Review: The Blue Max

The Blue Max - 1966

The Blue Max – 1966

The 1966 movie, The Blue Max, stands out in my mind as the only movie I can think of without a hero.

I watched The Blue Max last week (okay I admit it, I have it on DVD). I am a huge fan of aviation films and this one is all about a German Air Force pilot in World War I. Skip the bits about aircraft if that is not your thing but that’s not the main point of this review.

Briefly, Bruno Stachel is an infantry corporal in the trenches. From a working class background, he nevertheless longs for the noble arena if death in the skies and enlists for the German Air Force. He proves a talented pilot but his new squadron of officers, enlisted from the ruling classes, do not accept his ambitious ruthlessness. They have a strict code of conduct, which he breaks in many ways, including bedding the top scoring Willi’s aunt and lover, the Countess Kaeti. Willi’s nobility, until now, has extended to taking Stachel under his wing but now the gloves are off and the two duel for supremacy in the skies and in bed.

Kaeti is herself ambitious and enjoys the titillation of bedding pilots whose lives are on the line. Her husband, the taciturn General Count von Klugermann, beautifully underplayed by James Mason, encourages her liaisons and appears to use her to control his aces. However, Kaeti overreaches herself with dire consequences.

Kaeti is played beautifully by Ursula Andress. If ever proof were needed that she really could act, and act superbly, this film is it. I have rarely seen a film in which you see a woman reaching adulthood in a single moment as poignantly as you do with Andress in the final scene.

Mason is of course excellent throughout, as is Jeremy Kemp as Willi, but its George Peppard’s part I want to focus on. Peppard is naturally morose and always has a sour look on his face so he must have been the natural choice for Stachel, whose ambition quickly becomes cruel in the face of the prejudice surrounding him. Peppard turns in a fine performance and thoroughly deserved his nomination for a Golden Laurel award. But it’s the director’s handling of the character that is astonishing, and in some ways perplexing.

I cannot think of another leading character in a movie that is less likable than Stachel. He is not even badass enough or gritty enough to be an anti-hero. He is over-ambitious, a liar and cheat, a traitor to just about anybody who gets close to him, probably ashamed of his parents although he denies it (probably another lie) and ultimately proved to be a fool by Kaeti. Indeed, it is she that claims she likes his ‘innocence’ but if she does, it can only be a foolishly ambitious innocence. Her naivety is found out at the end of the film but its not Stachel but von Klugermann who reveals it.

Apart from being a good pilot, Stachel has no redeeming features. Stachel’s good looks mean that bedding the gorgeous Kaeti is no achievement. How on earth then does the film hold together? It certainly does and its a masterpiece of tight direction and high tension action. Perhaps, because it was made at the height of the anti-war movement in America, the director simply wanted to make a heavily disguised anti-war film. He certainly succeeded there. All the main characters suffer terribly. But this still doesn’t explain how a ‘no hero’ film holds together so well. I tried to decided who is the hero in this film and there really isn’t one. You just have to watch it yourself and let me know what you think.

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Lazlo Ferran Interview

In case you missed it, here is the interview I recorded on 13 July for The Authors Show, in which I talk about writing and Ordo Lupus and the Temple Gate:

Let me have your feedback!

Poll Results: Which is the Best Scifi Vehicle Ever?

Sulaco from Aliens (1986)

Sulaco from Aliens (1986)

The results are in for the poll: Which is the Best Scifi Vehicle Ever?

1. Sulaco spaceship from Aliens (Movie 1986)
2. The USS Enterprise from Star Trek (1966 TV Series)
3. Thunderbird 2 from Thunderbirds (1965 TV series)

Here are some interesting facts about the podium winners!

1. Sulaco spaceship from Aliens (Movie 1986)

The USS Sulaco was a Conestoga-class troop transport ship in service with the United States Colonial Marine Corps, assigned to 2nd Battalion Bravo Team.[3] It was most notably used in the investigation of the Hadley’s Hope colony on Acheron (LV-426) in 2179, when it was manned by Lieutenant William Gorman’s combat unit of Colonial Marines.

