By Brian Saur
This one was another I'd had on the back of my brain due to an old video coworker recommend. I had been meaning to watch it for some time and even owned the DVD for a year or two, but it took far too long to actually get around to it. THE BLUE MAX is a remarkably exciting film with excellent dogfighting sequences. It is truly the TOP GUN of its day and I'm surprised it is not often mentioned in the same sentence as that film or any of the other great air-warfare films of all-time. It is of course a much much darker portrait of the tragedy of war and the death therein than TOP GUN would ever think of being.
This movie has much more on its mind. It's more an anti-war film epic than a piece of popcorn entertainment. George Peppard's portrayal here is among his very best and he brings a great pathos to the proceedings, while playing a character that is quite flawed to say the least.
His character, a German soldier having come literally from the trenches to being a pilot, gives him a whole different perspective on the loss of life on either side. There is a certain antiquated gentlemenly attitude and chivalry that pervades the squadron where Peppard has been assigned. Peppard's character sees it flying in the face of the horrors of war he has witnessed previously and much conflict arises from this clash of ideologies.
James Mason rounds out the cast nicely here as well. And Ursella Andress is welcome in any film I happen to be watching. Additionally, Jerry Goldsmith provides a wonderful, rousing and majestic score that really brings the movie up to another level (the film even features an old-school intermission which gives a lovely platform for the music). Theres something quite gloriously cinematic about watching these aerial battle scenes amidst the roar of the plane's engines and their machine guns with Goldsmith's melodies accompanying.
I had been wanting to see this film ever since screenwriter extraordinaire Larry Karaszewski made me aware of it via one of his informative Trailers From Hell commentaries.
There were a bunch of things about the movie that caught my interest. First, the cast. James Coburn, Aldo Ray, Carroll O'Connor, Harry Morgan, and Dick Shawn. Good group and especially around 1966, James Coburn was firing on all the cylinders of his Coburn-ness. Aldo Ray is also awesome and sadly underrated by many it seems. This movie also has a screenplay by William Peter Blatty (yes THAT one) and is produced and directed by Blake Edwards, who was also running through a strong period in his career around this time. Most Blake Edwards movies are pretty well known, especially among cinephiles, but this one gets talked about the least of most of them.
There are several things you should know about this movie from the outset. First, the cast includes Paul Newman, Fredric March, Cameron Mitchell, Richard Boone, Martin Balsam, and Barbara Rush. Second, it was directed by the great Martin Ritt and was shot by the equally great James Wong Howe. Third, it's based on an Elmore Leonard novel. That's a whole lot this movie has going for it right up front right? It was certainly enough to sell me on checking it out. I wasn’t disappointed either. Martin Ritt is a great Director Of drama for sure and there’s plenty of that here, but the best part is the tension. Not to spoil too much, but this ends up as kind of a standoff movie towards the back half and the suspense surrounding that stuff is very well played.
I love Burt Kennedy and especially the work he did with Budd Boetticher for all those amazing Randolph Scott westerns. Those are truly some of my favorite movies. This film, while not quite on par with those, has a similar spirit and an excellent cast. The story is of an aging marshal (Robert Mitchum), who is getting ready to retire, gets wind that one of his old criminal nemesis-types (George Kennedy) is nearby and planning a robbery. The marshal makes efforts to cut this plan off at the knees, but he makes an interesting discovery and a new friend in the process. The rest of cast includes Martin Balsam, David Carradine, Tina Louise, John Carradine, Marie Windsor and Kathleen Freeman. It's a good western tale well told by Kennedy. I saw this as part of a Burt Kennedy marathon on TCM when I was laid up in the hospital for a few days last year and it was just the ticket.
As Ozu is want to do, this is something of a reworking of one of his earlier films (LATE SPRING) with a little gender reversal. LATE SPRING is probably my favorite Ozu film (and is among my favorite films of all-time) so I'm totally a sucker for something like this. What's interesting is that I loved both these films even before I was a parent myself, so in my subsequent viewings over the past decade (since my own children came along) - they have become even more emotionally impactful and I only expect those feelings to increase as I get older.
Brian Saur is a podcaster and blogger from Los Angeles that specializes in cult and classic films. He is co-host of the Pure Cinema Podcast and also produces and hosts another show called Just the Discs, which focuses on Blu-rays. He has run the Rupert Pupkin Speaks website since its inception in 2009 and continues to highlight obscure cinematic gems there on a regular basis. Follow him on Twitter (@bobfreelander, @justthediscspod, @purecinemapod), Facebook, or Instagram for more film recommendations.