on March 21, 2004
A really good war movie, perhaps in part because it was so relatively unexplored in film. It is the story of a German working class soldier ("common as dirt", as characterized by his General, played by James Mason) named Bruno Stachell (who is well-portrayed with icy self- assurance by George Peppard) man. Stachell leaves the trenches in World War One and becomes an ace in the German flying corps which is populated by officers and gentlemen. His obsession is a medal - hence the film's title - awarded to aces, and his colleagues, commanders and the British Air Force won't keep him from it.
Predictably, he rebels even as he never fits in with his comrades. It is illustrated well by his response to his first kill (which sadly goes unconfirmed even after he went scouring the countryside for the plane he shot down). He "responds" by getting his first confirmed kill by shooting down the next enemy plane over his own airfield. While his betters who populate the squadron never cease to remind him of his place, he continues up the ranks to best them all while ridiculing their so-called code of honor. "Chivalry?" he sneers. "To kill a man and then make a ritual out of saluting him is hypocrisy."
It has great flying battle scenes. Also, a wonderful supporting cast including the aforementioned Manson, his slutty aristocratic wife (the magnificent Ursula Andress) and a stick-up-the-butt colleague/rival fellow officer (Jeremy Kemp). Karl Vogler plays von Heiderman, the Commanding Officer who refuses to let go of his notions of warfare with honor, in the face of the barbaric commencement of the 20th century.
I disagree with the reviewer who says Peppard was out of his depth in this role. He plays the part of the anti-hero very well. I was even more impressed after reading that he did his own flying in this film.
It is very long, but worth the time.
on September 6, 2003
I've seen most war flicks and this one from 1966 is definitely one of my personal favorites (other favorites include Apocalypse Now, Where Eagles Dare, Platoon, The Eagle has Landed, etc.).
"The Blue Max" is about a World War I German Soldier, Bruno Stachel (George Peppard), who "graduates" from ignoble trench warfare to the aristocratic air officer corps. Stachel is naturally a fish out of water with his new higher class comrades-in-arms; but this doesn't seem to bother him one iota. Stachel is only interested in gunning down twenty enemy planes to get the coveted Blue Max, Germany's Medal of Honor. In fact, he is so focused on this goal that he'll do anything to achieve it, honorably or dishonorably.
The vibe of the movie is ultra-realistic. Critics of the flim have complained that Stachel is an unlikable character and therefore not a very good hero to root for. It is true that Stachel doesn't seem very friendly (how friendly would you be with high-class "gentlemen" after years of brutal trench warfare?). It's also true that he's selfishly ambitious (he totally rebels against the team spirit of his squadron). He's also an alcoholic and an adulterer. But as the German general played by James Mason states: he's brave, ruthless and driven -- exactly what Germany needs at the closing months of the war.
People who make the above criticism miss the point. Real life offers up few perfect heroes to root for. People, situations and motives are more complex than this. And this pic nobly attempts to be a realistic portrayal of air combat in World War I. In other words, the story should just simply be digested as is without looking for a hero.
The movie is universally praised for its scenic and compelling air combat scenes, but some folks inexplicably criticize the drama on the ground. Personally, I find the ground story equally as interesting as the air fighting. Besides, mindless non-stop action movies are for juveniles (of course, like any guy I have MY juvenile moods).
Other highlights include a brief appearance of the Red Baron, the ravishing Ursula Andress (Undress?) as the general's adulterous wife and an excellent musical score by (Jerry Goldsmith (who else?).
The cinematography and locations (Ireland) are excellent. The overall look of the movie is cold, dark, cloudy and wet. In other words, kind of depressing. But, of course, World War I was no happy day at the beach!
