Friday, April 24, 2015




                The dialogue in “Hell’s Angels” is terrible, even for a silent movie.  The words put in Monte’s mouth are enough to make one throw up.  This is not balanced by Helen’s classic: “Would you be shocked if you put on something more comfortable?”  Thank God there is no cockpit chatter!  F

                “The Blue Max” has some crackling dialogue.  Part of this is due to the soap operaish scenario.  The exchanges between Bruno and Willi are dripping with sarcasm and one-upmanship.  This is one WWI air combat movie that you might want to hear some cockpit chatter, especially during the bridge scene.  A

The Blue Max                        9
Hell’s Angels                         5


                “Hell’s Angels” set the template for swirling dogfights.  It must have wowed the 1930s audiences.  The stunt flying still tops the CGI of modern efforts like “Flyboys”, but comes off as from another era to a modern audience.  The facial contortions of the dying pilots are memorable if creepy.  There is an iconic bombing scene that features some cool collateral explosions that certainly would please a modern audience.  C

                   The effects in “The Blue Max” are quite good, especially the sound of the planes.  This is an underrated effect in air combat movies.  It does feature a “Hell’s Angels” style melee which shows the influence of the earlier film, but also makes the case that a big budget modern film can do it better.  A

The Blue Max                        18
Hell’s Angels                         12


                To make “Hell’s Angels”, Howard Hughes assembled almost 150 WWI era planes including Fokker DVIIs and S.E.5s.  It was an awesome assemblage.  Not to mention the plus seventy WWI pilots (including some aces) who participated in the dogfights.  A+

                “The Blue Max” was produced in 1966 so it did not have the luxury of having WWI planes available like “Hell’s Angels” did.  It had to rely on replicas and some purpose built fighters.  Tiger Moths and Stampe SV.4s stood in for German planes and trainers were mocked up to represent British S.E.5s.  The filmmakers had two Pfalz D.IIIs, three Fokker D.VIIs, and two Fokker Dr.I triplanes made.  The effort that went into verisimilitude was commendable.  A

The Blue Max                        27
Hell’s Angels                         22

FOURTH QUARTER:  Dogfighting

                “Hell’s Angels” has the most famous dogfighting in cinema history and justifiably so.  Howard Hughes was determined to get it right and risked his life.  When his stunt pilots refused to perform a dangerous dive, he did it himself and crashed.  Hughes coordinated the dogfights via radio control from a plane.  He had a large number of WWI pilots performing his choreography.  Three of the pilots were killed during the filming.  The principal stunt pilot was the legendary Paul Mantz.  With that said, the dogfighting is overrated.  The melee may be coordinated by Hughes, but it still comes off as a swirling free for all where you have a hard time telling who is who.  There is also not a lot of it.  C

“The Blue Max” also had a legendary stunt pilot in Derek Piggott.  He did numerous takes flying under the   bridge.  It is one of the great stunt flying exhibitions in cinema.  Most of the other pilots were from the Irish Air Corps.  The stunt flying is great.  A magnificent barrel roll makes it into the film.  The melees show the influence of “Hell’s Angels” and the modern cinematography enhances it.  Because it concentrates on one pilot, there is more dueling and it is easier to follow the opponents.  A

The Blue Max        35
Hell’s Angels          29


                If this tournament was to determine the most influential or significant dogfighting film, “Hell’s Angels” would be in the finals.  However, the tournament is simply to determine the best dogfighting movie.  Classic does not make any difference.  “The Blue Max” falls in a tough to beat category of air combat movie that was able to use actual planes with modern cinematography and did not have to rely on screen shots and more importantly, CGI.  One thing this tournament has proven is that CGI has not reached the stage where it can produce the first great dogfighting film.  “The Blue Max” is simply a better air combat film.  Its plot is shaky, but is not silly like “Hell’s Angels” and the dogfighting is marginally better.

