Thursday, April 30, 2015


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



                “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

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 naïve 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

The Blue Max                        17
Aces High                               16


                “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

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 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

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.              

Friday, April 24, 2015




                The dialogue in “Hell’s Angels” is terrible, even for a silent movie.  The words put in Monte’s mouth are enough to make one throw up.  This is not balanced by Helen’s classic: “Would you be shocked if you put on something more comfortable?”  Thank God there is no cockpit chatter!  F

                “The Blue Max” has some crackling dialogue.  Part of this is due to the soap operaish scenario.  The exchanges between Bruno and Willi are dripping with sarcasm and one-upmanship.  This is one WWI air combat movie that you might want to hear some cockpit chatter, especially during the bridge scene.  A

The Blue Max                        9
Hell’s Angels                         5


                “Hell’s Angels” set the template for swirling dogfights.  It must have wowed the 1930s audiences.  The stunt flying still tops the CGI of modern efforts like “Flyboys”, but comes off as from another era to a modern audience.  The facial contortions of the dying pilots are memorable if creepy.  There is an iconic bombing scene that features some cool collateral explosions that certainly would please a modern audience.  C

                   The effects in “The Blue Max” are quite good, especially the sound of the planes.  This is an underrated effect in air combat movies.  It does feature a “Hell’s Angels” style melee which shows the influence of the earlier film, but also makes the case that a big budget modern film can do it better.  A

The Blue Max                        18
Hell’s Angels                         12


                To make “Hell’s Angels”, Howard Hughes assembled almost 150 WWI era planes including Fokker DVIIs and S.E.5s.  It was an awesome assemblage.  Not to mention the plus seventy WWI pilots (including some aces) who participated in the dogfights.  A+

                “The Blue Max” was produced in 1966 so it did not have the luxury of having WWI planes available like “Hell’s Angels” did.  It had to rely on replicas and some purpose built fighters.  Tiger Moths and Stampe SV.4s stood in for German planes and trainers were mocked up to represent British S.E.5s.  The filmmakers had two Pfalz D.IIIs, three Fokker D.VIIs, and two Fokker Dr.I triplanes made.  The effort that went into verisimilitude was commendable.  A

The Blue Max                        27
Hell’s Angels                         22

FOURTH QUARTER:  Dogfighting

                “Hell’s Angels” has the most famous dogfighting in cinema history and justifiably so.  Howard Hughes was determined to get it right and risked his life.  When his stunt pilots refused to perform a dangerous dive, he did it himself and crashed.  Hughes coordinated the dogfights via radio control from a plane.  He had a large number of WWI pilots performing his choreography.  Three of the pilots were killed during the filming.  The principal stunt pilot was the legendary Paul Mantz.  With that said, the dogfighting is overrated.  The melee may be coordinated by Hughes, but it still comes off as a swirling free for all where you have a hard time telling who is who.  There is also not a lot of it.  C

“The Blue Max” also had a legendary stunt pilot in Derek Piggott.  He did numerous takes flying under the   bridge.  It is one of the great stunt flying exhibitions in cinema.  Most of the other pilots were from the Irish Air Corps.  The stunt flying is great.  A magnificent barrel roll makes it into the film.  The melees show the influence of “Hell’s Angels” and the modern cinematography enhances it.  Because it concentrates on one pilot, there is more dueling and it is easier to follow the opponents.  A

The Blue Max        35
Hell’s Angels          29


                If this tournament was to determine the most influential or significant dogfighting film, “Hell’s Angels” would be in the finals.  However, the tournament is simply to determine the best dogfighting movie.  Classic does not make any difference.  “The Blue Max” falls in a tough to beat category of air combat movie that was able to use actual planes with modern cinematography and did not have to rely on screen shots and more importantly, CGI.  One thing this tournament has proven is that CGI has not reached the stage where it can produce the first great dogfighting film.  “The Blue Max” is simply a better air combat film.  Its plot is shaky, but is not silly like “Hell’s Angels” and the dogfighting is marginally better.

