(First Of The Few)

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Details At A Glance

Category Drama Main Menu Audio
Scene Selection Animation
Filmography - Cast
Biography - Cast
Gallery - Photo
Trailer (3)
Notes - Credits
Year Released 1942
Running Time 88:46 minutes
RSDL/Flipper No/No
Cast & Crew
Start Up Menu
Region 1,2,3,4,5,6 Director Leslie Howard
Samuel Goldwyn 
Starring Leslie Howard
David Niven
Rosamund John
Roland Culver
Anne Firth
David Horne
Case Blue Alpha Style
RPI $19.95 Music William Walton

Pan & Scan/Full Frame Full Frame English (Dolby Digital 2.0 , 224 Kb/s)
Widescreen Aspect Ratio None
16x9 Enhancement No
Original Aspect Ratio 1.37:1
Macrovision ? Smoking Yes
Subtitles None Annoying Product Placement No
Action In or After Credits No

Plot Synopsis

    Quote: "I have over 1,500 films that I am getting ready for release. It takes time to put together the very best elements for each release. If the quality is not up to our standard, then we will not release it". Robert Caisley, owner of Avenue One DVD, quoted in DVD Now, Volume 07, page 33.

    Quote: "Avenue One has a policy of giving consumers real value for money. We source the best possible masters and add extras. This provides a total experience for our consumers." Robert Caisley, owner of Avenue One DVD, quoted in DVD Now, Volume 07, page 32.

    The fact that I had only just gone out and indulged in the latest issue of DVD Now really was rather inopportune as far as this review is concerned, for these quotes came very readily to mind when I sat down to watch the film. Why? Well, quite simply, this is possibly the absolute worst DVD that I have yet had the misfortune to review. In fact this is so bad that I reckon even a third generation VHS tape of a television broadcast would have to look significantly better than this effort. By general consensus, Dune is the worst Region 4 DVD ever issued. This surely cannot be far behind. If this is good enough to better the Avenue One DVD standard for release, then frankly Avenue One DVD may as well give up the task immediately. The only standard this could beat is if it were compared to a twenty year old VHS tape that had been stored in the dust bag of a vacuum cleaner run continuously for thirty days cleaning filings from an asbestos mine.

    Which is a really great shame for Spitfire (a.k.a. The First Of The Few) is a decent enough semi-propaganda film made during the middle stages of World War II, right after the Supermarine Spitfire and its contemporary the Hawker Hurricane had defied overwhelming odds and turned the tide of the war in the Battle of Britain. This is broadly the story of the creator of the Spitfire, Reginald Mitchell (Leslie Howard) from his initial revolutionary designs for a new plane that would eventually dominate the Schneider Trophy (a big racing competition in the post World War I period for seaplanes). The Supermarine S-series of seaplanes were the fastest and most revolutionary seaplanes seen at that time, and they pioneered some of the revolutionary ideas that Mitchell was to eventually incorporate into the immortal Spitfire. The film covers the trials and tribulations of Mitchell's time at Supermarine as his designs were overlooked for development for years as he toiled in the workshop, his return to the forefront of design at Supermarine, the initial troubles of his early design as his friend Geoffrey Crisp (David Niven) is injured in a crash of the plane, through the eventual triumph at the Schneider Trophy as Britain won the trophy in perpetuity for three wins in a row, to his eventual death prior to seeing what a legend his little design would become.

    Directed and produced by its star Leslie Howard, the whole film would hardly be considered a classic. The story is okay, the performances are decent enough and the direction works. But there really is nothing here that creates any distinction about the film. It is a typical example I guess of films made during the war on a restricted budget and to some extent the need to boost the morale of the British who were at that time suffering daily bombings across much of the eastern and southern parts of the country.

    I would not want to hazard a guess as to how many times I have seen the film on television, but it would certainly number in the dozens as it seemed to be one of those films that were the staple of the Saturday afternoon matinees. Despite all those times though, I really do not recall seeing the film in anywhere this sort of disgusting condition and this is a serious impediment to any sort of recommendation to buy this DVD. Simply, don't.

    Quote: "By Easter, Avenue One will have DVDs on the Australian market for $9.99, including GST." Robert Caisley, owner of Avenue One DVD, quoted in DVD Now, Volume 07, page 33. Take my word for it - even at $9.99, this would be an overpriced DVD.

Transfer Quality


    Bearing in mind that this went into the DVD player right after reviewing two Laurel and Hardy DVDs, containing films even older than this effort, this is a pretty shocking transfer. Even making every possible allowance for the age of the film, and then some, this is in no way an acceptable transfer. Thus far Force Video and Laserlight (through MRA Entertainment) have had a pretty unbeatable record as far as poor transfers are concerned, of which I have seen quite a few and stuck quite a few in the Hall Of Shame. Believe me when I say that nothing I have seen on Force Video approaches this effort (okay maybe Till The Clouds Roll By is close), and most of their 1920s film look better than this. Are you getting the picture here (which I might add is the only picture you might actually be able to see)? This is a disgustingly bad transfer - and yes it will be going into the Hall Of Shame.

    Naturally for a film of its age, the transfer is presented in a Full Frame format, which is equally naturally not 16x9 enhanced.

