Director: John Guillermin
Starring: George Peppard, James Mason, Ursula Andress, Jeremy Kemp, Karl Michael Vogler, Anton Diffring
More info: IMDb
Tagline: There was no quiet on the Western Front for the heroes and cowards who flew to their rendezvous with Hell!
Plot: A young pilot in the German air force of 1918, disliked as lower-class and un-chivalrous, tries ambitiously to earn the medal offered for 20 kills.
My rating: 7/10
Will I watch it again? Yeah.
Movies about the first World War are hard to come by. Like Hollywood, the sequel (WWII) was even bigger with more explosions. I guess that war overshadowed it's primitive effects predecessor. Regardless, Hollywood has favored the sequel when it comes to making movies which is too bad. I find WWI a fascinating subject with tons of stories yet to be filmed. Now, go back 23 years when I was in college and first heard Jerry Goldsmith's MAGNIFICENT score for this picture and that set in motion my desire to see this flick. It took a while but I believe I saw it a few years later on laser disc. My feeling about the film hasn't changed in the 20 years since. THE BLUE MAX is a marvelous picture, but...
It's missing that little extra oomph. Know what I mean? Maybe it's Peppard. I liked him but I can't help but feel he didn't give as much to the character as he should have. It's that little extra that could make the difference. Maybe it was the constant overcast skies (I'm sure it was really like that but it does dampen the look). The film makers did a marvelous job of making it look and feel like WWI era France (though shot in Ireland). Maybe it was the more than two and a half hour run time which could have been a little too much, especially considering the casual pace overall. That could have been the direction. I'm not really sure.
What I can tell you is what it wasn't. Goldsmith's score definitely added life to it. From the deadly serious themes of war to the lighthearted theme variations for the party and playful scenes, this is one outstanding soundtrack! The fugue he created for the final battle is outstanding. Here's one cue that's loaded with balls.
Another thing that really propels this flick is the aeriel photography of the dogfights. Just seeing real bi-planes swarming the skies (and in conjunction with the massive amount of troops on the ground) is great fun and it makes me long for SOMEONE with a passion for this sort of thing to make a good modern WWI story without mucking it up. I remember seeing the trailer for FLYBOYS (2006) and buried my face in my hands it looked so ridiculous. I got that "it's the PEARL HARBOR (2001) of WWI movies" vibe. I could be wrong and should probably check it out just the same.
Anyway, having Ursula Andress in a state of undress (surprise!) is usually a plus. Fortunately there's just enough of a love interest going on (which, it turns out, plays a VERY pivotal role for Sachel) that it's at the cusp of being too much. I'm glad they didn't overplay it. I hate it when war movies get bogged down in the love story aspect. Egad! So often it just doesn't work.
The finale IS FUCKING BADASS!!! And one more thing...the director, John Guillerman, also helmed a kick ass Tarzan picture with Sean Connery called, TARZAN'S GREATEST ADVENTURE (1959). So there you go. I really enjoyed it but there's something (or more) that's holding it back from being a fantastic, must-see many times kind of picture. It's worth watching for the bi-plane action and Goldsmith's score alone...but you'll end up staying to the end because it's a good story with an even better conclusion.