Aces High (1976) Poster

(1976)

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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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10/10
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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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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10/10
"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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8/10
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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8/10
Excellent
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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10/10
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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10/10
Hard-hitting look at a very grim time
mikeandersonmusic12 June 2009
I caught this film on a Sunday afternoon when nothing else was on.

I'm interested in the history of the period, but I can't say that I am a total plane nut or could tell you that the wrong flap or control stick was used on a certain plane etc.

I thought the piece had real emotion running through it - this is far from a propaganda piece, a glory-romp detailing the beginnings of the RAF. I found it a very convincing and personal take on the futility of air war during WW1.

The film is quite depressing, but then the war itself was no walk in the park, was it? We get to see first hand how the constant pressure affected these young men, we see how many of them were killed, how many could barely fly the planes. I thought that the flight scenes, and the scenery/sets generally, added to the overall ambiance and feel of the film. The 'barrack' or 'mess' they live in is just a shack with a piano in, and the only solace they have is getting drunk every night and singing songs. I genuinely felt their terror, and for me it pervades the entire film. It shows how various men cope with this massive pressure - some better than others - and it highlights a time very different from ours, a time when most of these young airmen had no idea what was in store for them. I believe that WW1 changed the world in many ways - artistically, musically, politically - and more. This is a little vignette into a lost world. It shows (but doesn't rub in or over-egg) the class system at the time - as others have mentioned, the RAF was really the preserve of the upper classes at that time, and this is a beautiful counterpart to the working class ground crew. This isn't an obvious film, I don't think, it doesn't spell things out for you, you are just awashed with small and loving details, character traits, believable props/scenery etc. It just feels right, and is quite moving.

For those who bemoan the fact that it's not like Journey's End - although it's a 'revised' version of the play, it is going to be totally different - I don't understand how you can compare the claustrophobia of the trenches with the much more 'open' warfare and living conditions of the RAF. Rather than let myself get hung up about this, I treated Aces High as its own piece. I've seen Journey's End at the theatre, and enjoyed it, but to compare the two and berate Aces High for not being an exact port or copy of the origin I feel is missing the point.

I was really surprised and happy at this little gem I found on a Sunday afternoon. I think it helps to have some knowledge of the period to really appreciate the film, but I'd recommend this film to anyone.
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9/10
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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10/10
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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8/10
Very good!
dusan-2229 October 2009
Good old English film school! Everything in this film is much above average: realistic character of what we call "superhero" that is played by amazing and 100% well casted Malcolm McDowell. War heroism brought to big question by all means is performed by great and colorful film style. What lies beneath the war is depicted well in leading characters. Discretely implied message of anti-war film is presented by disability of sane human conscience to accept death and destruction. Very good dogfight scenes, excellent acting and above everything dynamic and engaging movie pace. Strongly recommended to all war movie lovers.
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6/10
Heavy Handed Anti-War Film
Theo Robertson26 April 2004
First of all I feel I`ve got to point out the two flaws of ACES HIGH

1 ) The film starts with the commonly held erroneous view that young men of whatever nation joined the army because they`d been brainwashed by glorious tales of derring do and had no idea of the horror awaiting them in the trenches . Not so in Britain at least since The Times newspaper published the names of every British serviceman killed at this time . One edition in July 1916 published over 20,000 names of the men killed during the Somme offensive , so to insinuate that the boys at the school had somehow only had Gresham`s account of the war to fall back on is somewhat naive . This might have happened in 1915 but not so when this film was set towards the end of 1916

2 ) ACES HIGH is based on the play JOURNEYS END except it revolves around a plane squadron which means when the chaps are at the airfield everything feels a bit too stagey while when they`re up in the air there`s a distinct lack of drama since the cast are indistinguishble with their goggle clad faces and their lack of dialogue

Having pointed out the flaws I can`t not mention the main strength and that`s the cast . Malcolm McDowell an actor I can`t usually stand at the best of times gives a superb performance as the bitter , cynical alcholic John Gresham . It`d be very easy for McDowell to give a very over the top performance ( Some might say that`s all he ever does ) but he`s both very convincing and disciplined here . Christopher Plummer is completely convincing as a paternal English officer ( Plummer was always good at this kind of role ) and Peter Firth - Despite being hampered with a character unsubtley written - is also good

Considering the limited budget the technical aspects are impressive enough with the sometimes slightly obvious backscreen projection hardly bringing the film down . It`s an anti-war film so its heart is in the right place but like many an anti-war film it`s somewhat heavy handed ( As I imagine the source play was ) and the ariel scenes with their lack of dialogue means a somewhat over dramatic film in places and an undramatic film in other places

Six out of ten
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9/10
A Solid Piece of Work.
screenman21 April 2008
Warning: Spoilers
It's The first World War for a change. And as one of the very few movies to address this sadly neglected subject, 'Aces High' is an excellent effort.

