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Little Dieter Needs to Fly (1997)

Not Rated  |   |  Documentary, Biography, Drama  |  2 October 1998 (USA)
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German-American Dieter Dengler discusses his service as an American naval pilot in the Vietnam War. Dengler also revisits the sites of his capture and eventual escape from the hands of the Vietcong, recreating many events for the camera.



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Nominated for 1 Primetime Emmy. Another 6 wins & 1 nomination. See more awards »
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Complete credited cast:
Dieter Dengler ...
Himself / Narrator (voice)
Eugene Deatrick ...


In 1966, Dieter Dengler was shot down over Laos, captured, and, down to 85 pounds, escaped. Barefoot, surviving monsoons, leeches, and machete-wielding villagers, he was rescued. Now, near 60, living on Mt. Tamalpais, Dengler tells his story: a German lad surviving Allied bombings in World War II, postwar poverty, apprenticed to a smith, beaten regularly. At 18, he emigrates and peels potatoes in the U.S. Air Force. He leaves for California and college, then enlistment in the Navy to learn to fly. A quiet man of sorrows tells his story: war, capture, harrowing conditions, escape, and miraculous rescue. Where did he find the strength; how does he now live with his memories? Written by <>

Plot Summary | Plot Synopsis


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Release Date:

2 October 1998 (USA)  »

Also Known As:

Flucht aus Laos  »

Filming Locations:


Company Credits

Show detailed on  »

Technical Specs

Sound Mix:


Aspect Ratio:

1.85 : 1
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Did You Know?


The exotic-sounding music heard during the "native" sequences is Mongolian overtone music, sometimes called "throat music." It enables the singer to sound as if he had two or more voices. See more »


Dieter Dengler: Duane, my friend, he was gone, and from then on my motions, my progress, became mechanical. In fact, I couldn't care less if I would live or die. But then later on, there was this bear, this beautiful bear that was following me. It was circling me in fact sometimes. It was gone and I missed it. It was just like a dog, it was just like a pet. Of course I knew this bear was there, he was waiting to eat me. When I think about it, this bear meant death to me. And it is really ironic. That's the ...
See more »

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User Reviews

Fascinating, even if it doesn't completely gel in all respects
8 October 1999 | by (toronto) – See all my reviews

The movie is mainly a monologue, with glimpses of Dieter's life nowadays, but built in its central section around the somewhat bizarre device of having him return to the jungle with a band of Vietnamese who partly reenact his experiences - he demonstrates torture techniques, the march through the jungle etc. Herzog is too much a filmmaker to be satisfied with mere memories it seems - he must also see: although with full knowledge that this form of retrospective seeing will be inescapably somewhat bizarre. Dieter's past traumas and current stability (although he's still preoccupied by the idea of closed doors and is still hoarding vast unneeded emergency food supplies - the former seems a bit staged, but that's part of the intrigue) seem to chime with Herzog's own past glories and now relative reduced state, and the title with its obviously childish edge has an air of longing and acknowledgment of past fantasies and their fatal possibilities. But despite the true pain of the monologue, Herzog doesn't dwell on adversity, but rather on the ultimate grandeur (for example, the final image of thousands of military planes parked in the desert) - in which context his movie seems to fall short of the true cosmic resonance of some of Errol Morris' work. But he coaxes Dieter's story expertly and has the classic strengths of a good story-teller, and the movie's quite fascinating even if it doesn't completely gel in all respects.

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