Author Topic: Finally getting around to it...  (Read 275 times)

Offline Brad Cancian

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Finally getting around to it...
« on: August 21, 2021, 08:44:18 AM »
To be self indulgent for a moment.... I love the 1966 movie "The Blue Max", it's most likely my favourite aviation movie. I've watched it countless times and can recite most of it with my eyes closed. 

That being said, i've never read the Jack Hunter book that it's based on. Well, thanks to a recent find, that's about to change :)

I know that there are quite a few differences between the book and the movie from what I have heard from others (including the ending), so I am looking forward to getting into this one in a quiet moment :)

Cheers,

BC

Offline macsporran

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Re: Finally getting around to it...
« Reply #1 on: August 21, 2021, 05:09:18 PM »
My dim and distant memory of reading the book is that the Countless doesn't have a magic towel like Ursula Andress in the movie!
Sandy

Offline Brad Cancian

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Re: Finally getting around to it...
« Reply #2 on: August 31, 2021, 07:24:00 PM »
Well, i've now finally read the book (don't poke fun at me for being a slow reader, haha!). 

I decided to write a few notes as I went... and, well, these turned into 5 pages of notes. For those that haven't read the book but want to get the 5 page version, I present you my notes and thoughts on the book (spoilers… if you’re annoyed by this, then… well… bad luck, the book was written in 1964 after all, so you can’t say you haven’t had time to read it yet!)

The Characters:

Bruno Stachel. Stachel is portrayed very differently in the book. Young, outwardly arrogant, self obsessed, with an inferiority complex and a rather serious drinking problem. In fact, his drinking problem, and how he both desperately resents and desperately needs alcohol, is one of the predominant themes throughout the book. He sneaks alcohol into his aircraft, drinking in flight after combat. He frequently drinks to get rid of his hangovers. As time goes on, towards the end of the novel, he shows hints of becomming less self obsessed and more considerate of others as he realises he’s fighting his own demons, more so than simply fighting for survival or self reward.

There is only a brief mention in the book of Stachel being an enlisted man before joining the fliegerkorps. In the book, Stachel is not driven or motivated by class differences, and class differences do not feature greatly, unlike the movie.

Stachel does not die in the book, as he does in the movie (more on that later).

Willi Von Klugermann. The main nemesis in the movie, Willi Von Klugermann plays a less prominent part in the book. For example, in the book, he is not an ace. His role seems to be to tease Stachel about being a Cobra, and not much else. He is of the upper class, but this does not motivate Stachel or cause Stachel to compete with him, as in the movie. Like the movie, he has an affair with his aunt, Kaeti. Like the movie, he dies, but not by competing with Stachel in a test of flying (see more under ‘plot’).

Karl Heidemann. Heidemann is much the same type of character between book and movie; a forthright commander and a stickler for protocol and propriety. His character is much more deeply explored in the book also. It is he in the book that tries to cultivate Stachel’s publicity for his own benefit (whereas in the movie, it is James Mason’s General Von Klugermann character that does this). He is compared to Richtofen in skill, but is dogged by not having what is describes as “the X Factor” that Richthofen has, and consequently is not as famous or well known. Stachel is also described in the book as having the “X-Factor”, which Heidemann later looks initially to exploit for the benefit of the Jasta and the prestige of the flying corps in general, but his real reasons are far more personal. As time goes on, the two become closer, and share a connection about loneliness (Stachel finds loneliness in life, love, and combat, and Heidemann misses his wife desperately). He pines for Elfi, his wife, whom he desperately wishes to see as he is worried about her mental wellbeing, but he is tied to staying with his Jasta by his sense of duty, until he hatches a plan to have himself transferred to Berlin to be closer to her.  Heidemann’s ultimate aim is to orchestrate Stachel’s successs so that he can be posted to Berlin as the Air Arm’s propaganda officer, to be closer to Elfi. His fate in the movie is also different to the book (again, more on that later).

