Sunday, February 26, 2023

The Max of color

One of the movies that's in the current FXM rotation that I haven't blogged about before is The Blue Max. I happen to have it on DVD as part of a box set of four Fox war films, and since it's coming up again -- today (Feb. 26) at 12:25 PM and tomorrow (Feb. 27) at 3:20 AM -- so I recently popped the DVD into my DVD player and watched it to do a review here.

The movie starts off in 1916, which is the middle of World War I. Bruno Stachel (George Peppard) is a lieutenant in the German army, suffering the indignities of trench warfare and decidedly not part of the officer corps which was dominated by the nobility at the time. Bruno decides that the best way out of it is to try to get into the nascent air corps, training to become one of the flyboys although of course the Germans wouldn't have used a word like flyboy.

Fast forward to early 1918, and Stachel is indeed in the air corps. The best pilot in Stachel's squadron is Willi von Klugerman (Jeremy Kemp), who also happens to be the nephew of a big-time general, Graf von Klugermann (James Mason) back in Berlin. Willi is close to getting 20 confirmed kills, whould would make him eligible for a medal officially called Pour la Mérite, although it's commonly called the Blue Max because it's blue and the highest medal one can receive. Stachel sees this, and decides that he's going to set his aspiration on earning the Blue Max himself..

There's immediately a conflict between Stachel and von Klugermann for multiple reasons. First off, there's the fact that Stachel is a commoner, which von Klugermann, and to a similar extent their commanding officer von Heidemann (Karl Michael Vogler) considers gauche. Indeed, at one point Stachel seems to be spending more time trying to find a British plane he shot down instead of mourning German dead, although Stachel, in his defense, points to his time in the trenches and how nobody in the officer corps cared for all those dead soldiers in the trenches. And regarding that plane he shot down, it brings up the issue of "confirmed" kills. To get the Blue Max, you have to have those 20 kills confirmed, and there was difficulty confirming Stachel's first kill. That, and there's also a disupte over a kill that might have been by either Stachel or von Klugermann, and who can claim it.

But Stachel is a good pilot, and gets close to those 20 confirmed kills necessary for the Blue Max. All of this brings Stachel to the notice of some high up people in the military (and, by extension, the nobility). Notably, there's the General, who has some sympathy for Stachel but more because the General is smart enough to realize having a commoner do so well can be used for propaganda purposes. Meanwhile, the general's wife (Ursula Andress) has been having an affair with her nephew-by-marriage, and starts carrying on an affair with Stachel as well. Von Heidemann, however, sees the issue of who can claim the kills as a means to get rid of Stachel. On top of all that, the entry of the Americans into World War I is slowly turning the tide against the Germans, bring a whole different set of problems to the German military....

The Blue Max is a long movie -- 156 minutes on the DVD, including an intermission; since the first FXM showing is in a 155-minute slot I don't know if they're going to be including the intermission. It's also an uneven movie. The Ursula Andress character (not her fault, to be fair) and the whole sexual intrigue slows the movie down at several points. The flying scenes are lovely to look at, and I'm sure that fans of vintage aviation will highly enjoy this portion of the film, even if for me a few of those scenes went on a bit long. James Mason in his supporting role is unsurprisingly the best of the actors here, although the nature of the story doesn't demand that much of the rest of the cast for much of the movie.

I personally think I'd prefer The Blue Max if the screenwriters had come up with a way to fit the story to run around two hours rather than two and a half. Other people may have differing opinions, and in any case the movie is definitely another one that's worth a watch.

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