Medals awarded for bravery and films about those courageous men



The Blue Max is a 1966 United Kingdom World War I film, directed by John Guillermin, filmed in Ireland, starring George Peppard, James Mason, Ursula Andress and Jeremy Kemp. The screenplay was written by David Pursall, Jack Seddon and Gerald Hanley, based on the novel by Jack Hunter.







Lieutenant Stachel (Peppard), an ambitious pilot who transferred to the German Air Service from the trenches, is trying to win the coveted military decoration, the Pour le Mérite, better known as the Blue Max, for which he must shoot down twenty enemy aircraft. He will stop at nothing in his quest. First he must overcome the disdain of his fellow pilots, but ultimately fails because he puts them at risk for his own purposes. His commanding general, von Klugermann (James Mason), sees the propaganda value of this junior officer for the 'common people' because he is one of them. When he meets the Red Baron in mid air and helps him escape from UK airplanes, he is shot down himself. Because this disables him from flying, von Klugermann uses the opportunity to order him to Berlin for propaganda purposes, where he gets to see a new mono-winged prototype. Later, he is ordered to air-test this new airplane, which considered to be too dangerous to fly in an earlier testflight, to send him to his death because his ambitious lies endangered the integrity of the military corps.





The film follows the story in the book of the same title by Jack Hunter, but deviates significantly in its portrayal of the characters. The plot of the film focuses on the role of propaganda and the exploitation of the pilots, particularly Stachel, who is enticed by the glamour of the Pour le Merite. The character of Leutnant von Kluegemann (Jeremy Kemp) is more gentle and played with a touch of gallantry in the film, in contrast to what one reads in the novel.


The planes used in the film were converted Tiger Moths. Two aircraft were given extra attention to more closely resemble the German Pfalz III and Fokker VII, flown by the main actors. In particular the work on the Pfalz III , the first plane flown by Stachel, is unique. One may observe however that in the beginning of the film the lower wings were not painted until later. The 'Lozengze' German camouflage at the time was not so generalised to all units but in the film all of them are kept under this scheme.


The Fokker DR I triplanes are purpose-built replicas. The Tiger Moth silhouette was more appropriate to British aircraft of the period, and present a good general impression of actual contemporary aircraft.


This film is particularly well regarded in its depictions of aerial combat.



Stunt flying


One of the stunt pilots used in the film was Derek Piggott. Several pilots helped recreate the live dog-fights scenes for the film, but Piggott was the only pilot to agree to fly the stunt at the climax of the film in which the two rivals challenge each other to fly beneath the spans of a bridge. Taking the role of both German pilots and with multiple takes from contrasting camera angles, he ended up flying through the wide span of this bridge in Fermoy Co. Cork Ireland 15 times and 17 times through the narrower span. The two Fokker Dr.I triplane replicas had about four feet of clearance on each side when passing through the narrower span. The director had placed a flock of sheep next to the bridge so that they would scatter as the plane approached in order to demonstrate that the stunt was real and had not used models. However, by later takes, the sheep had become accustomed to the planes and continued to graze, creating a continuity error which can be seen in the finished film. The sheep had to be scared by the shepherd instead. He was able to fly through the arch reliably by aligning two scaffolding poles, one in the river and one on the far bank.



Blue Max Badges


Each of the principal people on the movie, the producers, the director, the writers and actors etc, were given a replica copy of the Blue Max badge, made in silver and smaller than the original badge.



The French Village


The scenes where the Germans come into the French village were filmed on Calary Bog in County Wicklow in Ireland. For many weeks the building of the village attracted the locals to watch it coming up. Then it was bombed and made to look destroyed. It was a local tourist attraction for a long time after the film had wrapped.





The Scenes supposed to be in Berlin were shot in Dublin. Christchurch Cathedral is easily recognisable in the background of many scenes and Trinity College served as the army headquarters where Von Klugerman's office is located.