The Sulaco is basically a big gun (according to ash)

When the set crews were looking around for floor grating to use on the Sulaco set design, they asked a local set design manufacturer/shop if they had anything of the sort. Indeed they did, an immense pile of old floor grating had been sitting out in the back of their shop for the last seven years. It was left there from when they tore down the set of Alien (1979).

2. The USS Enterprise (NCC-1701) from Star Trek (1966 TV Series)

Here is Mike Jefferies’ original design for USS Enterprise

In the hallways of the Enterprise there are tubes marked “GNDN”, these initials stand for “goes nowhere does nothing”.

In the original series, the ‘arrowhead’ badge worn by the crew of the Enterprise was meant to be an insignia for the Enterprise only. If you’ll notice on any ‘guest’ Starfleet character, they all wear different symbols on their uniforms

3. Thunderbird 2 from Thunderbirds (1966 TV series)

When the launch sequence of Thunderbird 2 was shot, pilot Virgil Tracy was shown being taken to the craft in civilian clothing. When the completed sequence was cut together, he was seen to have mysteriously gained a uniform. To provide continuity, a scene was later shot and added showing his uniform appearing in the cockpit.

Two episodes, “The Man from MI.5” and “Attack of the Alligators!”, feature the full Thunderbird 4 launch sequence shown from inside Pod 4. In other episodes featuring Thunderbird 4, we have only seen Thunderbird 4 emerging down the ramp from outside the pod door. “The Man from MI.5” is the only episode in which Thunderbird 2 gently rests the pod on the surface of the water and then rises clear of the pod with lifting jets, whereas “Attack of the Alligators” shows Thunderbird 2 lifting from the pod several minutes after landing. Normally, the pod is simply dropped on to the water.

Brains designed Thunderbird 2, as he did all their vehicles.

Thanks for voting! Whether you disagree or agree with the results, your comments will be welcomed below.

Poll: Which is the best Scifi Vehicle Ever?

Elevator vehicle under Fireflash from Thunderbirds

Elevator vehicle under Fireflash from Thunderbirds

Another great vote this week; which is the best scifi vehicle of all time?

The choice is HUGE but below are just a few suggestions to get you started. Please nominate your favourites by commenting here or tweet me @Lazlo_F or message me on Facebook. The nomination deadline will be 22 June at 5pm. Then we will vote!

Ein weiterer großer Stimme in dieser Woche; Welches ist das beste SciFi Fahrzeug aller Zeiten?

Die Auswahl ist riesig Gewinn Hier sind nur ein paar Vorschläge, um Ihnen den Einstieg. Bitte benennen Sie Ihre Favoriten von hier zu kommentieren oder tweet ich Lazlo_F gold Nachricht auf mich Facebook. Der Nominierungsfrist wird am 22. Juni 17.00 Uhr sein. Dann werden wir abstimmen!

Un autre grand vote cette semaine; qui est le meilleur véhicule de scifi de tous les temps?

Le choix est énorme, mais ci-dessous sont quelques suggestions pour vous aider à démarrer. S’il vous plaît nommer vos favoris en commentant ici ou tweet moi Lazlo_F ou un message moi sur Facebook. La date limite de mise en candidature sera de 22 Juin à 17 heures. Ensuite, nous allons voter!

もう一つの大きな票今週。これはすべての時間の中で最高のscifi車である。

選択は巨大ですが、以下の作業を始めるためのちょうどいくつかの提案です。ここにコメントすることによってあなたのお気に入りを指名するか、上で私 Lazlo_Fコードまたはメッセージを私にツイートしてください。 Facebook のコード。指名締め切りは午後5時で6月22日になります。その後、我々は投票する!

