Aces High (1976) Poster


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Excellent World War I dogfight drama.
les-3521 July 2000
Warning: Spoilers
Recently, "Aces High" was shown on the Canadian history channel, and comments afterwards were made by Arthur Bishop, the son of WW I fighter ace Billy Bishop. Bishop, although Canadian, served in a British squadron and was rated as the top "British" flying ace of the war. His son is an expert on the war in which his father earned great distinction and flew fighters on his own in World War II.

The movie was given high commendations for its accuracy, with some "overstatements" that were there because the film makers wanted "to make a point."

The movie is clearly anti-war, with a lot of emphasis on the youth of the fighter pilots and the heavy casualty rate, both of which are highly accurate statements to be made about the aerial side of "the war to end all wars." It is not an "adventure drama" with heroes prevailing in the end. In the end, the only survivor is the chief officer, who has to replace everybody else.

Despite the obvious "ax to grind", World War I buffs will appreciate the excellent dogfighting scenes. It is one of the best World War I films that I have ever seen.
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I saw this with my grandfather
afison9 November 2006
I remember seeing this movie with my grandfather when it came out. My Grandfather was an observer in the RFC during WWI and so had real life views on what the movie was portraying.

I found the movie fascinating and well made, albeit rather sad, but my opinion paled against that of my grandfather. He never spoke too much about that time, but he did comment on how well the movie was made and how it fairly accurately summed up the feelings of the day, the high mortality, the bravery and the terrible mental burden it put on the combatants.

He was shot down 90 years ago over St Julien in France but survived to have a full and fruitful life. Yes i know some purists are mentioning the inaccuracy of some of the planes but to him it did not matter as the story of young human life was more relevant. I would advise anyone to see this movie to remind themselves of the great risks and sacrifices these young men took, he was 22 when he was shot down but many were much younger.

a great reminder of the risks taken by many young men who should have been enjoying life at that time. We should never forget them nor allow the lessons learned to fade away
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"A sad story brilliantly told"
tiomingo3 August 2001
I remember "Aces High" when it was released in Argentina (1977. Since then I had the opportunity of watching it twice on video. For me is an excellent example that you still can produce a great film even if the subject (WWI) has been treated dozens of times. Although I have not read "Journey's End" I did read many factual accounts of the air war on the Western Front during WWI and the spirit of those terrible years has been faithfully re-created. Malcom McDowell proves, once a again, what an excellent actor he is and the rest of the cast is as good as him.

The character played by Simon Ward, is one of the most moving and important within the film. This was brought to my attention last year when, watching a documentary about the Battle of Britain, I saw a former Hurricane pilot telling how depressed he was by the terribly high casualty-rate that he decided to stop making friends,since more likely they shall be dead within a fortnight. With this in mind Simon Ward's performance has deeper meaning. It is not only that he is haunted by the idea of his inevitable death, he doesn't want to make friends because he has lost too many.

The scene where Malcom McDowell throws a party to celebrate the arrival of "his" prisoner (the German pilot)would seem strange if not ridiculous to those who do not have a certain knowledge of the mentality of the European aristocracy, who formed the backbone of the officer-class in those days. According to them war was a gentlemanly affair were certain principles should be observed; one of them was the corteous treatment of prisoners (as long as they belong the same class)particularly if they had fought bravely. The concept was already an anachronism in 1914 where the colossal scale of the slaughter and its horrendous impersonality made the illusion of "the noble duel" obsolete if not ridiculous BUT, there was the aeroplane, a chance to move the clock back to the days of aristocratic man-to-man fights, a chance to escape the modern, faceless and industrialized murder of trench warfare. That's why WWI fighter pilots (all of them gentlemen in the truest sense of the word) behaved in that way. This film is also a very sad reminder of the destruction of a whole world that, with all its defects, had some very valuable principles. Principles that nowadays most of people would laugh at, which is also very sad.
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Well done WWI drama/character study
Marta14 January 2000
Written from the English point of view, this film seems to have it's tongue in it's cheek at times, but it's not at all funny. There are several flashes of humor in the early scenes, at the expense of the British upper class, but those quickly give way to the special horrors of the first war fought in the air.

