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Film / Only Old Men Are Going to Battle

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Only Old Men Are Going to Battle is a 1973 film from the Soviet Union, shot in Ukraine.

It was directed by Leonid Bykov, who also stars as Captain "Maestro" Titarenko, the leader of a Red Army squadron of fighter planes doing battle against the Germans in Ukraine in 1943. His motley crew includes Sergei Skvortzov, his second-in-command who is suffering from battle stress, and newbie arrivals to the squadron Vitya "Darkie" Shchedronov (named for a song he sings about a dusky Moldovan woman), "Romeo" Sagdullayev (pretty-boy handsome, charms the ladies), and "Grasshopper" Aleksandrov, a serious young man who lied about his age to get into flight school, but still likes to catch grasshoppers. Capt. Titarenko is a devoted fan of music, and his squadron moonlights as a band of musicians when they aren't fighting Germans.


The phrase (or rather word) "old man" in Russian has the colloquial meaning of "experienced person", and in this case refers to the veteran pilots, who call themselves this to distinguish themselves from the newly arrived flight school graduates.

Compare The Dawn Patrol, a 1930 American film about British fighter pilots in World War I that deals with many of the same themes.


  • Amazon Brigade: A bomber squadron that is piloted excusively by women, and is based near Titarenko's 2nd squadron. Romeo falls in love with Masha, a pretty bomber pilot.
  • Anguished Declaration of Love: Romeo is nervous enough that he has to gasp out "I love you, Masha" in his native language of Uzbek before telling her again in Russian.
  • Bittersweet Ending: Many key characters are killed during one dogfight or another. Capt. Titarenko actually survives. Also, the film ends on a hopeful note, as the Germans have been nearly pushed out of Soviet territory. Skvortzov regains his youthful vigor... only to get shot down during the next battle. Romeo lands his damaged fighter but dying from injuries. As Titarenko is preparing to deliver the news to Romeo's Love Interest Masha, he receives news that Masha's bomber was shot down as well.
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  • Book Ends: At the beginning, Titarenko and Skvortzov greet the new recruits. When the alarm is raised they tell the newbies to wait, saying "Only old men are going to battle" and "Don't worry boys, you'll get our share of fighting." Towards the end of the movie, Titarenko and the now-veteran Grasshopper and Romeo greet more newbie recruits, and they tell the newbies to wait again when the Germans arrive.
  • Deliberately Monochrome: The film was shot in black and white. A colorized version was released in 2009.
  • Distracted by the Sexy: Grasshopper is trying to give a Rousing Speech, but he keeps getting distracted by the lady bomber pilots, who are changing out of their flight uniforms behind a translucent curtain.
  • Match Cut: From an angry swipe of Titarenko's arm as the squad mourns a fallen comrade, to a Soviet plane swooping down on Germans.
  • Mood Whiplash: The opening credits play over a series of stills of Capt. Titarenko's band, as cheerful Russian folk music plays over the soundtrack. Then the film cuts to live action, showing the squadron in aerial combat against the Luftwaffe.
  • New Meat: Darkie, Romeo, and Grasshopper, who arrive at the 2nd squadron as wet-behind-the-ears graduates from flight school (Grasshopper is actually too young to fly, as he lied about his age) and become veterans.
  • Nose Art: Capt. Titarenko's plane is decorated by a drawing of a bar of sheet music.
  • Old School Dogfight: The Movie, as this is the squadron's job.
  • Shell-Shocked Veteran: Skvortzov is having to deal with this. On two consecutive missions, he freezes up while in the air and breaks off from combat with the Germans. After returing to base, he admits that he doesn't even remember turning away.
  • Staggered Zoom: While the squadron is playing music and relaxing in the mess hall, there's a cut to a fighter plane being serviced, then a staggered zoom away from the plane, emphasizing the deadly danger that awaits them even as they're relaxing.
  • Stock Footage: The film is liberally dosed with stock footage of both aerial and ground combat on the Eastern Front.
  • Very Loosely Based on a True Story: Loosely inspired by Real Life fighter pilot Vitaly Popkov who had a "singing squadron" that played concerts when not in the air. And the lady bomber pilots are obviously inspired by the Real Life "Night Witches", an all-female Soviet bomber squadron.

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