Thursday, April 30, 2015

#5 THE BLUE MAX vs. #11 ACES HIGH


The semi-finals are set:
#5 The Blue Max vs. #11 Aces High
#1 Battle of Britain vs. #15 Angel's Wing



VS.




FIRST QUARTER:  Acting

                “The Blue Max” has a fine cast.  George Peppard does a fine job as Stachel.  He is a jerk, but he has his reasons and some of his actions are justifiable due to his treatment by the snooty upper crust officers.  The supporting cast is strong.  Jeremy Kemp is surprisingly good as Klugerman and Karl Vogler develops Heidermann into the most compelling character.  James Mason is perfectly cast as the Machiavellian general.  The one weak link is Ursula Andress partly because she remains clothed mostly.  Considering why she was cast she actually acquits herself well and her scenes with Peppard have some chemistry to them.  A

                “Aces High” does not have a cast as strong as “The Blue Max”, but it gets some fine performances.  Malcolm McDowell is fine as the squadron leader who uses alcohol and cynicism to get by.  His discomfort with the arrival of a young friend who idolizes him is intriguing.  He gets excellent support from the always dependable Christopher Plummer as the stereotypical father figure that you see in many WWI air combat movies.  Simon Ward as the cowardly Crawford and Peter Firth as the neophyte Croft are merely adequate.  B

FIRST QUARTER SCORE:
The Blue Max                        9
Aces High                               8

SECOND QUARTER:  Pilot Behavior

                “The Blue Max” does not break any new ground in portraying WWI fighter pilots as partying hard in spite of the loss of squadron mates.  The movie twists this by having his mates criticize Stachel’s unconcern for a wingman’s death by having him explain that in the trenches they did not have time to mourn.  It does throw in a dynamic appropriate for the German air force.  Stachel is not accepted partly because not only is he coming up from the infantry, but he is from a middle class family.  The camaraderie (aside from the ostracism of Stachel) is clear.  The competition is not friendly because of the crass greed for kills exemplified by Stachel, so that behavior is a bit overplayed for plot purposes.  B

                “Aces High” has a more standard depiction of WWI fighter pilots.  The squadron is a heterogeneous small unit that manages to cover all the archetypes of WWI air combat.  There is the cynical ace who leads the squadron the help of liquor, the class clown, the pilot who can’t take it any more, the na├»ve newbie.  This being a British squadron, they have an appropriate amount of stiff upper lips.  Where “The Blue Max” attempts to portray the class consciousness between Stachel and the rest of the officers, “Aces High” targets the gulf between the officers and the enlisted.  B

HALF TIME SCORE:
The Blue Max                        17
Aces High                               16

THIRD QUARTER:  Tactics

                “The Blue Max” pays lip service to wing men, but once the action begins it’s every man for himself.  This is a pretty standard mistake in dogfighting movies.  The attack on the observation balloon realistically shows that the balloon would have a fighter patrol protecting it.  The movie puts too much emphasis on fighters strafing infantry and features two scenes of this activity.  Not that it didn’t happen.  The basic tactic of bouncing the enemy by surprise from above and behind is clearly reenacted.  B

                “Aces High” is strong on tactics.  There is an attempt to show the use of wing men.  The attacks are from close in and originate from behind (although seldom from above).  The tactics by both sides in the observation balloon attack are realistic.  The movie includes a rare reenactment of a photo recon mission.  A

THIRD QUARTER SCORE:
The Blue Max                        25
Aces High                               25
               

FOURTH QUARTER:  Entertainment

                “The Blue Max” was intended as an epic WWI air combat movie.  It is a big budget effort, especially in the number of aircraft assembled.  In fact, the biggest misstep in the film is an attempt to go big with a trench warfare scene that comes off as silly because the movie has the British leaving their trench to meet the German attack in no man’s land (and thus open themselves up to strafing).  It differs from most movies of this subgenre in that it features some sumptuous interiors.  The plot is has soap opera elements to it.  Most obviously in its love quadrangle.  The main plot line of an ambitious commoner who rocks the boat with his crass quest for glory is interesting and unusual.  Its resolution is satisfactory and not predictable.   B

                “Aces High” is a much smaller movie than its opponent.  It does not complicate the plot with a romance.  It has no subplots.  It makes a good starter movie for anyone wanting a taste of WWI dogfighting.  It moves smoothly from exposition and character development to a variety of combat missions.  The effects and aircraft are satisfactory for a low budget effort.  It is admirably unpredictable, but the basic arc is not radical.  If you like singing, the movie has six songs!  B

FINAL SCORE:
The Blue Max                        33
Aces High                               33

***  As the tie-breaker, I am going to use the quality and quantity of dogfighting.  “The Blue Max” has over 21 minutes of dogfighting and “Aces High” has only 15.  The depiction of actual dogfighting is superior in “The Blue Max” partly because of its more expansive air force.  It also has better stunt flying.  There is no equivalent in “Aces High” to the tree top chase and the bridge competition.  However, “Aces High” has a better variety of combat missions.  On the other hand, “Aces High” has to be scolded for use of footage from previous films.

                I actually personally prefer “Aces High” as a war movie, but considering the parameters of this tournament “The Blue Max” has a stronger claim to a spot in the finals.              

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