Director: Tony Bill.
Starring: James Franco (Blaine Rawlings), Scott Hazell (Cinema Usher), Mac McDonald (Sheriff Detweiller), Philip Winchester (William Jensen), Todd Boyce (Mr. Jensen), Karen Ford (Mrs. Jensen), Ruth Bradley (Laura), Abdul Salis (Eugene Skinner), Tim Pigott-Smith (Mr. Lowry), Tyler Labine (Briggs Lowry), Gail Downey (Mrs. Lowry), David Ellison (Eddie Beagle), Jean Reno (Capt. Thenault), Augustin Legrand (L.T. Giroux), Keith McErlean (Vernon Toddman), Martin Henderson (Reed Cassidy), Lex Shrapnel (Grant), Christopher Snell (Bartender), Jennifer Decker (Lucienne), Kate Robbins (Clarise), Christien Anholt (Higgins), Pip Pickering (Nunn), Barry McGee (Dewitt), Michael Jibson (Lyle Porter), Gunnar Winbergh (The Black Falcon), Ian Rose (Wolfert), Daniel Rigby (Ives), Kyle Hensher-Smith (Jacques), Lauren Downing (Marie), Hayley Downing (Marie), Adrien Boublil (Luc), Jake Canuso (French Infantryman).
US pilots in France's legendary Lafayette Escadrille
Spoiler Warning: below is a summary of the entire film.
World War I (1914-1918). A new kind of hero was born with the introduction of the airplane into combat: the pilot.
Aberdeen, Texas. Notice of foreclosure sign A young man tears the notice off and throws it on the ground. At the movies the audience watches newsreel footage of World War I. The allied nations fight valiantly to survive. The great war rages on. Sheriff comes in and tells him he is going to have to arrest him. A new combat unit for the Yanks has been created. Yanks going over to learn how to fly.
Lincoln, Nebraska. Son is getting on the train to go to war. He's got the Jensen blood, so don't worry mom.
Marseilles Skinner keep working on your fright. He's a black fighter. He has enlisted. He feels he owes France something. He's going to learn how to fly airplanes.
New York City. Rich man sends his son off on a ship. He has been dismissed at Harvard and he must do something worthy of his name. He has nothing to say to his father. So father leaves.
Paris, France. Yanks get off the train. See badly wounded French troops. La escadrille airdrome, Verdun, France. Captain. Some Americans have arrived. Newport 11 flown by the French detachment.
Only the black fellow speaks French. We have lot more than a million of our young men. That will be me. Blaine Rawlings. life expectancy is 3-6 weeks Go home while you still can.
This is your quarters. A mansion. Only the rich guy has seen such a mansion. The patron, the wealthy William K Vanderbilt, has rented the quarters for them. Skinner and Laurie (rich guy) Laurie objects Rawlings goes wilth Skinner. The lion-gamer has 22 kills.
The Americans go to the squadron bar. They cant come in . It is reserved for killers. You shot down any Germans I don't know about. Rubs his head and gets knocked down. I can take him. He's a professional. Until you do something you're not even in this room. Black guy pretty angry.
Guys start learning how to fly. Escadrille scarf helps to stop chaffing from turning the head to look for enemy aircraft.
Teach them tactics Shoot in short bursts Rawlings gets all hits on his target practice . Rawlings, go up with your fellow and teach him how to shoot. Beagle. Beagle runs out of gas. He tries to land the craft but hits a tree. Rawlings wakes up surrounded by a group of prostitutes. Beagle is enjoying himself. The madam tells the women to go to work. Rawlings goes in with the girl nursing him. Jensen comes in. He gives her the flower and then leaves with Jensen. As they leave the ace shows up. At least not all his friends are dead.
Porter a new recruit come aboard. He keeps his Bible close.
One month later. Rawlings wakes up early and goes outside. A bunch of new airplanes come in. They are the airplanes for the Yanks. Rawlings looks pleased. All have Indian heads painted on the sides. "They were brave, I like it.", says Rawlings. The fellows have their own insignias put on the planes.
Going to war in two days. "Knights of the air", says Jensen. Germans are moving to the Meuse River in their push to take Paris. Tomorrow at 0600 hours the pilots will escort two bombers to Jametz. At that location is the main German ammunition depot. Cassidy will be their leader. Cassidy tells them to hit the sack. Everyone gets up at 4. Cassidy talks to Rawlings. Whose your next of kin? I don't know. I don't really have any. The guys take off. The prostitute known to Rawlings watches them take off.
Anti-aircraft fire hits amidst them. The American planes fly upwards. The Germans attack. An American goes down. American pilot killed. Another Am plane goes down, but he lands and is o.k. He is ecstatic about surviving. The pilot on the ground is hit and killed by one of the German planes. They took a beating. We got jumped before we even got to the bombers. Black falcon killed the American. Mission briefing in 15 minutes. You want justice. You're the man with the gun. Cassidy goes up alone, he prefers it that way. Rich guy says when he gets one kill to show his father he was in the thick of it, he's quitting. Rawlings doesn't feel like drinking. Pilots die every day. We can't sit around grieving about things we can't change. Go with it or go to your room and cry like a baby. Rawlings leaves.
Rawlings looks for Lucien, who bandaged him. She is not one of her girls. She was exchanging some supplies. Where does she live. He gets a horse and rides down to her house. He tries to communicate with her using a French/English dictionary. Why did you pretend you were a prostitute? I was afraid you would die soon. Her brother and his wife died in an explosion in the house. He shows them some tricks.
