Shepherd (Frances Putnam),  Richard Donat (Gallagher).

life and tragic death of Amelia Earhart, the famous aviatrix


Spoiler Warning:  below is a summary of the entire film.

Amelia Erhart is starting off on her around the globe trip by airplane. With her will go her navigator Fred Noonan. Her husband, George Putnam, is also there to say goodbye to her.

She has 24,920 miles to go around the world. Amelia tells reporters that she is not going to give up long-distance flying after this. She says she flies for the fun of it and thereís always a new adventure waiting for her.

Putnam is told that when they took off the head-winds were stronger than thought and in the process they lost 9% percent of their fuel.

Flashback. Amelia remembers when she was a kid walking through a Kansas wheat field, she saw a bi-plane fly over her head. And from that very moment, she knew that she just had to fly. Her father was full of wanderlust and now Amelia keeps moving from place to place. As she flies her plane, she asks: "Who wants a life imprisoned in safety?"

Amelia goes to see a Mr. Putnam, a book publisher. He asks her why she wants to fly solo across the Atlantic Ocean? She doesnít really have a good answer. Putnam warns her that three women have already died trying to circumnavigate. Amelia is not discouraged, so Putnam says the plane she will use was bought from Admiral Byrd by socialite Amy Guest. The pilot will be the famous Wilmer Stultz with another man as co-pilot and navigator. Amelia will only be a passenger on the flight. This is disappointing news to Amelia, but she still is interested. She will publish a book after the flight through Putnamís firm. Most of the money will go to Amy Guest, followed by Putnam himself.

The hook for the book will be that Amelia will be the commander of the flight. Amelia says that this might just be fraud theyíre suggesting. Putnam doesnít like that word. He frankly tells her that he will give the orders and she will obey. And if she does obey, then she will be a star. He adds: "And I will be nearby, a small particle of dust in your constellation."

Back to the present. Amelia is leaving Gambia with 20,719 miles to go. She asks Fred to come up and sit in the co-pilot seat. She wants him to see the wildlife of Africa below them.

Flashback. Putnam introduces the pilot, Bill Stultz, and co-pilot, Slim Gordon, to Amelia. They will be flying a Fokker plane. Amelia notices that the airplane has been fitted with sea-plane skids and asks how much fuel to they lose because of this unnecessary addition? 400 gallons. Putnam speaks up to explain that Mrs. Guest wants to protect her plane just in case they have to ditch into the Atlantic Ocean. Bill says: "Sad to say, but dollars put planes in the air."

The plane will travel from Boston to Newfoundland and then on to Ireland. But the plane never got off the water. Amelia listens to the jokes about her such as her not being able to lift a pigeon off the ground.

Bright and early the next morning, Amelia knocks on the door of the menís room and tells them to get up because they are flying today. She says they will off-load 700 gallons of fuel in order to get the plane off the water. The nice tail-wind will then get them to Ireland. Bill is very doubtful that the plan will work. Amelia has to get tough with Bill. She says: "Now you get out of that goddamn bed, and you fly that plane to Ireland, or I swear to you, I will."

Newfoundland, June 17, 1928. Slim and Amelia get into the plane. Bill hangs back and tells them to have a nice flight. Amelia gets into the pilotís seat. At the last minute, Bill gets onto the plane and flies it. Amelia sits in the back and looks out a side window.

Bill has trouble with the radio. Putnam is informed that they have lost contact with Miss Earhartís plane. He tells the caller to keep him informed.

The Fokker airplane has been traveling for nineteen hours. Bill suggests that they land on the water, because they donít know their position without the radio. But Amelia wonít hear of it. So they continue. The plane takes a sudden dip, throwing Amelia to the floor. Slim goes to help her and almost falls out of the side door. Amelia saves his life by grabbing him and pulling him in, but then Amelia almost falls out the side door. Now itís Slimís turn to save her life.

The fuel is just about gone, when Slim sights land. They land on the water. They think they are in Ireland, but when the group starts singing a Welsh song, she discovers she has landed in Wales, not Ireland. The crowd give her a big welcome.

Back in New York City, the three aviators are given a ticker-tape parade. The women are especially proud of her.

Amelia is at Putnamís home. She works on the book to be published. She writes that the two most frequent questions she is asked are: "Where are you going next?" And "What did you wear?"

George Putnam has gotten Amelia a product endorsement with Luck Strikes cigarettes. He also wrote the copy saying that Luck Strikes were the only cigarettes on Ameliaís plane and thatís true, he says, because he hid them under one of the airplane seats. She doesnít like it, but George says itís the only way to get Bill and Slim paid. So Amelia signs.

Amelia makes the autogyro altitude record by reach 19,000 feet in the air.

George has Amelia scheduled for an appearance before a college class. He tells her that she has to take every public appearance seriously. He kisses Amelia. Amelia asks: "What was that for?" George asks: "Good luck?" She tells him that she thinks she likes it and gives George a kiss.

At a hotel, Amelia goes to Georgeís room and asks him to dance with her. They dance.

