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The best thing that can be said about "Ace Eli and Rodger of the Skies"
(1973) is that its lame title accurately reflects the quality of the
film. If a period piece about a WWI flyer adjusting to civilian life as
a barnstormer is what you are looking for, I suggest "The Great Waldo
Pepper" (1975). Both films are relatively high budget with professional
production design, but "Waldo" has better flying scenes and a far more
What Eli has is Pamela Franklin ("The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie") and amazingly that is almost enough to make it worth watching. Actually it is a must see for all her fans but they already know that.
Cliff Robertson is sadly miscast as the Ace Eli character and this decision saps the energy out of pretty much every scene in the film. The kid from "The Poseidon Adventure" plays Rodger (Ace Eli's 11-year old son). He also played opposite Robertson in the "Come back Shame" episode of "Batman", this kid is no Dakota Fanning so don't get your expectations up too high.
For those too young to remember, from the late 1960's until the late1970's Hollywood catered to the counterculture baby boomer market. This followed the success of "Easy Rider" and "Bonnie and Clyde", films that succeeded because they broke a lot of Hollywood conventions. Pretty soon almost all films were breaking Hollywood conventions, unfortunately they were the same conventions being broken in the same way; making them just a new set of conventions. These included mandatory scenes of a man in bed with a woman and the inclusion for no particular reason of a few assorted political subtexts.
This was not a big deal when confined to contemporary stories but this stuff soon got incorporated into revisionist films about historical events and characters. "Ace Eli" is one of these, joining (but not as good as) stuff like "Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid", "Little Big Man", and "The Great White Hope".
Buried somewhere in "Ace Eli and Rodger of the Skies" are coming of age story elements and maybe even a couple of themes; but I just watched the whole thing and can't even begin to identify what they were actually trying to communicate. Blame the writer, the director, the editor, or all of the above. Then maybe blame a bunch of Hollywood types who thought it might be a good idea to explore the mysteries of 1970's female discontent in a 1920's setting. What should have been clear in pre- production is that spicing up a family film will not attract teenage and adult viewers, but it will make the thing too risqué for family viewing. And they wonder why these things lose money.
If you check the credits you will see that "Ace" is based on a story by Steven Spielberg. If you watch the film you will understand why Spielberg is best known as a director and not as a writer.
Then again, what do I know? I'm only a child.
Cliff Robertson as a wily barnstormer in the 1920s who makes his airplane his occupation. With a story by newcomer Steven Spielberg, "Ace Eli" is predictably nostalgic and not uninteresting. It has some sentiment, which is quickly evened out with grit, and a good performance by child actor Eric Shea (aside from his turn as the brainiac in "The Poseidon Adventure", this is Shea's shining moment). Robertson doesn't quite convince as a stud in the skies simply because he's so laconic as an actor; Robertson seems to love planes, but there's no glee in the man as a performer. Had Eli been played as a devilish old rascal, there might be something to the relationship between the flier and the kid, but Robertson isn't into buddyisms (he's not about to play the comic foil, nor is he willing to be a cut-up). The women are a different matter: Pamela Franklin gets most of the screen-time as a flapper, yet she's curt and cold; Bernadette Peters, as a flooze, is much preferable because she's anxious to cut through the baloney. The flying sequences are very good, but director John Erman loses his impetus on the ground, and his details are all wrong (after seeing Robertson apparently getting sick from drinking at a party, Franklin allows him to kiss her on the mouth in a barn--surely not a fancy flapper with a brand new set of wheels!). The poor reception the picture received must have bruised Spielberg (that and the release of the not dissimilar "Paper Moon" the same year). But, aside from some faults, it's an engaging, minor item. **1/2 from ****
I saw this in the movie theater when first released. I only went to see it because Pamela Franklin is in it. She is beautiful as always, but the movie is very dull. I still wish they would release it on DVD as I am collecting all of Pamela Franklin's films. It is a shame she gave up acting at such a young age. Perhaps if Spielberg had directed it it would have been far better. As it is this is just a fair film, not very engaging at all. Pamela Franklin fans should watch it just for her. She is absolutely gorgeous in it. Cliff Robertson is OK, but even he is unable to make this film very interesting. Ariane Munker has a very small role. She was in the stage production of Kurt Vonnegut's Happy Birthday Wanda June and TV's Between Time and Timbuktu.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
I'd like to begin by expressing my disbelief that this doesn't show up
on "worst" lists, if not for all time, then at least for the era.
This isn't just a ho-hum movie; it's actively and aggressively offensive. This is a film whose main character calls his young son a "dumb, ugly, son of a bitch." A film which not only features a cockfight, but depicts it with such detail and at such length that we're expected to become as excited about its outcome as our "hero." A film in which an 11-year-old is privy to the sexual adventures of his father.
Yes, it's a family picture.
Steven Spielberg gets a story credit on this shamefest. His detractors would blame much of the movie's problems on him; his worshippers would argue that there's a difference between a story treatment and the way a movie plays out when it reaches the screen. Neither side truly wins in this case, but I'm in the latter camp, because I feel that much of the film's failing comes from the atrocious script that was drawn from Spielberg's story, and the misguided direction.
Ironically, this movie came out the same year as "Paper Moon," which covers some of the same dramatic territory. Like "Ace Eli," it features a smart-mouthed youngster attached to a single, itinerant, philandering con artist. But where that film was a classy, Oscar-winning charmer, "Ace Eli" just makes one sick to the stomach.
This movie looooks glossy and has nice title, oh yeah. Hey! It was even written by Steven Spielberg no less. But unfortunately it just doesn't deliver as either a family movie, nostalgic social commentary of 1930's or anything else for that matter. When I first saw it on cable as a teenager several years ago it kind of disturbed me. The themes that run through are kind of dark. Granted it does take place in the Great Depression, but there are better movies set in the Depression era (like Seabiscuit). This movie follows the aimless wanderings of a depression era pilot Ace Eli and his bratty kid Rodger. Along the way Eli instructs Rodger about flying, women, and life in general. I especially got a kick out of the cheesy dialogue about "what makes a real whore"...hehehe...as the comparisons between Shelby and Annette become strikingly clear as the movie progresses...Overall a time waster unless you like weird pointless movies set in the Great Depression 4 out 10
Generally, I like the kind of movie about which I could say, "This movie
could never be made today." That is a statement true of Ace Eli, but
unfortunately, this movie should never have been made in its time
It is thoroughly unpleasant, aimless and populated with hateful characters. The odd thing is that it seems designed as some sort of nostalgic family entertainment.
Begin with Cliff Robertson and the kid who Bobby Brady paid a half dollar to go out with Cindy. They are dad and son. The mom is killed in a plane crash with Cliff as pilot (this happens right away, so I'm not spoiling anything), and Cliff decides he's going to go fly away in his biplane and barnstorm the country. The kid is a jerk to a little girl who likes him, Cliff is a jerk to the kid and the girl's mom who he is immediately sleeping with (fun for the whole family). They burn down their house and take off. The kid smokes, Cliff sleeps with some more gals, lots of nice footage of the plane flying around, no real narrative.
The positives: Pamela Franklin is unspeakably hot as a uppity woman who is attracted to good ol' Cliff. Bernadette Peters fans can see her. Nice shots of an old biplane flying around for those who are interested in barnstorming and such.
The odd thing is that Spielberg wrote this, and it is about a time in American history about which one could write a sentimental father-son barnstorming team movie. This movie has very little sentiment (Spielberg maybe tried to make up for this with "Always"?) and NO charm despite it's unique setting.
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