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Don’t be fooled by the name (explained later). This is a riveting video, and it has little to do with mechanics. Once you start watching, you’ll find yourself glued to the chair for an hour and 28 minutes. It’s nonstop original movie footage and historical background of what most of us thought we had seen enough of.

Are There Any Mechanics Here? is not only the story of Charles A. Lindbergh and his first solo flight across the Atlantic Ocean–it is also about those others who were ready, and many who actually started off, before him. It is the story of those who responded to the challenge of flight across the Atlantic at a time when airplanes were not substantial enough to be reliable carriers of people across the sea.

New York businessman Raymond Orteig started it all by offering, soon after the end of World War I, a $25,000 prize to the first person to cross the Atlantic by air. The offer languished for several years until the airplanes began to have enough range to attempt it. In the mid-1920s, several contenders entered the race. One latecomer, a mail-plane pilot named Lindbergh, would capture the imagination of all by flying alone in his single-engine airplane when others interested in transatlantic flight only trusted planes with at least three engines.

We all know the ending, but to watch the contemporary news film footage and hear the narration with contemporary music in the background makes it all seem even more remarkable. Are There Any Mechanics Here? is spellbinding; I watched it all the way through and could not look away for fear of missing a sequence I had never seen before.

The blending of the contemporary music is appropriate and the story flows smoothly. More than just a tightly focused story about Lindbergh, the video covers the environment of the times, what was going on, why the world was ready for a heroic feat, who the contenders were for this almost reachable goal–and how each approached or failed at it.

The promotional material says the video includes never-before-shown sequences; I will not dispute that, because with this much footage, at least some of it must not have been previously seen by the general public. And how can you not like a pilot who talks about his airplane and himself as “we”?

Where does that title come from? After he landed at le Bourget and the crowd was pressing against the airplane, ripping off souvenirs, Lindbergh desperately sought help. Opening the small window, he said the first words he had uttered to another human being in the past 33 hours–“Are there any mechanics here?” Apparently, there was no relief and he was swept away by history–safely, though. Some of the spectators helped him to avoid the crush of the crowd and escape what could have been a fatal adulation. Watch it and see.Arthur H. Sanfelici

by Cameron Richardson, Charles A. Lindbergh House, Littlefalls, Minn., 1995, $34.95.