John Guillermin’s The Blue Max is an epic length film without an epic length story. It has exhilarating aerial photography and an interesting antihero at its core, but this is one film which has been stretched out far longer than it should have been with an unnecessary and not particularly remarkable romantic subplot and not quite enough tension in its battle scenes. Still, it's something to see, and World War I buffs are likely to really appreciate it.
Distributed By: Twilight Time
Video Resolution and Encode: 1080P/AVC
Aspect Ratio: 2.35:1
Audio: English 5.1 DTS-HDMA
Subtitles: English SDH
Rating: Not Rated
Run Time: 2 Hr. 36 Min.
Package Includes: Blu-raykeep case
Disc Type: BD50 (dual layer)
Release Date: 02/11/2014
Brash, talented aviator Bruno Stachel (George Peppard) has taken less than two years to progress from an infantry corporal to a lieutenant in the German air corps. He’s embarrassed about his lack of an aristocratic background (his fellow flyers all seem to be of the upper class), but he can challenge anyone of them in the air, and his skills can be put to good use in 1918 as Germany is pushing for an all-out forward offensive trying to make the Allies capitulate before the Americans can arrive en masse. Though his commander Colonel Otto Heidemann (Karl Michael Vogler) dislikes his cocky ways, General Count von Klugermann (James Mason) sees in Stachel a brave man he can build into a national hero (especially after he saves the Red Baron – Carl Schell – during an air skirmish with a British plane), so much so that he even ignores his wife’s (Ursula Andress) sexual dalliances with him and with Stachel’s friend and rival Willi von Klugermann (Jeremy Kemp). More than anything, though, Stachel wants to win the Blue Max, the highest aviation medal awarded only to pilots who have twenty corroborated kill shots against enemy planes.
The Production Rating: 3.5/5
The screenplay has the names of David Pursall, Jack Seddon, and Gerald Hanley adorning it (and with several other hands working on the adaptation of the novel by Jack D. Hunter), but there still isn’t really enough story to justify the length of two-and-a-half hours simply with continual evidence about how much of a jerk Stachel is by disregarding orders, ignoring the safety of his fellow officers, and taking credit for kills that were achieved by others. What distinguishes the film are the several aerial sequences which have been photographed majestically and which sometimes achieve some worthwhile tension during a couple of heavy dogfight sequences (the major German offensive against the Allies with ground fighting and air support is an especially eye-opening set piece as directed by John Guillermin) or most especially in the climactic test of a new monoplane that Stachel had been enthusiastic in endorsing. The romantic subplot with Stachel seducing the general’s wife played by Ursula Andress seems like an afterthought, inserted just for a change of pace from the male-heavy cast of flyers and grounds crew but with no particular sexual sparks struck between the two gorgeous actors.
With a cast once again of mixed nationalities (see my review of The 300 Spartans), accents are a jumbled bed of American, British, German, and other nationalities all playing Germans. George Peppard had many times before played the braggadocios schemer to fine effect, and he’s just as good here even without any kind of accent. But Ursula Andress gives a miserable performance of stilted phrases and uncomfortable body language, burdened by deeply cut gowns and flowing or over-elaborate 1960s hairstyles which are definitely not period but which emphasize her major physical assets. As the two in command of the flying regiment, both James Mason and Karl Michael Vogler bring pomp and circumstance to their acting, both ably portraying men who have different senses of what makes for honor and national pride. Jeremy Kemp is playful and crassly agreeable as the randy rival of Stachel’s, while Carl Schell’s one scene as charismatic Baron Von Richthofen makes one regret more wasn’t done with his character in the story.
The film’s 2.35:1 Cinemascope aspect ratio is faithfully presented in a 1080p transfer using the AVC codec. This is another triumphant Fox transfer offering a sparklingly clear and detailed image which boasts excellent sharpness and beautiful color with its crisp blues and deep reds all registering magnificently. Black levels are superb throughout, and there are no instances of age-related artifacts to ruin the visual presentation. The film has been divided into 12 chapters.
Video Rating: 5/5 3D Rating: NA
While the film won’t rival any modern war or action films with its sound mix, the DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 audio track boasts strong fidelity and excellent reproduction of the surround mixes of the era. There is a lot of use of the front soundstage with panning effects and all manner of ambient sounds while the rear channels are used for nice support of Jerry Goldsmith’s classic score that complements the spread of the music across the front soundstage. Dialogue is always discernible and has been placed in the center channel.
Audio Rating: 4.5/5
Audio Commentary: film historians Nick Redman, Julie Kirgo, and Jon Burlingame share their track with a few additional Jerry Goldsmith music cues, all welcome additions to the disc. The discussion allows Miss Kirgo to discuss the film’s pluses and minuses while Burlingame focuses on Goldsmith’s music, all overseen and expertly hosted by Redman.
Special Features Rating: 3/5
Isolated Music Track: Jerry Goldsmith’s highly praised score is presented in DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 stereo.
Theatrical Trailer (3:09, SD)
Six-Page Booklet: black and white and color stills, poster art on the back cover, and film historian Julie Kirgo’s enlightening background and overview of the movie are included in the booklet.
The Blue Max may be a trifle overlong, but some of the scintillating characters and the exciting World War I battle action especially in the skies make it a movie well worth investing time in. There are only 3,000 copies of this Blu-ray available. Those interested should go to www.screenarchives.com to see if any are still available. Information about the movie can also be found via Facebook at www.facebook.com/twilighttimemovies.
Overall Rating: 4/5
Reviewed By: Matt Hough
Support HTF when you buy this title: