Q Planes (1939) – Historical Influences

Podcast Episode

Q Planes (1939) – Historical Influences

Join Dan and Tom as they pivot their analysis on the 1939 spy movie, Q PLANES. This movie was released just before the start of World War II and had some interesting historical ties. Take a listen.

Join Dan and Tom as they Crack of Code of the history that surrounded & impacted directly the making of the 1939 movie, Q Planes (Clouds Over Europe).

Our first podcast on Q Planes called, Q Planes (Clouds Over Europe) is an analysis of the movie, scene by scene.  In this new podcast, a different approach is taken, looking at historical events (the oncoming of World War Two, etc.) that directly affected the making of the film, looking at some very interesting connections!

The real world does find its way into spy movies!

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Some of the items we discuss are:

  • How the British Secret Service was involved with this movie
  • How the movie was made to try to influence the United States from its neutral stance on Germany
  • How a phrase by Lord Horatio Nelson made its way into the movie
  • How the newspaper headlines in the movie are reflective of real 1938 headlines raising alarm of the British people
  • How the characters were created to portray different classes of people
  • How a scene with an American showgirl may have been made to make some not-so-flattering impressions about Americans
  • How this movie influenced the TV show “The Avengers”
  • The many ways this movie influenced the James Bond series of movies
  • Some similarities to The 39 Steps
  • and more …

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Q Planes (1939) – Clouds Over Europe (US)

Q Planes movie posterQ Planes
is a 1939 spy movie.  Clouds Over Europe was its name in the United States.

It is about a British Agent and his mission to discover who is trying to steal top-secret experimental equipment.  The focus of this search is around the attempted theft of a new supercharger which should increase the flight speed of aircraft.

Above all, this light-hearted, spy comedy delivers a message to the world about threats. Released about 6 months before World War II, it was, in part, a propaganda movie.

Earlier movies influenced Q Planes. This movie influenced future spy movies such as James Bond and Mission: Impossible.

Our curated videos below show these influencers via video clips and descriptions. Also, check out our podcasts which discuss this movie in more detail.


  • It is available on Amazon Prime (Prime Link). (There may be a cost)
  • In addition, it is on YouTube: (YouTube Link)

Q Planes (1939) – aka Clouds Over Europe

Podcast Episode

Q Planes (1939) – aka Clouds Over Europe

Join Dan and Tom as they dig deep into the key scenes of the 1939 movie, Q PLANES, which is also known as CLOUDS OVER EUROPE in the US. They'll look into where this movie has connections to other spy movies and real-world events to come!

Q Planes is a spy comedy, treating a top-secret invention the British were testing just prior to World War II and what they had to do to keep the invention and information about it out of enemy hands.   In the US, it is also known as Clouds Over Europe. It is more spy than comedy, but it has a comedic element.   Starring Ralph Richardson, Lawrence Olivier, and Valerie Hobson.

Join Dan and Tom as they dig deep into the key scenes in this film and connections to other spy movies to come!

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Q Planes is one of those cult-spy movies that has a small but avid following. True spy movie fans should know this movie.

In this podcast, we’ll examine:

  • The reason for the two different names: Q Planes and Clouds Over Europe
  • The basic premise of the film
  • The impact Ralph Richardson’s portrayal of Colonel Hammond had on the tv show “The Avengers”
  • Ties into the world of James Bond in print and on the big screen: Including You Only Live Twice, For Your Eyes Only and The Spy Who Loved Me
  • Ties into the Mission: Impossible franchise; both on tv and movies.
  • The “Nelson Touch”
  • And many more items

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Did the title Q Planes come from Q-Ships?

The movie Q Planes got it’s title post-production.   It is assumed the name was derived from the Q-Ships that were popular in World War I.

These were freighters or steamer designed to look like non-military ships that would be easy targets for German U-boats. The idea was to get the U-boat to surface, and then the Q-ship would reveal its guns and blast away. In the movie Q Planes, no one ever does this with one of the planes. Nor is the term Q Planes ever used in the film!  The title appears to have been thought of more for marketing to UK audiences than for how it relates to the plot.

