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Blu-ray Review: “The Blue Max” (1966)

Over the years, I made several attempts to watch John Guillermin’s The Blue Max (1966), a grand adaptation of Jack D. Hunter’s novel depicting German fighter pilots in World War I.

Unfortunately, I failed to engage with the widescreen laserdisc or the subsequent DVD release, only managing to watch about the first half-hour in each format.

However, the new Blu-ray edition from Twilight Time presents a remarkable difference. The transfer quality is exceptional, reminiscent of the perfection associated with Mary Poppins.

When viewed on large-screen TVs, The Blue Max truly comes to life, showcasing some of the most breathtaking aerial photography ever captured.

Given the prevalence of CGI in today’s film industry, the movie’s impact is more striking than ever.

The outstanding video transfer is complemented by an impressive 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio mix, particularly enhancing Jerry Goldsmith’s exceptional score.

Twilight Time also goes the extra mile by providing an invaluable bonus – Goldsmith’s score on an isolated track, unreleased music, and alternate cues.

Essentially, it’s like acquiring both an excellent Blu-ray of the movie and a deluxe soundtrack CD in one package.

Blu-ray Review: “The Blue Max”

The film portrays the story of Cpl. Bruno Stachel (played by George Peppard), who hails from a working-class background, joined the German Army Air Service in 1918.

He becomes fixated on proving himself as skilled as the elite flyers in the squadron, who mostly come from aristocratic backgrounds, by striving to earn Germany’s highest military decoration, the Pour le Mérite, or “Blue Max,” awarded to pilots who have shot down 20 or more enemy aircraft.

The Blue Max
“The Blue Max” (1966)

Also, see Eight Reasons Why You Should Dump That LCD Television and Buy an HD Projector.

The central focus of Stachel’s relentless ambition is his rivalry with elite pilot Willi von Klugermann.

Meanwhile, Stachel’s commanding officer, Hauptmann Otto Heidermann, becomes increasingly troubled by Stachel’s ruthless nature and the absence of traditional German chivalry.

In one early incident, Stachel shoots down a British S.E.5 but is denied credit for the kill due to the absence of witnesses.

Undeterred, Stachel shows no compassion for the deceased pilot and displays little interest in contributing to Germany’s war efforts.

Subsequently, he turns off an Allied two-person observation plane, shooting the rear gunner and signaling the pilot to return to the German airfield.

However, as they near the airfield, the revived gunner reaches for his machine gun, compelling Stachel to shoot down the plane.

Misinterpreting his past actions, Stachel’s fellow pilots wrongly assume he callously shot down the plane in full view, leading to Stachel being ostracized within his squadron.

Nonetheless, Stachel’s ruthless behavior captures the attention of General Count von Klugermann, Willi’s uncle.

As Germany faces defeat in the war, the General sees Stachel as a valuable propaganda tool in a final effort for German triumph.

Meanwhile, the General’s wife, Kaeti, has been involved in a clandestine affair with Willi. Stachel, driven by his obsession to compete with the aristocrats on and off the battlefield, embarks on an affair with Kaeti.

The Blue Max
The Blue Max

The renowned $5 million production of The Blue Max is primarily celebrated for its aerial sequences, skillfully directed by Anthony Squire above the Irish skies.

The filmmakers went to great lengths to authentically recreate the period aircraft and wartime air combat, earning the film enduring praise from aviation enthusiasts as one of the finest in its genre.

The aerial scenes are consistently captured in captivating and cinematic ways.

Notably, a beautifully shot scene towards the film’s conclusion features the camera gracefully moving in a semi-circle at a low angle, providing a view through the large crowds gathered to witness a test flight, with the experimental plane taking off in the distance.

Other footage from a camera plane is equally remarkable, and the stunt flying is on par with the breathtaking flying sequences in Wings (1927) and Hell’s Angels (1930), The Blue Max’s only serious competitors.

From a dramatic standpoint, the film’s strength lies in the contrasting reactions of Willi and Heidermann to Stachel and von Klugermann’s manipulation of the same rather than in its portrayal of Stachel himself.

As a character, Stachel is portrayed as excessively single-minded and cold-blooded, lacking the depth to evoke anything beyond reproach.

However, the film is commendable for departing from the typical romanticism often depicted in movies about daring aviators.

While George Peppard delivers a solid performance, a more nuanced portrayal akin to Terence Stamp or Richard Harris might have added subtlety to the character.

Nevertheless, Peppard’s participation in some flying scenes contributes to the film’s authenticity.

The remaining cast members, particularly the consistently excellent James Mason, deliver outstanding performances.

Mason’s subtle, aristocratic ruthlessness provides an intriguing contrast to Stachel’s blunt demeanor.

Karl Michael Vogler, who later portrayed Erwin Rommel in Patton (1970), a role previously essayed by Mason, also delivers a commendable performance.

However, Mason’s portrayal, rather than Peppard’s, undeniably dominates the film’s climax.

Swiss-German actress Ursula Andress, although reportedly dubbed, embodies the character of Countess Kaeti with the right voice and demeanor, albeit occasionally appearing out of place for the film’s World War I setting, exuding an unmistakably ’60s allure.

Notably, Andress briefly appears nude in the film, a surprising feature for a Hollywood production released in the summer of 1966. Despite this, the film received a Production Code seal and was released without any alterations.

“The Blue Max” marked one of the final official CinemaScope releases.

While previous laserdisc and DVD versions were deemed inadequate, Twilight Time’s new Blu-ray edition, especially when viewed on large TVs and projection systems, delivers outstanding visual quality throughout.

Apart from the vibrant Irish landscapes, the film’s muted and dark aesthetic posed a challenge for standard-definition formats. Still, the Blu-ray presentation excels in both visual and auditory aspects.

Including a 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio further enriches the viewing experience, and the release also features an intermission break and entr’acte.

The limited edition release includes optional English subtitles and is restricted to 3,000 units.

Supplementary features comprise a trailer and an audio commentary track with film-scoring expert Jon Burlingame alongside Nick Redman and Julie Kirgo.

Notably, the release includes Jerry Goldsmith’s complete score on isolated tracks, encompassing music that didn’t make the final cut, along with alternate takes and cues on a separate track.

Furthermore, Julie Kirgo contributes insightful liner notes, adding depth to the viewing experience.

The visually and aurally spectacular Blu-ray release from Twilight Time offers a compelling way to experience “The Blue Max,” providing an exceptional viewing experience that rivals a 35mm screening under optimal conditions.

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Ashish Maharjan
Ashish Maharjan
Ashish, a seasoned editor and author for World Cinema Paradise, intricately weaves creativity with precision in his writing, establishing himself as a prolific content creator. Renowned for clarity and captivating storytelling, Ashish has cultivated a devoted readership, driven by his unwavering passion for words and commitment to excellence.

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