The Blue Max (1966)
Director: John Guillermin
Starring: George Peppard (Bruno Stachel), James Mason (General Count von Klugermann), Ursula Andress (Countess Kaeti von Klugermann), Jeremy Kemp (Willi von Klugermann), Karl Michael Vogler (Otto Heidemann), Anton Diffring (Holbach), Harry Towb (Kettering), Peter Woodthorpe (Rupp), Derek Newark (Ziegel), Derren Nesbitt (Fabian), Loni von Friedl (Elfi Heidemann), Friedrich von Ledebur (The Field Marshal), Carl Schell (Von Richthofen), Hugo Schuster (Elderly Servant), Alex Scott (the Orator), Roger Ostime (the Crown Prince)
World War I air war.
Spoiler Warning: below is a summary of the entire movie.
1918. World War I. Behind the German lines. The commoner Lt. Bruno Stachel reports to the airfield to fly airplanes. He gives the impression of being a very stiff person, a no-nonsense kind of guy who just wants to do his job better than any other pilot there. In fact, Lt. Stachel is out to shoot down twenty enemy planes in order to win the medal known as the Blue Max.
The leader of the air squadron is Otto Heidemann and the ace pilot is Willi von Klugermann with eighteen kills. Shortly after arriving, Willi gets his twentieth kill which gave him the Blue Max medal. The pilots do not care for Lt. Stachel. He is so consumed with getting kills that he seems untrustworthy. Pilot Fabian was shot down. The pilots started gossiping that Stachel cared more about his own unconfirmed kill than Fabian's death. Since few pilots would pair up with Stachel, Willi volunteers. He enjoys the challenges provided by the obsessive young pilot.
Stachel shoots the gunner on a British plane and then forces the pilot to fly to the German airfield. Just at the airfield, the British gunner wakes up and starts firing again at Stachel. This forces Stachel to shoot down the plane which crashes on the German airfield. Willi tells Stachel: "There's something of the cobra in you."
General Count von Klugermann and his wife, the beautiful Countess Kaeti von Klugermann, pay a visit to the air squadron, partly to see their nephew Willi von Klugermann. Since Stachel is a man who rose though the ranks in the German army and because he forced the British plane to the German airfield, the General sees in Stachel a wonderful opportunity for a grand publicity campaign to improve morale by giving the regular people one of their own as a hero. Stachel in turn is very interested in Countess Klugermann.
Commander Heidemann tells the air squadron that 7,000 guns will open up introducing the greatest military offensive in history. A million men have been released from the eastern front and many of them will be thrown into the battle.
Countess Klugermann accidentally knocks on the door of Stachel's living quarters and he learns that the Countess is having an affair with her nephew Willi. Stachel talks with Willi and tells him that he will sleep with the Countess one day and that he will buy Willi his favorite champagne of the year 1903.
The offensive begins and the air squadron bombs and strafe the British troops. Stachel gets more kills, but his plane is damaged and bursts into flames. Stachel is able to land the plane on a field, but not before his left forearm gets burned. Back at the airfield Stachel meets the famous Red Baron. The famed pilot wants Stachel to work with his new squadron, but Stachel declines saying that he thought it would be better to prove himself with his current squadron.
The General, however, demands that Stachel be sent to him in Berlin for publicity pictures. In Berlin the General asks Stachel's opinion about the new design for a monoplane which appears very unstable in air tunnel tests. With a lot of bravado, Stachel says that one more risk won't mean much to the pilots. The decision is made to produce the unstable model. Stachel is taken to the local military hospital to have pictures taken of him with his left arm in a sling (although he does not need one).
The General tells Stachel that his wife wants him to attend a dinner party to be given at their home. After the party is over Stachel stays over and has sex with the Countess. (Apparently, there is some kind of agreement between the couple to tolerate sex with other partners.) When Stachel returns to the squadron he presents Willi with a 1903 bottle of champagne. Willi goes ballistic saying: "We've tolerated you, because we had to."