Wednesday, April 22, 2015




                “Who’s next?  We’re all next.”  “I’m just a technician, I change things.  Put a plane in front of me with a man in it – I’ll change him into a wreck and a corpse.”  Gag!  The dialogue in “Von Richthofen and Brown” is pious and stilted.  It is B-movieish.  D

                The dialogue in “Aces High” is above average.  This is partly due to it being based on a play.  The dialogue is stereotyped like the characters.  The cynical veteran speaks cynically.  The naïve newbie speaks naively.  The cowardly craven whines.  None of it is cringe-inducing, however.  It is effective.  B

Aces High                                               8
Von Richthofen and Brown               6


                VR&B has some fine acrobatics and flight cinematography.  The images tend to be a bit repetitive with guns firing, pilot’s faces, and smoke coming out of crippled planes.  The sound effects don’t keep pace with the visuals.  Director Corman used a helicopter and small plane to get the shots along with cameras placed on the war planes.  The main actors were able to do rudimentary flying  and the facial shots were done with them in the rear seat instead of in front of a screen.  B

                Neither film uses CGI.  The sound and visual effects in “Aces High” are very good.  There’s an excellent stunt scene where the main character stands up to change his machine gun drum.  The flak is realistic, if too accurate (like every other air combat movie).  A

Aces High                                               17
Von Richthofen and Brown               14


                Corman bought the “Blue Max” air fleet.  This included replicas of Pfalz D.IIIs, S.E. 5s, Fokker D.VIIs, and Fokker Dr.Is.  Tiger Moths and Stampe SV4Cs were converted to look like WWI era war planes.  The movie uses a total of twelve flyable aircraft.  The quantity is awesome.  A+

                “Aces High” uses three air-worthy Stampes to portray the S.E.5s.   To play the German planes, they used a Tiger Moth and a Finnish Viima II painted red for the Germans.  C

Aces High                                            24
Von Richthofen and Brown               24

FOURTH QUARTER:  Dogfighting

                There is certainly a lot of combat in VR&B.  Ex-RCAF pilot Lynn Garrison coordinated the dogfighting sequences.  Stunt pilots were used for the quality acrobatics.  What the planes do is real, not CGI.  Unfortunately, the final duel is a fizzle with the Red Baron doing a ridiculous inside turn which puts the vastly inferior Brown on his tail.  B

                “Aces High” deserves credit for showing a variety of air combat.  Besides the usual dueling, there is a photo recon mission.  There is a mission to take out an observation balloon that features the observer parachuting.  A

Aces High                                     33
Von Richthofen and Brown       32


                These are two underrated movies who have taken a beating from mainstream critics.  VR&B is superior in dogfighting, but AH is better overall.  It does not have the cheesy plot and dialogue.  It also tries to make a statement about the tragedy of the war.  I am glad that VR&B made it this far.  I admire Corman for making the movie.  Not because it is an accurate telling of Von Richthofen’s death.  It isn’t.  But effort was put into the depiction of combat and Corman did not make it as though it was aimed at drive-in movie screens.

Saturday, April 18, 2015


Here is a summary of the first round:

Red Tails (9) 30 Dark Blue World (8) 29
Aces High (11) 34 Tuskegee Airmen (6) 28
Hunters (7) 30 Flyboys (10) 29
Blue Max (5) 32 Red Baron (12) 25
Hell's Angels (4) 29 Top Gun (13) 26
Von Richthofen and Brown (14) Dawn Patrol (3) 29
Angel's Wing (15) 32 Wings (2) 29
Battle of Britain (1) 36 Flying Leathernecks (16) 32

Four lower seeds triumphed which proves critics are not a good way to seed dogfighting films. Some of the upsets were shocking, but not if you watch the movies with a concentration on dogfighting.

The second round is about to begin. Here are the matchups:

Battle of Britain vs. Red Tails
Blue Max vs. Hell's Angels
Aces High vs. Von Richthofen and Brown
Hunters vs. Angel's Wing




                The dialogue in “Battle of Britain” is pretty good, if a bit tame. It is after all an Old School epic.  It uses some quotes from real historical persons.  A good example was when Goring asks Falke (channeling Adolf Galland) what he needs, Falke asks for some Spitfires.  The cockpit chatter is good and includes the memorable “tacka-tacka-tacka” used by Skipper (Robert Shaw) to simulate machine gun fire.  B

                “Red Tails” has some of the most laughable dialogue and chatter of any air combat movie.  The ground scenes are full of platitudes.  Almost everything the core group says is corny.  It gets worse when they are in the air.  “Die you Nazi dogs!”  “How you like that, Mr. Hitler”  The topper is when Pretty Boy actually says “Die, you African fool”.  F

Battle of Britain                   8
Red Tails                                5


                BoB has lots of exploding planes and it becomes a bit redundant.  There are some good interiors of German bombers.  Although the movie is famous for its battle scenes, some of the special effects are dated and it is obvious that sometimes models were used and the bombers were faked.  B