Wednesday, April 22, 2015




                “Who’s next?  We’re all next.”  “I’m just a technician, I change things.  Put a plane in front of me with a man in it – I’ll change him into a wreck and a corpse.”  Gag!  The dialogue in “Von Richthofen and Brown” is pious and stilted.  It is B-movieish.  D

                The dialogue in “Aces High” is above average.  This is partly due to it being based on a play.  The dialogue is stereotyped like the characters.  The cynical veteran speaks cynically.  The naïve newbie speaks naively.  The cowardly craven whines.  None of it is cringe-inducing, however.  It is effective.  B

Aces High                                               8
Von Richthofen and Brown               6


                VR&B has some fine acrobatics and flight cinematography.  The images tend to be a bit repetitive with guns firing, pilot’s faces, and smoke coming out of crippled planes.  The sound effects don’t keep pace with the visuals.  Director Corman used a helicopter and small plane to get the shots along with cameras placed on the war planes.  The main actors were able to do rudimentary flying  and the facial shots were done with them in the rear seat instead of in front of a screen.  B

                Neither film uses CGI.  The sound and visual effects in “Aces High” are very good.  There’s an excellent stunt scene where the main character stands up to change his machine gun drum.  The flak is realistic, if too accurate (like every other air combat movie).  A

Aces High                                               17
Von Richthofen and Brown               14


                Corman bought the “Blue Max” air fleet.  This included replicas of Pfalz D.IIIs, S.E. 5s, Fokker D.VIIs, and Fokker Dr.Is.  Tiger Moths and Stampe SV4Cs were converted to look like WWI era war planes.  The movie uses a total of twelve flyable aircraft.  The quantity is awesome.  A+

                “Aces High” uses three air-worthy Stampes to portray the S.E.5s.   To play the German planes, they used a Tiger Moth and a Finnish Viima II painted red for the Germans.  C

Aces High                                            24
Von Richthofen and Brown               24

FOURTH QUARTER:  Dogfighting

                There is certainly a lot of combat in VR&B.  Ex-RCAF pilot Lynn Garrison coordinated the dogfighting sequences.  Stunt pilots were used for the quality acrobatics.  What the planes do is real, not CGI.  Unfortunately, the final duel is a fizzle with the Red Baron doing a ridiculous inside turn which puts the vastly inferior Brown on his tail.  B

                “Aces High” deserves credit for showing a variety of air combat.  Besides the usual dueling, there is a photo recon mission.  There is a mission to take out an observation balloon that features the observer parachuting.  A

Aces High                                     33
Von Richthofen and Brown       32


                These are two underrated movies who have taken a beating from mainstream critics.  VR&B is superior in dogfighting, but AH is better overall.  It does not have the cheesy plot and dialogue.  It also tries to make a statement about the tragedy of the war.  I am glad that VR&B made it this far.  I admire Corman for making the movie.  Not because it is an accurate telling of Von Richthofen’s death.  It isn’t.  But effort was put into the depiction of combat and Corman did not make it as though it was aimed at drive-in movie screens.

Saturday, April 18, 2015


Here is a summary of the first round:

Red Tails (9) 30 Dark Blue World (8) 29
Aces High (11) 34 Tuskegee Airmen (6) 28
Hunters (7) 30 Flyboys (10) 29
Blue Max (5) 32 Red Baron (12) 25
Hell's Angels (4) 29 Top Gun (13) 26
Von Richthofen and Brown (14) Dawn Patrol (3) 29
Angel's Wing (15) 32 Wings (2) 29
Battle of Britain (1) 36 Flying Leathernecks (16) 32

Four lower seeds triumphed which proves critics are not a good way to seed dogfighting films. Some of the upsets were shocking, but not if you watch the movies with a concentration on dogfighting.

The second round is about to begin. Here are the matchups:

Battle of Britain vs. Red Tails
Blue Max vs. Hell's Angels
Aces High vs. Von Richthofen and Brown
Hunters vs. Angel's Wing




                The dialogue in “Battle of Britain” is pretty good, if a bit tame. It is after all an Old School epic.  It uses some quotes from real historical persons.  A good example was when Goring asks Falke (channeling Adolf Galland) what he needs, Falke asks for some Spitfires.  The cockpit chatter is good and includes the memorable “tacka-tacka-tacka” used by Skipper (Robert Shaw) to simulate machine gun fire.  B

                “Red Tails” has some of the most laughable dialogue and chatter of any air combat movie.  The ground scenes are full of platitudes.  Almost everything the core group says is corny.  It gets worse when they are in the air.  “Die you Nazi dogs!”  “How you like that, Mr. Hitler”  The topper is when Pretty Boy actually says “Die, you African fool”.  F

Battle of Britain                   8
Red Tails                                5


                BoB has lots of exploding planes and it becomes a bit redundant.  There are some good interiors of German bombers.  Although the movie is famous for its battle scenes, some of the special effects are dated and it is obvious that sometimes models were used and the bombers were faked.  B

