Ingenjör Andrées luftfärd (The Flight of the Eagle) (1982)

 

 

 

Director:     Jan Troell.

Starring:     Max von Sydow (Salomon August Andrée),  Sverre Anker Ousdal (Knut Fraenkel),  Göran Stangertz (Nils Strindberg),  Eva von Hanno (Gurli Linder),  Charlotta Larsson (Anna Charlier),  Clément Harari (Lachambre),  Cornelis Vreeswijk (Lundström),  Jan-Olof Strandberg (Nils Ekholm),  Henric Holmberg (Svedenborg),  Mimi Pollak (Mina Andrée),  Siv Ericks (Mrs. Assarsson),  Ulla Sjöblom (Andrée's Sister),  Knut Husebø (Nansen),  Peter Schildt (Andrée's clerk),  Ingvar Kjellson (Alfred Nobel).

Swedish film about S. A. Andrée setting out in hydrogen balloon "The Eagle" to be the first man at the North Pole, 1897

 

 

Spoiler Warning:

Photos are shown of frozen human bodies, presumably of S. A. Andrée and his balloon crew.

Andrée as a boy plays in the snow.  He catches a bird in his netting.  He frees it from the netting and the bird gets away from him and flies away. 

Spitsbergen, August 1896.  (Spitsbergen is the largest and only permanently populated island of the Svalbard archipelago, Norway. It is the western-most bulk of the archipelago, bordering the Arctic Ocean and the Norwegian and Greenland Seas.)  On the shore of Spitsbergen there is a hangar with no top for the air balloon.  A fellow asks Andrée how does it feel to have the wind against him?  Andrée responds:  "I must put up with my failure until I've conquered it."  The fellow then asks if the Norwegian flag will fly over the North Pole?  Andrée says:  "The Swedish flag will fly over the North Pole." 

August 16.  Unfavorable winds prevent the balloon from taking off for the year 1896. Andrée thinks about next year.  They hope to depart on the 20th and be home by the 30th. 

Stockholm, September.  Dr. Ekholm speaks with Andrée.  He says the drag line tests have proved there's more friction than Andrée anticipated.  He says now they won't have the five fold safety margin.  And with the unanticipated gas leakage it will cut the balloon range in half.   Ekholm conculdes that Andrée needs a new and larger balloon.  Andrée says a bigger balloon means they will need  new and larger housing for the balloon. 

Andrée's sister-in-law arrives for a visit.  The two people embrace and Carol says:  "You're back, I'm so glad."  Andrée tells Carol that they cannot start over again and he can't stand the secrecy of their affair. 

Nils Strindberg will be one of the balloon crew.  He and his fiancée Anna are in a dark room while Nils develops his photographs.  She asks Nils why does he want to try again with the trip to the North Pole?  After all, Nils did already attempt the flight.  Nils says:  "But we never took off."

Dr. Ekholm talks about the balloon journey to a curious audience.  He says that it is 3,770 km from Sptizbergen to Beringshund.  The anticipated speed of the balloon is 27 km per hour.  That means that it will take 140 hours or 6 days for the trip.   The balloon will only last 30 days.  The total journey will take 12 days instead of six, so now there is a safety margin of only 2.5 fold instead of five fold safety margin.  He concludes:  "Taking off with the balloon in its present condition would, I believe, be a sheer gamble."  There is applause for his remarks.  Andrée gets up and says that Doctor Ekholm is completely correct, but also completely wrong.   Ekholm speaks up saying that there will be a leak of 60 cubic meters of gas per day and the balloon will not stay aloft for two months.  Andrée asks:  "Why not a six or seven fold safety margin?"  He finishes with:  "Permit me to ask that you weigh the risk against Sweden's glory."  He gets a much bigger applause than the one Ekholm got. 

The crew exercises together.  Andrée talks with a man named Knut Fraenkel, who wants to be on the crew.  He is an artistic man and Andrée says he is very leery of such men. 

The crew meets together in a photographer's studio.  There is Andrée, Nils Strindberg and Knut Fraenkel, with a man in reserve named Lt. Swedenborg for safety's sake.  The photographer takes the photo.

The crew goes to see the King of Sweden.  The King is not sure of the safety of this trip and asks Andrée does he still insist on going on this "ambitious undertaking".  Andrée insists. 

Andrée explains to the larger crew that the guidelines trailing off from the balloon's basket help steer the balloon.  He says the guidelines must keep contact with the ice (keeping the balloon at a constant altitude) and, thereby, preventing the balloon from floating away.

