Blue Maximum for the Blue Max

DATELINE: Chess in the Sky  

 Real Stars Fly High!

We missed this little forgotten gem back in 1966, and today it is just a delicious extravaganza from the over-the-top studio system on its last legs. It is another faux epic but it is as big as the sky.

Clocking in at nearly three hours, The Blue Max was an important war movie for the Vietnam era. It told the story of chivalry in Germany during World War I. There, a common infantryman rises to air corps—and is ambitious enough to rival Von Richtofen.

The film has the benefit of George Peppard as his most unpleasant rogue antihero. However, the picture does not take off for forty minutes. That’s when James Mason and Ursula Andress take to the air as a German general of some sort and his countess wife.

Suddenly the movie comes alive. And Mason and Andress steal every scene they’re in. Elegant, aristocratic, and disdainful, you could not have two more delightful actors to change the pace of a war movie.

When Mason calls Peppard as “common as dirt” and a hero for the masses, you have the new era of movies entering on a biplane that could only shoot down King Kong in the movies.

There are long stretches of dog fights between Peppard and British planes, which are spectacular, but we can’t help but think this is nasty combat and is meant to kill the other pilot, not merely shoot him down. It dampens the undercurrent of a fun war.

A large cast also displays ugly hand-to-hand combat with bayonets, interspersed with Jeremy Kemp and Peppard’s rivalry over their extra-marital interest in Kemp’s auntie Ursula.

Scenes of glorious air flight are contrasted with uninspired ground troop massacres. We know that the chess match between Mason and Andress will result in Peppard having his Blue Max match his blue eyes at any cost, but he will end up the patsy of the villains. It’s worth watching two great film stars (Mason and Andress) in full throttle.

Tenth Victim: Futuristic and Dated

DATELINE: Murder in the 21st Century

 Andress in Undress?

The expiration date on using The Tenth Victim probably ended in the 20thcentury.

A social satire about murder in the future, this Italian film has all the earmarks of Fellini and Antonioni. It is excessive, flamboyant, and beautifully filmed. Its main conceit was that in the 21stcentury America, violence would be rampant and institutionalized as a game.

You would have hunters and the hunted. Alas, nothing racial or insulting to minorities occurs. In fact, there is not a minority to be seen in a colorful landscape meant to be the United States.

The male victim is a highly successful hunter with a dozen kills to his credit, but now the computer system has turned the tables and sent a stunningly beautiful woman out to get him. He does not know her identity, and that is part of the game. Everyone dresses in eye-popping fashion, and the future is squeaky clean, streets bright and cheery.

The cast is exemplary for the time: Marcello Mastroianni bleaches his hair blond (it was big that year as Terence Stamp did it too), and he is pursued by the American killer Ursula Andress. Hunh? You mean it’s not Anita Ekberg? Or Sophia Loren?

The sets are spectacular, and the music is jazz out of the classic Fifties mode, what you’d expect in a Euro-entertainment of the period.

As for the plot, it is neither violent enough, bloody enough, or shocking enough to make it controversial. It is played for light-hearted satire, and there is not a drop of blood to be seen.

Other touches indicate that comic books are great literature in America in the 21stcentury, collected like first-edition Francis Bacon.

In 1965, this flashy film grabbed them at the art house. Today it is more akin to a flash in the pan, though we are reluctant to pan something that is original, singular, and cute.