[box cover]

The Blue Max

"There was no quiet on the Western Front for the heroes and cowards who flew to their rendezvous with Hell!" Thus read the tagline for this 1966 flyboy potboiler — a tagline that has virtually nothing to do with the film's plot but nicely sums up the over-the-top, turgid hamminess of The Blue Max. Shot in big, beautiful CinemaScope, the film gloriously showcases biplane dogfights, George Peppard's chiseled jawline, and the always stunning physique of Ursula Andress — so who cares that there's not even remotely enough story to justify the 150-minute running time? Peppard plays Bruno Stachel, a working-class boy who rises through the ranks of the German Army from the infantry to the elite flying corps during World War I. Looked down upon by the wealthy officers who make up the corps, Bruno vows that he'll earn the Blue Max — the highest medal of honor, and one that is awarded for repeated acts of bravery in battle. For German aviators in the Great War, this means 20 confirmed kills, and the arrogant and ambitious Bruno is set on getting his as quickly as possible. Along the way he finds a mentor in a publicity-minded general (James Mason) who makes Bruno into a national hero; he also finds his way into the bed of the general's wife Kaeti (Andress), making an enemy of a fellow pilot (Jeremy Kemp) who's both the General's nephew and Kaeti's lover. The story plays like a Judith Krantz miniseries, with utterly ridiculous dialogue (Andress: "You gambled your life for me once, with Willi." Peppard: "That was about flying, Kaeti, not about you!") and atrocious over-acting. But the aerial battles — accompanied by Jerry Goldsmith's exceptional score — are hugely fun, while the half-naked Peppard/Andress love scenes are compelling simply because the pair are so exceptionally good-looking. Do they even make movie stars this gorgeous anymore? The movie's ending features one of the campiest, most hilarious scenes of pure evil in James Mason's career, capping a film that combines the best and the worst of '60s cinema — action, melodrama, sex, and pure cheese. Fox's DVD release of The Blue Max offers the film in a good anamorphic transfer (2.35:1). The source print is pretty clean, but it hasn't been remastered or even restored with any care, and the picture quality varies from exceptionally good to dark and murky, with the colors (most notably skin tones) varying wildly throughout. The Dolby 2.0 Surround audio is very good, especially in the aerial scenes which feature screaming airplane engines, machine-gun fire, and Goldsmith's music. Original theatrical trailers in English, Portuguese and Spanish are included, plus ads for other films in Fox's "War Classics" series. Keep-case.
—Dawn Taylor

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