                No two movies could be more dissimilar in effects than these two.  RT is totally reliant on CGI and although it is pristine, it does separate my generation of war movie fans from the audience it was aimed at.  The dogfighting looks video gamish and defies reality.  Planes do things they were physically incapable of then (and now).  The sound effects are below average.  D

Battle of Britain                   16
Red Tails                                11


                BoB used a total of 100 aircraft.  This included three air worthy Hurricanes and twelve Spitfires.  For the Germans, the producers used Spanish versions of the He-111 and Bf-109s.  A+

                RT faithfully reproduces P-40s, P-51s, Bf-109s, Me-262s, and B-17s.  It is a shame it has them do things that are unrealistic.  Why no FW-190s?  No CGI available?  Credit to getting the 99th Pursuit Squadron’s planes accurate. One strange thing is the B-`17s alternate between being camouflaged and silver.  B

Battle of Britain                   26
Red Tails                                19

FOURTH QUARTER:  Dogfighting Quality

                BoB set the gold standard for WWII dogfighting reenactments.  The planes were filmed using a modified B-25 as the camera platform.  The action tends to be chaotic at times and it is not easy to follow the characters.  The crashes look real.  The movie gets the swirling nature of a big dogfight spot on.  B

                The biggest problem with the air combat in RT is it defies reality.  Of course, this would be news to anyone who plays air combat video games.  The planes do maneuvers that are impossible.  You do get a lot of action, however.  C

Battle of Britain           34
Red Tails                      26 


                This was  not even close.  BoB is highly regarded in the war movie community and RT is usually sneered at.  It was an interesting match-up between the Old School real planes versus the New School CGI effects.  Someday CGI will do it better, but that day has not arrived yet.



                The dialogue in “The Hunters” is surprisingly good.  There are some nice lines that have a crisp cynicism to them.  Some of the best lines are given to the alcoholic, low self-esteem Abbott.  But the real key to the movie’s uniqueness is the beatnik slang delivered by Pell.  It was meant to draw a young audience, but instead comes off as hilariously out of place.  The chatter is terse.  A

                The dialogue in “Angel’s Wing” is fine, but the subtitles are sloppy.  The discussions between Henri and Ernest are thought-provoking.  There is no cockpit chatter.  B

The Hunters          9
Angel’s Wing         8


                “The Hunters” is your standard filming fighters chasing each other while being filmed from another aircraft type of production.  There is some reliance of actors in front of screens which is also standard for that era.  The sound effects are excellent when they are not being drowned out by pompous music.  The main effect is seeing the beautiful F-86s zooming around.  This manages to overcome the terrible crash effects.  In one of the lowest moments in disregard for the intelligence of a war movie audience, the movie uses footage of a F-100 standing in for a F-86!  C

                “Angel’s Wing” is not a big budget film and it shows.  However, it does not use CGI.  Instead it uses the same methods as “The Hunters” sans footage, of course.  For a WWI movie, there is a welcome lack of facial views and no screen frontages.  You will not be awed by the effects, but you won’t cringe either.  B

Angel’s Wing         16
The Hunters          16


                The best actor in “The Hunters” is the Super Sabre and it is dynamite.  What a sweet plane!  Unfortunately, the movie is forced to use F-84s as stand-ins for MiGs.  This is unavoidable and acceptable.  In this case the F-84 is equivalent to the T-6 Texans playing Zeros in WWII films.  B

                “Angel’s Wing” has an amazing collection of WWI planes.  You get a rare look at Moranes, Farmans, and a Spad replica.  The Germans include a Rumpler and a Fokker DR1.  A

Angel’s Wing         25
The Hunters          24

FOURTH QUARTER:  Dogfight Quality

                The dogfights in “The Hunters” are choreographed so they look too pristine.  The climactic duel with Casey Jones is blah.  The dogfights seem like an afterthought as the plot is more soap opera / adventure story than air combat.  C

                The air combat in “L’Instinct de L’Ange” is simple, but reflects the actual dogfighting in the early stages of the war.  There are no swirling melees ala “Hell’s Angels”.  Mostly, Henri is a lone wolf.  The acrobatics are outstanding and unlike CGI (which I did not see any of) seem authentic.  The stunt pilots must have been very good.  B

Angel’s Wing   33
The Hunters    31


                I was expecting “The Hunters” to come out on top in this match-up.  It just seemed that “Angel’s Wing” should have just been happy to get this far.  But it moves on.  This is a movie I had never heard of before this tournament.   And a movie that I did not like at first.  It has a certain simple charm to it and the use of period aircraft, simple but effective dogfights, and a different story line has it moving on. 