Patriotic young pilots straight out of college lost their lives in literally a few days time, due to their inexperience and the stress of this new kind of battle. Malcolm McDowell has the unwelcome task of leading the 76th Squadron and also visiting colleges to drum up recruits, all the while knowing he's inviting them to an almost certain death. He keeps these new recruits at arms length to soften the blow to his mental health when they invariably get shot down. When he shows up at his own alma mater, an idealistic young man, played by Peter Firth, signs up for McDowell's squadron. On his arrival at the airfield, Firth sees the evidence of the turnover in pilots but fails to see the connection to his own longevity; a family photo and personal effects are whisked out of the room he's been assigned, right in front of his eyes. He is introduced to Simon Ward, a stony-faced pilot who by the end of the movie is finally driven insane by the awful, daily anticipation of his own death in battle.

The young pilots experience the respect that their station in the Air Corps elicits from the locals and from women, but at the same time they see how they are more likely to be killed than the average filthy foot soldier. Firth is taken with a local cabaret girl, who invites him to her room one night. The next night, when he expects her to be glad to see him, she ignores him and pays attention to an older, richer officer. The very next day the pilots are given the task of destroying German spotter balloons, which always have heavy gun and air protection, and the older pilots know this is almost a death warrant. Six planes go out, with McDowell and Firth in two of them, but you'll have to watch the film to find out how many come back.

A very good, but depressing, film, McDowell is subdued in his performance and seems to come out of his cocoon only at the end. This is necessary, I think, for his character to survive in the surroundings of constant tragedy. Firth is naive in the extreme, and this probably a correct portrayal of a green recruit in WWI, where there was no frame of reference for how dangerous those early airplanes were. The film shows us just how little the commanders valued the lives of their men by sending them out unprepared and inexperienced, and that they know after one group of fliers is decimated, there is always a fresh batch of innocent boys to take their place. I recommend the film highly, since it has a firm anti-war message.
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R. I P. , "Flyboys"!
dl4316 October 2006
Warning: Spoilers
While, all WWI aviation flicks bear their fair share of merits and admirable depictions of warfare over the front(with, of course, the exception of the recent and insufferably cheesy "Flyboys", Aces High ranks as unparalleled champion in depicting the forbidding overall sensation of World War I aerial combat. Unlike the romantic and heroic endeavors as popularized by the recruiters (of which I suppose Tony Bill also qualifies), dogfights are portrayed as a harrowing, fearful, and thoroughly traumatic experience, thus culminating in a host of undesirable personality side-effects as reflected by the various manners in which the battle hardened veterans of 56 squadron have exhibited in order to cope with the prolongued stay on the verge of the frontline.

Squadron leader Malcolm McDowell, for instance, can longer undergo combat sorties without saturating himself thoroughly with liquor beforehand, which he discloses as one of the reasons in which he's socially isolated himself from his wife in order to spare her any habitual bouts of his drunken temperament. As another pilot, Crawford's constant battle-weariness has progressively waned his psychological status to the breaking point, whereby he attempts to fabricate a medical condition in which to be relocated away from the front. Sure enough, by the film's end, Crawford's constant, as he himself characterizes, "frightful funk's" have finally driven him quite literally past the brink of insanity.

As the squadron's sole replacement for the week, newcomer Peter Firth's posting to the squadron is analyzed through the film's progressive subtitles, counting the days in which he survives in order to illustrate the alarmingly brief life-expectancy of a World War I fighter pilot. Needless to say, his dreams of idealism and glory become instantly shattered within a few moments, thus guaranteeing that he himself will come to understand the grim futility of his surroundings prior to his own demise.

While, potentially jarring at first, the progressive series of events begin to justify McDowell's constant sense of anguish at the sight of new recruits who arrive and perish with such intensified regularity.

Indeed, like all war movies, this film suffers from a few if trivial inaccuracies, including the modified wing sections and landing gear of the SE-5a replicas in effort to render the types as more aerobatically feasible, in conjunction with Presentation of German types that, aside from the Fokker Eindekkers, don't exactly embody representations of particular aircraft type, but accurately reflect the colorful and varied assortment in which the German's utilized multiple types within individual squadron's coupled with an habitual refusal to indulge in camouflaged paint-jobs that would have otherwise augmented their fighting capacity.

One aspect, which I greatly appreciated is manner in which Jack Gold accurately establishes how pilots strayed far from one another in the aftermath of an dogfight, thus relaying each pilot with the burden of navigating their own way home. ALso, the widespread devastation of the front is accurately represented as well, as exemplified by a particularly effective moment of solitude, in which Firth and Plummer indulge in picnic at a riverside, only to become flabbergasted at the sight of living fish, swimming upstream. Even within this lull in battle, this moment of relaxation features the ominous but distant rumble of artillery fire in the distance.

