The Blue Max 1965 ****

The old maxim ‘they don’t make them like this anymore’ applies nicely to John Guillermin’s 1965 action drama; it’s hard to imagine this getting made now, and it’s not even clear why this was green-lit in 1965. George Peppard stars 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 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 Strachel resents being used for propaganda purposes by Count Von Klugerman (James Mason) and enjoys some bedroom encounters with Ursula Andress. While the back-projection isn’t great, the actions scenes are amazing, with real planes rather than models, and great photography by Douglas Slocombe. Complete with a 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 link below, complete with the cheeky Mad Max 2 style font.

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Birdy 1984 ***

Unknown

British director Alan Parker’s work has been critically neglected of late; his 1984 film Birdy shows him at the top of his game, directing Nicolas Cage and Matthew Modine  in a off-beat but moving drama about post-traumatic stress syndrome. Having been boyhood friends, Al (Cage) and Birdy (Modine) returns from Vietnam with emotional and physical scars that affect their relationship; Birdy is in hospital, and seems intent on realising his childhood dream to fly. Al is trying to bring his friend down to earth, but understands that Birdy’s dream of taking wing is potentially bad for his health. Adapted from a book by William Wharton, Birdy keeps the Vietnam flashbacks to the minimum, but focuses patiently on the friendship between the two men, topped of with a great final scene (and line) that wraps the story off with offhand aplomb.