एक अन्य महान वोट इस सप्ताह; जो सभी समय का सबसे अच्छा scifi वाहन है।

विकल्प बहुत बड़ा है, लेकिन नीचे तुम शुरू कर बस कुछ सुझाव हैं। Lazlo_F यहाँ टिप्पणी करके अपने पसंदीदा में मनोनीत या मुझे ट्वीट करें। या संदेश मुझ पर Facebook

Elevator Vehicles from Thunderbirds

The SPV from Captain Scarlet

The Star Ship Enterprise

The X-Wing Starfighter from Star Wars

Darth Vader’s TIE Advanced x1

Landmaster from Damnation Alley (crap film but good vehicle)

Discovery One from 2001: Space Odyssey

The Eagle Transporter from space 1999

Arguably not a vehicle but still cool – the Power Loader from Aliens

The Tom Cruise Audi from Minority Report (this is a view from the front)

The Lawmaster MC01 Y349 – 221 from Dredd

1966 Batmobile (this one gets my pulse going)

1989 Batmobile

The Tumbler from Bat Man

Thunderbirds 2 from Thunderbirds

The Mole from Thunderbirds

I could go on all day but now it’s over to you. Nominate your favourite!

Should a hero be a Brando or a Martin Freeman?

Marlon Brando in The Young Lions

Marlon Brando in The Young Lions

Superhero or Everyman?

I woke up this morning wondering what to blog about and I decided the best post would be about the subject of my pondering at the moment; what makes a good hero?

Everyone (well, in the West anyway) will know who Marlon Brando is, possibly the greatest and certainly one of the greatest actors of all time. Martin Freeman plays Bilbo Baggins in the recent Hobbit films.

I am as big a fan of Bilbo as anybody and nobody can deny Bilbo is the hero of The Hobbit. What is more, he is an ‘everyman.’ What that means is that everyone can identify with his situation because he is just a normal guy. Brando, on the other hand, rarely plays normal guys; from The Wild One to Superman and Apocalypse Now, nearly all his characters are superhuman or out-and-out rebels; men on the edge of society.

Here are my reviews of two of his films that I watched recently. After you have read these, I will ask the question again:

Marlon Brando in The Young Lions

I have been trying to view this 1958 film since my father watched it and recommended it, about ten years ago. He is not a huge fan of Brando and not one to recommend films very often so my interest was piqued. The film proved hard to find; a trip to Virgin and HMV in Oxford Street(at the time) produced nothing and not been able to stream it on-demand since. I tend to watch films when I am in the mood; one day a film might be just what I want, the next day what I definitely don’t want so ordering it from Amazon just wasn’t gonna work for me. A friend finally got it for me and so I was set.

The film starts promisingly enough with Brando, as Christian, a young German ski-instructor, wooing the delicious Hope Lange. But then we are ‘treated’ to nearly half an hour of very mundane acting by Dean Martin (only recently out of his partnership with Jerry Lewis) and a struggling Montgomery Clift. I have seen Clift acting well but for the first hour in this film, he is wooden or overwrought by turns. His tone is so misjudged, I found it hard to watch and Martin is of course not an actor of even Clift’s calibre.

I was beginning to lose hope that we would see Brando on form but he finally reappeared, now as an SS officer in Paris. He meets a friend who sets him up on a blind date with a French girl, whose husband has been killed by the Nazis. “Okay; fireworks! ” I hear you say and you’d be right, She throws the wine Brando just bought her in his face and Christian, with his oft-employed stoic look, listens to her rant without comment for what must be a couple of minutes of screen gold.

Of course he is so tolerant and charming that she has to forgive him in the end and they strike a flame together. Christian has to arrest a Jewish boy but reacts by refusing to make any more arrests and risks a firing squad when ge confronts his commanding officer.

“Ah this is the Brando we love!” I thought. “A rebel within the SS! What a gem!”

His commanding officer takes pity on Christian’s humanity and sends him on an errand to deliver a silk nightie to his own wife, back in Berlin. Brando is happy to get some leave and thus meets the gorgeous and Deitrich-like May Britt. With half-lidded eyes she tells him he can sleep on the couch and help himself to as much schnapps as he can hold while she beds a general.

Christian takes up her offer and later beds her but he doesn’t like her and nor does she care for him.

The strange relationship tension between Christian and his commander weaves a thread right through the film to near the end when Christian has to deliver another gift to Britt’s character in a ruined Berlin. This time, he can’t even find pity for her and takes out his pent up rage about the pointless war on her.