This war was such a comprehensive disaster by just about every evaluation, one suspects that funding for a movie relating to it might be hard come by. Just consider how many films have been made about WW2. That was a conflict which had clearly defined victories enabling all of the allies to celebrate. In comparison, after the 1918 armistice, most people and nations simply sighed with a deep, abject relief.

Here we are dealing with the air corp, the fledgling Royal Air Force. For the aces life is bittersweet. You may not live long - scarcely longer than the wretched soldiers, but at least you sleep in bed at night, in a warm dry billet. There are no lice, no rats, no unburied comrades stinking the trench out.

But there's still fear. And this movie addresses its caustic effect upon morale.

Malcolm McDowell - of 'Clockwork Orange' fame - plays squadron leader, Major Gresham, based somewhere in France. Like most, he set out with a schoolboy's enthusiasm and willingness, but survived long enough to grow cynical and angry, and fear is something he himself can scarcely hold at bay with drink. His squadron isn't in much better shape. One member is on the edge of a nervous breakdown. The others get by as best they can. Most nights they are drunk.

As fliers they represent the upper-class. Snobbish, public-school educated, automatically commissioned officers, contemptuous of the working-class ground crew who maintain their aeroplanes rather as grooms would tend their horses. The ground crew, in turn, are phlegmatic. They can bide their time. Almost all of these boys will only last a fortnight. They turn-up, young and fresh-faced, criminally inexperienced, and are blown away by the enemy aces who - from innate skill and good fortune - have lived long enough to perfect their flying and shooting skills. These lessons were still not learnt by the time of WW2.

Peter Firth plays Lieutenant Croft. He is just such a recruit. He lionises Gresham who was his house-master at school and is married to his sister. Gresham on the other hand resents his innocence. He sees Croft as just another doomed casualty in waiting. You can't afford to have close friends; they don't last long enough.

The cast is truly superb. I am no particular fan of any, except John Guilgud, who has a brief cameo as headmaster. Firth in particular as an unworldly, sensitive and affectionate youth is a tour-de-force. His face is a moving map of human emotion. You know he must die. He has no killer-instinct whatsoever. To him it's just a game, kids pretending to be men. And old hands two years his senior will wipe him from the sky. McDowell as the edgy leader who must balance necessity with expediency is also entirely believable.

The air combat scenes are very well played out. True, it is no 'Battle of Britain', but then it was made for a fraction of the budget. In any case, WW1 planes travelled at a third of the speed of spitfires, so the drama is inevitably slower and more sedately choreographed. Its nearest comparison is 'The Blue Max' from a decade earlier. Slicker and much more lavish, it seems to lack the minutiae of personal observation and in my opinion is less engaging as a consequence.

Some have described this as an anti-war movie. I disagree. It is a war movie, plain and simple. It doesn't glorify combat because in this war there was simply nothing to glorify. Technology had leapfrogged culture, strategy and tactics, and the result was slaughter. The buffers in command were still fighting Waterloo. Who could possibly make a pro-war movie about World War One?

This take offers a cameo of life as a British pilot in 1916. Between moments of an outdated chivalry that soldiers had long since consigned to the mud, it was short, nasty and brutal; but, like so much of the conflict, propaganda dressed it up to appear as everything but. 

