Rupert Pupkin Speaks: Twilight Time - THE BLUE MAX and THE EDDY DUCHIN STORY ""

Wednesday, March 12, 2014


THE BLUE MAX (1966; John Guillermin)
"They come fast, out of the sun."
My introduction to biplanes and World War I as a kid was via Charles Schultz's Snoopy and his rivalry with The Red Baron. I was fascinated with the Sopwith Camel and the Baron's plane as well. There was something gladiatorial about these pilots dueling with each other in the sky. They were like the knights of the airways. The adventure of it really captured my imagination. 
When I saw that John Guillermin was the director on this high-flying yarn, I was immediately intrigued and excited as he was the director of one of my favorite films from the 70s disaster cycle - THE TOWERING INFERNO. THE BLUE MAX is a remarkably exciting film with excellent dogfighting sequences. It is truly the TOP GUN of its day and I'm surprised it is not often mentioned in the same sentence as that film or any of the other great air-warfare films of all-time. It is of course a much much darker portrait of the tragedy of war and the death theirin than TOP GUN would ever think of being. This movie has much more on its mind. It's more an anti-war film epic than a piece of popcorn entertainment. George Peppard's portrayal here is among his very best and he brings a great pathos to the proceedings, while playing a character that is quite flawed to say the least. His character, a German soldier having come literally from the trenches to being a pilot gives him a whole different perspective on the loss of life on either side. There is a certain antiquated gentlemenly attitude and chivalry that pervades the squadron where Peppard has been assigned. Peppard's character sees it flying in the face of the horrors of war he has witnessed previously and much conflict arises from this clash of ideologies. James Mason rounds out the cast nicely here as well. And Ursella Andress is welcome in any film I happen to be watching. Additionally, Jerry Goldsmith provides a wonderful, rousing and majestic score that really brings the movie up to another level (the film even features an old-school intermission which gives a lovely platform for the music). Theres something quite gloriously cinematic about watching these aerial battle scenes amidst the roar of the plane's engines and their machine guns with Goldsmith's melodies accompanying. The sound of those engines as the ascend or dive is just something I enjoy hearing in general. Overall, THE BLUE MAX is quite a memorable movie and it will certainly be among my list of favorite film "discoveries" of 2014. I wouldn't be at all surprised to hear that either Steven Spielberg or George Lucas were fans of this one as well and perhaps even counted it as a sort of influence on their early Blockbuster efforts (which is actually referred to in the commentary). 

This disc includes two isolated score tracks - one with the complete Goldsmith score (much more music than is in the final version of the film) and one with alternate music and an excellent commentary track from film historians Jon Burlingame, Julie Kirgo and Nick Redman. The second track is mostly a commentary, but features three alternate cues that are allowed to play in their entirety when they occur in the film. It's a top notch commentary as always from Twilight Time and it focuses on Jerry Goldsmith and his history leading up to this score as well as the background and surrounding details of how THE BLUE MAX came to the screen in 1966. I have to agree with Julie Kirgo's sentiments that the aerial sequences in this film are the best filmed since WINGS in 1927. They are simply spectacular. She even mentions that supposedly George Lucas looked at THE BLUE MAX as a point of reference for STAR WARS, the X-wings and the aerial battles. There's also a lot of good info about director John Guillermin and his career in this track. And the alternate music sections that play during the track are all fantastic. This was my first experience with this kind of alternate score/commentary and I enjoyed it very much.

THE EDDY DUCHIN STORY (1956; Georg Sidney)
Tyrone Power plays the impetuosity and optimism of a small town boy with big dreams quite wonderfully as Eddy Duchin (who was a real-life bandleader in the 30s & 40s). When his first job as a piano player in New York City is saved from the clutches of defeat by a high society young lady (Kim Novak), he feels indebted to her and they strike up a mutual admiration. From there blossoms Eddie's career and their relationship. As lovely and alluring as Ms. Novak is in VERTIGO, this film gives her a chance to glow with an enchanting charm that I've not seen before. It's quite nice. But as you might expect (or not), stories that start out on such a high, romantic note cannot continue that way. The plot takes a turn half way and Eddy's life changes as he tries to decide how to cope with changes and new responsibilities as well as his own burgeoning success. It's quite a touching film all told and it is easy to see why it was successful at the time if its release and has developed a significant following over the years. The musical sequences are quite enjoyable , especially the performance of "Brazil" towards the end. 
Photographed in CinemaScope and Technicolor (and Oscar nominated for Harry Stradling's cinematography), it's a good-looking movie with an excellent score/soundtrack (also Oscar nominated). Twilight Time has of course included their regular extra feature of an isolated score track which is quite nice.

1 comment:

George White said...

The Blue Max, mygrandad worked on it as animal trainer. He kept pointing out whenever Mason or George Pepppar(d) "Peppar", being Grandad's name for him. Told me he danced with Andress.