                No two movies could be more dissimilar in effects than these two.  RT is totally reliant on CGI and although it is pristine, it does separate my generation of war movie fans from the audience it was aimed at.  The dogfighting looks video gamish and defies reality.  Planes do things they were physically incapable of then (and now).  The sound effects are below average.  D

Battle of Britain                   16
Red Tails                                11


                BoB used a total of 100 aircraft.  This included three air worthy Hurricanes and twelve Spitfires.  For the Germans, the producers used Spanish versions of the He-111 and Bf-109s.  A+

                RT faithfully reproduces P-40s, P-51s, Bf-109s, Me-262s, and B-17s.  It is a shame it has them do things that are unrealistic.  Why no FW-190s?  No CGI available?  Credit to getting the 99th Pursuit Squadron’s planes accurate. One strange thing is the B-`17s alternate between being camouflaged and silver.  B

Battle of Britain                   26
Red Tails                                19

FOURTH QUARTER:  Dogfighting Quality

                BoB set the gold standard for WWII dogfighting reenactments.  The planes were filmed using a modified B-25 as the camera platform.  The action tends to be chaotic at times and it is not easy to follow the characters.  The crashes look real.  The movie gets the swirling nature of a big dogfight spot on.  B

                The biggest problem with the air combat in RT is it defies reality.  Of course, this would be news to anyone who plays air combat video games.  The planes do maneuvers that are impossible.  You do get a lot of action, however.  C

Battle of Britain           34
Red Tails                      26 


                This was  not even close.  BoB is highly regarded in the war movie community and RT is usually sneered at.  It was an interesting match-up between the Old School real planes versus the New School CGI effects.  Someday CGI will do it better, but that day has not arrived yet.




                The dialogue in “The Hunters” is surprisingly good.  There are some nice lines that have a crisp cynicism to them.  Some of the best lines are given to the alcoholic, low self-esteem Abbott.  But the real key to the movie’s uniqueness is the beatnik slang delivered by Pell.  It was meant to draw a young audience, but instead comes off as hilariously out of place.  The chatter is terse.  A

                The dialogue in “Angel’s Wing” is fine, but the subtitles are sloppy.  The discussions between Henri and Ernest are thought-provoking.  There is no cockpit chatter.  B

The Hunters          9
Angel’s Wing         8


                “The Hunters” is your standard filming fighters chasing each other while being filmed from another aircraft type of production.  There is some reliance of actors in front of screens which is also standard for that era.  The sound effects are excellent when they are not being drowned out by pompous music.  The main effect is seeing the beautiful F-86s zooming around.  This manages to overcome the terrible crash effects.  In one of the lowest moments in disregard for the intelligence of a war movie audience, the movie uses footage of a F-100 standing in for a F-86!  C

                “Angel’s Wing” is not a big budget film and it shows.  However, it does not use CGI.  Instead it uses the same methods as “The Hunters” sans footage, of course.  For a WWI movie, there is a welcome lack of facial views and no screen frontages.  You will not be awed by the effects, but you won’t cringe either.  B

Angel’s Wing         16
The Hunters          16


                The best actor in “The Hunters” is the Super Sabre and it is dynamite.  What a sweet plane!  Unfortunately, the movie is forced to use F-84s as stand-ins for MiGs.  This is unavoidable and acceptable.  In this case the F-84 is equivalent to the T-6 Texans playing Zeros in WWII films.  B

                “Angel’s Wing” has an amazing collection of WWI planes.  You get a rare look at Moranes, Farmans, and a Spad replica.  The Germans include a Rumpler and a Fokker DR1.  A

Angel’s Wing         25
The Hunters          24

FOURTH QUARTER:  Dogfight Quality

                The dogfights in “The Hunters” are choreographed so they look too pristine.  The climactic duel with Casey Jones is blah.  The dogfights seem like an afterthought as the plot is more soap opera / adventure story than air combat.  C

                The air combat in “L’Instinct de L’Ange” is simple, but reflects the actual dogfighting in the early stages of the war.  There are no swirling melees ala “Hell’s Angels”.  Mostly, Henri is a lone wolf.  The acrobatics are outstanding and unlike CGI (which I did not see any of) seem authentic.  The stunt pilots must have been very good.  B

Angel’s Wing   33
The Hunters    31


                I was expecting “The Hunters” to come out on top in this match-up.  It just seemed that “Angel’s Wing” should have just been happy to get this far.  But it moves on.  This is a movie I had never heard of before this tournament.   And a movie that I did not like at first.  It has a certain simple charm to it and the use of period aircraft, simple but effective dogfights, and a different story line has it moving on. 