Air raid siren goes off. The Germans just bombed a railway. If you hurry you can cut them off. Rawlings? brings down a bomber. Jensen gets hit in the neck, but survives. The religious guy Porter sings Onward Christian soldiers. An American plane is hit and explodes. His machine gun jams and while trying to fix it the German gets behind him. He figures he's a goner But the German pulls even with him, salutes and then takes off. Porter got one kill. And Rawlings got one. At the bar: "Now you are officially killers." Triple ace Wolfert let you off Rawlings says Cassidy. He won't let you off next time.
Germans have three winged airplanes. They can outmaneuver the Allied planes. Lowry tells Rawlings there is something not right about Beagle. He never hits any German airplanes.
There's something wrong with Jensen. He's all sweaty and in a fog. Cassidy hits him and tells him he is going through a little shock. You don't have to go up until you feel better.
Rawlings flies his plane to Lucienne's house. All the kids come out to greet him. Marie is learning a little English. He gives his girlfriend a ride in his airplane. At night in the house, they kiss.
Everything is made up in Beagle's file. They think he is a spy. The French commander says Beagle changed his name. He is from Wisconsin. Your name is German. Are you a German sympathizer? No. We shoot spies. Rawlings speaks to him. He committed a crime in the States. He robbed a bank. No one was hurt in the robbery. He used a toy gun. Cassidy says he can prove his testimony. Got telegrams from Wisconsin. He is guilty of armed robbery. The American pilots support Beagle. Rawlings says: "We would all continue to trust him with our lives in the off chance that someday he might actually hit something."
Fokker airplanes are heading their way. Attack civilians mixed in with soldiers around a mansion. The Yanks come in and down one of the German airplanes. The civilians are all happy. Lowry gets a kill. Two German airplanes get behind him. Skinner gets one of the German aircraft from below flying upwards. Beagle gets a kill. Rawlings brings down Wolfert. Beagle gets hit and goes down. He crashes on the battlefield. Beagle moans in pain. His hand is caught under the plane and he can't get it out. Rawlings lands his plane and then runs across a section of the battlefield to help Beagle. Two French soldiers come out to help lift the plane off Beagle. The French soldiers gets killed. Rawlings can't lift the plane by himself so he cuts off Beagle's left hand. They make it to safety in the French trenches.
Lowry apologizes to Skinner because he has been a "pompous ass". Rawlings talks to Cassidy about the war and combat.
From her window at home Lucienne sees the German infantry advancing. Rawlings flies to her house to protect her. The French commander tells his men to arrest Rawlings when he returns. French commander tells him to leave the plane and go to his personal quarters.
Rawlings told Lucienne to say put, but she goes back to her house to get some things. The German kick the front door open. They come into the house. She tries to sneak out of the house. She gets to the yard but no farther. He approaches and she warns him by hand gestures to stop. She then runs to him. When he starts up his plane, it backfires alerting the German soldiers. They rush out of the house firing at the airplane. Lucieane is hit by a bullet. Rawlings kills two German soldiers trying to stop him. He gets the plane into the air and lands o.k. He rushes Luciene to the doctor. Later they take her to Rheims to the main hospital. Rawlings promises to see her there.
The French commander presents Rawlings with a medal for his courage. A German Zeppelin is on its way to bomb Paris. Four of the Yanks will go after it. The other will participate in another campaign. The four pilots have to face a slew of German fighters. Porter strafes the Zeppelin but gets hit. Rawlings and Skinner go to his rescue. They all then go for the Zeppelin, but more German fighters appear. Porter goes straight at his opponent and gets shot himself. The German plane then fires again at him. Then the German comes even with him and gloats. This angers Porter and he slams his plane into the Zeppelin. Lost two men: Porter and Cassidy. Cassidy gave a letter to the French commander to give to Rawlings in case of his death. Rawlings is given the letter and he reads it aloud to everyone.
Rawlings asks for permission to go to Rheims. He gets there by motorcycle. He finds the hospital is being evacuated. He yells for Lucienne without an answer. Later he sees her packing her things onto a vehicle. They reunite in a hug. She tells him: "You and me in Paris after the war. . . . You will be in my thoughts and in my heart." She has to go with the convoy.
The Yank pilots are going to have another go at Jametz. They will escort four bombers to the place. The USA has just announced its entrance into the war.
Jensen is still unsuccessfully struggling to get back into the air. Rawlings takes the place of Cassidy. They put Cassidy's insignia on his plane. In the air they face more German fighters, except this time they are more experienced pilots. Lowry's plane gets hit. He takes out his pistol and shoots himself in the head. Wit a hook for his left hand, Beagle brings down a German plane. The Allied bombers drop their bombs on the target. The Yanks return to base. Rawlings comes back but then goes out again, just like Cassidy. He flies to the German airport and strafes the German airplanes. Wolfert goes up in his plane to get Rawlings and they engage in a dogfight. Rawlings gets behind the German but another German plane interferes before he can knock Wolfert out of the sky. Jensen shows up to help Rawlilngs. Two German airplanes crash against each other in the air. Rawlings is hit by Wolfert who comes to gloat. He goes for the kill, but Rawlings makes a brilliant maneuver and gets even with him and shoots Wolferts with his pistol in the left eye. Wolfert's plane goes down in flames. The rest of the American pilots join with Jensen and Rawlings.
Jensen fights through the war and is given a hero's welcome when he returns home. Skinner is not allowed to fly for the Americans because of prejudice and discrimination. Back home the become a pilot for the air mail service. Beagle stays in Europe, marries and starts his own flying circus. Rawlings never finds Lucienne. Back in Texas Rawlings builds one of the largest ranches in the state. He never flew again.
Good action film with lots of dog fighting. One gets more dog fighting than history so one does not learn a lot about the lives of the pilots in France. But there is a good love story and the excitement is retained throughout.
Patrick Louis Cooney, Ph. D.
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