When general von Klugermann, who wants Stachel to figure as a hero for the common people, asks about the condition of Stachel when he wants to get him to Berlin, and hears that he has been shot in the arm, he says "Good, the people like soldiers to be shot in the right places".



Directed by

John Guillermin

Writing credits

Jack Hunter (novel)
Ben Barzman (adaptation) ...

Genre: Adventure / Drama / War / Action 

Tagline: The raiding squadrons of the Red Baron..

Plot Outline: A young pilot in the German air force of 1918, disliked as lower-class and unchivalrous, tries ambitiously to earn the medal offered for 20 kills.

User Comments: Excellent Aerial Photography Highlights WWI Adventure 

User Rating: *******  6.8/10 (1,015 votes)




Cast overview, first billed only:


George Peppard

Bruno Stachel

James Mason

General Count von Klugermann

Ursula Andress

Countess Kaeti von Klugermann

Jeremy Kemp

Willi von Klugermann

Karl Michael Vogler

Otto Heidemann

Anton Diffring


Harry Towb


Peter Woodthorpe


Derek Newark


Derren Nesbitt


Loni von Friedl

Elfi Heidemann

Friedrich von Ledebur

The Field Marshal (as Friedrich Ledebur)

Carl Schell

Von Richthofen

Hugo Schuster

Elderly Servant

Alex Scott

The Orator




User Comment


Unmistakably one of the most entertaining war films to come out of the 1960s, "The Blue Max" is the kind of film that could only have been made in Hollywood. Featuring some of the best aerial combat scenes ever shot and a great ensemble cast, it's enjoyable pulp fantasy for any war film fan.

The film opens with a brilliant, intense action sequence: Bruno Stachel (George Peppard, "Tobruk") dives into a mud-filled crater on the Western Front. He's visibly exhausted; his heavy breathing and unshaven face reveal how horrible front line conditions are. From above comes the sound of a dogfight – Peppard's bright blue eyes blare from a mud-covered face as he stares in awe at the action in the skies above him, the mood fully established with Jerry Goldsmith's evocative score. Flash forward two years: Stachel has transferred to the Luftwaffe and is a green, inexperienced pilot. A peasant, Stachel has little in common with his high-class comrades, members of the elite Officer Corps. He's ruthless and ambitious, and sets his sight on winning a Blue Max – the medal awarded to a pilot with 20 kills to his credit. With this award, Bruno will have won the respect of his comrades. Squadron commander Heidemann (Karl Michael Vogler, "Patton") has one, and hotshot Willi von Klugermann (Jeremy Kemp, "Operation Crossbow") is awarded one early in the film. Stachel vigorously has to catch up to their status, and Willi takes a liking to him, helping him try to fit in.

As Germany is losing the war, Willi's uncle, General von Klugermann (James Mason, "Cross of Iron") enters the stage: he sees potential in Stachel for more than just flying prowess. This is a time when the common people of Germany need a hero. Stachel is a poor farm boy, someone they can all relate to. Von Klugermann sets out to make Stachel a national icon; when he received a minor wound, he's escorted to a cushy Berlin hotel and the press takes pictures of a nurse tending to his wound, plastering pictures all over the national newspapers. Countess Kaeti von Klugermann (the beautiful Ursula Andress) sets her sights on Stachel, and soon a steamy affair has begun, right under the nose of the General. As Stachel's selfish ambitions become more apparent and blatant, Willi's friendly competitiveness fades and their adversity becomes an all-out battle. All of this builds to an unavoidable, somewhat depressing ending.

