Abstract The studies reported here used fluorescence microscopy and Brewster angle microscopy to test the classical model of how pulmonary surfactant forms films that are metastable at high surface pressures in the lungs. The model predicts that the functional film is liquid-condensed (LC) and greatly enriched in dipalmitoyl phosphatidylcholine (DPPC). Both microscopic methods show that, in monolayers containing the complete set of phospholipids from calf surfactant, an expanded phase persists in coexistence with condensed domains at surface pressures approaching 70 mN/m. Constituents collapsed from the interface above 45 mN/m, but the relative area of the two phases changed little, and the LC phase never occupied more than 30% of the interface. Calculations based on these findings and on isotherms obtained on the continuous interface of a captive bubble estimated that collapse of other constituents increased the mol fraction of DPPC to no higher than 0.37. We conclude that monolayers containing the complete set of phospholipids achieve high surface pressures without forming a homogeneous LC film and with a mixed composition that falls far short of the nearly pure DPPC predicted previously. These findings contradict the classical model.