The Blue Max (1966) Is it the Best WWI Air Combat Movie?

Some people argue that The Blue Max is the best WWI air combat movie there is. What is certainly interesting is that we see a movie from a German point of view. What is also quite obvious is the fact that it is better than The Flyboys. But does this really make it the best WWI air combat movie?

The Blue Max is an interesting movie because it is more than just an air combat movie. It provides a fascinating character study and shows us what can become of a talented but overambitious person like the main character Bruno Stachel (George Peppard).

At the beginning of the movie Stachel is an infantry man but he gets promoted and becomes a pilot. This is actually an interesting bit and I was wondering how often this really happened in reality. Usually the fighter pilots were hardly aware of what was going on in the trenches. Their idea of war was very often equal to an elegant if deadly pastime. Not unlike hunting only including the two sides of being the hunter and the hunted at the same time.

Pilots during WWI were mostly aristocrats like the famous Baron von Richthofen aka The Red Baron (who can also be seen in a short sequence). From day one the other pilots let Stachel feel that he isn’t one of them. What he doesn’t have in social status he tries to make up for in ambition. It is his one and only goal to earn the medal called the Blue Max that is awarded only after 20 kills. He believes this will earn him the respect of the other pilots.

Stachel is absolutely not a nice guy. He is as unlikable as can be but still there is a certain tragedy in his fate as he unfortunately falls in love with the wrong woman (Ursula Andress), yes, the first Bond Girl).

The way he tries to achieve his goal, The Blue Max, is totally reckless and more than once he endangers himself and his comrades alike.

The movie got a lot of praise for the story which is quite interesting however, I think, it would have benefitted if it hadn’t been that long. Some shortening would have been really good.

What the movie is truly famous for, and for good reasons, is the aviation part. The air combat scenes are very well filmed. Without CGI they achieved to show quite something.

I was not totally convinced by George Peppard. I think the movie would have been better with another lead. On the other hand I thought that Ursula Andress wasn’t all that bad and James Mason was decidedly very good.

I have no idea how I would rate this but I guess 4/5 should do it justice. For the aviation and air combat parts it would deserve 5 points, for the length and the main actor only 3.5.

Even though The Battle of Britain is not a WWI movie, it is the movie The Blue Max has been compared to most often. Look at it any which way you want and you will have to admit that The Battle of Britain is the better movie.

Still it is one of the best WWI air combat movies.

Should you be interested here’s my Favourite Air Combat Movies List.


8 thoughts on “The Blue Max (1966) Is it the Best WWI Air Combat Movie?

  1. […] 6. The Blue Max (1966): WWI. Centered on a German fighter pilot who strives for the Blue Max, the highest possible decoration for a German fighter pilot. As he is not an aristocrat like the “normal” fighter pilots he is not accepted by his comrades. (see review) […]

  2. warmoviebuff says:

    I have not seen it since I was a kid. The only thing I remember is how the main character was such a cad. I will see it soon and give my opinion on where it compares to “Fly Boys”, “Aces High”, and “The Red Baron”. None of these are on the Greatest 100 list, but “Hell’s Angels” (#43), “The Dawn Patrol” (#35), and “Wings” (#11!) are. I am skeptical about those three, but have not seen them yet. The only other WWI air combat movie I can think of is “Von Richtofen and Brown” which is not very good.

    • Maybe The Red Baron is too new but I don’t think they would have included it as it is a German movie and the list is biased and heavy on US production. They only included a very few European/Asian ones. They should go through it again and kick out at least 20 and replace them with better European ones. That’s an idea that equals preaching to the devil, I suppose.

  3. Ian says:

    I found The Blue Max deadly dull and boring and I would have to say the same about G.Peppards acting abilities. A movie to watch if you are having trouble sleeping! On the other hand, The Balle of Britain I would have to rate as 20 out of 10 with no other air battle movie coming within a smell of it. The US wanted to fund this movie and change the history “slightly,” the British refused and stuck to accuracy – and so the finest of air war movies was made.

    • I think it works better as a character study, I guess you would disagree since you didn’t like Peppard’s performance. All in all, I can’t remember all that much anymore and it’s barely a year since I watched it. The Battle of Britain is far better, sure but I also like The Dam Busters quite a bit. I was looking for a good WWI air combat movie and that is not so easy.

  4. […] The Blue Max (1966). An air combat movie with a German POV. Themes are class and the arrogance and sporting mind of the combat pilots. Most pilots in WWI were aristocrats, not so Lt Stachel. Review […]

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