Saturday, April 11, 2015



MATCH-UP:  “Battle of Britain” (1969) is an epic take on the famous air battle.  It is a British film with an all-star cast.  The movie takes the “Longest Day” approach of covering both sides.  The movie focuses on several British pilots, but also covers command decisions.  There is a romance thrown in for the ladies. 

                “Flying Leathernecks” (1951) is a John Wayne WWII movie that also stars the ever dependable war movie stalwart Robert Ryan.  The movie has a submarine-type plot set in a Marine Corps squadron.  Wayne and Ryan disagree on command philosophy and as a corollary Wayne is attempting to implement a new tactic of ground air support on Guadalcanal and then on Okinawa.

FIRST QUARTER:  Dogfighting Quantity

                “Battle of Britain”  =  21 minutes
                “Flying Leathernecks”  =  8 minutes

Battle of Britain                   10
Flying Leathernecks            6


                BoB tries to hit all the big historical moments and add in personal stories.  The subplots involving the British pilots are fictional and seem a bit cursory.  The real characters are in the higher command sphere and those scenes are nicely instructional.  Although the movie intercuts between both sides, there are no Luftwaffe characters that are developed which is an odd mistake considering the movie seems to have used the “Longest Day” template for its basic plot.  B

                Leathernecks has a typically predictable plot.  The dysfunctional command structure is nothing new, but it is aided by the two leads.  The movie is too patriotic which is surprising because it was not made during the war.  It does cover an actual tactical concept (ground air support), but does it in a simplistic way.  The movie crashes and burns in its atrocious home front scenes.  D

Battle of Britain                   18
Flying Leathernecks            12

THIRD QUARTER:  Realism and Accuracy     

                BoB is commendably accurate, but does take some liberties.  None of the pilots are actual people although Robert Shaw’s character resembles “Sailor” Malan and Falke is reminiscent of Adolf Galland.  The movie gives the textbook view of German strategic mistakes and although sadly lacking a time frame, hits some of the major German attacks like August 15 and September 15.  The “big wings” controversy is touched upon, but left hanging.  It does a good job covering the reason why the Germans shifted concentration to the British cities.  The movie had ten technical advisers, including Galland.  B

                Leathernecks is more fictional.  Kirby was based on Maj. John L. Smith who was awarded the Medal of Honor and shot down 19 Japanese planes while commanding the Cactus Air Force on Guadalcanal.  The debate over air combat versus close air support may have occurred so the movie might be a good summary of this, but it is handled very simplistically.  The movie uses a lot of footage of Hellcats when Wildcats were used on Guadalcanal.  D

Battle of Britain                   26
Flying Leathernecks            18


                BoB has few fighter squadron clichés partly because it is a battle movie rather than a small unit movie.  Many of the clichés depend on squadron dynamics and this movie does not feature that kind of plot.  We do get a mid-air collision.  An air field is bombed, but it is not by an opposing fighter squadron and is not in the form of throwing down the gauntlet.  There is a scene where a pilot breaks formation.  Actually, it is a flight of Polish pilots who leave their mother hen and is meant mainly for comic relief.  A

                Leathernecks has the gruff crew chief who also doubles as the clicheish scrounger.  Japanese fighters bomb their air field on Guadalcanal (with bombs they don’t carry, of course).  There are two separate incidents of pilots leaving formation to get a kill.  One of the main characters shows his readiness for command by sacrificing his best friend.  The movie throws in submarine clichés like the commander and the exec disagreeing about the commander’s tough love policy.  The exec comes over to the commander’s perspective. The commander is determined to fight the war differently and this causes dissension among the men.  D

Battle of Britain           36
Flying Leathernecks    24


                This was no contest which is as it should be in a match between a #1 seed and a movie that had to play its way into the tournament.  BoB is not only a highly regarded dogfighting movie, but one of the epic battle movies.  Although it is not in a league with its predecessor “The Longest Day”, it still had enough juice to handle an Old School John Wayne movie.