The Great Waldo Pepper
|The Great Waldo Pepper|
Theatrical release poster by Gary Meyer
|Directed by||George Roy Hill|
|Produced by||George Roy Hill|
|Written by||George Roy Hill
|Music by||Henry Mancini|
|Edited by||William H. Reynolds|
|Distributed by||Universal Pictures|
|Running time||107 minutes|
The Great Waldo Pepper is a 1975 drama film directed, produced, and co-written by George Roy Hill. Set during 1926–1931, the movie stars Robert Redford as a disaffected World War I veteran pilot who missed the opportunity to fly in combat and his sense of dislocation post-war in the America of the early 1920s. The movie questions the concept of heroism, essentially by seeing it as a quality rather than a deed. Margot Kidder, Bo Svenson, Edward Hermann and Susan Sarandon round out the cast.
World War I veteran Waldo Pepper (Robert Redford) feels he has missed out on the glory of aerial combat after being made a flight instructor. After the war, Waldo had taken up barnstorming to make a living. He soon tangled with rival barnstormer (and fellow war veteran) Axel Olsson (Bo Svenson).
Enemies at first, Waldo and Axel become partners and try out various stunts. One of these stunts, a car-to-plane transfer, goes wrong and Waldo is nearly killed after Axel is unable to climb high enough for Waldo's body to clear a barn and Waldo slams into it. Waldo then goes home to Kansas to recuperate with an earlier lover Maude (Margot Kidder) and her family. Maude, however, is not happy to see Waldo at first; because every time she does, Waldo is injured in some way. But eventually they make up and are lovers once again. Meanwhile, Maude's brother Ezra (Edward Hermann), an old friend of Waldo's, promises to build Waldo a high-performance monoplane as soon as Waldo is well enough to fly it. Waldo's goal is to be the first pilot in history to perform an outside loop, and Ezra feels that Waldo can do it with the monoplane he built.
In the meantime, Waldo recuperates and rejoins Axel and the two eventually get a job flying for a traveling flying circus owned by Doc Dillhoefer (Philip Bruns). In an effort to attract bigger crowds, Dillhoefer hires Waldo's and Axel's friend Mary Beth (Susan Sarandon) to act as the show's sexual attraction. As the show moves from town to town, and the crew practices new stunts; they experience problems, errors, and crashes. As a result of the death of Mary Beth during a wing walking stunt, Waldo is grounded by an inspector of the newly formed Air Commerce division of the Federal government, a man from Waldo's past during the war named Newt Potts (Geoffrey Lewis). Tragedy occurs at the Dillhoefer Circus when Ezra attempts the outside loop in his monoplane. He crashes on the third attempt and the crowds rush out of the stands to see the wreckage. Some of the spectators are smoking as they watch Waldo struggle to free Ezra. One of the cigarettes is flicked into gas as it leaks from the plane, eventually burning Ezra to death as no one helps Waldo save him from the wreckage. With that, Waldo goes on a rampage, jumps in his plane and begins buzzing the crowd because they refused to move away from the burning wreckage, which leads to permanent grounding of Waldo.
However, this doesn't stop Waldo from flying for long. Using an alias so that he may continue flying despite being grounded, Waldo gets a job as a stunt pilot in a Hollywood film depicting the air battles of the Great War. Famous German air ace Ernst Kessler (Bo Brundin) has also been hired by the producers, as a consultant and to fly a Fokker Dr. I replica. The disillusioned, bitter and heavy drinking depiction of Kessler is based on the real German ace and stunt pilot Ernst Udet. During filming of a famous wartime duel, though their aircraft is unarmed, Waldo and Kessler begin dogfighting in deadly earnest, using their airplanes as weapons, each repeatedly colliding with the other—Waldo in a Sopwith Camel, Kessler in the Fokker. Eventually, Waldo damages Kessler's plane so much the German can barely control it; he concedes. Each salutes the other, and flies his own way. As the sound fades, the last shot of the film is of a page in an album. One of the pictures is of Waldo, and beneath it is a caption that reads, "Waldo Pepper. 1895–1931".
- Robert Redford as Waldo Pepper
- Bo Svenson as Axel Olsson
- Bo Brundin as Ernst Kessler
- Susan Sarandon as Mary Beth
- Geoffrey Lewis as Newt Potts
- Edward Hermann as Ezra Stiles
- Philip Bruns as Dillhoefer
- Roderick Cook as Werfel
- Kelly Jean Peters as Patsy
- Margot Kidder as Maude Stiles
The movie was a passion project for director George Roy Hill, who was himself a pilot. He and William Goldman had what Goldman described as "a huge falling out" during the middle of Goldman's writing the screenplay. Nevertheless, they managed to complete the project.
Frank Tallman flew the air sequences using actual airplanes – not models. Waldo's plane is a Standard J-1 biplane and a lot of other planes in the movie, including Axel's, are Curtiss JN-4 biplanes. de Havilland Tiger Moth biplanes modified to look like Curtiss JN-4's were used for the crash scenes.
This movie was filmed in Elgin, Texas. Aerial sequences were filmed at Zuehl Airfield near San Antonio which was not too far from Fort Sam Houston where the pioneering silent aviation classic Wings was shot in 1926-27. Several aerial scenes were also filmed over the Sebring, FL Airport; (also known for the 12 Hours of Sebring, Le Mans-style endurance race). Hill, who flew as U.S. Marine Corps cargo pilot in World War II, made sure stars Bo Svenson and Robert Redford did each sequence with no parachutes or safety harnesses. He wanted them to feel what it was like to fly vintage aircraft. Fortunately, no one was hurt during the air scenes.
There are no extra features in the DVD.
The film opened to mixed to good reviews, and the biggest praise went to the film's aerial sequences supervised by Frank Tallman, including the climatic fight between Waldo Pepper and Kessler. The scene featured a replica Sopwith Camel and a replica Fokker Triplane and was loosely patterned after a real air dogfight between German ace Werner Voss and a flight of planes led by British ace James McCudden. The aircraft were displayed at Tallman's Movieland of the Air museum until it was closed after his death.
- "The Great Waldo Pepper, Box Office Information". Box Office Mojo. Retrieved January 22, 2012.
- Goldman, William, Which Lie Did I Tell?, Bloomsbury 2000 p 266
- Zuehl, Texas website
- The Great Waldo Pepper at the Internet Movie Plane Database
|Wikimedia Commons has media related to The Great Waldo Pepper.|
- The Great Waldo Pepper at the Internet Movie Database
- The Great Waldo Pepper at the TCM Movie Database
- The Great Waldo Pepper at Box Office Mojo
- The Great Waldo Pepper, rottentomatoes.com