Producer/director Roger Corman finally cut ties with American-International Pictures after they butchered his apocalyptic satire GAS-S-S! Striking out on his own, Corman’s next movie was VON RICHTOFEN AND BROWN, a World War I epic about famed German aerial ace The Red Baron and the Canadian pilot who shoots his down Roy Brown. There are grand themes, as Corman sought to make a statement on the futility of war, the end of chivalry, and the mechanized savagery of what was to be “the last war”. The film looks good, shot in Ireland, with exciting aerial footage, but despite all the outer trappings VON RICHTOFEN AND BROWN is still a Corman drive-in movie.
John Philip Law also looks good as Baron Manfred von Richtofen, the aristocrat/warrior who became the feared Red Baron. Law was always great to watch, whether as the blind angel in BARBARELLA, the black-clad supervillain in DANGER: DIABOLIK, sexy Robin Stone in THE LOVE MACHINE, or the fabled sailor in THE GOLDEN VOYAGE OF SINBAD. Unfortunately, his acting left a lot to be desired, for Law had the range of a popsicle stick, and was just as wooden. His Red Baron lacks the charisma necessary to make the audience care about him, and scuttles the film’s impact.
Don Stroud was originally slated to be Von Richtofen, but instead has the role of Canadian Roy Brown, who ultimately shoots down the Red Baron. Stroud adds some life to the movie with his performance, as he did in films like COOGAN’S BLUFF, BLOODY MAMA, ANGEL UNCHAINED, and JOE KIDD, and as Mike Hammer’s cop pal Pat Chambers in the MICKEY SPILLANE’S MIKE HAMMER TV series. A very underrated actor usually stuck in supporting parts or leads in ‘B’ flicks, Stroud gets a chance to shine here and runs away with the film’s acting honors.
There’s some incredible aerial action shot by DP Michael Reed and choreographed by real-life RCAF pilot Lynn Garrison (who’s interesting life story can be read on http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lynn_Garrison. The planes were leftover from 1966’s THE BLUE MAX, and Corman shot the whole thing in Ireland rain or shine, believing a war wouldn’t take the day off because of weather, so why should he? The dogfights between Von Richtofen’s men and the British flyers are realistically done, though the climactic battle itself is, well, anti-climactic.
Barry Primus (BOXCAR BERTHA, NIGHT GAMES) is young Hermann Goering, member of Von Richtofen’s squad whose actions foreshadow Nazi atrocities to come. Veteran Hurd Hatfield (THE PICTURE OF DORIAN GRAY) lends his touch of decadent elegance to the brief role of German plane manufacturer Anthony Fokker. Corin Redgrave (son of Sir Michael , brother of Vanessa and Lynn), Ferdy Mayne , and Stephen McHattie also appear in support.
Corman’s modern-day knights of the air saga isn’t a complete success, but is worth a look for fans of the auteur’s movies. I’d love to see what Quinten Tarantino could do with this material, preferably with a large part for Christoph Waltz. Are you listening out there, QT?