The Blue Max is truly a movie of epic scope; definitely one of THE GREAT war movies. I highly recommend it.
on February 5, 2002
This is one of those films that seems to get better with age. It is the story of a low-born warrior Bruno Stachel (George Peppard), who by force of will and talent, rises out of a common foxhole and into the cockpit of a fighter airplane in the closing days of WW1. It is his arch-nemesis, the aristocratic flying ace Willi von Klugermann,(Jeremy Kemp) who keenly observes Stachel's ruthlessness and nicknames him "Cobra". The aerial flying sequences are breathtaking and plentiful, many of the aircraft were constructed for the making of this movie, unlike computer generated duplications so common today. The slow cadence and almost hesitating sound of unreliable machine guns firing from the flimsy aircraft they were fitted to is striking testament to the sound editors art. Stachel's ambition for glory "in and out of bed" is unmatched by his well-born and condecending comrades. But in the end, his destiny is inexorably tilted by an unyielding competitiveness, a beautiful countess (Ursula Andress),her shrewd and powerful husband Count General von Klugermann,(masterfully portrayed by James Mason), and a demoralized, desperate Germany in the waning days of WW1. The production values of this film are excellent, the sets striking, and obvious attention to historical detail is evident. Jerry Goldsmith's musical score ties a compelling story line together with subtle variations of a hauntingly beautiful musical theme. It is my hope this film will be digitally remastered for DVD release.
on September 23, 2001
Rarely has the Great War ever been expressed on the wide screen as done in THE BLUE MAX. The air war is viewed from the German point of view with George Peppard in the starring role. Peppard portrays German lieutenant Stachel, the son of a working class family who rises from the mud-soaked enlisted infantry ranks to that of the privilaged pilot officer corps. Ruthless in his pursuit of Germany's highest decoration, the Pour Le Merit known as the Blue Max, Stachel violates the chivalrous confines of the air war to the point of insubordination. Stunning aerial combat sequences and beautiful Irish countryside (doubling for the front lines in France 1918) make this definitely a film worth watching. A great supporting cast, many of whom are regulars in war movies of the 1960's and 1970's, add considerable talent to this bold film. Indeed, Jeremy Kemp and George Peppard previously costarred in 1965's OPERATION CROSSBOW. Kemp would again play the role of a German officer in the 1980's television miniseries WAR AND REMEMBERANCE. Actor James Mason already perfected his recurring film roles as a German General in two previous films (in both of which he played German Field Marshal Erwin Rommel) and adds a powerful performance in THE BLUE MAX. Jerry Goldsmith's soundtrack is nothing less than spectacular. This World War One classic ranks highly with ALL QUIET ON THE WESTERN FRONT and WHAT PRICE GLORY.
Very much Room at the Top with biplanes and battlefields instead of bedsits and boardrooms, The Blue Max follows the progress of Bruno Stachel (George Peppard), a former German infantryman who sees becoming an air ace as a means of climbing out of the trenches and up the social ladder. While aristocratic general James Mason uses him to provide the demoralised working class with a hero of their own and the general's wife (Ursula Andress, modelling a line of gravity-defying towels evidently superglued to her nipples) uses him to pass the time, his desire to win the Blue Max, the highest award Germany can give, to prove that he is as good as his condescending, socially superior comrades sets him at odds with Karl Michael Vogler's squadron commander, who simply wants to fight the war with chivalry, and Jeremy Kemp's famous ace.
This is one of those films that should be great but never quite makes it. Part of the problem is the watering down of Jack D. Hunter's original novel, which saw Stachel and his buddy Hermann go on to form Hitler's Luftwaffe, a more convincing conclusion to the class warfare and erosion of aristocratic values than the (admittedly ruthless) one the film offers in its place. Similarly Jerry's Goldsmith's beautiful and justly celebrated score found itself equally watered down, with many of his most ambitious and powerful cues either left unused or heavily abridged to fit in more plays of his soaring and euphoric main title (more of that later).
Although one of the few films from the Sixties where when a plane crashes it doesn't go over a hill to do it, it suffers in comparison to silent classic Wings both from its occasional back projection and its lack of that film's real emotional power because, while the characters often fascinate, they're not anyone you're likely to root for. Peppard still displays the early promise that was never quite fulfilled as the charismatic but utterly ruthless working-class obsessive, striking a nice balance between defensive vulnerability in his early scenes and unbridled ambition in his latter ones, but he is more a character you understand than sympathise with.
