Von Richthofen and Brown

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Von Richthofen and Brown
Von Richthofen and Brown.jpg
Movie Poster
Directed by Roger Corman
Produced by Gene Corman
Written by John William Corrington
Joyce Hooper Corrington
Starring John Phillip Law
Don Stroud
Barry Primus
Music by Hugo Friedhofer
Cinematography Michael Reed
Editing by Alan Collins
Studio The Corman Company
Distributed by United Artists
Release dates July 28, 1971 (U.S.)
September 10, 1971 (Finland)
Running time 97 min.
Country USA
Language English
Budget under $1 million[1]

Von Richthofen and Brown (1971) also known as The Red Baron, is a film directed by Roger Corman, and starring John Phillip Law and Don Stroud as the titular characters.

Although the names of real people are used, the story by Joyce Hooper Corrington and John William Corrington is essentially fictionalised.

Plot summary[edit]

Manfred von Richthofen (John Phillip Law) is a German cavalry officer newly assigned to an air squadron under the command of Oswald Boelcke who quickly becomes an ace. His career is presented on screen intercut with scenes of another pilot across the lines, a Canadian pilot named Roy Brown who arrives at a British squadron, where the top scoring pilot is a Victoria Cross holder named Lanoe Hawker.

The two pilots are very different; Brown ruffles the feathers of his squadron mates by refusing to drink a toast to von Richthofen, while von Richthofen awards himself silver trophies in honour of his kills and clashes with fellow pilot, Hermann Göring, when Boelcke is killed after a mid air collision and Richthofen assumes command of the squadron. While Brown becomes moody and depressed by his war service, Richthofen becomes outwardly energized by the war. Outraged by an order to camouflage his squadron's aircraft, he paints them in bright conspicuous colours, claiming that gentlemen should not hide from their enemies.

The toll on both squadrons is highlighted when Richthofen is wounded during an aerial battle and Lanoe Hawker is killed. The war becomes personal for both when Brown and his squadron attack von Richthofen's airfield, destroying their aircraft on the ground. Revenge comes when von Richthofen, with the help of a batch of new fighters from Anthony Fokker launches a counterattack on the British airfield.

The climax of the film (April 21, 1918) pits Brown and von Richthofen in an aerial combat with each other from which only one survives.


Roger Corman had been interested in making a film about Von Richthofen for a number of years - in 1965 it was announced he had commissioned a script called The Red Baron from Robert Towne.[2]

Ex-RCAF pilot Lynn Garrison supplied the aircraft, crews and facilities for Von Richthofen and Brown and personally coordinated the flying sequences for Corman’s film. Garrison had purchased the collection of hangars, aircraft, vehicles and support equipment accumulated for filming 20th Century’s top grossing film, The Blue Max, in 1965. The collection included replica Pfalz D.III's, S.E.5s, Fokker D.VII's, Fokker Dr.I's, plus Tiger Moths, and Stampe SV4C's.

Caudron Luciole & Pfalz D-111 from Lynn Garrison’s collection in flight over Weston Aerodrome, Ireland, August, 1970


Corman used an Alouette helicopter, along with a Helio Courier, for aerial photography, supported by a number of specialized camera mounts Garrison developed for use on individual aircraft. This allowed footage of actors, such as John Philip Law, and Don Stroud “flying” the aircraft. In fact, Lynn Garrison trained Law and Stroud to the point where they could take off, land the Stampe, and fly basic sequences themselves, from the rear seat, filmed with a rear-facing camera. Stunt pilots were still used for the more complicated sequences, one such pilot being famed New Age author Richard Bach. Bach wrote about his experiences with the film production in a short story entitled "I Shot Down the Red Baron, and So What", which is reproduced in his short story collection, "A Gift of Wings".

Corman used a filming schedule that included so-called Blue Days, Grey Days and Don’t Give a Damn Days so that the aircraft were used no matter what the weather presented.

On September 15, 1970, Charles Boddington, veteran of The Blue Max and Darling Lili shoots, was killed when his SE-5 spun in during a low-level maneuver over the airfield.

