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Thu, Jul 07, 2005

The Ten Best Flying Movies, Ever (Part One)

It's Show Time

Aero-Views by Kevin R.C. "Hognose" O'Brien

OK... because I am on this side of the computer screen and you are on that side, I get to pontificate on my opinion. BUT -- you are going to have a chance to email us and tell us your opinions afterward. We like to keep things positive here at Aero-News, so this isn't the "Ten Stinkingest Flying Movies," but we'll consider your nominations for that, too.

1. Dark Blue World -- OK, it's largely in Czech. I understand Czech; for the rest of you, there are subtitles. It's worth the subtitles to appreciate this story of a young pilot and his mentor and the largely unappreciated contribution of the captive nations of Europe to the war effort, specifically in the RAF, and the poor outcome for such nations that just exchanged one captor for another at war's end. These guys are not lucky in love either. In a remarkably strange but effective concept, the Czechs are played by Czechs, the Britons by Britons, and the Germans by, guess who. Method acting? The principal protagonist's dog is played by... the actor's dog, who always travels with him. The acting is good, the flying is better (at $10,000 per flying hour per Spitfire, it had better be) and the director explains the CGI magic on a featurette on the DVD. How cool is that?

2. The Great Waldo Pepper --  IMHO, three films "made" the reputation that Robert Redford is still dining out on, (3 days of the Condor, Butch and Sundance, and this). This is the best of them. Redford plays a Peter Pan airman who wants to just barnstorm the world, and who doesn't want to change. But the world is going to change, with or without him. Aviation is going to grow up. Lots of artful flying, lots of excitement. The scene where Axel calls Waldo on Waldo's war story is incredibly powerful. The ending is a bit hokey. For better dogfights, scroll down. Special bonus: Susan Sarandon, young and pretty (it's an ollllld film).

3. Spirit of St. Louis --  when this film came out in 1957, starring Jimmy Stewart in a mostly accurate portrayal of the great pioneer's flight, the New York Times's reviewer wrote, "It runs for two hours and eighteen minutes, which is about how long it will take to fly to Paris some day." Who knew then that the Times would be doing its best to help torpedo SST travel in barely more than ten years? But the film is excellent. It doesn't say much about the enigma that is Lindbergh, one of the greatest and most puzzling of aviators (and a brilliant writer, as well; and a medical researcher of some note). Jimmy Stewart as the Lone Eagle was a brilliant casting decision on many levels.

4. The Blue Max -- OK, I'll grant that Ursula Andress in a 60s hairdo was a bit out of place, and to some degree the director made a botch of an even better book. And the aircraft are not always correct (YOU try to get the right planes for a particular period of a long-over war together... I'll even let you pick the war. Good luck!) This has the best dogfight scenes to date... the editing continuity makes sense and the maneuvers are what planes really can do. As is the case with many of these films, the book was better (and there is a sequel, The Blood Order, too). George Peppard got a commercial pilot license before the film and did a little of his own flying; the FAA still shows Peppard in the database, but notes he has no medical. (I can explain why to the FAA: the actor died in 1994 at the age of 65 after a long battle with cancer). Stunt pilot Derek Piggott flew the under-the-bridge scene -- with both planes, some twenty takes.

5. Piece of Cake (miniseries) -- This may be the best portrayal of a combat unit in extended combat in all cinema. Seriously. It also has some beautiful flying (look for the tip vortices when they "attack" the train) and some existential questions get answered (can a Spitfire fly through that bridge?) Some people have been down on it because it portrays the Few "warts and all," and legends aren't supposed to have warts. Technical accuracy hounds grind their teeth to see Spitfires in the Battle of France (there were none). The problem is, you see, where do you get enough Hurricanes to do this accurately? Another problem is the limits that a TV budget put on effects. As is the case with many of these films, the book (Hornet Squadron, by Derek Robinson) is better. He also wrote a similarly great First War story, Goshawk Squadron.

Read Part Two!

FMI: www.imdb.com

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