This World War One film follows a unit of the Lafayette Escadrille. A new bunch of pilots have just flown into an airfield to relieve the last squadron. The previous unit had, in just two weeks, suffered the loss of 17 out of 20 pilots.
The new commanding officer, William Stack, and his second in command, Warner Baxter, have barely gotten out of their flight suits when the base is hit by a German raid. The German fighters strafe the field destroying aircraft, fuel supplies and killing several of the ground personal. Baxter is particularly annoyed with the destruction of a case of whiskey he brought. One bottle of the 12 is saved.
The German raiding party was led by the leader of the local fighter Jasta, Arno Frey. Frey is a high scoring ace with 40 plus kills to his name. He is simply known to the Allies as "The Baron". It was a welcome to the battle visit for the new unit.
During the air raid, Baxter had dragged a woman hanging laundry into a slit trench to save her. The woman, Conchita Montenegro, takes an immediate shine to the dashing pilot. Commander Stack and Baxter are the only two veteran pilots among the new group. The rest are raw recruits fresh out of training schools. These include, Russell Hardie, Vincent Carato, Howard Batt, Vince Barnett and Andy Devine. Also in the mix are Ralph Morgan and J Carrol Naish.
The unit heads out on their first mission. They have the bad luck to run into the Baron and his hunting Jasta. There is a wild free for all with Baxter managing to bag a Jerry. The German's however, get the win, bagging several Americans including the commander, William Stack.
Baxter is now in command of the squadron. The constant air battles, the men not returning from missions, having to keep up the paper work and such drain him. Then there is the stream of replacement pilots, who he knows are likely to be dead inside a month. He takes to the drink in a big way.
Out on patrol one afternoon, he comes up on a German twin engine bomber. He downs the aircraft which crash lands on the Allied side of the lines. He has the surviving crewman, Rudolph Anders, brought to the airfield. Baxter has the German's wounds tended to. Then they have a toast to Ander's dead crew mates. Baxter then asks some questions about "The Baron", Arno Frey. Ander does not say much, but does tell Baxter that Frey spends his off time hunting deer and boar.
Several days later, while leading a patrol, Baxter sees "The Baron's" aircraft. He dives to the attack and a wild dogfight ensues with Baxter getting in a lucky burst. The German crashes in flames. Back at the base there is a wild celebration over the dreaded German's demise. The squadron breaks out the bottle of whiskey that had survived the first German attack on the base.
Baxter has the German prisoner, Anders brought in. He tells Anders that he has defeated the German ace. He shows the man the coat of arms off the destroyed German fighter. Anders identifies the coat of arms as indeed belonging to, "The Baron".
Anders however says that the pilot was not the German ace. It would have been the Frey's younger brother. "The Baron" was on leave back in Germany. His brother often flew Frey's aircraft when Frey was away. This hits the unit like a hammer. Now the German Ace will be as mad as a hornet. Baxter dives further into the bottle for relief. Soon, the high command decides to send Baxter on a forced leave. They can see the man's nerves and morale are shot.
Baxter agrees to the leave, he asks Miss Montenergo, whom he has been stepping out with, to come along. He intends to marry her in Paris. The day comes for Baxter to head off to Paris for his well deserved 10 days off. His luggage and Miss Montenegro are loaded into the car. Just then a patrol returns from the front. It has been shot to pieces by Frey's Flying Circus. A German fighter soon arrives over the base and drops a message. "The Baron" challenges the pilot who bested his brother to single combat. It gives the time and the coordinates were Frey will be waiting.
Needless to say Baxter feels he must take up the challenge. Over the objections of his fellow pilots, and his wife to be, he sets off. The two pilots meet and the air duel begins. The German, Frey, soon shows he is the better pilot and marksman. He fills the American's aircraft with plenty of unneeded holes. Baxter, figuring it is over, tries a desperate move. He yards on the control stick and dives right into the German ace's aircraft. Both aircraft flutter to the ground locked together. The aircraft hit the earth on the Allied side. Pilots and ground crew rush to the sight. Both pilots, badly wounded, are pulled out of the wreckage just in time.
After some much need repairs by the medical types, Frey and Baxter meet in the American mess. They share a drink and toast to fallen comrades from both sides.
The film is based on the stage play, THE ACE. While a bit talky in parts, (showing its stage origins) the film does have a fair amount of action. Fans of air war films will recognize footage from WINGS and HELL'S ANGELS and a few other films.
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