This is a character-driven drama firstly, and the action is simply a supplement to the story of the characters. Unfortunately, Peppard is a wooden lead. He speaks in unaccented English and never seems to be thoroughly involved in his part; it's as though he's sleepwalking through almost every scene. The rest of the cast deserves more credit. Co-star Jeremy Kemp is much more believable. He's sly, cynical and delivers fantastic deadpan humor. James Mason is brilliant as usual as General von Klugermann, a career German officer whose chief concern is for the German people and his nation's prestige. I have never seen Mason deliver a bad performance, and here he is simply fantastic. He's often cool and restrained, but lets anger and rage come out full-force at key moments. As his unfaithful wife, Ursula Andress is her typical self; beautiful and often barely concealed. A standout is Karl Michael Vogler as Heidemann. A veteran flyer devoted to his duty, Heidemann is a career soldier. He's been fighting since the beginning of the war, and although weary and tired, keeps doing his job. His chief goals are keeping as many planes flying as possible, despite Allied air attacks and supply shortages. He demands that Stachel's ambitions take second fiddle to strategic operations; when he disobeys orders, Heidemann threatens to have him court-martialed. Vogler's performance is excellent, and he walks away with each of his scenes.



Director John Guillermin and Director-of-Photography Douglas Slocombe weave some excellent flying sequences into the film's story. These action scenes are not independent conflicts between German and English fighters – conflicts between characters are developed on the ground and either expanded or settled in the air. The skies have never been bluer, and the vintage aircraft look fantastic as they dive, swoop and strafe enemy columns. The stunt work and special effects are genuine, even some brilliantly-staged crash sequences. Even the work of Guy Hamilton and crew in 1969's "Battle of Britain" pales in comparison to this. The scenes of trench warfare and bombing runs are massive and spectacular. The mud-splattered soldiers, vast fields dotted with rotting corpses and bomb craters, and some hand-to-hand combat has never looked more authentic. Every cent invested in the film was put to good use. Scenes in Berlin – particularly that in the hospital and food riots shot through a moving car window – are historically accurate.

Guillermin isn't afraid to experiment with camera during the discussion scenes. Note how he often places two actors in one room on opposite ends of the frame, simply to capture the scope of the interiors. Marvelous pans show off huge numbers of extras and planes taking off and landing. There's also a long crane shot showing a huge, lavish dining hall at the Von Klugermann's mansion which captures the essence of nobility and aristocracy in one shot.

"The Blue Max" is a brilliantly shot, engaging and wildly entertaining World War I epic which should satisfy any fan of aircraft and war films. This is a must-see DVD, which preserves the CinemaScope ratio (a necessary asset, as pan-and-scan versions detract from the epic look of the picture) and also features a great restored surround-sound track and stunning digital image quality. It's the only acceptable way to see this film in the modern world.






Runtime: 156 min / USA:153 min (FMC Library Print)
Country: UK
Language: English
Color: Color (DeLuxe)
Sound Mix: 4-Track Stereo (magnetic prints) / Mono (optical prints)
Certification: Canada:G (Quebec) / Australia:PG / Finland:K-16 / Sweden:15 / UK:PG / USA:Unrated / West Germany:12 / Singapore:NC-16 / Iceland:12

Trivia: In some scenes George Peppard was actually flying his plane.

Goofs: Factual errors: The German soldiers were using the British SMLE (Short Magazine Lee Enfield) throughout the movie. The correct German rifle should be the Mauser. Mauser rifles do not have a visible magazine, whereas the Enfield does. (more)

General Count von Klugermann: Stachel. I want him brought to Berlin immediately.
Aide: Yes, Herr General.
General Count von Klugermann: There is some difficulty?
Aide: Well, I don't know what you have in mind, Herr General, but, uh, with the offensive at its height, well, there'd have to be some legitimate excuse to order him to come.
General Count von Klugermann: He's wounded, isn't he?
Aide: Yes, Herr General.
General Count von Klugermann: Hmm. A mentionable wound?
Aide: Uh, in the arm.
General Count von Klugermann: Good. The people like soldiers who were shot in the right places. Order Stachel to Berlin for special hospital treatment. I want you to ensure that all our newspapers give full prominence to this gallant episode -- photographs, everything.

Awards: Won BAFTA Film Award. Another 4 nominations






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