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.


  1. Love the articles . Blue Max - one of the best war movies . Remake of All quiet on the Western Front is as good as the original. The World War 1 scenes in Razors Edge with Bill Murray - Classic . I have watched those scenes numerous times . The one in the trench when his friend dies is sad and memorable.

    1. Wow, thanks for the shout out for "Razor's Edge". I never would have thought about watching it. I am always looking for good scenes to show my classes for my WWI trench letter assignment.

  2. To fully understand that scene ,you need to watch the movie from the beginning. All happens very early on . Very sad scene .

  3. Can you do a Von Richthofen and Brown (1971) vs The Red Baron (2008)?

    1. Go look at the comparable scores for V"R and Brown".


Please fell free to comment. I would love to hear what you think and will respond.