As directed by John Guillermin (best known for 1974's The Towering Inferno), the film's main assets are epic production values, great flying scenes and stunning dogfights. The weak point is the sometimes ponderous character drama, not helped by Peppard who is too lightweight an actor to convince as the driven anti-hero. Clearly influenced by Kubrick's Paths of Glory (1958), The Blue Max is a cold, cynical drama offering a visually breathtaking portrait of a stultified society tearing itself apart during the final months of the Great War.
On the DVD: The Blue Max DVD's only extra is a very grainy original trailer presented at 1.77:1. However, for the first time the film itself is complete to buy: the reel which was missing from the widescreen video release being restored here. Also included is the original intermission music. The film is presented anamorphically enhanced at a ratio approximating the original 2.35:1 CinemaScope, though some shots clearly have details cropped at the sides of the frame. Picture quality is good with an acceptable level of grain, which increases significantly during the brief back projection shots. There is a little print damage, but nothing too distracting and the aerial photography itself looks wonderful. The four-channel Dolby Prologic sound is excellent for a film of this age, with Jerry Goldsmith's superb score having richness and clarity and providing almost all the emotional impact. --Gary S Dalkin
Bruno Stachel (ably played by George Peppard) is a man who intends to climb not just out of the trenches but into the air, but also in terms of his social status as he does anything he believes appropriate in order to win the so-called "Blue Max", the highest medal the Germans awarded for gallantry until 1918. While his commanding officer, Otto Heidemann (Karl Michael Vogler) detests what he perceives as a low-lifer who totally disregards "how the upper class does things", the Countess von Klugermann (Ursula Andress) finds this man somewhat fascinating purely because she wants something different and wants to know what makes Stachel tick.
It is somewhat puzzling as to why her husband, the General (James Mason), and her nephew, Willi (Jeremy Kemp), do or say nothing to chase away this upstart from this upper-crust man-chaser, yet undoubtedly, in the absence of the actual fighting at the front, the sub-plots needed to work, interwoven as they are with the main plot involving Willi himself, who wins the medal after destroying 20 enemy aircraft. Stachel's ambitions are spurred when Willi is awarded the medal, though he is somewhat shaken after his rival (and, dare I say it, friend) accidentally ends up crashing into a lone chimney stack and killing himself after a reckless stunt to prove who was better at flying aeroplanes.
His commanding officer's prejudice is well maintained (kudos to Vogler) and is unremitting even when he demands that the general have Stachel court-martialled for disobeying orders, only for the latter to refuse outright - the man was now a hero to the common people, something that the general had planned once he realised Stachel's abilities. Heidemann then realises that the war did not revolve around individuals and that what had been certain and applicable before was not necessarily applicable now. He is therefore forced to back down.
Yet a white lie by Stachel, who rejects a fiery Countess's advances, landed him unknowingly in a predicament that he remains totally unaware of. Given the ending (which is different to that in Jack Hunter's original novel, but which I won't reveal here), it reveals that just as people are prepared to put them up on pedestals, so the same people are prepared to drag them down in as shocking a way as possible.
This is a well-done movie about the human psyche in time of war, not a collective psyche as seen in many American war movies like "Platoon" and "Full Metal Jacket", but of an individual who stands out and makes his mark by bucking the trend as very much a non-conformist who does things his way and doesn't care who knows it or who objects to it. Peppard does an excellent job, even though, back in 1966, he was not a star and was surrounded by star actors like Mason and Andress (who'd been in THAT bikini just a few years before when Connery popped up). Like "Battle of Britain", filmed over England in 1968, the aerial sequences are spectacular and well done but they remain strictly secondary and do not overpower the plot.
Personally, I would have liked the film to explore more of Stachel's personality - about what really drove a working-class man to reach new heights in the face of a social class whose way of thinking and acting was totally alien and anathema to him. His involvement with the Countess seemed also a bizarre sub-plot, but, as in "Zeppelin" (1971), her involvement was merely to serve as a (female) distraction in a male-dominated society that would change irretrievably after the fall of Imperial Germany in 1918.
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