You can almost see Black-Adder, but with wings instead of gags.
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Nothing Groundbreaking (Apart from the crash-landings)
JoeytheBrit21 January 2010
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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6/10
WWI drama with all-star cast , memorable acting and rousing aerial scenes spectacularly staged
ma-cortes26 June 2015
Interesting War drama taken from British point of view . Spectacular and colorful WWI airplane movie with an enjoyable casting and breathtaking aerial battles . Splendid aerial scenes stunningly staged , being wonderfully photographed by Gerry Fisher and adequate musical score by Richard Hartley are the chief assets of this enjoyable film . In WW1 the high casualty rate among the rookie pilots of the Royal Flying Corps puts an enormous strain on the survivors . Pilots shooting down enemy planes but also suffering a lot of war losses . They carry out attacks on balloons that were extremely dangerous because machine guns and antiaircraft guns formed a protective circle beneath the balloons . Therefore pilots dived at a steep angle when they attacked , they did not attack horizontally . High above the trenches 14 days is a long life...This is the 15th day!

Spectacular dogfighting , interesting dramatics , overwhelming scenarios , top-drawer cast , agreeable interpretations bring to life attractive roles though tend toward cliché . Nice aerial sequences directed by Derek Cracknell but drama on the ground does a little boring . R.C. Sheriff's classic play about life in the trenches was reworked as a drama of fliers in the Royal Flying Corps by screen-writer Howard Barker . As the setting is transplanted from the trenches to an airfield , but most of the characters and some incidents are almost unchanged . Big-budget extended feats produced by Benjamin Fisz about unfortunate pilots undergoing risked feats on air . The main excitement results to be the grandiose spectacle of the planes , as on the ground roar rather less . Pretty good aerial flick full of thought-provoking issues , drama , fantastic cloudy scenes and spectacular dogfighting . The scene with the balloon observer jumping out with a parachute is reused footage from Blue Max (1966) by John Guillermin . Peter Firth shows professionalism as a crack fighter pilot , he plays a naive youth assigned to dangerous missions . Malcolm McDowell gives a restrained and intelligent acting as a veteran pilot . Top-notch support cast gives excellent performances as Christopher Plummer , Richard Johnson , Ray Milland , John Gielgud , Simon Ward , Trevor Howard and first cinema feature of Tim Pigott-Smith . Adequate photography by Gerry Fisher , though a perfect remastering being necessary . It was filmed at North Weald airfield, in Essex , a hangar that was built for the film was later used for sets of television .

The motion picture was professionally directed by Jack Gold . He was born in London and is a prestigious director and producer , known for Bofors guns (1968) , The Reckoning (1970) , Man Friday (1975) , The Medusa touch (1978) , The Chain (1984) , Escape from Sobibor (1987), and Goodnight, Mister Tom (1998) . ¨Aces high¨ is a rehash of the former airplane movie clichés in which the splendid casting stands out . Rating : nice and entertaining , it's a fairly watchable and breathtaking film and results to be a good treatment of WWI flying aces .
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Splendid
darencogdon9 March 2000
Aces High - having never seen the movie before, but I had heard of it, I went ahead and bought it, expecting it to be good. It was! The dogfight scenes were very convincing, although stock footage from 'The Blue Max' was used in places, but only to add a sort of 'link' to the footage you saw in the movie. Stampe SV.4s made excellent substitutes for SE5As, but the Stearmans/Tiger Moths and Jungmeisters weren't exactly convincing. But hey, who cares? This is a top notch movie, with good performances and convincing setpieces. See it, enjoy it!
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9/10
NOT Journeys End
jghbrown13 November 2012
The biggest mistake they made with this movie was to call it "Aces High", because some people are only going to think it's a flying flick and start criticizing the equipment and the "realism" of the action. The second biggest mistake was to say it was modeled on R.C. Sheriff's play "Journeys End", because it doesn't matter a damn whether it was or not. It has its own space - in this case it is air space.

In essence it's a movie about the relationships between three men during the years of carnage and crass stupidity which was World War I. These men are Gresham (Malcolm McDowell), Croft (Peter Firth) and "Uncle" (Christopher Plummer). These relationships are portrayed in a very British way insofar as the feelings between them are UNSPOKEN. This can lead to some people wondering if the writers had forgotten that they were supposed to know each other. However, the thing to watch out for is the body language. For instance, Peter Firth has a most expressive and sensitive face. One can almost feel the adoration he holds for his former house captain (and lover of his sister), and his feelings of being crushed by Gresham's coolness (some would say rudeness) towards him are also palpable. Stoneyface, bottle-hitting Gresham doesn't like to express any emotion at all. However, it isn't because he dislikes Croft but because he loves him. Some military fellows might think I'm talking about homosexuality here, but actually I just mean the love that people of either sex can have for each other. But, heck, here I am going on about love and stuff and I haven't even mentioned that the planes weren't quite authentic. Never mind, I'll get back to that.

