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.