The Sons of Katie Elder

The Sons of Katie Elder
"First, we reunite, then find Ma and Pa's killer...then read some reviews."

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Netflix review #11: The Blue Max

While hundreds of movies have been made about WWII, the war preceeding has been covered very little by comparison. I just finished one WWI movie that I really wanted to like but never really got into it, 1966's The Blue Max starring George Peppard.

Looking for a safe spot in the middle of no-man's land, German infantryman Bruno Stachel dives into a muddy crater full of dead soldiers. High above in the skies, he sees two planes in a dogfight and smiles. Fast forward two years where Stachel has graduated from flight school and is arriving at his new squadron. Even new to the group, Stachel makes no excuses, he's there for one thing and one thing only; the Blue Max, a medal awarded to pilots with 20 kills. He doesn't care who else is killed around him, he will get the medal.

Obsessed with the pursuit, Stachel alienates the members of his squadron and its commander. On the other hand, the German Officer corps sees a hero in the making, a lower class pilot fearlessly flying against British fighters. That's not all the people who are impressed with Stachel as one German general's wife takes a keen interest in the young, cocky pilot.

By far the best thing about the movie was the aerial sequences of which there are many. No CGI here, all those planes and pilots are real. Even the scenes with the stars flying don't look too fake even if it's apparent that Peppard and Jeremy Kemp aren't actually flying. As well, these aren't modern day jet fighters or even the WWII fighters that at least looked somewhat sturdy. These planes were a little more than a decade removed from the Wright brothers taking flight at Kitty Hawk. It's too bad then that the rest of the movie drags. At 156 minutes, most scenes that don't involve the dogfights are pretty slow-moving.

One other flaw is in the characters. Peppard gives an excellent performance as Stachel, the arrogant, ruthless pilot, but he's extremely unlikable. I'm not saying all characters have to be saints, but it'd be nice to have one redeeming quality in a main character. I never was on his side and by the end hoped he would get his due. James Mason plays a German general loyal to the cause who sees a hero in the young pilot. Ursula Andress is good as Kaeti, Mason's wife who takes an interest in Stachel. Before nudity became common in movies in the 70s, Andress is always half-naked, covered up by a towel or a chair as she walks across a room. Jeremy Kemp and Karl Michael Vogerty play Willi Klugerman and Otto Heidemann, a rival pilot and the squadron commander who see Stachel as he really is.

The DVD offers the movie in a widescreen presentation that looks very clear compared to some of the scenes I've seen when the movie's aired on AMC. Special features are just a trailer, and then the same trailer in Spanish and Portuguese, along with five trailers for other Fox War classics. A movie I really wanted to like but never really got into it. Worth watching for the aerial dogfight sequences.

The Blue Max (1966): **/****

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