John Guillermin's direction is certainly ambitious with a striking use of the camera and a particularly effective use of tracking shots, though some of the tilted angles and overhead shots can make it seem a little Ipcress File at times. Yet if never entirely successful, there is still a lot to recommend it. It retains its schoolboy appeal without insulting the intelligence, is superbly designed and holds the interest throughout, while Skeets Kelly's aerial work from the days when they still used real planes and real extras rather than cartoonish digital FX is often astounding. And when its ambitions are occasionally realised, such as the bombing of an infantry column or a mass attack, it's strikingly effective.
The film hasn't been too lucky on home video in the past: the first widescreen VHS release omitted the entire attack sequence that saw Stachel saving the Red Baron's life and earning The Blue Max while the subsequent widescreen DVD only had a trailer. The German Blu-ray didn't even have that, and sported a less than impressive transfer too. Thankfully Twilight Time's limited edition region-free Blu-ray release uses a much better recent transfer that's very impressive, and, along with the trailer and some perceptive observations from Julie Kirgo in the accompanying booklet, includes not one but two isolated score tracks for Jerry Goldsmith's remarkable score - one an extended version of the full score, the other including alternate cues and filling in the gaps with a film historians' audio commentary. Goldsmith wrote a lot more music than was used in the film, which opted to reuse his main theme in places he'd written different cues for and in others remove them entirely, and although the deleted cues aren't mixed in with the soundtrack, it's amazing to hear his bravura six minute cue for the German attack sequence that was completely removed in favor of sound effects finally against the sequence, which really transforms the scene and leaves you questioning the sanity of whoever decided to ditch it.
Very highly recommended indeed.
on March 23, 2003
Simply put, the movie changed my life.
My dad brought the VHS home one day when I was in middle school and the movie, along with the outstanding combat scenes, sparked an inferno which still rages today. This inferno is my interest in WW1 aviation. Thousands of dollars in books and 8 years later I am sitting in a dormroom getting prepared to write my senior thesis on WW1 aviation. I also hope to go on and get my PhD focusing on this area.
No other movie has had that effect on me. If you are a history buff like me then minor things like DH moths in German schemes, every enemy fighter being an SE5, and how the Fokker DVII was out before the Spring offensive (which in the movie took place on a sunny day when there was thick fog in reality) when the Fokker DVII came out later...might be a little irratating. However, the movie is outstanding. The other reviewers are right when they say it is a little long and drags on in the middle, but an outstanding film anyway. I just wish they would digitally redo the unbelievable soundtrack for the movie and put it out on CD, instead of just transfering the old recordings onto the CD.
Anyway, an outstanding movie to watch on a rainy Saturday!
George Peppard plays a character, Bruno Stachel, that is not your typical war hero. He is consumed with ambition, doesn't have any use for chivalry, lies by claiming as his own a fellow-flier's aerial combat victories, and disobeys direct orders. In short, he is more of an anti-hero than a hero. On the other hand, there are extenuating circumstances. He comes from the lower middle-class at time when most of Germany's other fighter pilots, Baron von Richtofen, for example, are sons of the landed gentry.
James Mason, one of Stachel's higher ups, is happy that, for propaganda purposes, he can point to a hero who is from the lower classes, who is as "common as dirt." Because of Stachel's propaganda value, Mason lets him get away with much more than he should. Ultimately, however, Mason's desire for favorable publicity comes back to bite Stachel.
They don't make them like this anymore. It is a two and one half hour movie, with an intermission in the middle. The aerial combat sequences are spectacular, and there was no cheating with digital effects back when this movie was made. The score by Jerry Goldsmith is really wonderful and evocative, one of the best things about this movie.
