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A naive young officer straight from school arrives on the Western front to fight the air war against the Germans. However, the life expectancy of green pilots is not very good. Written by
Orde Saunders <ODS101@York.ac.uk>
Nothing Groundbreaking (Apart from the crash-landings)
A quiet sense of detachment hangs over the little airfield in the heart of the French countryside where this drama is played out. In the opening scenes, as the ridiculously young Lieutenant played by Peter Firth arrives, there is much talk of tea and biscuits, and everything seems very civilised. But under the serene surface there are a mass of tics and twitches, the causes of which are subdued by forced gaiety and too much alcohol.
Firth hero-worships McDowell's youthful commander who just happens to be his sister's sweetheart but McDowell is a tarnished hero. His psychological flaws are emphasised in the opening scenes in which we seem him toying with a German pilot whose plane has crash-landed before scything him down in a hail of bullets from his plane. McDowell needs a drink just to climb into the cockpit (while another ace, played by Simon Ward, feigns neuralgia to escape the terrors of aerial combat) and is haunted by a loneliness borne of the repetitive chore of writing letters of condolence to the families of the teenage fighter pilots who are shot down under his command.
There's nothing particularly groundbreaking in Jack Gold's WWI saga, but it is all professionally staged and acted with some crisply edited aerial sequences. All the situations are familiar, and the film must have seemed a little dated when it was released (around the same time as Star Wars), but there's a reassuring Britishness about it all. Despite the reasonably graphic depiction of the terrible psychological consequences of regularly flying towards one possible death, the film is still something of a throwback to the likes of Hollywood's The Dawn Patrol. Only here, the line between the good guys and the bad guys is blurred, and opposing pilots aren't so blinded by national duty that they can't appreciate and acknowledge the professionalism and spirit of their rivals when the opportunity arises. The ending is inevitable the cycle continues and elements of the story belie the age of its source material, but Aces High still delivers a quality film experience.
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