Death, glory, and a big drink
Gefreiter Bruno Stachel is an ordinary German soldier, stumbling through the mud and gore of the Western Front in 1916. He stumbles flat on his face in the mud. Looking up, liberally covered in what he hopes is only mud, he hears a strange insistent noise. He looks up further and sees an aeroplane overhead. He watches for a while. A new idea is forming in his head...
This is the opening of the 1966 war film The Blue Max
, directed by John Guillermin, and starring George Peppard, Ursula Andress, and James Mason. It follows Stachel through his being accepted for the Imperial German Air Service, commissioned as an officer, and his becoming an Ace in the air battles of WW1
. On the way, the ex-ranker with few social connections discovers the stifling nature of the German class system, and he comes to loathe the condescension of other pilots who can put "von" in front of their names and who look down on the ex-landser
He becomes a ruthless killer and a rebel against the system, craving a cleaner Germany which is not so class-bound, and unified in a cause that will benefit all its people, not just the privileged Junkers
class. His personal odyssey leads him through von Richtofen's flying circus, an affair with the cynical and amoral Countess Kaeti von Klugemann, and eventually dies needlessly in an air crash engineered by Kaeti's cuckolded husband.
The film is rightly renowned for its effects and air-fighting scenes and remains a classic of its type.
The movie was based on the novel of the same name by Jack D. Hunter. There are significant differences between the novel and the film. Stachel dies at the end of the movie testing a highly defective experimental aircraft. He is led to believe by an even bigger bastard that the plane is safe to fly, and encouraged to stunt it and throw it around the sky a little bit. In the novel, the roles are reversed and he deliberately disposes of a rival by encouraging him
to fly the plane. The scene then shifts to the immediate post-war era. Here he has a chance meeting with a dissillusioned fighter ace called Hermann Goering, who recognises a kindred spirit. Goering belongs to an obscure fringe political party. He makes a point of telling Stachel it is led by a charismatic man, an ex-corporal like Stachel himself. Pondering a secure political future married to the nurse Elfi - his true love - he meets Countess Kaeti again. She has other plans for him.
This film contains examples of the following:
- Ace Pilot: Stachel. also a bit player called Manfred von Richtofen. His brother. And Hermann Goering.
- Aerial Canyon Chase: When Stachel chases down a British plane into a winding narrow valley.
- The Alleged Aircraft: The Adler, a dangerously defective aircraft even by WW1 standards.
- An Officer and a Gentleman: Stachel is the first, but not the second, in the eyes of his fellow fliers.
- Artifact of Attraction: the Blue Max.
- Artifact of Doom: the Blue Max.
- Artistic License – Military: All German pilots are wearing uniforms inspired by the Manfred von Richthofen's uniform of the 1st Prussian Uhlan Regiment. Also, the German aircraft are sporting the cross pattée (curve-sided cross) insignias, even in the period for which these were no longer correct.
- Bastard Bastard: Stachel. He deliberately kills the fellow officer who could betray his fatal flaw and ungentlemanly conduct - even though this officer idolises him. He makes the death look like a flying accident. He is, however, out-bastarded by the Count von Klugemann, Countess Kaeti's cuckolded husband, who claims the Adler is safe to fly, knowing it to be a death-trap. Stachel duly flies the defective machine and crashes to his death.
- Bling of War: the coveted Blue Max medal ribbon.
- Heroic Bastard: Stachel in the eyes of the German public after winning the Blue Max.
- the MacGuffin: the Blue Max, the pursuit of which drives Stachel to ever-greater heights of bastardry.
- Modesty Towel: Kaeti.
- Nipple and Dimed: Kaeti.
- Orchestral Bombing: Jerry Goldsmith's epic score for this film; highlighted with the cue, TheAttack.
- Red Baron: von Richtofen himself is a supporting player.
- Ungrateful Bastard: Stachel in the eyes of the commanding Officer who nurtures and protects him and tolerates his bastardry.
- Up Through the Ranks: Bruno Stachel begins as an ordinary grunt in the German Army, who one day looks up from the Western Front mud, sees a plane overhead, and has an epiphany. Accepted for the Imperial Air Service, he is commissioned as an officer pilot, and learns to his disillusionment that an ex-private who cannot put a "von" in front of his name is the lowest form of life in the Kaiser's armed forces.
This novel contains differences from the film and examples of the following:
- The Alcoholic: Stachel. And Elfi.
- Bastard Bastard: Stachel. He deliberately kills the fellow officer who could betray his fatal flaw and ungentlemanly conduct - even though this officer idolises him. He makes the death look like a flying accident. Later he kills again by sending another inconvenient obstacle up in an experimental aircraft which he has test-flown and knows to be a death-trap.
- Blackmail Is Such an Ugly Word: The Countess turns the tables on him by threatening to release evidence of one of his murders.
- Those Wacky Nazis: Hermann Goering.