Manfred von Richthofen may not ring a bell with a lot of people, but his nickname certainly will....or it should at least. That name you ask? That would be the Red Baron, a German fighter pilot from WWI who became the most famous fighter pilot of all-time. His life has been made into several films and books, but this one....well, it ain't especially good. Please read on anyways! It's 1971's Von Richthofen and Brown, an interesting title if there ever was.
As World War I rages across Europe, a young German officer, Manfred von Richthofen (John Phillip Law) transfers from the cavalry to an air squadron of fighter pilots. He picks up flying quickly and it's only a matter of time before he becomes an ace himself. His fame spreads across both sides, both German and British pilots fearing and respecting him. As his fame and notoriety rises, Richthofen's ego grows, but it's more than that as he starts to see the tide of war turn toward the Allies. Across the lines at British airfields, a new Canadian pilot has arrived, Roy Brown (Don Stroud), with some new thoughts on how the air war should be handled. Two very different pilots with very different outlooks, both Richthofen and Brown seem destined to meet on a collision course as the war wears on.
From movies like Top Gun, Red Tails, and Behind Enemy Lines to older movies like Wings, The Dawn Patrol and Twelve O'Clock High and countless movies in between, audiences have long had a fascination with aerial combat. An untapped source of said movies is World War I, the first war to feature aerial combat of any sort. We've got entries like Flyboys, a throwback type film, entertaining if highly cliched, like The Blue Max, a bit long in the tooth with lots of potential that I should rewatch soon. Where does this 1971 entry fall? Well, it ain't good for starters. As a counter though, it doesn't have a ton of potential to begin with. We're talking a real winner here, huh? I had modest expectations heading into this flick -- there just isn't much in the way of World War I movies out there -- but I managed to come away disappointed.
It's never a good start when your two title characters have the on-screen personality of brooding, annoying and boring pieces of cardboard. I always thought John Phillip Law was a likable enough on-screen presence if not exactly a huge acting presence. The script does him no favors, but Law is downright boring as one of the most famous war heroes ever. Early on, he's an idealistic, capable soldier who revels in each of his kills. With each passing month, Richthofen becomes more and more disillusioned with the war and its cost. And then there's Stroud as Roy Brown, an actor who typically played a villain, a bad guy, a nut bag, or any and all. Wow, this performance is just bad. Stroud's Brown hates war and all its horrors. Interesting premise, huh? I don't know if he had one line that wasn't some preaching, whiny, condescending about the profoundly awful qualities of war. A dud for both potentially very interesting characters.
Made on the relative cheap from director Roger Corman, 'Richthofen' certainly tries to be a good movie. There's an abundance of aerial sequences, WWI era planes in one dogfight after another. Yeah, there's too actually too many of such sequences, and they all seem to have been filmed over one particular field. The editing just goes on and on with no real flow to the dogfights. Making it worse, the narration from Richthofen, Brown and several other pilots/officers/commanders rambling on and on about their problems, the pressure, the knowledge that death awaits them at any minute. Even composer Hugo Friedhofer's score can't save this dreck.
Lookie here, there ain't too much to say here. I didn't like this movie, and it has little to nothing to recommend. It's dull and does little in 99 minutes. There aren't any other characters/performances worth mentioning, and the only two I did mention weren't very good. My personal favorite in the most cringe-worthy department was Stroud's Brown examining a wounded, possibly dead pilot. He yells at everyone to get back, examines the body himself, and then says in almost sing-songy fashion "Well, he's dead!" and walks away. You couldn't make it up if you tried. It plays fast and loose with the historical facts, and it's just a bad, dull movie.
Von Richthofen and Brown (1971): */****