Von Richthofen and Brown (1971)
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Corman's production is a bit dated, and purists will point out many technical and historical errors in the film. Flight and combat sequences, however, are exciting, extremely well-conceived and filmed, and surpass most efforts before or since to show film-goers aerial combat of the First World War.
I saw this film at a drive-in when it was first released, and it still fascinates me to this day. While other more-expensive productions, with their sumptuous sets and A-list actors, continue to command the attention of film viewers and film collectors alike, I find the simple, sparing lines of this production far more effective as the vehicle for one of history's most famous duels. True, by now most historians have abandoned the notion that the fatal bullets came from Brown; however, this is the tale of popular culture as it was told for generations, not as nuclear scientists have most lately emended it.
To my surprise, it was a full-fledged movie and quite a good one. I just wish I had seen it on the big screen instead of a small box on my 17-inch computer screen (because this DVD wouldn't play on my TV/DVD player)! Filmed in 1971, 'Von Richtofen and Brown' has some of the best World War I combat sequences I've seen. (OK, MAYBE Howard Hughes' scenes from 'Hell's Angels' would have been more breathtaking, had they been in color!) To see the fabled Flying Circus taking off in living color is worth the price of the DVD itself. This film is exquisitely done! The bulk of the flying sequences were done with vintage WWI planes and the crashes convincingly done with models.
Overall, it seems historically accurate, too. Only the ending is a bit disappointing (though not surprising) in this regard. It came out in 1971, two years after P.J. Carisella and James W. Ryan's book, 'Who Killed the Red Baron?' had blown the lid off the myth of Capt. Arthur 'Roy' Brown shooting down the baron. As Carisell and Ryan surmised, and as Dale Titler confirmed in his 'The Day the Red Baron Died' in 1971, Australian anti-aircraft gunners almost without question fired the fatal slug that killed von Richtofen as he chased Lt. Wilfred May and was chased by Brown.
Other than this and Herman Goering's erroneous presence during the bulk of the film, I found it accurate and quite entertaining even on a 14 x 7 inch screen! B-horror/gangster director Roger Corman turned in nice work. My only complaint is that, since they were letting myth ease into the picture, why didn't they go ahead and include the baron's 'wife of six weeks?' This myth of him secretly marrying the nurse that nursed him back to health after the first of his two crashes could have made an interesting subplot. Maybe Mullerschon will tackle this myth or maybe he'll stick 100 percent to the facts! In either case, the baron makes for a fascinating film subject. This one is definitely worth watching.
I suspect these were intentional choices on the part of the director. Von Richtofen's plane in early 1917 was actually an Albatros D5 - an improvement over the earlier D3, but having an unfortunate tendency to shed its wings in a dive. Even if this were corrected in a modern reproduction, the Albatros design is nose-heavy and difficult to control.
The Sopwith Camel, while an effective fighting machine, was called th "Widow-maker" for good reason. It's extremely high-torque rotary engine made it very difficult to fly and very unforgiving of mistakes. The SE 5 and 5a, on the other hand were fairly stable craft and easier for novice pilots (they've been used exclusively in other WW I films).
Only hard-core WWI historians would have noticed these inconsistencies, and I suspect the choices were made for the safety of the stunt pilots. Don't let them stop you from enjoying some great aerial combat scenes.
Incidentally, the events that were reversed were the circumstances of von Richtofen's crashes. In the first one, he is depicted as crash landing, while in the second (fatal) one, the plane actually lands quite well by itself (this would NEVER have happened in a Fokker triplane!)
It was actually the other way around. The first time, the wounded von Richtofen managed to bring his Albatros to a landing. The second time -already dead before he hit the ground - the plane crashed in no-man's land near an Australian unit who may indeed have hit him from the ground.
Some will complain I'm sure about this film's lack of historical accuracy. Hermann Goering (Barry Primus), for example, is shown fighting in the same air squadron as Baron Von Richthofen (John Phillip Law). I'm not very concerned with history myself because I think that history is better conveyed through books than film, and I would prefer for a film to have more focus and intent than a strictly accurate representation would allow. This film follows in the same line as great films like "Lawrence of Arabia" in choosing to throw aside historical accuracy in favor of what its writers considered historical resonance and perspective. It is not concerned with where Goering and Von Richthofen fought their battles, or even with who exactly shot Von Richthofen down in the end, but rather with the essential transformation that was taking place in the nature of combat in the early 20th Century. Goering and Von Richthofen were transposed because it provides a fascinating context as far as the kind of schism that was developing among warriors between the old and new ways. Von Richthofen is a man who prides himself deeply upon his aristocratic heritage and who insists at all points on fighting an honorable war -- for example when ordered to paint his airplanes in order to camouflage them from the enemy, he instead paints them all in bright colors and gives birth to the legendary "Flying Circus." He says to his superiors, "You can order us to die, but you cannot order us to hide from our enemy." He says that he is a knight who has traded in his horse for an airplane.
