The old maxim ‘they don’t make them like this anymore’ applies to John Guillermin’s 1965 action drama; it’s hard to imagine a film of this particular historical content getting made now, and it’s not even particularly clear why this big-budget feature was green-lit back in 1965. But anti-war movies, even ones which depict war in elaborate detail, were very much a 60’s and 70’s thing; showing the horror of conflict and suggesting that such detail is required viewing in order to make sure it doesn’t happen again allowed storytellers to have their moral cake and eat it, all guns blazing.
A post Breakfast at Tiffany’s George Peppard does his leading man thing as Bruno Strachel, a German Colonel who realises that wars are not won in trenches; they’re won in the air, and circa 1918, he’s going to lead the charge against the British from his biplane. Strachel is something of a cold fish, nursing grievances against the aristocracy while desperate to start scoring the kills that will lead him to the Blue Max medal.
Watching Strachel shoot down British planes isn’t particularly crowd-pleasing, but there’s also long stretches without action as we see that Strachel resents being used for propaganda purposes by Count Von Klugerman (a worthy adversary in James Mason) and we also get a ringside seat to enjoy some bedroom encounters with slinky Ursula Andress and her famous adhensive towel. Jeremy Kemp also turns up in the preview of his parody role in Top Secret.
While the back-projection isn’t great, as is often the case with 60’s movies, the action scenes featured here are amazing, with real planes rather than models, and great photography by Douglas Slocombe. Complete with a tough, deliberately downbeat ending, The Blue Max is a smart, bitter war film that has plenty of big ideas to unfold over a considerable 156 minute run-time. Bonus points for whoever designed the Amazon Prime link below, complete with the cheeky Mad Max 2 style font.