The British public loved Q-ships in World War I, but they were not terribly effective according to some historians, and even less effective in World War Two. The designation “Q” came from the ships being outfitted in Queensland, Ireland, and it helped promote the idea of “Q” being a designation for taking something ordinary and outfitting it to be a deadly weapon.

This clip lets you see a real Q-Ship.  It’s old footage showing the troops and a Q-ship in action.


Eastern Importations and Amnesia

Here we meet the quirky Major Hammond as he is arrested.  We don’t get his name in this scene, but we learn it soon afterward.  Additionally, we believe two items in this scene (Eastern Importations Company and Major Hammond’s amnesia) have influenced future spy books and movies. We examine these two items below:

  • Eastern Importations Company – This is the sign on the door of the place where the police first meet Major Hammond.  This isn’t Hammond’s company and we don’t learn specifically why he was there.  However, we do learn this was a place that he was investigating, but don’t get the specifics.  We don’t see why this place had any significance to him other than this is where he got hit in the head.
    • Similarly, Ian Fleming used Universal Export for the first time in his 2nd book, “Live and Let Die” as a cover company for the 00’s.  However,  we must note that “Export” was singular, not plural.  In the books and especially in the movies, “Exports” changes from singular to plural.  The movie Dr. No uses the plural form of “Exports”.  However,  On Her  Majesty’s Secret Service uses the singular “Export”.
    • So, did Ian Fleming get his idea of using “Universal Exports” from Q Planes “Eastern Importations”?
  • Amnesia – Major Charles Hammond is acting quirky here. He stays a bit quirky throughout the movie but does seem confused or out of it in this scene.
    • Did a blow to the head give Major Hammond amnesia?
    • Is this a precursor to Jason Bourne and his amnesia?


Q Planes and The Nelson Touch

When we at Spy Movie Navigator watch spy movies, we try to find where a movie may influence or was influenced by a real-world event or another spy movie. Happily, two things from this 11-second clip give us one of each type of influence. Specifically, Q Planes delivers with a phrase right at the end of this clip (“The Nelson Touch”) that has real-world historical significance.  Additionally, we get one phrase that may have influenced the Mission: Impossible series of movies and TV.

  • “You’re acting against instructions” – Major Hammond’s boss tells him “Unofficially, of course, you understand. I’ll give you every facility, but if he finds you out, you’re acting against instructions.”
    • This instantly brings a 20th and 21st Century spy movie fan to the Mission: Impossible TV and movie series.  “As always, should you or any of your IM Force be caught or killed, the Secretary will disavow any knowledge of your actions.”
    • Does this line get it’s birth from the movie Q Planes?  Remember, this movie came out in 1939.  The “Mission: Impossible” TV show didn’t happen for another 27 years.
  • Q Planes and “The Nelson Touch” –  Major Hammond says “The Nelson Touch” in response to the above directive.  This phrase brings a real-world reference into the movie.  It refers to Lord Horatio Nelson and what he initially described as one of his battle strategies.  It’s great to see a historical reference in this type of movie.  Q Planes use of the phrase The Nelson Touch brings us to two different eras of history and two different wars.  We discuss this in more detail in our Q Planes podcast.

So, check out this clip and see if you agree with us.


Got a cigarette? What Hammond asks in Q Planes

In this short scene, we see a trope that has been used in many spy movies.  In fact, we see it in spy movies from Hitchcock thrillers through Ethan Hunt in Mission: Impossible and naturally, many James Bond movies.  Of course, we’re talking about the “Got a cigarette” Spy to Spy password conversation to validate to the other person you are who they think you are. In this case, Hammond asks man: “Got a cigarette?” The man gives him the cigarette.  However,  in reality, it’s a Comm or a note wrapped around the cigarette.

The note says “The supercharger is the enemy’s objective. They may know of proposed flight from secret agent here.”

This is a very important scene for the movie.  The note tells Hammond that he was right about the supercharger. Therefore, Hammond knows he has to remove it before the next test flight.  Thank goodness that note was written on that cigarette.  What would he have done if it wasn’t?