Now, to complete the triangle we have "Uncle", as played with great sensitivity and tact by Christopher Plummer. Uncle's fatherliness towards the crestfallen and confused young Croft is one of the things which makes this movie a joy to watch. So too is the obvious love between Gresham and Uncle. Hell, there I am banging on about love again and this is supposed to be a war film and people killing each other and stuff.

But that's the essence of it. You have the love and you have the killing, and that's the thing that seems not to make much sense. I'd say this was probably the point the movie was trying to make. Of course, there were a lot of other great characters involved, including a dog. However, in the interests of cutting a long story short I've concentrated on the main thrust so to speak.

Now, as to the planes....
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7/10
Believable
TurboarrowIII2 March 2012
Warning: Spoilers
I think this is a very believable film. All the actors perform well and it all adds up to an excellent anti war film. Malcolm McDowell is brilliant as Gresham. At the start of the film he goes back to his old school and tells tales about caning the enemy. In reality he is close to cracking up due to the stress of constant fighting and having to send ever younger boys to their deaths. Peter Firth plays the naive young pilot who believes Gresham is a perfect hero and that the war will be fun. He slowly begins to see things differently when he sees the death and suffering at the front when Gresham goes to pick up a German pilot he has shot down. Then there is Simon Ward who cannot face flying anymore and uses supposed illness to avoid going up. There is also a very realistic scene where one of the pilots is seen falling to his death in flames when his plane catches fire. Gresham has tried in vain to get parachutes issued but the commanders have decided that parachutes could mean that a man is more likely to jump than carry on fighting. This gives the message that they don't care about the men as there will always be others to replace them. In some versions of the film I have seen the ending is immediately after Peter Firth's character (Croft) is killed in the collision with an enemy plane. To me this is wrong because the last part after this is one of the strongest in the film. Gresham is back in his office as the sole survivor of the last mission and he is struggling to write letters to the families of the dead. He makes several attempts. Then 3 new young kids are introduced and Gresham is once again faced with knowing that they too will most likely soon be killed. He goes to the window and in his imagination sees Croft coming towards him. This shows a man pushed to the limit who cares deeply about the killing but realises he cannot do anything about it. I rate this as a great anti war film. The characters are believable and the action scenes are realistic. Although some scenes were borrowed from the Blue Max most of them are new and even though most of the planes are not original they still look excellent. Overall strong performances, excellent action scenes and a believable story make this a film well worth seeing.
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6/10
Very good portrayal of WWI fighter pilots and the tolls of war
Shosanna Dreyfus7 January 2011
Warning: Spoilers
Aces High is not quite as impressive or as action packed as The Blue Max, but it is still very much worth watching if you want a good film about WWI fighter pilots or a grim and realistic portrayal of war. Malcolm McDowell is very good as always and still looking young here as the Major in charge of a squadron of ever diminishing pilots who keep getting replaced by younger and less experienced pilots. Christopher Plummer is also as good as always as a kindly uncle type figure to the other pilots. Peter Firth plays a young man who idolizes Malcolm McDowell's character and did everything he could to be assigned to his squadron (his sister is also McDowell's girlfriend which causes some awkward feelings between them). McDowell is hard at times on Firth's character but there is a mutual bond and growing respect and warmth throughout. Simon Ward plays an important role in showing a pilot who has had his nerve completely shot and cannot face going into the cockpit again. His scenes show very much the stress that hazardous missions and the constant threat of death or injury must have had on even the bravest of pilots at times (McDowell's character is shown as able in the air and takes down German fighters throughout the film but even he needs alcohol to calm his nerves before his flights).