Elinor Smith, a very young aviatrix, pays a visit to George and Amelia. As a 16 year old, she illegally flew under the four bridges of the East River, New York City. Putnam tells her that she doesnít need much help in selling herself doing those kinds of stunts. Elinor says: "I was hoping you could do to me what youíve done to her." Both George and Amelia smile at the way the question was expressed. Elinor goes on to say that her primary mission is: "To take Ameliaís place as the number one female pilot." Amelia gives her a tip: donít let anyone ever turn you around.

At a fancy dinner party in Rye, Westchester County, New York Amelia is introduced to Gene Vidal, a teacher of flying at West Point, New York. The couple immediately hit it off. George sees this and gets a bit jealous.

At home George asks her to marry her. She says sheís not the marrying type. Amelia says she wants to be free Ė to be a "vagabond of the air".

Back to the present. Mali, Africa. 18,428 miles to go. Amelia lands her plane and waves to the children running alongside to get a chance to see her.

Flashback. Rye, New York, 1931. Amelia still has a lot of trepidation about marrying George. Marriage may become an attractive cage, but still a cage for her. But they do get married.

George, Amelia and Elinor are together at an airplane race derby. George takes Elinor aside and suggests to her that she let Amelia win the contest. If she does not agree, she will probably not be making the race, because he can guarantee her that her plane will never pass inspection. Elinor has to agree.

Amelia Earhart, "Lady Lindy", organizes a competition for women pilots to cover nine cities in nine days. Some of the airplanes crash. Amelia comes in third in the race. At the race she says she and other women fliers have started an organization to promote women in flying. The call themselves the Ninety-nines because that how many women have joined the organization.

At home in Rye, Amelia tells George that she wants to fly the Atlantic Ocean solo. George says itís been five years since Lindbergh flew solo over the Atlantic Ocean and since then no one else has done it. Fourteen have died trying.

Teterboro Airport, New Jersey, May 20, 1932. Amelia takes off on her solo flight. She gets into a bad thunder storm with plenty of lightning. Hey windshield ices sending her plane heading down almost to the ocean surface. She gets very tired and falls to sleep for a second.

Amelia sees land and lands her airplane in a huge field. She asks the farmer there: "Where am I?" She says she was headed for Paris when she started out. The farmer tells her she has landed in Ireland.

George welcomes Amelia home saying: "Well done! Well done!?"

Amelia does more endorsements and advertisements. At an appearance, she complains to George that she feels like a white horse having to jump through circus hoops. George tells her the money pay for her flying. He has to leave her to take care of some business. At the appearance, George Vidal and his son Gore are there. He drives her home after the appearance.

It is the time of the Great Depression and lots of poverty. Amelia makes the first solo hop ever made from Hawaii to California. She goes to Britain on a visit and is praised there. And she continues to push women in aviation wherever she goes.

This year Elinor Smith is the Woman Pilot of the Year. Amelia presents the toast to her at a big banquet. There she meets Mrs. Eleanor Roosevelt. Amelia pushes Gene Vidal to Elinor as the right man to head the governmentís Aeronautics Branch.

Amelia takes Elinor, George and others flying at night. She even lets her fly the plane for a brief time. George is still a bit jealous of Gene.

Gene and a buddy go out for dinner and dancing. They talk business with her. They want her to be part of their company. In an elevator Gene and Amelia hug and kiss each other.

There is an announcement that Gene and Amelia launch the shuttle airplane service.

Gore and Gene arrive to stay with the Putnams. Gore is afraid of the jungle theme in the guest room. Amelia goes up to calm the boy. Gore asks her to marry his father. Amelia says she is already married to Mr. Putnam. Gore asks her why canít she be married both Mr. Putnam and his father? Amelia leaves the room without answering his last question.

George wants Amelia to go with him on a business trip in Europe. Amelia says she canít because she has the shuttle to work on. She has just recently become an consultant to Gene in the Aeronautical Branch. George says heís worried about Gene staying in the house when he is away. He says: "I canít have it."

Back to the present. Karachi (in todayís Pakistan). 13,888 miles to go.

Flashback. New York City, 1935. George has a surprise for his wife. To go around the world, Amelia needs an Electra airplane, but they cost $36,000 dollars after a generous discount from Lockheed. And then it would cost more than $36,000 dollars to have it modified for the long flight. George tells Amelia that he persuaded Ed Elliott to create an Amelia Earhart Fund for Aeronautical Research at Purdue University with a budget of $80,000 dollars. This will allow them to get Amelia her Electra.

Gene tries to talk George out of letting Amelia go on the around the world flight. He says: "The closest land west of Hawaii is beyond the range of the Electra." Gene says that Howland Island is half-way between Hawaii and New Guinea, but it is such a tiny island that the chances of Amelia finding it in all that vast Pacific Ocean are small. Amelia says she will be able to find it, because she is bringing along Fred Noonan, the best celestial navigator around.

Amelia meets Fred Noonan to kind of size him up. Fred knows that and knows that someone told Amelia that he has a drinking problem. He tells her to ask anyone he has worked with. They will all tell him that his drinking has never interfered with his work.

Amelia Earhart leaves Oakland, California for Honolulu. Honolulu, Hawaii, March 20, 1937. In Honolulu Amelia and Fred stand beside the Electra to have the reporters take photographs of them. Fred tells her itís going to be tough getting into the air with all the fuel they have on board the plane.