We think Leslie Bradley was the actor playing the man Hammond got the note from.  He was also the assistant in the scene in Hammond’s office.  His role was uncredited and it was such a brief shot of his face. Therefore, although we’re not certain it was him, we believe it was.  The uniform he had on said “Barrett & Ward” which is the airplane company who’s airplanes went missing.   So, even though he was passing notes, he looked like he worked for the airplane company. Just as any good spy would.


Did this inspire the James Bond gun barrel scene?

We all know the iconic gun barrel scene in the James Bond series of movies. First, you see the gun barrel.  Then, James Bond turns and shoots toward the camera, and the red blood drips down. This was actually filmed through a gun barrel. However, it does have a similar look to this lens aperture in Q Planes. Therefore, we have to ask: Was this scene in Q Planes the genesis of the gun barrel scene we see in almost every James Bond movie?

This quick scene is interesting. A villain aims some sort of ray toward a plane. Somehow, the ray appears to cause an electrical problem on the plane bad enough to take the plane down. Look closely, as they fire, the apparatus they use makes it look like a camera lens aperture opening. Yet, it looks somewhat familiar to James Bond fans.

We hear it wasn’t the inspiration but it is close enough of an image to make us wonder.

The plane is nabbed to get the supercharger

This scene is a key plot point in Q Planes.  First, this plane is incapacitated in flight. It is targets by a ray beam and loses power.   After that, it makes a perfect water landing. Finally,  the plane is nabbed to get the supercharger. Watch closely and you’ll see the plane being hoisted into the ship, the SS Viking. The crew is captured as it gets out of the plane.  Remember, at this point in the movie, the villains believe the supercharger was on board.  Fortunately, due to the message in the cigarette, Major Hammond has the supercharger removed from the plane before its departure.

Similarly,  this plot is repeated in differing forms in some James Bond movies. For instance, in You Only Live Twice, a space capsule is captured in space. In The Spy Who Loved Me, it’s a submarine that gets captured. In both of these cases, the goal is to get what’s inside whatever was captured.  Also, in Thunderball and Never Say Never Again, a plane or missile is diverted, capturing them for the nuclear payload they carry.   Whereas the plane was nabbed to get the supercharger in Q Planes, these James Bond movies, alter the purpose of nabbing the item.  As you might expect, we discuss these similar plot points in our podcast called “Q Planes (1939) -aka Clouds Over Europe“.


Jenkins is almost run down

The villains almost run Jenkins down

In this scene from Q Planes, the jig appears to be up for Jenkins.  Here, Jenkins is almost run down by a car as the villains try to kill him.  However, Major Hammond just happens to be at the scene and saves him.  Hammond’s ubiquitous umbrella is used to save the day for Jenkins.  What a creative use of the umbrella here.

However, Jenkins’ has only been given a short respite from death as we see later in the movie.

As we know, Jenkins is “working” for Barrett and Ward.  However, in reality, he is working for the Northern Salvage Company.  This German company appears to be a front for the German government.  Predictably, things don’t go well for him at Northern Salvage and his days are numbered.

A Parallel in Atomic Blonde 

There are numerous examples of people being run down by vehicles in spy movies.   One excellent example comes from the 2017 movie, Atomic Blonde.   In the opening scene of this movie, a man is trying to escape his pursuers.  He’s running and climbing over fences. Unfortunately for him, there was no Major Hammond there to pull him away before the front of the car did its death-invoking deed.  However, the first impact doesn’t kill him.  Therefore, we get to see him run over a second time.

One difference in Q Planes is that Jenkins isn’t running.  Instead, he is darting around, looking paranoid before the car tries to run him down.

Hammond is confused by women

This fun scene lets us see how Major Hammond is confused by women.  It reminds us of this conversation from the 1964 movie “My Fair Lady”.   Henry Higgins complains about women to Colonel Pickering.  Whereas Major Hammond says nice things about women to McVane but at the same time complains about them,   Henry Higgins only complains about them before breaking in the the song “Why Can’t a Women be More Like a Man”.   However, something seems to be familiar between these two scenes.



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