A balloon is being made in Paris, April 1897.  The balloon will be known as the Eagle.   The French manufacturer says that they have put a special varnish on the balloon to coat it.  In addition, there is 14 km of fabric and 7 million stitches.  At night the crew (without Andrée) go to a French nightclub for a performance by can-can dancers.  The men enjoy themselves.  At home Andrée builds a house of cards.  In Paris wax models are made of the crew. 

Nils Strindberg and his fiancée are at a formal dinner.  Andrée tells her that she must be proud of his Nils.  Anna tells him:  "You are taking Nils away from me."   Andrée says he is just borrowing Nils. A little later, for the dinner guests, Anna plays the piano, while Nils plays the violin. 

Andrée is on a train.  He is going to visit his mother.  She tells him that if she is no longer here when the expedition returns, please don't think that the expedition had anything to do with her death.  

Arctic Sea, May.  The crew are aboard a ship headed for Spitsbergen.  As they near the shore, they see the bigger hangar being built.  The sailors unload the equipment from the ship.  Later they bring the balloon inside the hangar.  The gas valve is opened and the gas fills the balloon.   June 23 at 4 p.m. the balloon is all inflated.  The balloon is now nearly ready for travel. 

The air crew and the ship's crew have a big dinner outside on the beach.  Nils plays the violin and the men dance with each other. 

The air crew waits for the most favorable winds.  They have five weeks to wait for the right wind.  Andrée goes inside the balloon to check on the inner structure of the balloon.

Nils writes a journal about the trip and about his fiancée.  Andrée sleeps. 

Andrée notices that the winds have changed.  Andrée tells the ship's Captain that they are going.  The sailors quickly remove the hangar structure so the balloon can easily get off the beach.  The basket is attached to the balloon and loaded.  The crew gets into the basket of the air balloon. The order is given to cut the lines and the balloon starts rising.  A shout goes up:  "Long live Sweden!"  The balloon rises into the sky, but soon the balloon starts sinking.  The air crew starts throwing out ballast.  The basket hits the water, but it almost immediately rises again. 

To the horror of the air crew, they lose all three of their guidelines.  Now there is no way to steer the Eagle.  Andrée says they must put together pieces of rope in order to make at least one long guideline.  As they go on their way, a carrier pigeon is freed to return home with a message.

Nils says to Knut that the balloon has lost 600 cubic meters of gas in 33 hours.  Knut says that's way too much and now there is no wind.  Moreover, they seem to be going the wrong way instead of directly due west.  Nils says they will be a bit farther north than Fridtjof Wedel-Jarlsberg Nansen, the famous Norwegian North Pole explorer.  They look down and see a polar bear walking on the ice. 

The crew has to throw out more ballast because they are dropping fast.  One of the guys says that they could land in Greenland, but Andrée is not interested..   Knut becomes sick.  The balloon sinks lower.  The sun comes out and melts much of the ice and snow, allowing the balloon to rise.  Some equipment is thrown out to help the balloon rise. 

The crew throws the buoy out to mark the position they reached.  A Swedish flag was supposed to pop up and be seen for miles around, but the flagpole breaks.  The balloon falls to the ground, tips over on its side and the balloon itself starts to deflate.  

Nils says it's a long walk to Seven Islands or Franz Joseph's Land.  It is 320 km to Seven Islands and 370 km to Franz Joseph's Island.  The men decide to go east to Franz Joseph's Land.  Andrée likes this destination because the area heading to the destination has not been explored before. Without any dogs, the men have to pull their equipment on sledges.  The going is especially bad when the men have to push the sledges up and over small, but tough ice ridges.  The men kill a polar bear and chop it up for future meals.

Nils writes a letter to Anna commenting that he has such beautiful memories of the times he had with her.  Maybe like Nansen, they will be spending the winter here. 

Nils says they went through 14 gulleys this day.  Andrée continues to take scientific measurements.  He finds pebbles and leaves in the ice.  The ice breaks and Nils falls into the water.  He has to be saved by his two comrades.  It's the 25th of July and it is Anna's birthday.  The men have a toast to Anna with some liquor they brought with them. 

Nils figures that the ice is drifting west faster than they are walking east.  The men think it might be easier to turn around and drift and walk to Seven Islands.  They believe the trip should be 6 or 7 weeks long.  The guys get rid of more of their gear to make their loads lighter.  At night Andrée dreams of Carol.  He tells her he has never been in love and if he ever starts to feel something, he quickly uproots it.  He says he must have his freedom.  Carol tells him that she loves him. 

