This was the last feature film made about World War One flying aces for almost 40 years. I was unaware of its existence until last year, when I caught a few minutes of it on IFC one morning before work. Then I spotted it as half of a double feature DVD in a bargain bin a few weeks back and finally got around to watching it last night.
The aristocratic Von Richthofen is an eager young aerial hunter who is invited to join Jasta No. 2, the elite German pursuit squadron commanded by Oswald Boelcke, the founder of Germany's fighter service. He quickly becomes an ace, but then his aggressive pursuit of a British plane causes a collision that takes Boelcke's life. Nonetheless, he is promoted to the Squadron's commander, and soon has the planes painted in a rainbow of bright colors that earns them the nickname of "The Flying Circus."
Meanwhile, Canadian flier Roy Brown, a cynical, bitter bad boy, is assigned to the British No. 24 squadron, commanded by the aristocratic Major Lanoe Hawker. Brown refuses to buy into the "Knights of the Air" chivalrous fantasy that the other British fliers indulge in, and also refuses to drink to their "brave and chivalrous foe von Richthofen" at the officer's mess his first night.
War drags on, people are killed, and finally von Richthofen and Brown meet in one of the epic dogfights of the Great War, where the Red Baron is sent to that Great Hangar in the Sky.
This is a very fun film to watch. As a WWI historian, there is a lot of nit-picking to do - both squadrons fly the wrong airplanes most of the time (however, I am more forgiving of this than I was with FLYBOYS, because in 1971 they were limited by what aircraft they actually had in flyable condition! So every WWI movie featured Triplanes, Fokker D-7's, and S.E. 5a's for the British - because there were a large number of those available. Since FLYBOYS was largely done with CGI and models, they could have used the correct airplanes and simply chose not to.). I was surprised to see this one was directed by B movie king Roger Corman! It must have been one of his higher budget productions!
Overall, as a said, I liked this one pretty well. Brown does come across as too much the 1970's antihero, and many of the historical details are way off. But if, like me, the sight of the Cross and the Cockade dueling it out in the skies makes your heart beat faster, you definitely need to see this film!