The Blue Max (2003) from CK Roach and Johnny Web (Uncle Scoopy; Greg Wroblewski)

CK Roach's comments in white:

The Blue Max is a classic aviation movie that I remember from my childhood. As a kid interested in anything that related to flying, this was one movie that really fueled my fancy. Due to the limitations of childhood (rigidly imposed bedtimes), I never got to see it completely until it came to DVD.

It turns out that the DVD version was definitely worth the wait! The movie is a feast for the eyes and the ears. The film is loaded with spectacular aerial footage, and the dogfights were done with replicas of the real aircraft rather than with miniatures, reflecting the million dollar budget that was exorbitant by 1966 standards. 

When I was young the dogfight scenes were impressive but now, seeing this in its entirety for the first time,  I am quite overwhelmed. Those scenes are filmed so well that one almost feels inside the cockpit. What is more remarkable is that this movie was made without the use of the computerized visuals that are so common today. My only regret is in seeing this movie on a regular television and not a large screen with a real sound system.

The story takes place during WW1. It follows Bruno Stachel, a common German infantryman, who one day looks up from the trenches. He sees aircraft soaring above. One can almost feel his longing for escape from the mud and death below. He somehow engineers a transfer to the new aviation division and reports for duty as a rookie pilot. His eyes are opened to the fact that he is the only member of the working class amidst the cream of German aristocracy. His fellow pilots never let him forget this, nor will he in turn let them forget how far they are from the real war. When asked why he won't attend a memorial to a fallen comrade his reply is "In the trenches, we couldn't even bury the dead; there were too many of them. I've never had the time... to discuss them over a glass of champagne."

He soon finds himself in a quest for the nation's highest medal, The Blue Max. He must destroy twenty enemy aircraft to get this coveted award. It seems that he believes that only by winning this medal will he gain the respect of his fellow aviators. This quest will quickly transform him into almost a villian in the eyes of his commander. He also seems to be in a great rivalry with his partner (played by Jeremy Kemp), who is rewarded with the medal early in the film.

To further add conflict is the general, Count von Klugermann (played by James Mason) and his wife (Ursula Andress) who are related to Stachel's partner, the Jeremy Kemp character. It isn't long until both the general and his wife take an interest to Stachel. The general sees Stachel as a marketable hero to the average people, while the general's wife sees him as a potential lover. Stachel's pursuit of the medal will eventually set him up for a conflict with the general, who will then have to choose a way to satisfy both the honor of the German Army and the needs of the German people to have a hero.

Flaws? Yes there are some. There are some minor technical details with the aircraft, like bombs on single seat fighters, but few. Perhaps the most annoying is from that great actor, James Mason. It is always very hard for me when such a great actor will render a German character in a very British accent. He will later repeat this in the Sam Peckinpah film "Cross of Iron." Also, Ursula Andress seems a little thin in the acting department, although she gives it the ol' college try and compensates for her delivery of lines by taking off her shirt for the film's only skin.

Filmed in 1966 under the direction of John Guillermin, The Blue Max stars George Peppard, James Mason, Ursula Andress, and Jeremy Kemp. It features a stirring soundtrack by Jerry Goldsmith. The DVD version includes only the film and trailers. There are no other special features for this film. This is a shame since a behind-the-scenes feature with all these aircraft would be delightful. The sparse features are more than made up for with the outstanding quality of the transfer itself. It is definitely worth the price (under $20 most places) and I encourage you to purchase it if this type of film appeals to you.

Scoop's comments in yellow:

I wasn't as impressed with the film as CK Roach was.

For one thing, given that it probably had the highest budget of any film that year, you'd think that somebody would have double-checked the locations for obvious anachronisms. It is bad enough that the town near their airbase has 1960s-style electrical and telephone lines, but what was really irritating was the fact that they made no attempt to hide them.

This flaw, however, was royally trumped by the fact that almost all the houses had TV antennae just like the ones my family had in 1966 (see picture to the right)! I wonder which programs they could receive in 1916.

I agree with CK that the use of accents was confusing, but I wouldn't single out James Mason for his British accent. This was about the German Army, and most of the minor characters spoke English with a German accent, as per a common screen convention, but James Mason spoke with his usual smarmy Lolita voice, and George Peppard spoke his farm-boy American. I think a film should choose one convention or another. If German is to be represented by English with a German accent, I don't agree with that decision, but if that is the final choice, then let it be so consistently. I much prefer the common Royal Shakespeare Society convention of representing aristocratic foreign speech with aristocratic English, and representing working class foreign speech with working class English. When that convention is employed, we can all immediately identify what we are being shown, and it lets us identify with the characters as common human types which are probably as familiar to our own culture as to the culture being portrayed.


Ursula Andress seduced and made love with Peppard, all the while wearing a towel over her shoulder. Her breasts were visible now and then.

DVD info from Amazon

  • widescreen anamorphic 2.35:1

  • no major features, but three of the original trailers are included

As CK noted, The Blue Max is a great film in the air. It is worth seeing just for the dogfights, aerial stunts, and the stirring Jerry Goldsmith score.

Unfortunately the film shows its Achilles heel when it is on the ground. Although the basic storyline is a good one, it is dragged out too long by too many predictable developments and trite dialogue.

The Critics Vote ...

  • This movie also won the BAFTA award for best art direction in a British film in 1967. It was nominated for three other BAFTAs: cinematography, costumes, and "best newcomer"

  • No major reviews online.

The People Vote ...

  • Box office report. The production budget was $6 million. The box office gross in the USA was $7.2 million, placing it number 14 in a year which had no monster hits. (It did almost as well as Alfie)
The meaning of the IMDb score: 7.5 usually indicates a level of excellence equivalent to about three and a half stars from the critics. 6.0 usually indicates lukewarm watchability, comparable to approximately two and a half stars from the critics. The fives are generally not worthwhile unless they are really your kind of material, equivalent to about a two star rating from the critics, or a C- from our system. Films rated below five are generally awful even if you like that kind of film - this score is roughly equivalent to one and a half stars from the critics or a D on our scale. (Possibly even less, depending on just how far below five the rating is.

My own guideline: A means the movie is so good it will appeal to you even if you hate the genre. B means the movie is not good enough to win you over if you hate the genre, but is good enough to do so if you have an open mind about this type of film. C means it will only appeal to genre addicts, and has no crossover appeal. (C+ means it has no crossover appeal, but will be considered excellent by genre fans, while C- indicates that it we found it to be a poor movie although genre addicts find it watchable). D means you'll hate it even if you like the genre. E means that you'll hate it even if you love the genre. F means that the film is not only unappealing across-the-board, but technically inept as well. Any film rated C- or better is recommended for fans of that type of film. Any film rated B- or better is recommended for just about anyone. We don't score films below C- that often, because we like movies and we think that most of them have at least a solid niche audience. Now that you know that, you should have serious reservations about any movie below C-.

Based on this description, this is a C. Just a fairly good war movie on the ground, but brilliant in the air.

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