I deducted a star because the DVD is a little cheap. The "Fox War Classics" series seems to be more interested in getting product out cheaply than with high quality and many extras. I noticed some bad pixelation near the middle of the movie, around the intermission. But for what this disc is selling for, you can't really complain.
on March 3, 2014
There's not much more I can add to the excellent review by Trevor Willsmer except to say that Twilight Time has outdone itself with this underrated 1966 film from 20th Century Fox. I remember seeing it when it first came out at our local theatre but was more impressed with 20th Century Fox's other release from 1966, "The Sand Pebbles", mainly because I was a big Steve McQueen fan. However, after viewing Twilight's recent Blu-ray of "The Blue Max" I would have to rank it right up there with "The Sand Pebbles", at least in it's video presentation. Fox must have kept the original film negative in excellent condition all these years because it's been given a new life on Blu-ray. Filmed entirely in Ireland by cinematographer Douglas Slocombe and director John Guillermin, the Irish countryside is a wonder to behold especially when viewed from the air. Every detail of the film is enhanced by this Blu-ray from the pilot's and soldiers uniforms right down to the "Blue Max" medal itself. The video is so pristine that you can even see the heavy thick make-up on Jeremy Kemp's face which makes him look somewhat artificial. Colors just pop off the screen with "green" being the primary one. This is most apparent in the air combat scenes between the German and British flyers. It's those scenes that really make "The Blue Max" one of the better World War I films going all the way back to "Wings"(1927). A mainly British production, "The Blue Max" has an international cast including George Peppard, James Mason, and Ursula Andress. Filmed in cinemascope with color by Deluxe, "The Blue Max" is 156 minutes(Aspect Ratio: 2.35.1) and contains only the following subtitle: English SDH. The Audio(English 5.1 DTS-HD MA) is excellent especially during the air combat scenes. Special features include Jerry Goldsmith's complete score as an isolated track(Note: Goldsmith also composed the music for "The Sand Pebbles" the same year). Many thanks to Twilight Time for restoring and bringing back this great film with their beautiful new Blu-ray presentation. Looking forward to many more titles on Blu-ray from them in the future.
on August 30, 2005
In 1966 at age 11, I was fortunate enough to accompany my dad to a first-run showing of The Blue Max in eye-popping CinemaScope. That any great love I have for movies persists to this day has to at least partially be attributed to such events.
All nostalgia aside, director John Guillermin's film The Blue Max, especially as presented on this DVD, still delivers a powerful combination of action, drama, romance, and spectacle in the midst of the first large-scale mechanized war. Battle scenes on the ground and in the air are magnificently portrayed. The trenches are as nasty as can be imagined. The blood, bandages, and bodies are superseded only by the mud, filth and constant artillery barrages and machine gun fire. Above and apart from that fray exists a different kind of hell typified by uncommon valor and hubris combined with a chivalry that was soon to be bygone--that of the "knights of the air".
All these qualities are on display at a World War I German air base in France as low-born Lieutenant Bruno Stachel (George Peppard) joins a corps of blueblood aristocratic flyers commanded by the most chivalrous of them all, Otto Heidemann (Karl Michael Vogler), and exemplified by the haughty but popular Willi von Klugermann (Jeremy Kemp). Soon joining the proceedings are Willi's uncle, General Count von Klugermann (James Mason) and his ravishing young (but kept) wife Countess Kaeti von Klugermann (Ursula Andress)--Willi's "aunt by marriage".
Overarching the breathtakingly staged and photographed air battles, the aerial and romantic derring-do, and the political intrigue marking desperate measures taken by a soon-to-be non-extant empire is one of the most magnificent musical scores ever by Jerry Goldsmith.
Count me among those who think Peppard was well-cast as Stachel. His "Americanisms" and painfully obvious unease amongst the sons of German nobility set him appropriately apart. It's to the credit of actors such as Kemp, Vogler, and Mason (and Andress to an extent) that they could accentuate this difference. Stachel's unease is later to be supplanted by a truly unlikeable hubris and unmitigated gall as he relentlessly pursues that which, at least in his eyes, will put him on a par with his "betters"--twenty kills and the coveted Blue Max.
Jeremy Kemp is likeable as the not-entirely-honorable Willi, a veteran ace who's to become the object of Stachel's not-so-covert contempt as well as his rival for the affections of Countess von Klugermann.
James Mason as General von Klugermann comes off as manipulative yet "honorably" duplicitous in the face of political reality. If there's an enigmatic character in this film, it is he. Compare with Adolphe Menjou's equally duplicitous French General Broulard in Stanley Kubrick's film Paths of Glory.
