The Blue Max
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A lowborn World War I German ace covets a medal of honor and his highborn commander's wife.
The Blue Max is highly unusual among Hollywood films, not just for being a large-scale drama set during the generally overlooked World War I, but in concentrating on air combat as seen entirely from the German point of view. The story focuses on a lower-class officer, Bruno Stachel (George Peppard), and his obsessive quest to win a Blue Max, a medal awarded for shooting down 20 enemy aircraft. Around this are subplots concerning a propaganda campaign by James Mason's pragmatic general, rivalry with a fellow officer (Jeremy Kemp), and a love affair with a decadent countess (Ursula Andress).
As directed by John Guillermin (who later made The Battle of Britain in 1969), the film's main assets are epic production values, great flying scenes, and stunning dogfights. The weak point is the sometimes ponderous character drama, not helped by Peppard, who is too lightweight an actor to convince as the driven antihero. Clearly influenced by Kubrick's Paths of Glory (1958), The Blue Max is a cold, cynical drama offering a visually breathtaking portrait of a stultified society tearing itself apart during the final months of the Great War. --Gary S. Dalkin
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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.