Granted, over the past week, I've resorted to an habitual level of repeated screenings of this classic, if only to compensate for having endured the veritable cliché-ridden atrocity otherwise known as "Flyboys", a wildly inappropriate endeavor of cartoonish escapism rendered all the more offensive by its perpetual "fun'n'games" conception of war over the Front.

If anything, when stacked side-by-side, "Aces High" and "Flyboys" embody the veritable epitome of opposing extremities, thus symbolizing the respective "right" and "wrong" manner in which to construct a movie about World War I aviation.

Given that Tony Bill's conception of his own self-styled epic as "the first World War I aviation film in 40 years" reflects his lack of awareness of the existence of this title, I highly recommend that he issue a thorough screening of this movie ASAP. Perhaps then, Tony Bill might learn something outside of his all-too-glamorous and boyish conceptions of aerial warfare over the front, and perhaps a even significant reduction in the overall "cliche factor" to boot.

Bottom line: compare and contrast, one will soon come to acquire further merit in which to conclude that "Flyboys" unequivocally sucks.
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Journeys End with WW1 planes
Rob Halpin15 February 2001
Ive seen this film about four times. A great film that didn't flinch from showing a class-ridden and brutal look at the reality of World War 1. Malcolm MacDowell was excellent as the Squadron Leader and Christopher Plummer was superb as the 'kindly uncle' figure who gave allowances and understanding to young pilots who were faced with the prospect of death every day on active duty.

World War One films are very hard to make , simply because the Director has to capture and expose the horror of a modern war in a period where the participants are caught in a mood of adventure and duty.Aces High demonstrates this fact entirely.

The film is based on the book Journeys End , and damn I missed it when it was on at the theatre , but hey. Anyway this film version is turned into the Play with Planes.

Anyway a great Film and brilliantly acted. I highly recommend this film to any war film buff , like myself.
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Fantastic film of WW1, superb acting - a taste of WW1 Airwar.
lemon-2924 December 2005
I really enjoyed this movie. Helps if you are interested in WW1 Airwar of course.

Good story, well told by excellent acting. Also brings home the harshness of war and the fragility of life.

Malcolm MacDowell is the seasoned veteran Major running a squadron of mainly recruits with a few old hands, it shows the two sides of WW1 the public side showing a brave face to the public at large and then contrasts this with reality of being on the front line.

Some of the aircraft are not quite authentic but made to look so, still doesn't really detract from the action and period.

Very well done.
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frankiehudson1 March 2002
This is an excellent film about WWI Royal Flying Corps and their fights against the Germans over the trenches.

Fantastic cast - McDowell, Trevor Howard, Peter Firth, Simon Ward and Christopher Plummer - they are all some of the best in the business at portraying English upper classes. Especially the mean McDowell (with his ironic speech at Eton 'we are caning them' when they're not really) and the callow Peter Firth, all Boys Own enthusiasm.

Shows the pious nature of the English elite, with John Gielgud as the headmaster spouting out empty platitudes about decency and 'playing the game' while, meanwhile, McDowell is playing dirty tricks on German pilots (the scene where he gets his opponent to land in the field and then destroys him as he walks towards his plane to offer help).

Fantastic aerial shots.
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Eton College memories - Jim Monck
monckuk14 April 2008
I was among the Eton College boys filmed when the headmaster (Sir John Gielgud) introduced Gresham (Malcom McDowell) to the boys. There must be many of us out there. It was filmed on a school holiday, and we were given the choice of an excursion or taking part in the film. I seem to remember that we were not terribly well behaved, but the director eventually sorted us out. We were thoroughly amused when the make-up artists re-arranged the hair of some of the boys. We each got £10, which was quite a lot for a schoolboy in 1976! Sir John was gracious enough to give me his autograph when I knocked on the door of his caravan between lessons. I also got Malcolm McDowell's. I think this was when they were filming the romantic bit at the beginning, because he persuaded me to get hers as well! I am sure that all of us who were there still feel very privileged to have been associated with such a great film. It was of course based on the classic WW1 play, 'Journey's End'.
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Good for the beginners
machado-211 March 2004
I have seen this film when I was young, and was very impressed. Probably it turns on my interest in aerial warfare in World War I. Despite technically awful from the airplanes types view, the film shows exactly, with no glamour, how was the life of fighter pilots in WWI.

Life expectancy for a new pilot was just two weeks. There was no real training for the pilots, and few of the old pilots care about teaching anything to the new ones. If you look at the dangerous machines they should fly, antiaircraft fire and the enemy machines, it's a miracle that someone has survived to told us the history.
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