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The Great Waldo Pepper (1975)

After WW1, an ex-pilot takes up barn-storming and chance-meets a former German ace fighter pilot with whom he co-stars in Hollywood war movies depicting aerial dog-fights.


George Roy Hill


George Roy Hill (story), William Goldman (screenplay)




Cast overview, first billed only:
Robert Redford ... Waldo Pepper
Bo Svenson ... Axel Olsson
Bo Brundin ... Ernst Kessler
Susan Sarandon ... Mary Beth
Geoffrey Lewis ... Newt
Edward Herrmann ... Ezra Stiles
Philip Bruns ... Dillhoefer
Roderick Cook Roderick Cook ... Werfel
Kelly Jean Peters ... Patsy
Margot Kidder ... Maude
Scott Newman Scott Newman ... Duke
James S. Appleby James S. Appleby ... Ace
Patrick W. Henderson Jr. Patrick W. Henderson Jr. ... Scooter
James N. Harrell James N. Harrell ... Farmer (as James Harrell)
Elma Aicklen Elma Aicklen ... Farmer's Wife


A biplane pilot who had missed flying in WWI takes up barnstorming and later a movie career in his quest for the glory he had missed, eventually getting a chance to prove himself in a film depicting the dogfights in the Great War. Written by Keith Loh <loh@sfu.ca>

Plot Summary | Add Synopsis


The Second Greatest Flyer in the World. See more »


Adventure | Drama


PG | See all certifications »

Parents Guide:

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Did You Know?


When Waldo is recounting his fight with Kessler at the start of the movie, he mentions that his guns jammed and Kessler, seeing that he was helpless, saluted then flew away. This actually happened to Ernst Udet (on whom Kessler is based) when flying against the French ace Georges Guynemer in 1917, only it was Udet (at that time inexperienced) who had the jam and Guynemer (a high scoring ace) who let him go. See more »


(at around 1 min) When Axel is flying over a town with Mary Beth out on the wing of the plane, there are many modern cars visible on the towns' streets. See more »


Dillhoefer: Now, here's what we do. We put her up on the wing...
Duke: And she'll fake being afraid...
Dillhoefer: Right.
Duke: And the wind will blow her clothes off!
Dillhoefer: Yes! Yes!
Waldo Pepper: Wait! Why would the wind blow her clothes off? When I'm wing-walking, the wind doesn't blow MY clothes off.
Dillhoefer: Fool! Nobody wants to come and see YOU with YOUR clothes off!
See more »


Referenced in Darkwing Duck: A Duck by Any Other Name (1991) See more »

User Reviews

When the airplane was a big toy
22 February 2016 | by bkoganbingSee all my reviews

Robert Redford got one of his best roles in The Great Waldo Pepper which was directed by George Roy Hill who did right by him with Butch Cassidy And The Sundance Kid and The Sting. It does a wonderful job of capturing a bygone era of the Twenties when after World War I, the airplane was a big toy played with by some big kids.

The airplane got invented just in time for use in the war to end all wars. But no one figured out quite what to do with it. In point of fact it didn't have the capacity to drop bombs on the enemy to do that much damage. In the trench warfare days the real function was scouting those enemy lines to see and report on troop dispositions. But the other side did the same thing. So when they met dogfights happened. They were colorful and exciting, but didn't really do much militarily.

Aces got their reputations like the real life Baron Von Richtofen and Hermann Goering and the fictional Ernest Kessler as played by Bo Brundin here. Waldo Pepper in the Great War came up too late to show his stuff even though his former squadron leader Geoffrey Lewis says he was the most natural flier he ever saw. He had a brief encounter with Brundin days before the Armistice where Brundin let him off. He never got a chance to prove himself.

Now he proves himself every day in the various flying circuses doing daredevil stunts. People who fly do it for the love it and won't be happy going 9 to 5 on the ground. Redford is at the height of his abilities and this is his frustration that he never got to show his stuff in the arena where it really counted. Redford did a wonderful job in fleshing this aspect of his character.

But his world is changing, if the military has put aviation on hold there are lots of commercial uses. And a guy named Herbert Hoover who Secretary of Commerce at that time spearheaded the creation of the Civil Aeronautics Agency to regulate air traffic. Airplanes would be hauling mail and people and would soon be large enough to haul freight. Not a world that calls for daredevil daring.

The Great Waldo Pepper is one of Robert Redford's best films and roles. The Great Robert Redford has this part really nailed down. Some other folks in the cast are a tragic Edward Herrmann who hasn't got the skill as a pilot that Redford has and shows it. Susan Sarandon plays a budding wing walker who also perishes tragically in one of her early roles. George Roy Hill assembled a great supporting cast to back up Redford.

In the end it's Redford who makes The Great Waldo Pepper great.

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Release Date:

13 March 1975 (USA) See more »

Also Known As:

The Great Waldo Pepper See more »


Box Office


$5,000,000 (estimated)

Gross USA:


Cumulative Worldwide Gross:

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Company Credits

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Technical Specs


Sound Mix:

Mono (Westrex Recording System)


Color (Technicolor)

Aspect Ratio:

2.35 : 1
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