A role that doesn't seem to receive much mention in previous reviews is that of Vogler as Commanding Officer Heidemann. If the tide of the war and the very fate of the German empire lends sufficient gravitas to the film's narrative, it's Heidemann's staunch adherence to truly noble ideals in time of war to which the viewer oddly feels akin. These ideals, too, are at stake vis-a-vis Stachel's insistence of their hypocrisy and General Klugermann's "manufacturing" of Stachel to be a hero of the Fatherland. That Heidemann is ultimately vindicated in this regard is probably, and again oddly, one of the most satisfying aspects of this film. The final scene quietly resonates with ironic closure as much as the opening scene with Stachel the infantryman gazing skyward had with ironic romanticism.
Yes, Ursula Andress can be said to be a walking, talking "blonde joke" in this film. She's beautiful, conceited, and has no honorable quality that penetrates deeper than her soft voluptuous skin. However, her presence, and that of the romantic "quadrangle" her presence produces, does lend added resonance and visual vibrancy to the theme of class and social position. If Heidemann's vindication was satisfying, the frustration of Countess von Klugermann was equally so!
So what are the film's shortcomings? They're mostly ones of visual continuity. Though the aerial combat supposedly takes place over ravaged battlefields, we see aerial point-of-view shots of the planes flying over and crashing into lush green fields and copses--the film was shot entirely in Ireland. The keen eye can also catch TV antennas on the rooftops of the French village where the German officers are housed. Amateur military historians are sure to point out anachronisms and incongruities, but I would maintain none are so egregious as to dispel the film's dramatic and historical efficacy. Yes, much of the propelling narrative is indeed driven by abject melodrama, but its "well-played" melodrama. Oh, and another thing: I can't remember any other war film with such a preponderence of alcohol and ice buckets; so much gravitates around champagne, brandy, cognac, white wine, or schnapps!
This is simply one of my favorite war films, made compelling by its backdrop of World War I from the German perspective and its fabulous staging, acting, direction, music, and technical prowess. If you haven't yet seen it, this widescreen DVD presentation will make you think again of the artistry and craft that is "true" epic movie-making as opposed to the faux computer-generated brand now often being foisted on audiences.
on September 1, 2000
Jack Hunter created the ultimate anti-hero in the character of Bruno Stachel, the central figure in a trilogy of novels that follow his exploits through two world wars and beyond. I can still remember my reaction upon reading "The Blue Max" for the first time as a kid, and the excitement when the movie with George Peppard in the starring role came out. As usual, the book delves into much greater detail insofar as character development is concerned, i.e. 'getting behind the eyes' of the characters as it were - one example of which is Stachel's twisted relationship with corporal Rupp in the novel, while Rupp is barely mentioned once in the film. It's the dying days of World War I and the aristocratic Imperial German Air Service is about the only place left where it can be fought with dignity and chivalry.... at least that's what appears to drive a common-as-dirt foot soldier (Stachel) out of the trenches and into a fighter squadron on the Western Front. Empires are dying and the old lines dividing class against class are not far behind. The pursuit of the Pour le Merite, or "Blue Max", is something Stachel once craved almost as a badge, to prove he was just as good as his higher-born comrades; but now he finds himself pulled along by the Imperial propaganda machine to be used more and more as a tool to boost public morale as his fame grows. Soon chivalry becomes nothing more than a bad joke as Germany's defeat becomes inevitable. The aerial photography is quite stunning, a point many have made before - and it's true. The attention to detail when it comes to uniforms, recreation of battles, location and authenticity is very well done. Military buffs may still find the odd gaffe here and there, but by and large they really do this one right. Ursula Andress spices things up (which I suppose is to be expected when a book is translated to film), James Mason is his usual classy self, and Jeremy Kemp turns in a great Willi von Klugermann. World War I aviation enthusiasts will find little to complain about here, German military aviation afficianados will be pleased as well, probably due in large part to Jack Hunter doing his homework so well in the original novel. As far as military spectacle goes, there's nothing here that looks phony. They just don't make 'em like this any more. Highly recommended...still!