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Aces High (1976)
"A sad story brilliantly told"
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.
Von Richthofen and Brown (1971)
I have just written a comment to "ACES HIGH" (1976) and that remind me of this film which I watched as kid when it was released; since then I have watched it only once and that was more than enough. As Kevin well says "it is a complete waste of time". Apart from the dog-fights which are nicely done the rest is a sequence of badly patched scenes with actors struggling with a lousy script and equally lousy direction. I do not remember the silly German accents mentioned by Kevin in his comment, but that is another pathetic mistake; if Corman tried to make more convincing the characterization of the German pilots why didn't he use German actors or have those parts dubbed? On the other hand is good example of the appalling Hollywood-style of film-making with their "villains" so clearly identifiable, not only by their cruel actions but also by their grotesque accents.
Talking about "cruel actions" the ridiculous scene were Lieutenant Hermann Goering murders English nurses during an attack on an airbase is an absolutely disgusting piece of propaganda done with "historical hindsight". If you want to a see a factual, moving, very well acted and directed film about the air war during WWI watch "ACES HIGH" (1976) or that wonderful classic "THE DAWN PATROL" (1938) you shall not be disappointed.
Tiara Tahiti (1962)
A wonderful blend of tragedy and comedy
***SPOILERS*** ***SPOILERS*** As "guyfs", who wrote the previous comment, says this is a little gem of a film that should be available in video. The "acting duel" between John Mills and James Mason is a pleasure to watch. Mason's character (Capt.Aimsley) is a bit more complex than Mill's and he plays it beautifully. He could be described as "a likeable rogue" whose luck has run out. The scene where Mason arrives to the headquarters of his new unit and reads the order-of-the-day is a wonderful introduction to his character and a great piece of acting.
John Mills (Col.Clifford-Southey) is also terrific in his portrayal of a man who is haunted by his past. His insecurity when facing Mason, the man who is really "in command" of the situation, turns him into a grotesque caricature of an officer. Look carefully at his pathetic "rehearsals" before meeting Mason; behind the obvious comical aspect of them there is a sad, desperate man who feels threatened by a man who has all the confidence and style that he lacks.
I think that labelling the conflict between Aimsley and Clifford-Southey as "a class-war" is a misunderstanding. Clifford-Southey (Mills) does not resent Aimsley because of his social position, which is slightly higher than his (Aimsley is a Guardsman); what he resents, and craves, is the self-confidence and natural charm of this man who is a born seducer (note the other officers's reaction at his behaviour)and a winner. It is not a question of class but of character (Aimsley could have been played by his valet or chauffeur)and he knows that Aimsley knows it.
The film looses a bit of edge when the action moves to Tahiti but still is watchable, particularly when you know that there is more to come. What I found completely redundant, is the ridiculous American body-builder, trying to seduce the native girl. His presence can be only explained as a jibe to the Americans (something that the English are very fond of) but still is a waste of time. The character played by Herbert Lom as the evil Chinese merchant is, unfortunately, too grotesque to be taken seriously and conspires against the dramatic plot. Considering all this, the film still manages to pack a punch with a moving finale. It is a deceivingly light-hearted film and a wonderful opportunity to see two of the greatest English actors of all time engaged in duel that brings out the best of them.
The Seventh Veil (1945)
A mediocre film saved by James Mason
Yesterday I had the chance to watch, for the second time,"The Seventh Veil". I consider this film a good example of what Richard Attenborough described as "the unbearable theatricality" of the English films produced up to end of the 40's (with a few honourable exceptions).James Mason's wonderful performance as a brutal "Pygmalion" is the redeeming feature of the film. As for Ann Todd, a pretty wooden doll, her performance can be judged by the awful scene at the beginning of the film where she is caned by the headmaster of the school. By the way, and this is not her fault, she is playing Francesca at the age of fourteen! Then, by a simple change of hairstyle she becomes twenty-one. The rest is history...
The other two characters involved with Francesca: Peter Gay (the band leader) and Maxwell Leyden (the painter) never become fully developed to justify their impact in the life of Francesca, it also must be said that they share Francesca's lack of warmth. Look carefully at the scene where Francesca, leaving the Royal Albert Hall after a successful performance, goes in search of Peter. When she finally finds him (and we must not forget that they were deeply in love and they have not seen each other for seven years!) Peter's reaction is that of a man who saw her last week.
Herbert Lom's performance is understated, as the role demands, but very good. It is a pity that an actor like him was typecasted to play usually evil foreigners ( look at the pathetic Chinese merchant he plays in "Tiara Tahiti" (1962) where, by the way, he acts alongside James Mason and John Mills, both giving terrific performances)
Regarding Rosabel's comments I do not understand how she/he got this idea of "the German painter" . His name is Maxwell Leyden and speaks an impeccable English. Herbert Lom's character is the only "foreigner"in the film (if we do not leave behind Peter Gay, who is American) but, as his surname suggests, he is Scandinavian (Larsen and Larsson are very common surnames in Denmark and Sweden)
For those who admire James Mason I would recommend the biography written by Sheridan Morley "Odd Man Out" (London 1989)