The contrast between Goering and Von Richthofen is interesting, and serves largely to make Von Richthofen more sympathetic than some of the other Germans, but it's the juxtaposition of Von Richthofen and the Canadian Roy Brown (Don Stroud) that is really at the heart of this film. Brown has a cynical view towards warfare, seemingly resigned towards the most brutal and callous aspects of war and deliberately eschewing all talk of "glory" and even "victory." "How can it be over? There's still some of us alive," he tells a reporter from Toronto in one of the film's most striking scenes. Von Richthofen and Brown each have an interview, which we hear on the soundtrack as we see them fly their planes in the sky. I was really struck by the writing in these scenes and the way that the contrast between their attitudes towards war was brought out by them.
I shouldn't end this comment without making mention of the excellent aerial photography that was used in this film. Today's audiences would demand some kind of over-the-top display of showmanship aided by CGI. Although I'm not completely against the use of CGI, in the case of a film like this I greatly prefer the way it was done back at the time this film was made, with what seem to be authentic airplanes of the period and some really exciting stunt flying. Von Richthofen's flying circus is truly a sight to see piercing its way through clear blue skies, and we don't need any digital manipulation to enhance the majesty of that vision.
I loved John Phillip Law in this performance. I've always enjoyed him in all the sci-fi films I've seen him in, as well as his sincere performance in "The Russians Are Coming! The Russians are Coming!". I think he showed his real leading man strength in this role, and his style was not patronizing towards the Germans in any way (in fact Law often worked as an actor in Germany in the 1980s and 90s). Don Stroud really amazed me because I've never particularly cared for him in all the biker movies I've seen him in, but he had the perfect amount of gravity for this role.
Kudos to Roger Corman -- other than a one-off return to directing in the early 90s, this was his swan song. He decided that if he couldn't make it as a top notch director that he would rather produce other director's films rather than go back to making schlock. And even though he was one of the greatest schlock-meisters, you have to respect that decision. And you have to wonder how different things might have been if this film had received the kind of attention that I think it deserved at the time it was made. Probably he did not make enough concessions to what he surely knew to be the popular taste -- there is only the smallest romantic element in this film, and it is a film more of ideas than of emotions.
The aristocratic Von Richthofen is so honor bound that he refuses to use camouflage paint on his planes, because "a gentleman should never hide from his enemies" and instead paints them with the brightest colors. The pragmatic, no-nonsense Brown, instead, does not believe in honor or chivalry: he just wants to win.
I can't vouch for the complete historical authenticity of this movie – to mention just one instance, the actor portraying Hermann Goering looks nothing at all like the future Reichsmarshall, and his role in the flying circus was not as prominent as the movie implies. But as an entertainment (by the well known horror low budget film director Roger Corman) this movie is certainly well done. Sure, there is some corny dialogue here and there, and having Von Richthofen speak English in the movie with a heavy German accent was probably not the best idea, but the magnificent shots of period planes fighting in the air over the patchwork fields below separated by hedgerows (shot in 1971 with fearless stunt men, well before digital imagery started appearing in films) more than makes up for this movie's shortcomings. The great color photography is another plus.
** (out of 4)
John Phillip Law plays Baron Manfred von Richthofen and Don Stroud plays Roy Brown, the famous dog fighters of WW1 who would eventually meet in the air. This Corman production takes a look at the two men's lives leading up to that day in the air. This is a rather strange film because on one hand it's easy to recommend to people because the stuff in the air is downright brilliant yet on the other hand, everything on the ground is a complete bore. This would turn out to be Corman's final film as director for nearly two decades so it's an interesting film to go out on. For the most part he handles the material quite well but I can't help but wish he had spent a few more dollars on the screenplay and delivered a more interesting story. I must admit that my mind kept wondering around and losing focus because everything that happens on the group is just downright boring and at times it's hard to figure out what's going on. History buffs say the film isn't that true to reality but I can live with that. I do wish that Corman had done something more because what we get just isn't enough to work as a bio flick or as any type of human drama. What does work are the amazing aerial shots that are quite thrilling. Apparently all of the aerial things were filmed over a two week period and they are so well made that they certainly make you feel as if you're up there in the air fighting yourself. The cinematography that captures all of this is exceptional as well. The violence is quite bloody throughout but it's realistic. Both actors turn in decent performances but they can only work with what they got. In the end, action fans might want to check this one out for the amazing battle scenes but history buffs will probably be upset with the film.
"Von Richthofen and Brown" is a competent enough movie to merit your watching it. However, it is far from a great aviation film--mostly because the characters are so one-dimensional and because the film seems more fiction than biography. Instead, you may consider better WWI aviation films like "The Dawn Patrol" (either version), "Wings" or "The Blue Max".
