Aces High (film)
Photo of an original movie poster
|Directed by||Jack Gold|
|Produced by||Benjamin Fisz
|Written by||Howard Barker|
|Music by||Richard Hartley
|Editing by||Anne V. Coates|
|Distributed by||Cinema Shares International Distribution|
30 September 1976
|Running time||114 minutes|
Aces High is a 1976 British war film directed by Jack Gold and starring Malcolm McDowell, Peter Firth, Christopher Plummer and Simon Ward. The screenplay was written by Howard Barker. As acknowledged in the opening credits, the film is based on the 1930s play Journey's End by R. C. Sherriff and the memoir Sagittarius Rising by Cecil Lewis of the Royal Flying Corps. It tells the story of an RFC squadron in the First World War and the high turnover of pilots and the strain on the survivors and includes aerial dogfight scenes. The film was a hit in England but took a limited release in the U.S. and other countries, followed by legal release to TV and Video.
The film is set in a one-week timeframe. It opens with fighter ace Major Gresham (McDowell) speaking to a class of students at Eton school in October 1916. One year later, a single new recruit shows up at Gresham's base, 2nd Lt. Croft (Firth). At Eton, Gresham was his house captain. Moreover, Croft is the younger brother of his girlfriend. Gresham already relies on alcohol to cope with combat stress and continue flying. Now the strain of being responsible for this young recruit (a potential brother-in-law) is an additional burden. Croft has to learn how to survive not only in the air, but on the ground as well as he initially makes some minor mistakes in squadron etiquette. The film also follows Croft's rapid rite of passage from naive schoolboy to adult fighting soldier. We also see Croft's initial hero worship of his commanding officer crumble as he learns the realities of active service, yet regains a new respect for Gresham and the stresses he has to cope with.
The film reaches its tragic conclusion when Croft finally scores his first air victory and seems to have made the leap in skills necessary to survive, but is suddenly killed in a collision with a German aircraft.
The squadron depicted is loosely based on No. 56 Squadron, one of the famous SE5 squadrons. The airfield facilities, barracks and motor transport are authentic looking World War I era equipments and the planes flown, although not real SE5s but converted Stampe SV.4s, are similar enough and the camouflage used authentic.
There is a real Avro 504 used in the film, while the Nieuport 17 plane that 'Uncle' says is the one preferred by Gresham is actually an SE5. A mistake the film makes is the presence of a two-seater reconnaissance aircraft within the same fighter unit; RFC squadrons by this time were usually organised for one aircraft type and operational purpose.
Some other parts in the film come from real stories of the RFC, like the pilot who prefers to jump from his burning plane rather than being slowly roasted in his cockpit (no parachutes were issued during the conflict to Allied aircrew). The fatalistic mess room songs and the often juvenile, 'public school' attitudes of the young pilots are considered authentic portrayals of the time.
(Name in brackets gives the character's equivalent in Journey's End.)
- Malcolm McDowell - Maj. John Gresham (Capt. Dennis Stanhope)
- Christopher Plummer - Capt. "Uncle" Sinclair (Lt. Osborne)
- Simon Ward - Lt. Crawford (2nd Lt. Hibbert)
- Peter Firth - Lt. Stephen Croft (2nd Lt. Raleigh)
- David Wood - Lt. 'Tommy' Thompson (2nd Lt. Trotter)
- John Gielgud - Headmaster
- Trevor Howard - Lieutenant Colonel Silkin
- Richard Johnson - Major Lyle
- Ray Milland - Brigadier General Whale
- Christopher Blake - Lieutenant Roberts
- David Daker - Mess Corporal Bennett
- Barry Jackson - Corporal Albert Joyce
- Ron Pember - Lance Corporal Eliot
- Tim Pigott-Smith - Major Stoppard
- The episode of Blackadder Goes Forth entitled Private Plane reuses scenes from the film during the flying sequence.
- "Aces High (1976)". rotten tomatoes. Retrieved 28 May 2012.