Of course Martin and Clift have parts which run parallel to Brando’s but while theirs is the simple story of all-american-boys making good in the war, albeit a Jewish underdog in the case of Clift, these only serve to highlight just how unusual and complex Brando’s part is. No doubt he worked hard to accentuate this but he hardly needed to; his acting alone lifts the film far beyond what it might otherwise be. He looks the part as the blonde-haired SS uber-soldier but of course he has a weakness in the eyes of his superiors – he is human.

The final scenes play out in, and around a liberated concentration camp. The film is poignant for the inclusion of Clift’s Jew liberating such a horror and Brando delivers a final scene that tops even that (as you would expect) and I am not giving it away.

All in all, well worth a watch if you like a war movie with a little Brando to spice it up! Oh and watch out for a very early performance from Lee van Cleef as a drill sergeant.

The Brave

I watched this 1997 film simply because it is one of the few Brando movies I haven’t seen and it was available on Youtube. I didn’t expect too much from this, the only full-length Johnny Depp directed film to date, although it also has Johnny Depp in the lead role and a cameo from Brando so I expected to at least be competent.

I quickly realised that this film was so obscure and unloved by Hollywood that I could watch it free not because it was bad but because of the subject matter. It’s certainly not an uplifting movie and no doubt the distributors and marketing people had their heads in their hands on this one!

Depp plays a Mexican Indian who is struggling to support his small family on a reserve that essentially survives by recycling stuff from the municipal dump of white people. In and out of jail all his life, he is offered the chance to ‘star’ in a snuff movie for Brando’s McCarthy. He takes the job, knowing it will pay to rehouse his family and educate his children but later regrets it.

The scenes in the rubbish dump are harrowing; Depp’s family sleeping in a tiny caravan, surrounded by waste and his trips further and further up river to find clean water, which he collects in plastic pales hung from a yoke over his back, turned my stomach.

His life is so bad, you can almost understand why he takes up the snuff movie offer… almost … but not quite. When he visits McCarthy in a downtown warehouse he sees the iron torture chair he will be strapped into for the first time. I could barely watch from this point on. Depp underplays his role, playing the stoic American Indian brave trapped in a sick world by uttering very few words, instead using facial expressions silence to communicate his feelings of entrapment.

Brando is incredible! He rolls himself into the warehouse in a wheelchair, while playing a sad blues tune on a harmonica (for real; Brando was a highly accomplished musician, drummer and dancer) and proceeds to take apart the whole concept of death, to the point that he makes it almost sound like a higher-calling. Of course Depp’s character isn’t fooled but he takes the cash and McCarthy tells him to come back in a week.

“Why would you trust me to come back?” Depp asks him (I am paraphrasing here)

“I have a feeling for people; a sensitivity. A man, such as yourself, a man of spirit, is a man of honour.”

This movie is well-worth watching if you care at all about the struggle of some communities to overcome prejudice and inequality. It is heart-breaking to watch what one man has to contemplate in order to provide for his family. I am not very tolerant of pain myself and McCarthy’s answer; “It depends on how much you can take,” when Depp’s character asks him how much he will get, really made me squirm. I simply cannot put this film out of my mind. Of course if you are a person who likes to see the world through rose-tinted glasses, don’t watch this film. But don’t ever look behind you again.

That’s the reviews over. Now back to the question. I am thinking about my next book and it often helps me to think of a Hollywood actor when planning the main character’s role. Here I have got a bit stuck; I see a plot with an old-time Hollywood actor called William Holden. I guess in some ways you could say he is like Martin Freeman in that you probably wouldn’t pick say he was a flamboyant character or would stand out in a crowd.

The trouble is, I worry that such a book would not have a wide enough appeal because the character is not larger-than-life. I get the feeling big epic themes need big epic characters and I wonder if a Brando/Pacino/Russell Crowe type character would work better.

Which type of character do you like best? Let me know by commenting below or @Lazlo_F or on Facebook.

Looking for a Freelance thriller or scifi Editor?

Ordo Lupus and the Temple Gate

Ordo Lupus and the Temple Gate

Just a friendly reminded to all you authors out there that I still edit books. Check my Editing Services page for my portfolio and charges. I look forward to hearing from any writers that need a good editor.