    The cover slick for the DVD proudly proclaims that this was "Digitally re-mastered from original print". Yeah, right. Basically take the worst imaginable Very Hazy System tape and you have a rough idea of the quality here. There is virtually no sharpness in the transfer at all, with just about everything having a diffuse feeling to it. Detail is poor since there is virtually no differentiation between foreground and background detail for much of the film. Indeed, there are a couple of scenes during the film where images of writing on paper are displayed so that the viewer can read them - except you can barely see the writing at all. It gives the distinct impression at times of being a one dimensional water colour painting, without the colours. The image itself is quite murky at times and the only plus is that there does not seem to be any especially serious grain, just a consistent presence throughout the transfer. Shadow detail at times is as good as non-existent. There seemed to be a consistent degree of noise in the transfer, but it was hardly a distraction in an image that you could hardly call watchable. The most amusing aspect of the transfer was the alternate lightening and darkening of the image. Segments of the transfer are certainly far too overbright and wash out what little detail there is to be seen.

    The black and white colours are pretty ordinary and lack any real definition at all. Certainly there is no depth to the tones and the whole thing ends up being pretty much just a mass of dull greys throughout. There is certainly no vibrancy to the transfer and the grey scales are anything but natural looking.

    There did not appear to be any significant MPEG artefacts in the transfer, although there is present during much of the film an unusual wavy effect that occasionally gets most off-putting. It is almost like the original print used had been slightly stretched vertically. You really would not know whether film-to-video artefacts were an issue here as the transfer simply lacks enough definition to be able to make any determination. However, there certainly seems to be a number of odd jumps in the transfer, indicative of either lousy edits or missing frames. But oh the film artefacts! This is such a rotten print that at times it gives the impression of watching the film through the bars of a prison cell. There are copious black lines throughout the transfer varying from being quite thin to being quite thick, to which you can add abundant white blotches, reel change markings naturally and a whole host of assorted other markings that would rank as the very worst I have seen. Around the 68:00 minute mark you get a very impressive display of black splodges that border upon unwatchable.

Video Ratings Summary
Shadow Detail
Film-to-Video Artefacts
Film Artefacts  


    It has been a long while since I have heard a genuine Rice Bubbles® soundtrack but that is what we have got here. You know the one - snap, crackle and pop.

    There is just the one soundtrack on offer on the DVD, being an English Dolby Digital 2.0 surround encoded soundtrack. Well at least it is indicated as being surround encoded, but I seriously doubt that it is. It sounds distinctly mono through the centre speaker.

    The dialogue is only moderately clear I guess and reasonably easy to understand in the soundtrack. There did not seem to be any serious problems with audio sync in the transfer, but there are certainly some sections that appear to be out of sync.

    The musical score comes from the sadly neglected William Walton, which is a great shame as this is quite a decent score. Mind you, understand that I am making that statement based upon the CD recording of the work and not upon what I cannot really hear here.

    So is the audio transfer any better than the video transfer? No! The entire soundtrack is blessed with a significant amount of hiss throughout, that gets just a little annoying. The opening ten minutes or so are especially bad as there are numerous drop outs to contend with, as if a few notes here or there were just lopped from the soundtrack. The sound is distinctly murky at times and definition is not at all good. This is not aided by the snap, crackle, pop or distortion that afflicts the transfer. The soundscape is quite frontal and is not really very natural at all. Overall, this is a pretty poor example of the art of sound in film. At least you don't need more than the basic speakers on a $20 radio to be able to listen to this.

Audio Ratings Summary
Audio Sync
Surround Channel Use  


    Well at least there is something in the extras department, even if it does not amount to a lot of essential stuff.


    A fairly basic effort, but with some of the worst sounding audio accompaniment I have ever heard. Since the DVD starts at the menu and the first thing you get to hear is the audio enhancement, your immediate reaction may well be the same as mine: take the DVD out of the player and watch something else.

Filmography - Cast

    Pretty much a straight crib of that on the Internet Movie Database, purely for David Niven. What was wrong with one for Leslie Howard too?

Biography - Cast

    Actually probably the best thing on the whole DVD as, whilst restricted only to David Niven, it is quite a detailed little effort.

Gallery - Photo

    This comprises one photo of a poster and six stills from the film.

Trailers (3)

    The films involved are Communion (0:55), Howling III: The Marsupials (1:36) and Pterodactyl Woman From Beverley Hills (2:09). Collectively these would be the three worst looking trailers that I have ever seen. They all have Dolby Digital 2.0 sound (read basically mono) and are not 16x9 enhanced. The first and third are presented in an aspect ratio of 1.85:1, with the second being in a Full Frame format. Basically they are so bad that upon seeing them you make a mental note to avoid the films at all costs. The technical quality is shocking: uniformly diffuse images with appalling definition at times, quite grainy to very grainy, hissy sound, moiré artefacting and generally anything else that would make the things look bad.

Notes - Credits

    Basically repeating the credits for the film, just in case you could not read them, and naming the culprits responsible for this DVD.

R4 vs R1

    Whilst this is formatted for worldwide use, one would hope that something better would be available somewhere else. Even though there does not appear to be any other option available, I would still recommend you buy any version other than this one.


    Spitfire (or The First Of The Few) is a decent enough film, although no great classic, but it has been given a truly appalling transfer in every respect and frankly this should never have been released to the public. Any VHS tape would look good compared to this. Avoid at all costs. I cannot help but feel that one star overall is being excessively kind. Almost knocks Dune off the top spot in the Hall Of Shame.

Ratings (out of 5)


© Ian Morris (have a laugh, check out the bio)
7th February 2001

Review Equipment
DVD Pioneer DV-515; S-video output
Display Sony Trinitron Wega 80cm. Calibrated with the NTSC DVD version of Video Essentials.
Audio Decoder Built in
Amplification Yamaha RXV-795. Calibrated with the NTSC DVD version of Video Essentials.
Speakers Energy Speakers: centre EXLC; left and right C-2; rears EXLR; and subwoofer ES-12XL