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The Blue Max


‘…a smart, bitter war film that has plenty of big ideas to unfold…’

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them like this anymore’ applies to John Guillermin’s 1965 action drama; it’s hard to imagine a film of this particular historical content getting made now, and it’s not even particularly clear why this big-budget feature was green-lit back in 1965.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.


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  1. Great film. Very bold to make one from the German POV although that may have been a short-lived fas with Night of the Generals. Though this was an era when Hans Helmut Kirst and Sven Hassel were bestsellers in the UK and US. Thought the acting as particularly good especially from Peppard and Andress. but of course it would be nothing without the flying sequences.

  2. I saw this on release in 1966 and enjoyed it, though I don’t remember it being so long. Thirty years later I watched it again while in hospital. The flying scenes and Mason/Kemp are probably the best bits. I see IMDb class it as a British film which it certainly appears to be. In fact it’s one of a mini-wave of war films made around this time with Hollywood studio money in the UK. Operation Crossbow (1965) and The Heroes of Telemark (1965) are two examples. There are many more. Just how many times did James Mason play a senior German military figure? I make it four (twice as Rommel). It seems more than that.

    • I can imagine that as part of the move from studio based cinema to a more outdoorsy model, that more location shooting must have been a promising route in the mid-60’s, and Crossbow and Telemark are both still fondly remembered films; didn’t previously think of any of them as being British, but I think you’re right. While a bit stuff in places, I really like Blue Max for its flying bits, and also for some good performers; Mason had such a venerable career as a supporting actor, I’m thinking Cross of Iron as well…

    • I’ll be over to check that out; the flying stuff is remarkable, couldn’t be less fashionable now, but a good film.

  3. Curious to hear your take on Sturgeon’s arrest. Have to admit I didn’t have her doing a perp walk before Trump on my bingo card. But I don’t follow your politics that closely. Was it surprising news over there or was everyone expecting it?

    • It was common knowledge for months, but her arrest is specifically to do with her alleged role in covering up discrepancies within the party finances. Like Johnson and Trump, l’etat c’est moi seems to be the attitude of most governments who swept to power in the internet age. Sturgeon was and remains a pretty smooth operator, but the case prosecutors are building is unlikely to have her as a central target. Police have advised the public not to discuss on social media, so I’m sure not a word will be spoken. The punchline is that the SNP were a protest movement for change that governed surprisingly well until they didn’t. But everything they’ve done for the last couple of years has been an utter shambles.

      • “Police have advised the public not to discuss on social media . . . ”

        Oh please. And why not? People tweeting about it is going to somehow compromise their case? All seems pretty bad. But there are lots of people in the U.S. and Canada who envy Europeans’ ability to hold their leaders and ex-leaders to account. Can’t seem to do that at all over here.

        • It’s the smallest of potatoes compared to what you guys have got. Like the purchase of a motor home. But the CPS here also have a recent for making a nuclear bodge track record for politically motivated prosecutions, so caution is advised in commenting.

  4. One of my great-uncles was a veteran and had some minor advisory role in this, as a lot of it was shot in Ireland. Nobody knew what exactly he did, but everybody knew what he got paid – ie, it seemed like a king’s ransom, back then.

  5. I never enjoyed WWI or WWII movies. Not a big fan of watching war movies in general, but those 2 eras really put me off. And I have no idea why.

    • They feel different when seen from the German side, so this isn’t quite a typical example. Given the scale of tragedy involved in most wars, I can see why they are a tricky proposition in 2023.

      • See, that’s the thing. I don’t have a problem with generic “war movies”. But I just am not interested in those 2 eras for some reason. I don’t know why, never tried to figure it out. I have enough other things to figure out.

        • Having served as a marine in the space wars, I have plenty of other conflicts to consider.

                • The breeze is the best part of wearing a skirling skirt onto the battlefields of Zorgoz-5.

                    • It can be a bit nippy, but no way am I dropping a tradition like this. Might post a pic of my kilt later.

                    • I think posting a pic would be a great idea. The world needs reminders of the heroes who keep us safe from the garbage worms of Zorgoz-4, 5 AND 6…

                    • I stood between you and the Slithering Hoards of Zarjazz10324, and don’t you forget it. I faced dignity-destroying breezes but kept my nerve to deliver kilt based justice.

  6. They literally can’t make them like this anymore can they? I’m not sure they can even do WW2 aerial action like in The Battle of Britain with real Spitfires anymore. Could they find enough biplanes and triplanes with pilots to fly them to do this today?

    • Nope, these flying circuses are a thing of the past. shame about the blue-screen work, but the actual flying is amazing, and since this is a handsome production, looks even better now. In CGI land, every shot is a money shot, and the result is a mangling of the grammar of classic cinema. faC2t!

      • Yeah, there’s nothing like the old war movies where they still could get their hands on all the original equipment and you didn’t feel like you were watching a videogame.

        • It’s a shame because the best CGI is the stuff you don’t know if fake. This film has a measly 5 reviews on RT this morning, so I figured it was worth a punt.

            • What was 1966 like, for those of us who are the same age as Paul Rudd and don’t remember it?

              • It wasn’t pretty. Boys were starting to look like girls growing their hair long and everybody seemed to have forgotten the breadlines we had to line up in during the Depression. But there was The Beatles.

                • How well did you know up and coming cultural figures like Studs Terkel? Did you feel you could learn from the new kids on the block?

                    • They only Google he knew was Barney Google. That’s all I remember from him phoning my office in 2008.

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