Saturday, April 11, 2015



MATCH-UP:  “Battle of Britain” (1969) is an epic take on the famous air battle.  It is a British film with an all-star cast.  The movie takes the “Longest Day” approach of covering both sides.  The movie focuses on several British pilots, but also covers command decisions.  There is a romance thrown in for the ladies. 

                “Flying Leathernecks” (1951) is a John Wayne WWII movie that also stars the ever dependable war movie stalwart Robert Ryan.  The movie has a submarine-type plot set in a Marine Corps squadron.  Wayne and Ryan disagree on command philosophy and as a corollary Wayne is attempting to implement a new tactic of ground air support on Guadalcanal and then on Okinawa.

FIRST QUARTER:  Dogfighting Quantity

                “Battle of Britain”  =  21 minutes
                “Flying Leathernecks”  =  8 minutes

Battle of Britain                   10
Flying Leathernecks            6


                BoB tries to hit all the big historical moments and add in personal stories.  The subplots involving the British pilots are fictional and seem a bit cursory.  The real characters are in the higher command sphere and those scenes are nicely instructional.  Although the movie intercuts between both sides, there are no Luftwaffe characters that are developed which is an odd mistake considering the movie seems to have used the “Longest Day” template for its basic plot.  B

                Leathernecks has a typically predictable plot.  The dysfunctional command structure is nothing new, but it is aided by the two leads.  The movie is too patriotic which is surprising because it was not made during the war.  It does cover an actual tactical concept (ground air support), but does it in a simplistic way.  The movie crashes and burns in its atrocious home front scenes.  D

Battle of Britain                   18
Flying Leathernecks            12

THIRD QUARTER:  Realism and Accuracy     

                BoB is commendably accurate, but does take some liberties.  None of the pilots are actual people although Robert Shaw’s character resembles “Sailor” Malan and Falke is reminiscent of Adolf Galland.  The movie gives the textbook view of German strategic mistakes and although sadly lacking a time frame, hits some of the major German attacks like August 15 and September 15.  The “big wings” controversy is touched upon, but left hanging.  It does a good job covering the reason why the Germans shifted concentration to the British cities.  The movie had ten technical advisers, including Galland.  B

                Leathernecks is more fictional.  Kirby was based on Maj. John L. Smith who was awarded the Medal of Honor and shot down 19 Japanese planes while commanding the Cactus Air Force on Guadalcanal.  The debate over air combat versus close air support may have occurred so the movie might be a good summary of this, but it is handled very simplistically.  The movie uses a lot of footage of Hellcats when Wildcats were used on Guadalcanal.  D

Battle of Britain                   26
Flying Leathernecks            18


                BoB has few fighter squadron clichés partly because it is a battle movie rather than a small unit movie.  Many of the clichés depend on squadron dynamics and this movie does not feature that kind of plot.  We do get a mid-air collision.  An air field is bombed, but it is not by an opposing fighter squadron and is not in the form of throwing down the gauntlet.  There is a scene where a pilot breaks formation.  Actually, it is a flight of Polish pilots who leave their mother hen and is meant mainly for comic relief.  A

                Leathernecks has the gruff crew chief who also doubles as the clicheish scrounger.  Japanese fighters bomb their air field on Guadalcanal (with bombs they don’t carry, of course).  There are two separate incidents of pilots leaving formation to get a kill.  One of the main characters shows his readiness for command by sacrificing his best friend.  The movie throws in submarine clichés like the commander and the exec disagreeing about the commander’s tough love policy.  The exec comes over to the commander’s perspective. The commander is determined to fight the war differently and this causes dissension among the men.  D

Battle of Britain           36
Flying Leathernecks    24


                This was no contest which is as it should be in a match between a #1 seed and a movie that had to play its way into the tournament.  BoB is not only a highly regarded dogfighting movie, but one of the epic battle movies.  Although it is not in a league with its predecessor “The Longest Day”, it still had enough juice to handle an Old School John Wayne movie.   

Monday, April 6, 2015



MATCH-UP:  “Hell’s Angels” was Howard Hughes’ aerial epic.  It is the tale of two brothers who become fighter pilots in WWI.  There is a love triangle involving a loose woman.  One of the brothers is naïve and pure and the other is cowardly and unpatriotic.  The movie is best known for its Zeppelin bombing London scene and the huge swirling dog fight after the explosion laden bombing of an ammo dump.

