|Directed by||Etienne Périer|
|Produced by||Owen Crump|
|Screenplay by||Donald Churchill
|Story by||Owen Crump|
|Music by||Roy Budd|
|Edited by||John Shirley|
|Distributed by||Warner Bros.|
|Running time||100 minutes|
Zeppelin is a 1971 British World War I action-drama directed by Étienne Périer. The film stars Michael York, Elke Sommer and Anton Diffring. Zeppelin depicts a fictitious German attempt to raid on Great Britain in a giant Zeppelin to steal the Magna Carta from its hiding place in one of Scotland's castles.
During the First World War in 1915, Geoffrey Richter-Douglas (Michael York), a Scotsman of German descent, is a lieutenant in the British Army. He meets Stephanie (Alexandra Stewart), a German spy with whom he falls in love. She suggests that he escape to Germany, where the other members of his family and his friends are. As a loyal soldier, he reports this contact to his commanding officer, Captain Whitney, who also wants Geoffrey to go to Germany, but on a secret mission to steal the plans of the LZ36, a new type of Zeppelin under development at Friedrichshafen.
Geoffrey pretends to be a deserter and travels to Germany. At Friedrichshafen, he meets his long-time friend Professor Altschul (Marius Goring), who lives with his beautiful and much younger wife, Erika (Elke Sommer).
Geoffrey quickly learns that German Intelligence did not bring him to Germany for a family reunion. Following a meeting with Intelligence Colonel Hirsch (Anton Diffring), he is assigned to the LZ36 on its maiden test flight. As soon as it is declared airworthy, the airship is to take part in a military operation to steal many British historical documents, including the Magna Carta, from Balcoven Castle in Scotland. Geoffrey is to play a key role in the mission. After refuelling in Norway and taking on board a contingent of hand-picked soldiers, the airship proceeds to Balcoven Castle.
Under cover of darkness, as the airship approaches the castle, Geoffrey is suspended in a basket to help the pilot navigate. A local farmer hears the sound of the airship's engines just before they are cut, and raises the alarm with the local military base. With no option but to participate in the assault, Geoffrey manages to slip away in the darkness and find the communications room. He tries to persuade a sceptical radio operator to contact London, but after hearing shooting and explosions, the operator mistakes Geoffrey for a German spy and shoots him in the arm.
Meanwhile, alerted by the farmer's report, the British Admiralty scrambles several aircraft squadrons and dispatches ground troops. The British troops engage the Germans, who withdraw empty-handed rather than risk losing the Zeppelin. The airship manages to slip away in the dark with a much depleted crew, but shortly after first light, is caught by pursuing British aircraft. Several aircraft are shot down in the ensuing dogfight, but the Zeppelin is badly damaged. Despite desperately lightening the airship in an effort to stay in the air, the survivors are forced down near the coast of neutral Holland. Geoffrey, Erika and the few remaining crew members make their way to shore just as the Zeppelin explodes.
Written by producer Owen Crump, the story of Zeppelin is set in mid-1915, during the First World War. Although based on the Zeppelin raids over London and England, as a work of fiction, the film differs from reality in several aspects, especially involving a sub-plot involving espionage. Principal photography for the production began in late 1970.
The airships seen in the film include a 37-foot (11 m) and 18-foot (5.5 m) models based on the plans of the R33 class of British rigid airship, which was itself based on the German LZ76, captured intact in September 1916. A replica of the control car was constructed for closeups and interiors, copied from the intact control car of the R33 held at the Royal Air Force Museum London; other interiors were built from plans held by the museum.[N 1]
Exterior shots using the model were filmed over a large water tank in Malta; scenes showing the sheds in which the Zeppelin was housed were filmed at the historic R100/R101 airship sheds at Cardington, Bedfordshire, in England. Photographs taken from the air to depict the fictional Glen Mattock and Balcoven Castle were shot over Carreg Cennan Castle in Wales.
The air combat scenes were filmed using Lynn Garrison's collection of World War I replica aircraft, originally assembled for 20th Century Fox's The Blue Max (1966). During the aerial filming, one of the S.E.5a replicas flown by Irish Air Corps pilot Jim Liddy, collided with the Alouette helicopter used as a camera platform. Five people were killed, including Burch Williams, brother of Hollywood producer/director Elmo Williams.
Zeppelin was well received by the public, who viewed the real "star" as the Zeppelin airship, but critical reaction was not positive. The review in Variety noted, "Zeppelin settles for being just another wartime melodrama, with some good aerial sequences and a powerful, brisk raid sequence in the finale." In his review, A. H. Weiler at The New York Times opined, "... the storied, giant, silver, cigar-shaped dirigible is carrying a flimsy, lighter-than-air spy tale that wouldn't burden a carrier pigeon."
- "Review: ‘Zeppelin’." Variety, 31 December 31, 1970. Retrieved: 14 August 2014.
- Orriss 2013, p. 138.
- Orriss 2013, pp. 137–138.
- Weiler, A.H. "Movie Review: Zeppelin (1971); Zeppelin' carries flimsy tale." The New York Times, 7 October 1971.
- Orriss, Bruce W. When Hollywood Ruled the Skies: The Aviation Film Classics of World War I. Los Angeles: Aero Associates, 2013. ISBN 978-0-692-02004-3.