This British film spends much more time on the ground than The Blue Max did and only has about half the flying scenes at most. Still there are some stirring moments, although you may wish some mission or dogfight scenes went on a little longer. The action only takes place over seven days but it feels like a longer period of time and by the seventh day it feels like Peter Firth's character has been among the squadron a good time. The very last scene (apparently sometimes cut on TV) with Malcolm McDowell greeting some new recruits is very moving and you wonder how much longer his character can go on with the stress of countless deaths and danger (nevertheless he does a much better job of Simon Ward at facing his fears but everyone has their limits). There are some nice scenes throughout, like when McDowell brings a German pilot he brought down in combat over to the mess hall to show him a good time before the military take him away or the scene where Firth hangs out with the ground crew rather than the officers. The film is very English in the music, dialog and upper class antics of the pilots, but it also shows the grim realities of war very well and I am sure you will not begrudge these brave men the jolliness they keep up as long as they can. Overall, I preferred The Blue Max as a film but Aces High is also very good and is recommended for fans of Malcolm McDowell, British war movies or WWI flying scenes.
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6/10
Obvious, but alright
WILLOWSYKES1 July 2005
Its an anti war film. That's it. No great epic, no great direction, no good production values and certainly not even original.

I mean how many war films over the past 30/40 years do you know that are set in WWI that are not weighed down with a none too subtle anti war message? This is nothing different and nothing that hasn't been seen before, even in the mid 70s. Positive side. Both Christopher Plummer as the "best of a bad job" and Malcolm McDowell "I can not handle this, pass the whisky" are excellent and the planes do look the part. Class system shown (as it was/is in the British forces) but not stuffed in your face so it dominates the film.

The aerial battles are good but not exactly "Battle of Britain" standard and the whole film seems to have been shot in a filed round the back of the studios and the ending is hardly a shock. Still all in all it an alright if not good film to watch on a Sunday afternoon.
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4/10
Based on "Journey's End", lacks its intensity and drama...
jlpicard1701E22 May 2007
Warning: Spoilers
Funny that I find myself forced to review this movie, but here I am.

I am reviewing it, because just recently, I have had the chance to witness the revival of R.C. Sheriff's play "Journey's End" on stage in New York, at the Belasco Theatre, starring Hugh Darcy, Boyd Gaines, Jefferson Mays and others, as well as being masterfully directed by David Grindley.

I left the theater shattered. I am not exaggerating, I was flabbergasted. After almost two and a half hours of a recreated and very claustrophobic depiction of soldier's life in the trenches of the Somme (I speculate), during World War One, brought to life vividly, by everyone involved, I came out of the theater with the shakes.

Mind you, I am not easily shocked, nor am I too sensitive. I am a stage actor and a director myself, so I know the buttons being pressed to achieve certain effects, both emotionally, as well as psychologically.

But what I had just witnessed, came so much to life, that I had chills in my spine as I left.

None of these emotions came to life, while watching "Aces High", the movie based on this play and even adapted for the screen, in cooperation with R.C. Sheriff himself, shortly before he died.

The screen adaptation takes place in the skies over France. So, gone is the claustrophobic ambiance to start with.

The only plus of the movie, are the aerial battle scenes, which look dated in their special effects, compared to today's standards, but still very valid in the flying tactics adopted on screen.

Granted there had been a couple of screen adaptations of "All Quiet on the Western Front" by Erich Maria Remarque, which takes place in trenches, and not in the sky, but that was the "German" vision on things, if one would like to be picky on such things.

"Journey's End" is just the other side of the medal, and would have made it into a great movie, if they had left it alone and intact.

The transfer on DVD is poor, even though in Widescreen and adapted for 16:9 TV screens, the quality of the film itself is that of a movie theater. Nothing more, nothing less. It sports various defects, such as minor scratches and dots, although the copy, for the rest, is clean.

If you want another WWI movie in your collection, especially for those who love and enjoy to see aerial battles among old-timers, then this is a picture for you. But I rather would suggest "Von Richthofen and Brown" as an alternative, although that too, is a movie filled with inaccuracies.

For the rest of you, who love good acting and drama, I would leave this one out. Buy the play. Go watch the play, if you have the chance to get a decent revival of it near you, but keep off this would-be adaptation.

It is an anti-war movie, granted, but the weakest I have ever seen in my lifetime ever.

The presence of actors such as Trevor Howard, Ray Milland, Richard Johnson and John Gielgud, is just a bluff, since they are just seen in very weak and very brief cameo roles throughout the movie.

McDowell, the very talented Christopher Plummer, Simon Ward and Peter Firth, all deliver very weak performances, not due to their lack of skills, but rather due to lack of true and solid direction.

There are too many gaps in it, and as said before, it drags itself to the dubious end. Dubious because in the original play, none of the men we come to know and sympathize with, stay alive. They are all killed in a fatal and futile mission. In the movie they all die, except Malcolm McDowell, who manages somehow to stay alive another day, being the wing commander of the unlucky bunch, just to receive another three pilots to fly and die for another lost cause.