Spectacular dogfighting , impressive scenario , fine star cast and memorable acting . Acceptable budget extended adventures produced by Jimmi T Murakami and Gene Corman about a maverick pilot and his partners undergoing risked feats on air and bombing on earth . Very good aerial actioner plenty action , tragic drama , fantastic cloudy scenes and breathtaking dogfighting . John Philip Law and Don Stroud show professionalism as crack fighter pilots , two ambitious young men assigned to dangerous missions . Top-notch support cast gives excellent performance as Stephen McHattie , Barry Primus , Ferdy Mayne and Hurd Hartfield as Fokker . Colorful cinematography by Michael Reed and rousing musical score by Hugo Friedhofer .
The motion picture is professionally directed by Roger Corman . After his period realizing poverty-budget horror movies as ¨Swamp woman¨, ¨The beast with a million of eyes¨, ¨Attack of the crab monsters¨, ¨Undead¨, then came the cycle of tales of terror based on Poe as ¨ House of Usher¨, ¨Pit and pendulum¨, ¨The raven¨ , ¨Tales of terror¨, ¨The masque of the red death ¨ , and Corman made his undisputed masterpiece , ¨X¨ , that won the Golden Asteroid in the Trieste Festival of Science Fiction Films in 1963 . Later on , he directed films as ¨Angels of hell¨, ¨The St. Valentine's day massacre¨, ¨The trip¨, ¨Bloody mummy¨, ¨Gas or It became necessary to destroy the world in order to save it¨ and of course ¨Von Richthofen and Brown¨, and finally (1990) ¨Frankestein unbounded¨ . ¨Red Baron¨ rating : 6 , acceptable and passable , definitively wholesome watching , Corman's achievement to have bent the wartime genre with nice results. Good and entertaining fare , it's a fairly watchable and spectacular film and results to be a good treatment of WWI flying aces .
THE BLUE MAX had decent dogfights, but blue screen as above so here the combat sequences are better. THE GREAT WALDO PEPPER also had real IN THE AIR footage of both pilots and aircraft, certain a fine pseudo-dogfight at the end of it.
DARLING LILI I have never seen much of so I will refrain, though more BLUE MAX aircraft once again.
Now we have the CGI films such as THE RED BARON and FLYBOYS, both of which show great action, totally faked and also totally way too fast. Watch the speed and action of these earlier films and you sense that these old planes did not move THAT FAST as these two films show them. Great stuff, but totally fake.
Give me real any day of the week. For this film and THE BLUE MAX, Enjoy the dogfights, tolerate the acting and have good time.
I'll skip the obvious, that they were flying Fokker DVII's in 1916, because the Blue Max did that too, or that 209 squadron was flying SE-5's, and will attack other parts. For one thing, they call the Pfalz D-III an 'old Albatross' at the beginning. For another, they have Voss, Goring, and Wolff all in Jasta Boelcke. The only one who was in that Jasta was Voss, and he joined after Boelcke died. Richtofen wasn't held to blame for Boelcke's death...Erwin Boehme, who collided with Boelcke, had swerved to avoid a British plane that Richtofen was chasing. When Richtofen received his head wound, it was while attacking a FE-2d two-seater, and he did not crash into the trenches and have soldiers fight over him, and NO..Werner Voss did not die that day. He died September 28th in one of the most epic battles in WWI.
Manfred was short, not like the actor who towered over everyone else. His brother Lothar was never in Jasta Boelcke either, he joined the squadron when Manfred was in charge of Jasta 11.
There's so many other glaring errors in historical fact that I'll let them go except perhaps the worst one, the death scene. In the movie Manfred is out-maneuvered by Brown and then shot down, making a perfect landing. Brown got off one burst at Richtofen while Richtofen was chasing May, and the facts amassed over the years overwhelmingly show that Richtofen was killed by ground fire, not by Brown.
The only value in this movie was the chance to see the flying scenes themselves, which were as good as 'The Blue Max', other than that I won't watch it again and I paid $30 for the tape!
Talking about "cruel actions" the ridiculous scene were Lieutenant Hermann Goering murders English nurses during an attack on an airbase is an absolutely disgusting piece of propaganda done with "historical hindsight". If you want to a see a factual, moving, very well acted and directed film about the air war during WWI watch "ACES HIGH" (1976) or that wonderful classic "THE DAWN PATROL" (1938) you shall not be disappointed.
What you have to figure out is what the Baron is referring to when he exclaims "I have 30 men fighting for their lives".
Cross reference that to the recent picture "Aviator" where the Howard Hughes character has 24 cameras for his "Hells Angels" WWI combat picture, but needs 2 more for a total of 26.
It all makes sense if you are good at counting cycles...but sounds like gibberish otherwise.
Anyway, this picture may seem inaccurate historically, or even boring, but it's the "numbers" game that's the most appealing.
I attended a lecture by 'Doors' drummer John Densmore a few years ago where he couldn't figure out why the "Doors" movie was so historically inaccurate. Again, look for the numbers.
Rather than complaining about details and the production values, the real fun in Richthofen and Brown is the 'hidden' wisdom...and you'll find it if you look carefully.