The Red Baron.
Yesterday was the 100th anniversary of the death of Manfred von Richthofen, so I re-visited this film, preparatory to writing this post. It was as disappointing the second time around as it was the first.
The movie just flirts with history, which is understandable: von Richthofen was only 25 years old when he died, so he wasn’t around long enough to do much more than to become famous as Germany’s flying ace with the most kills during the First World War. He is credited with having written a brief memoir (Der rote Kampfflieger), but considering how young he was, what his connections were, and his celebrity status in Germany, it was probably ghost-written for him.
But from the first scene on, the script of this movie is almost laughably fictitious. To begin with, boys of his time, especially those with von Richthofen’s background (Prussian petite noblesse), never would have behaved as he was portrayed at the beginning of the film. No boy who was old enough to be out hunting with a gun would have been so stupid as to have taken to the woods with a noisily panting pet dog, instead of a trained hunting dog. Furthermore, boys were raised with a healthy respect for firearms and their value, so Manfred never would have abandoned a gun in the forest, just to go rubbernecking at an airplane from the back of a horse.
For much of the rest of the movie, what time is not spent tossing a little history around in dialogue between talking heads is devoted to shoehorning a patently fictional love interest into the story, and displaying vertiginously filmed dogfights that feature hokey closeups showing the pilots doing ridiculous things, such as looking over their shoulders directly into the sun, to locate enemy aircraft.
The film closes with no effort made to postulate who really shot down the Red Baron, although it seems to give the nod to Roy Brown, whose claim to have done so has been discredited, based on the evidence of von Richthofen’s sole wound: through the thorax at an angle impossible for Brown to have shot him, even if Brown had still been pursuing him at the time.
If the makers of the movie had put as much time into writing a better script as they must have done to find an actor who so strongly resembles von Richthofen, the story might have been of more substance than just light entertainment with a historical figure attached.