Miles built SE5 replica flown by Charles Boddington 5 seconds before fatal crash September 15, 1970

The next day, during the last scheduled flight on the shooting schedule, Garrison and Law were involved in a low-level sequence across Lake Weston, in the Stampe, when a jackdaw struck Garrison in the face, knocking him unconscious. The aircraft then ran through five powerlines, snap rolled and plunged into River Liffey inverted. Garrison and Law were rescued from the waters. Law was uninjured while Garrison required 60 stitches to close a head wound.

Corman did not direct another film until Frankenstein Unbound.

Some of the interior shots were filmed at Powerscourt House, a famous stately home in County Wicklow Ireland. Powerscourt had been designed by a German architect (Richard Cassels) and the entrance hall had a Germanic feel to it, making it a suitable location. It was also used for scenes in Stanley Kubrick's "Barry Lyndon" a few years later. The house was destroyed in an accidental fire in 1974, so these films serve a record for the lost interiors, and valuable artifacts, including some left there by Oliver Cromwell.

German pilots were filmed with American accents. Over Corman's objections, they were dubbed over with German accents, which influenced Corman to form his own company so he had final say.


In its day and after, the film received mixed to negative reviews from both viewers and critics, mainly on the grounds that it was low budgeted and had no distinctive stars. Another factor was the fictional approach the story took on the two main characters.

Factual Errors[edit]

The film contains so many factual errors (a selection of which are listed here) that it is effectively almost completely fictionalised:

  • Richthofen is shown flying a Fokker D.VII before flying the Fokker Dr.I, when in fact the Dr.1 came out earlier than the D.VII. Von Richthofen died (just) before the D.VII entered service.
  • Hermann Göring was not in the Flying Circus until he took over command some time after von Richthofen's death. Wilhelm Reinhard was Richthofen's immediate successor.
  • Hawker died in November 1916, flying a D.H.2. Brown did not begin flying combat missions until March 1917, and in any case never belonged to the Royal Flying Corps (see next point). Thus the two never served in the same squadron, and probably never met.
  • Brown's squadron had just ceased to be part of the Royal Naval Air Service, which had just amalgamated with the Royal Flying Corps to form the Royal Air Force in April 1918. He and his squadron mates would still have been wearing naval uniforms.
  • Roy Brown and his squadron flew Sopwith Camels, not S.E.5s, as depicted in the film.
  • Brown almost certainly did not actually shoot Richthofen down.
  • Lothar von Richthofen did not join Jasta 11 until 1917.
  • Anthony Fokker and Oswald Boelcke were both still in their twenties at the time - not balding men in their 40's. Boelcke never served in the Flying Circus, which was formed after his death, although he was Richthofen's commanding officer in another unit (Jasta 2) in 1916.
  • Ernst Udet did not join the flying circus until 1918.
  • The portrayal of the death of Werner Voss had little relationship with the facts. He was shot down and killed in northern Belgium, some time before Richthofen's death.
  • Lt May did not enter the RAF 209 squadron until 1918 - in fact he was still an almost complete novice at the time of Richthofen's death.
  • During a scene where the Red Baron is rescued in No Man's Land, the Germans are shown firing British World War II era (Mk.IV) Lee Enfield Rifles. In any case, German fighter squadrons as a matter of policy flew well behind their own lines. The only time Richthofen was shot down before his death was on his own side of the lines. On the day of his death he was probably lost, and did not realise he was so close to the Allied lines.
  • Attacks on the opposition's airfields (by both sides) were relatively routine and in no way "unexpected" - counter measures such as alarm bells, anti aircraft machine guns in permanent positions, fire fighting equipment, and above all military preparedness were also routine. Such attacks were normally undertaken by bombers rather than fighters, even by the Allies. German fighters, in particular, simply did not undertake bombing missions, nor were they employed on the Allied side of the lines.
  • Base hospitals were not located at military airfields (this in itself would have been a breach of the Geneva Convention).



  1. ^ Roger Corman & Jim Jerome, How I Made a Hundred Movies in Hollywood and Never Lost a Dime, Muller, 1990 p 169|
  2. ^ MOVIE CALL SHEET: Spiegel to Film 'Swimmer' Los Angeles Times (1923-Current File) [Los Angeles, Calif] 19 Mar 1965: D13.
  3. ^ "Celluloid Over the Western Front". Air Progress: 53. October 1979. 

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