The German offensive has come to a standstill and the Americans are pouring men onto the battlefields. The squadron goes to battle again and Willi and Stachel also compete in the air. Stachel cannot bring any British planes down because his machine guns have jammed. Willi gets two more kills. This provokes Stachel into challenging Willi to a test of wills. Stachel flies his plane under the bridge and between the closely-spaced supporting pillars. Willie does the same successfully but when he looks back to see the expression on Stachel's face, he rams into a huge tree.
Back at the squadron, the air commander asks Stachel where is Willi. Stachel says that the pilot is dead. He flew too low and hit the trees. Then Stachel cynically claims that the two kills by Willi were actually his own. The air commander, however, finds out that Stachel's guns were jammed and he could not have brought down two British planes with just forty machinegun rounds and refuses to confirm the kills.
After the funeral for Willi, Stachel meets the Countess at a local hotel to have sex again. He tells the Countess that she amuses him and he confesses that he played a game of in and out of the trees with Willi and Willi lost.
The Allied forces have made a major breakthrough in the German lines. Commander Heidemann tells his squadron that they will strafe and bomb the British troops, but that there will be no air combat. When British planes show up, however, Stachel breaks off formation and goes after them to increase his number of kills. This forces the other German planes to follow Stachel's lead. When the squadron returns to the airfield, Heidemann is furious with Stachel, saying that he is responsible for the loss of half the squadron. Furthermore, he tells Stachel that he will be court-martialed. But all Stachel really cares about is that he now has 22 kills.
Stachel and Heidemann are ordered to Berlin. On the ride to see the General, the two pilots see how great is the suffering of the German citizens. There are bread riots and there are shouts of "Long live the Revolution". The General tells Heidemann to withdraw his report and request for Stachel's court-martial. Germany needs the hero Stachel. Heidemann tells the General that he resigns his command and asks for a staff appointment in Berlin. The General agrees.
The Countess and Stachel meet for the purposes of sex. But this time the Countess wants something else from Stachel. She tells him that Germany is finished and that she wants him to accompany her to live in Switzerland. But Stachel replies: "There's nothing I want to run away from". He, however, becomes a little too arrogant for his own good. He goes too far when he insults the Countess which makes her furious and, as they say, "Hell hath no fury like a woman scorned."
At the Blue Max ceremony for Stachel, the Crown Prince himself presents the medal. During the ceremony, the General receives a phone call from the Field Marshall telling him to stop the ceremony; that he has found out about the questionable behavior of Stachel. The ceremony, however, is over. The General tells his aide to get Stachel off the airstrip. Stachel was supposed to have flown the new monoplane in an air demonstration, but the General orders Heidemann to take the plane up into the air. He then demands to know from his wife what she told the Field Marshall. He tells her that she does not realize how much damage she has done to Stachel for a court of inquiry will disgrace him (not to mention the General himself for his cover-ups).
Heidemann successfully takes the plane up and brings it back down. But, he quickly tells the General that the plane is a death trap and that he was lucky to have gotten down alive. The General then decides to tell Stachel to fly the monoplane and adds: "And let's see some real flying". Stachel does indeed do some fancy flying and crashes to his death.
Following the crash, the General tells his wife to stand up: "We'll be late for lunch." They both walk out to see the amazed and shocked Heidemann and his equally amazed wife.
Good movie. Great flight sequences and a good story. But talk about a one-dimensional man: Stachel was the hero with the fatal flaw of obsession with winning fame and glory and the Blue Max medal for twenty enemy planes shot down. He was a brave and daring pilot, but his psychological disorder doomed him to a tragic end. George Peppard perhaps over-portrayed the stiffness of Lt. Stachel. The lovely and sexy Ursula Andress was good as Countess Kaeti von Klugermann. She had the look of a woman who would hurt you if you crossed her.
Patrick Louis Cooney, Ph. D.
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