Nils is caught under his sledge.  Andrée frees him.  Knut gets the runs and has to defecate immediately.  The guys say that there are not supposed to be any bacteria at the pole, but now they wonder if that is really true.  All three men develop the same symptoms.  On Nil's birthday his two companions let him rest while they work.  The give him a birthday letter Andrée had in possession, written by Anna to Nils at the time just before the trip departure.  They also present him with some candy. 

Andrée tries his hand at ice fishing without much luck.  Nils day dreams of Anna.  On one occasion they try to get a sea lion, but find their gun frozen.  They straighten out the problem and bag a seal lion. 

Knut is in great pain and he holds his abdomen.  He dreams of the can-can dancers.  Andrée gives Knut some morphine for the pain.  The men continue to drift toward the Seven Islands. 

Knut starts openly criticizing Andrée's leadership.  He tells Andrée that the man only had nine flights in a balloon before coming on this expedition.  Knut had thought that Andrée was an expert in the field and now he is deeply disenchanted because of the limited number of flights Andrée took before this.  Frankel tells Andrée that they should go to the shore.  Andrée responds that they are not going to shore because the supposed land is a glacier with no life on it. 

Andrée thinks of Carol.  He tells her:  "You've aroused in me something I've never felt before.  The need for a wife."

Knut brings up the question of staying put or going ashore.  Nils tells his fellows that he is not afraid of dying, but he sure hopes his body will be found someday.  He then votes to try to get to the shore.  So they go.  Andrée confirms that it is a big glacier ahead of them.  They go back to camp.  Nils finds a mirror with the photography equipment and can hardly believe how bad he looks.  The other two men borrow the mirror and are just as shocked at what they see, as was Nils.

Andrée tells Knut that it is his mother's birthday today.  He tells him that he wants to name the place in her honor, Mina Andrée's place.  At camp Nils falls into some water and dies.  The other two try to wake him up, but he's already gone.  They bury him under a pile of rocks. 

Knut is so depressed that he starts consuming all the morphine available.  Andrée stops him.  Knut asks him:  "You want me to live?"  Yes, says Andrée.  Knut says that  Nils was so young and so in love with his fiancée.  A little later he reads from Andrée's journal.  One particular entry of July 12 really disturbs Knut.  It says that the three of them have been struck by an overwhelming feeling of great pride.  He reads on and then accuses Andrée:  "You knew the whole time we would fail."  Andrée leaves the tent, while Knut reads aloud:  "We feel we are ready to accept death now that we have done what we have done."  Andrée shouts:  "I had no choice!  I had no choice!"  Frankel comes out, puts his arm around Andrée and says:  "Forgive me.  You had no choice. You had to go ahead.  We had to go ahead."  Knut Frankel cries. 

Early one morning Andrée wakes up and looks outside.  He goes outside and sees a polar bear.  He yells to Knut to get up, there's a bear out here.  There is no response from the tent.  Andrée takes a closer look at the bear and realizes all of a sudden that the bear is in the process of killing Knut.  Andrée rushes back into the tent, grabs his rife and shoots the bear three times.  The bear drops.  But it's already too late for Knut.  He tells Andrée:  "Leave me alone now.  Forgive me.  Forgive me."  Knut dies.

Andrée places Knut's fancy scarf around his neck and his white gloves on his chest.  In front of the same old glacier, Andrée stands there just looking around.  Suddenly, he hears violin music. 

33 years later the final camp of the three men was found.  With their remains were the journals and undeveloped film from the expedition.  These expedition photos were used in the film.   

 

Good movie.  And what a tragedy for the two men who went along with Engineer Andrée.  The film makes the claim that he knew early on they were doomed to failure and death.  But he desperately wanted to make a name for himself, even if it was for a failed expedition.  He just did not want to be unknown to posterity.  The point is also made that Andrée was not really an educated and or experienced polar explorer.  He had just nine flights and he used the ninth balloon trip to plan the polar expedition.  He tried out new inventions on the trip without ever testing them.  In fact, Andrée was a disaster waiting to happen.  The two other crew members had too much faith and trust in Andrée.  I read the book a long, long time ago and those mental images of the cruel deaths of those men in the flying balloons has always stayed with me.  The sickness the men developed was not from bacteria, but from trichinosis carried by the animals they ate, sometimes raw, for food.  I was very glad to get to see the film to relive some of that amazement I remembered from the book. 

Patrick Louis Cooney,  Ph. D. 

 

 

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