                “Top Gun” is Hollywood’s answer to what fourteen year old boys want in a war movie.  "Maverick" is sent to Top Gun school to become a top notch fighter pilot.  He is in competition with a hot shot named “Ice Man” who believes you win dogfights through discipline and adherence to basic principles of air combat.  What a chump!  Maverick is more of a fly by the seat of your pants rule-breaker.  (Note the nicknames.)  This personality trait gets him in trouble with the higher ups, but his bosses recognize brilliance when they see it.  You want this guy with you if there ever is a non-mock dogfight (and stick around because there is one!).  Did I mention there is a love story involving the school’s resident MiG expert?  Relax, the expert is a hot woman!

FIRST QUARTER:  Dogfighting Quantity

Hell’s Angels  =  14 minutes
Top Gun  = * 20 minutes 

*  I included the mock dogfights

Top Gun                 9
Hell’s Angels         8


                “Hell’s Angels” started as a silent movie and has a plot appropriate for that era.  There is a love triangle involving two brothers that is interesting due to the fact that two of the people involved are despicable.  The movie sets up a classic redemption scenario then adds a twist.  It’s not predictability that mars the film, it’s the ridiculous disregard for common sense and what is possible.  Lot’s of very unlikely things have to happen to reach the conclusion.  Thankfully all anyone remembers are the groundbreaking dogfights.   C

                “Top Gun” was designed to please all the demographics except war movie fans.  The plot is predictable and is principally about redemption.  As though coming back from causing the death of Maverick’s best friend is not enough, the screenwriters throw in a vague back-story about his disgraced father.  The movie bookends two encounters with black-painted MiGs (no reason for a 1980s movie to defy the black = evil rule).  In between we get a lot of locker room dramatics and faux dog fights.  There is a lame and extremely unlikely love story for the ladies.  F

Hell’s Angels         15
Top Gun                 14

THIRD QUARTER:  Realism and Accuracy

                None of the plot devices in “Hell’s Angels” are realistic.  The two brothers have a German friend who they ironically meet in the Zeppelin attack.  The German sabotages the bombing of London because he apparently loves his friends’ country more than his own.  The Zeppelin crew sacrifices itself like lemmings.  The femme fatale ends up on the Western Front because it was a target rich environment.  The two brothers know how to fly a captured bomber without even a tutorial.  In fact, the whole bombing of the ammo dump segment is laughable with collateral explosions worthy of a modern movie.  The sole redemption for realism is the swirling dogfights, but even there the tactics are shaky.  D

                “Top Gun” may seem realistic to your average moviegoer, but anyone with any knowledge of naval aviation will do a lot of eye-rolling.  To the knowledgeable, there are plot devices that are ridiculous.  This begins early when the pilot considered the best in the unit has a panic attack doing what he was trained to do.  Worse is the introduction of a MiG expert in the form of a hot female instructor.  I hope I do not sound sexist when I say that character was silly.  The death of Goose was physically impossible.  For a movie that was heavily vetted by the Navy, it is odd that they allowed a scene trashing their ejection seats and helmets.  On the other hand, the segments involving the Fighter Weapons School seem within reason.  The mock dogfights, although enhanced for dramatic purposes, are believable.  D

Hell’s Angels         21
Top Gun                 20

                Monte is a ladies’ man and it’s a curse because he can’t help but sleep with his saintly brother’s girlfriend.  Monte and Roy ride in a motorcycle and sidecar.  They party hard the night before their suicide mission.  There is a head on crash.  B

                Maverick not only rides a motorcycle, he owns one!  He loses his best friend because he is a glory hound.  Kudos for combining two clichés.  The pilots party hard and bring back the WWI movie singalong.  Maverick woos a local girl.  In addition, we get the generic tropes of the main character earning redemption and overcoming a crisis in confidence.  D

Hell’s Angels         29
Top Gun                 26


                These two movies are 56 years apart and although the match-up is Old School versus MTV School, the basic plots could have replaced each other without the audiences being confused.  “Hell’s Angels” is overrated, but it does have history going for it.  It was the first significant sound air combat movie.  “Top Gun” has the distinction of being the first air combat film to have a thundering rock sound track.  “Hell’s Angels” was made to please Howard Hughes and “Top Gun” was made to please John Hughes’ core audience.  