The end of the play leaves a bare stage in total darkness. You just hear the cannons roar, the machine guns rattle, and grenade impacts throughout the theater. Then, suddenly, total peace and silence. The curtain comes up. Lights. And here they all are. Lined up, standing straight and rigid. Obedient corpses...

Far more interesting and far more shocking than "Aces High" finale, which is also dragged by the hair.

It is up to you to judge.

For me, if I had the money and the contacts to do so, I would take the play and develop it, the way it was meant. Adding here and there some action scene in the field, just to visualize the "outer" horror and slaughter going on in the "vasty fields of France", around the men involved, but then, just strictly concentrating on what is going on, in that tiny "shack" at the edge of sanity and the world...

Want such a movie?

Then ask for it.

This is not it.
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7/10
Aces High ***½ (7/10)
Paul Kydd30 December 2017
Available on Blu-ray Disc (Region B)

UK/France 1976 English (Colour); War/Drama/Action (EMI/Jacques Roitfeld); 114 minutes (PG certificate)

Crew includes: Jack Gold (Director); Howard Barker (Screenwriter, adapting Play JOURNEY'S END by R.C. Sherriff ***½ [7/10] and Book SAGITTARIUS RISING by Cecil Lewis *** [6/10]); S. Benjamin Fisz (Producer); Gerry Fisher (Cinematographer); Syd Cain (Production Designer); Anne V. Coates (Editor); Richard Hartley (Composer)

Cast includes: Malcolm McDowell (Maj. John Gresham), Christopher Plummer (Capt. "Uncle" Sinclair), Simon Ward (Lt. Crawford), Peter Firth (Lt. Stephen Croft), David Wood (Lt. "Tommy" Thompson), John Gielgud (Headmaster), Trevor Howard (Lt. Col. Silkin), Richard Johnson (Maj. Lyle), Ray Milland (Brig. Gen. Whale)

BAFTA nomination: Cinematography

"High above the trenches 14 days is a long life... This is the 15th day!"

A naïve schoolboy (Firth) enthusiastically joins a WWI flying squadron in France, commanded by his idolised, former house captain (McDowell) - now utterly disillusioned and heavily reliant on alcohol - where he is told that life expectancy for new recruits is just two weeks.

Primarily based on a 1928 play (set in the trenches and first filmed in 1930 by James Whale), the move from army officers on the ground to those in the air importantly maintains a sense of claustrophobia by having its several prolonged and impressively staged aerial battle scenes generally shot from the perspective of tiny, single-occupancy cockpits.

It may be less thrilling but is equally moving on land.

Blu-ray Extras: Interviews, Short Film, Restoration Comparison, Trailer. *** (6/10)
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10/10
Did anyone pick up on..........
stantheman196117 November 2016
the homosexual undercurrent coming from Sinclair towards Croft in the lakeside scene?,

Love this film OK so there were a few inaccuracies it's called artistic licence but i don't think to many liberties were taken, For instance Parachutes were not available to pilots of the RFC nor were they used by the RAF during the First World War – although the Calthrop Guardian Angel parachute (1916 model) was officially adopted just as the war ended.

By this time parachutes had been used by balloonists for three years, Overall i thought it portrayed pretty well the RFC at that time still very much in it's infancy and the mood of the time and place Only one niggle Leeds i live in Leeds and its a lovely place

We must never forget the sacrifice these young pilots made

Lest we forget

My God, It's full of stars
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6/10
Fear Of Flying
writers_reign10 August 2012
Warning: Spoilers
I find myself in agreement with one of the people who reviewed this in these pages; I, too, have an aversion to Malcolm McDowell but am forced to concede that he was excellent as the self-aware, self-hating role model, what today we would describe as a poster boy for recruitment drives. Christopher Plummer was also excellent although the part was so well written he could have phoned it in. It's difficult to understand why they did not just film Journey's End as it stood, i.e. a story of infantry rather than airborne personnel but having opted for the change - and bizarrely changing the character's names, Stanhope, Raleigh, etc, despite hiring R.C. Sheriff to work on the screenplay and acknowledging the source material in the credits - they make a decent enough fist of it.
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