Little Dieter Needs to Fly

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Little Dieter Needs to Fly
DVD cover
Directed byWerner Herzog
Produced byLucki Stipetić
Written byWerner Herzog
Narrated by
  • Werner Herzog
  • Dieter Dengler
CinematographyPeter Zeitlinger
Edited by
Distributed byWerner Herzog Filmproduktion
Release date
Running time
  • 80 minutes (theatrical)
  • 52 minutes (television)
  • Germany
  • United Kingdom
  • France
  • English
  • German

Little Dieter Needs to Fly (German: Flucht aus Laos, lit. 'Flight from Laos') is a 1997 German-British-French documentary film written and directed by Werner Herzog, produced by Werner Herzog Filmproduktion, and premiered on German television. The film was released on DVD in 1998 by Anchor Bay, and on Blu-Ray in 2014 by Shout! Factory as a part of a larger collection of Herzog's films.[1]


Werner Herzog found a kindred spirit in a German-American Navy pilot and Vietnam veteran, Dieter Dengler. Like Herzog, Dengler grew up in a Germany reduced to rubble by World War II. Dengler's stories of hunger and deprivation in the years after the war echo similar stories from Herzog's past. Dengler recounts an early memory of Allied fighter-bombers destroying his village, in which he saw one of the pilots and decided that he too wanted to be a pilot. At 18, Dengler emigrated to the United States. He served a two-year enlistment in the United States Air Force, but was frustratingly unable to gain a pilot's slot in that service. After leaving the Air Force, Dengler attended college and then joined the Navy. After completing flight training, he was assigned as a Douglas A-1 Skyraider pilot in Attack Squadron 65 aboard the aircraft carrier USS Constellation.

In 1966, Dengler served aboard USS Ranger with VA-145 (Attack Squadron 145). At the time, the squadron was equipped with the Douglas AD-6/A-1H Skyraider, a single-engine, propeller-driven attack plane. On the morning of 1 February, Lieutenant Dengler launched from Ranger with three other aircraft on an interdiction mission near the Laotian border. Visibility was poor due to weather, and upon rolling in on the target, Lt. Dengler and the remainder of his flight lost sight of one another. Dengler was the last man in and was hit by anti-aircraft fire. He was forced to crash-land his Skyraider in Laos.

Dengler was taken prisoner by the Pathet Lao, then turned over to soldiers of the Army of North Vietnam. After a period of torture and starvation chained to the bottom of a bamboo cage, Dengler escaped. The bulk of the film consists of footage from a trip Herzog took with Dengler back to Laos and Thailand to recreate his ordeal. Herzog hired locals to play the part of his captors and had Dengler retrace his steps while describing his experiences.

Herzog directed a feature film based on the actual events, starring Christian Bale as Dieter, called Rescue Dawn. The film was released on 24 July 2007.



Little Dieter Needs to Fly received critical acclaim. On review aggregator website Rotten Tomatoes, the film has a 93% rating based on 14 reviews, with an average of 7.8/10.[2]

Roger Ebert gave the film 3.5 stars out of 4.[3]



  1. ^
  2. ^ "Little Dieter Needs to Fly: Escape from Laos (1998)". Rotten Tomatoes. Flixster. Retrieved 24 November 2016.
  3. ^ Roger Ebert (2 October 1998). "Little Dieter Needs to Fly".
  • Ames, Eric. Ferocious Reality: Documentary according to Werner Herzog. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota, 2012.
  • Gerhardt, Christina. "The Allied Bombing Campaign of Germany in Herzog's Little Dieter Needs to Fly". Bombs Away: Representing the Air War over Europe and Japan. Eds. William Rasch and Wilfried Wilms. Amsterdam: Rodopi, 2006. 345-354.
  • Prager, Brad. The Cinema of Werner Herzog: Aesthetic Ecstasy and Truth. New York: Wallflower Press, 2007.

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