Q Planes


A secret British aviation project is being disrupted by a foreign power, until an effete but supremely confident military-intelligence agent, Charles Hammond (Ralph Richardson), is assigned the case. What follows is a tense espionage thriller that refuses to take itself seriously. Yet strangely, this odd mixture of screwball comedy and political-thriller works and everyone involved with this brisk comedy/thriller seems to be enjoying themselves immensely.

Q Planes (1939), released in the United States by Columbia Pictures as Clouds Over Europe, is a British spy film directed by Tim Whelan and Arthur B. Woods starring Ralph Richardson, Laurence Olivier and Valerie Hobson. The film was produced by Irving Asher with Alexander Korda as executive producer.


Before the Second World War, advanced British aircraft prototypes carrying experimental and highly secret equipment being developed under government contract are regularly vanishing with their crews on their test flights. No one can deduce the problem, not even spymaster Major Hammond (Ralph Richardson) or his sister Kay (Valerie Hobson), a newspaper reporter who is working undercover in the works canteen used by the crews at the Barrett & Ward Aircraft Company.
At first Major Hammond is seen as an outsider at the aircraft factory, even by Mr. Barrett, the owner (George Merritt (actor)), but he soon finds a friend in a star pilot, Tony McVane (Laurence Olivier) who helps him try to unravel the case. Hammond becomes convinced that the company secretary at the factory, Jenkins (George Curzon (actor)), is a foreign agent and "mole", but Jenkins is killed by unseen gunmen before he can give up the names of his contacts.
The mystery remains unsolved when McVane returns to the aircraft factory, determined to make the next test flight. His aircraft, like the others, is brought down by a powerful ray beamed from the S.S. Viking, a mysterious salvage ship manned by a foreign crew. Along with his aircraft, McVane and his flight crew are taken hostage on the ship, where he discovers many other missing airmen have suffered the same fate. Gathering up weapons, McVane leads the British survivors in an attempt to take control of the ship. Major Hammond learns the truth and directs a Royal Navy ship () to come to their rescue.
In a short coda, Kay and McVane get together and Hammond learns, to his chagrin, that his longtime lady friend has married.


  • Laurence Olivier as Tony McVane
  • Ralph Richardson as Major Hammond
  • Valerie Hobson as Kay Hammond
  • George Curzon (actor) as Jenkins
  • George Merritt (actor) as Mr. Barrett, the company president
  • John Laurie as Newspaper editor
File:Airspeed AS.6 Envoy G-AHAC Private Charter RWY 1948 edited-2.jpg


Period airports and aircraft including the Airspeed Envoy and de Havilland Tiger Moth are featured in the aerial scenes. The Brooklands racetrack, which also was an important aeronautical centre, was used as a backdrop for the aerial sequences on the ground.
Screenwriter Jack Whittingham later collaborated with Ian Fleming and Kevin McClory for a James Bond film screenplay about a hijacked aircraft that was used for the novel Thunderball (novel) and the Thunderball (film).

Home release

The film was released on video by Carlton Home Entertainment in 1991, and on DVD in April 2007.




  • Aldgate, Anthony and Jeffrey Richards. Britain Can Take it: British Cinema in the Second World War. Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 2nd Edition, 1994. ISBN 0-7486-0508-8.
  • Barr, Charles, ed. All Our Yesterdays: 90 Years of British Cinema. London: British Film Institute, 1986. ISBN 0-85170-179-5.
  • Chapman, James. Saints and Avengers: British Adventure Series of the 1960s (Popular TV Genres). London: I. B. Tauris, 2002. ISBN 978-1-86064-754-3.
  • Coleman, Terry. Olivier: The Authorised Biography. London: Henry Holt and Co., 2006, First edition 2005. ISBN 0-7475-7798-6.
  • Anthony Holden. Olivier. London: Weidenfeld, 2008. ISBN 1-904435-89-0.
  • Murphy, Robert. British Cinema and the Second World War. London: Continuum, 2000. ISBN 0-8264-5139-X.
  • Donald Spoto. Laurence Olivier: A Biography. New York: HarperCollins, 1992. ISBN 0-06-018315-2.

Category:1939 films
Category:English-language films
Category:British films
Category:British spy films
Category:British aviation films
Category:Black-and-white films
Category:Columbia Pictures films
Category:Films directed by Arthur B. Woods
Category:Films directed by Tim Whelan
Irving Asher

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