Sunday, April 5, 2015



MATCH-UP:  “The Blue Max” (1966) is a fictional story of an ambitious German fighter pilot in WWI who has his sights set on winning the Pour le Merite (known as the Blue Max).  After being falsely accused of violating the unofficial rules for “knights of the air” he becomes a cynical hunter of glory.  His unapologetic quest for kills isolates him from his mates and brings into direct conflict with his squadron commander.  A general makes him into a celebrity, however.  Meanwhile, he is bedding the general’s wife and his competitor’s paramour (who happen to be the same woman).

                “The Red Baron” (2008) is a biopic of Manfred von Richthofen.  It covers just his flying career.  There are two subplots interwoven in the plot.  He meets his eventual vanquisher several times in the air and on the ground.  He also has a romance with a nurse.  This revisionist Red Baron is anti-war and not a cold-blooded killer.  He stands up to the dunderheads that run the air war.

FIRST QUARTER:  Dogfight Quantity

                “The Blue Max”  =  19 minutes
                “The Red Baron”  =  12 minutes

The Blue Max                        10
The Red Baron                        8


                “The Blue Max” has an interesting plot.  Although the basic elements have appeared in other war movies, they are handled differently here.  The ambitious pilot is used by the brass for propaganda purposes, but then they turn on him.  The pilot puts personal glory ahead of teamwork, but the team is a bunch of jerks, too.  These tropes are balanced by a love quadrangle that is soap operaish in its complexity, but at least unpredictable.  Another point in favor of the plot is the fact that there are no likeable characters.   B

                “The Red Baron” is a revisionist biopic meant for a modern German audience.  The softening of his personality works well if you are bringing a date to the movie, but for a war movie lover there is a lot to laugh at here.  It is a very small world for the flying ace.  He encounters both Brown and Kate several times under preposterous circumstances.  Richthofen becomes a post-Vietnam reluctant warrior.  The movie is very predictable.  D

The Blue Max                        18
The Red Baron                      14

THIRD QUARTER:   Realism and Accuracy

                “The Blue Max” is not based on a true story.  Sachel is a realistic character because some German pilots were obsessed with gaining enough victories (20) to be awarded the Blue Max.  Actually, this was a personality trait of many fighter pilots on both sides.  The higher command and media creating a new type of hero in the fighter ace is a WWI phenomenon.  The love quadrangle is obviously extremely unrealistic. Fokker developing a monoplane late in the war is not tied to reality.  C

                “The Red Baron” is an absolute atrocity as a biography.  It gets Richthofen’s personality and philosophy almost completely opposite of reality.  The real Red Baron had no anti-war qualms and was not the noble knight of the air the film depicts.  In fact, he counseled his pilots to aim for the enemy pilot.  He also was not a particularly daring pilot, preferring to give his target as little chance as possible by diving on him from out of the sun.  Needless to say, there was only one encounter with Brown and most historians do not feel that Brown shot him down.  It should also come as no surprise that he did not have an affair with a nurse.  F

The Blue Max                        25
The Red Baron                      19


                “The Blue Max” set the standard for the “pilot obsessed with glory” cliché.  It is the central theme of the film.  The squadron parties hard after Klugermann gets his Blue Max.  Stachel rides on a motorcycle.  Stachel breaks formation against orders to take on an enemy force.  C

                “The Red Baron” begins with a young Manfred watching a plane fly over and dreaming of being a pilot.  (Speaking of inaccuracies, von Richthofen dreamed of fighting in the cavalry, but found it boring.)  He is driven by the thrill of the hunt and competition and has trophies made for each victory.  (In the hagiographic nature of the film, his obsession is toned down.)  The Red Baron loses his Jewish friend and then Voss as part of the movie’s “who will survive?” subplot.  Their air field is attacked which allows the movie to stage a night dogfight.  Von Richthofen courts a nurse.  By the way, in a classic war movie trope, Manfred chooses bros before hos.  D

The Blue Max                        32
The Red Baron                      25


                This match was never close and that should come as no surprise.  This is an exemplification of the downward trend of mass-marketed war movies.  It is obvious that when “The Blue Max” was made in the 1960s, the scriptwriters felt they needed to jazz up the romance component.  However, the rest of the plot is fairly standard.  On the other hand, everything about “The Red Baron” screams “give the masses what they want”.  It is the kind of movie that infuriates war movie fans and historical accuracy sticklers.  Ironically, the movie was a box office bomb.