In fact, Amelia canít get off the ground. And worse, one of the wheels breaks off and the plane crashes into the field by the runway. The crash makes headlines around the world. At home with George, she apologizes to him and says she will make it all up to him. George suggests that maybe they should just give up the idea and live happily ever after. Amelia says: "So my exit would be a stupid crash and withdrawing from a world-publicized attempt to finally do something no man had done before." She will not quite now.

George tells Amelia that the mechanical crew can get her Electra back in shape within three weeks. Amelia worries over all the money lost because of the failure of the first attempt. George tells her not to worry, because it could have been worse.

Miami, Florida, June 2, 1937. Amelia and George arrive at the Miami airport.

Amelia and Fred are nearing the time for their departure. Georges tells Amelia: "Come back to me." She says: "Always." She gets into the plane and soon she and Fred are off to Africa.

On her stops, Amelia films her adventure. At home, Gore Vidal hears on the radio that Amelia has reached Calcutta, India. He nest stop will be Bangkok and then Papua, New Guinea. After that itís to Howland Island and then California.

In Calcutta with 12,498 miles to go, Amelia wants to take off despite the monsoon rains. Fred thinks sheís crazy, but she tells him that it is only 700 miles to Bangkok. Sheís going and Fred has to tag along with her. The weather is rough, but they make their destination.

Lac, Papua New Guinea with 6,866 miles to go. Over drinks Fred makes a pass at Amelia. She tells him: "All you need to do is just show up tomorrow morning, show up sober and get me to Howland Island."

Amelia puts in a call to her husband. She says she will be in Honolulu on July 3 and in California on July 4. George asks her how Fred is doing? She says he is fine, but George notices some hesitancy on her part and asks for the truth about Fred. He asks his wife if Fred is drinking and Amelia says she can handle it. A worried George now tells her to call the rest of the flight off. Amelia repeats: "I can handle it." A little later George says: "Iíll go tell the world that youíre on your way."

The next morning Amelia is throwing out a lot of baggage and souvenirs to lighten the plane. Fred shows up and apologizes to her for being such an "asshole". Amelia says itís fine. A little letter they take off for Howland Island.

Back to the present. Mr. Balfour, the radio man in New Guinea, tells George that the strong headwinds cost the plane 9% percent of its fuel. Other problems start for Amelia. Her radio does not pick up the messages sent to her by Mr. Balfour.

Howland Island, US Coast Guard Cutter Itasca. Another problem for Amelia develops. The Coast Guardís direction finder was left on all night and now the batteries are of no use. They do, however receive a message from Amelia saying the are about 200 miles out. Unfortunately, the skies are overcast. A bit later she contacts them again successfully, but she cannot hear their request to give them her position and her estimated time of arrival at Howland. The Coast Guard tries to send a message in Morse code to her, but she did not bring along the Morse code receiver and sender.

Amelia calls saying that she is about 100 miles out. She asks them to take a bearing on them and in a half-hour tell her what it is. The problem is that in order for the Coast Guard to take a bearing on her, she has to make a longer transmission. But thereís no way to tell her that.

Fred sends Amelia a message from the back. Fred canít navigate because of all the clouds in the area. For a brief while Amelia sends and receives messages, but it is too short of a time for Coast Guard to explain what they need from her.

A worried George finally gets a call from the Itasca people saying that Miss Earhart has finally received a transmission from them. George is a little relieved.

More transmissions are made by the Coast Guard, but now Amelia cannot receive them. The Coast Guard broadcasts that the USS Itasca has lost contact with Amelia Earhart. At his home, Gene Vidal hears it over the radio.

Amelia sends another message: "We are on the position line 157-337. We are running north and south." She cannot receive the Coast Guard response. In the back Fred starts crying. One of the Coast Guard transmitters starts crying.

George looks out to sea thinking of Amelia.

Some last words from Amelia: "Everyone has oceans to fly. As long as you have the heart to do it. Is it reckless? Maybe. But what do dreams know of boundaries?"

Amelia Earhart and Fred Noonan vanished somewhere over the Pacific Ocean on July 2, 1937. The U.S. Government mounted the largest rescue mission in history, but no evidence of the Electra was found. The fate of Amelia Earhart has intrigued the world for generations."

Good movie. I had read some very negative reviews of the film. The complaint was that the film is just a repetition of all the various accomplishments of Amelia Earhart and little else. My wife and I did not find that to be the case. Much of the film was the love story between Amelia and the publisher George Putnam. Amelia has a love affair with Gene Vidal, but eventually comes back full time to George. My wife and I both agreed it was a nice blend of facts and love story. And we both agree that Hilary Swank did a very good job in the role of Amelia. As she appears in the film, she looks a lot like the real Amelia as seen on the newsreel films about her. Ms. Swank even got the womanís accent pretty well.

We both enjoyed the film very much. The scenes of the last hours of Amelia Earhart were very moving and interesting. And I feel that I know now a lot more about the real Amelia Earhart.

Patrick Louis Cooney, Ph. D.


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