General Von Klugermann / Graf Von Klugermann. There is no General Von Klugermann in the book, rather, the senior Graf Von Klugermann is a prominent doctor, who philosophises about the upper classes (and doesn’t do much else). Accordingly, the book has none of the class or ‘officer corps’ intimations or emphasis that the movie regularly focuses on. He dies (presumably of old age) towards the end of the book, leaving his wife, Kaeti, a widower.

Kaeti Von Klugermann. Kaeti is not described with Ursula Andress type beauty (in fact, a little the opposite), though she is described as curvaceous and enticing. Like the movie, she has an affair with her nephew as well as with Stachel. Stachel tries to blackmail her in the book about her affair with the younger Von Klugermann, using the younger Von Klugermann’s diary (in which he describes their sexual encounters) as leverage. This also comes back to bite Stachel later.

Elfi Heidemann Elfi, Heidemann’s wife, is a more prominent character in the book’s last few chapters; she is a recovering alcoholic, and quite wise to the world, though wishes her husband to be more of a lover than a providing and proper husband. She intrigues Stachel in her similarity to Stachel’s own view of life and love. It is intimated at the end of the book that Stachel wishes to form a relationship with her, or even marry her (but this gets sidetracked – see more later).

Other Characters. Kettering, Rupp, Ziegel, etc get more attention in the book, and have much better fleshed out characters and roles.
o   Ziegel is the hard working technical officer, who is gradually worn down by the pressure of keeping the machines airborne. He takes each loss of an aircraft due to a technical fault as a personal failing (he actually cries when Stachel crashes and destroys is own D.VII).
o   Rupp is a conniving NCO, close to Heidemann, whom Stachel despises as a ‘pig of a man’ but eventually makes a deal with to keep him supplied with alcohol. Rupp seeks to bring Stachel into disrepute when one of their alcohol deals turns sour, and Stachel physically abuses Rupp in an argument. This turns out badly for Rupp; Heidemann finds out about the argument, and decides to transfer Rupp rather than punish and tarnish Stachel’s rising reputation. He in turn tarnishes Rupp’s good name by effectively calling him a liar in his transfer papers. Of note, Stachel is not aware of the words that Heidemman has put into Rupp's transfer papers, effectively tarnishing his honesty (though not explicitly mentioned in the book's final chapters, this detail is aruguably relevant later).
o   Kettering (the squadron adjutant) was wounded (as in the movie). He is a collector of pornography, and spent some time in America. His is somewhat of a philosopher about the war and life in general.
o   Holbach (General Von Klugermann’s adjutant in the movie) is not a character in the book.

Plot Points of difference (and similarities):

-   The famous shooting down of the British two seater over the field happens in the book. This comes back into the story again to haunt Stachel in the final chapters.

-   Stachel does save Richthofen as he does in the film, but does not get wounded in the process. Richthofen visits the Jasta and offers Stachel a position, but Stachel refuses, as he does in the movie.

-   Fokker triplanes do not really feature in the book. The squadron initially flies Pfalz’s and Albatros’, and then the Fokker D.VII. Stachel’s ambition is driven, initially, by his desire to get assigned one of the new machines.

-   Stachel’s role in Von Klugermann’s death is far more deliberate and calculated in the book. In the book, Stachel separates from Von Klugermann in fog after a combat, and deliberately rushes head on at him through the fog as Von Klugermann is trying to land. Surprised, Von Klugermann manoeuvres out of the way and clips a factory chimney, plunging to his death. Stachel’s motivation for seeing the end of Von Klugermann is based to a degree on competition (like in the movie), but in the book, his motivation is simply so that he can secure one of the new Fokker D.VII fighters arriving at the Jasta, ahead of Von Klugermann. Stachel still claims Von Klugermann’s victories during his last combat as his own. This is permitted by Heidemann, who wants to see Stachel do well so that prestige will come to the Jasta and himself. This event comes back to haunt Stachel later also.

-   Stachel flies an all-black D.VII in the book, with a curse word painted in white on the top wing (a four letter and then three letter word in English, as translated by Kettering and painted onto Stachel’s plane by Ziegler. It Is not described in the book exactly what these words are… however, some captured British fliers from a combat with Stachel make fun of the words and describe Stachel as the “men’s room ace”, which alludes to the translation. Stachel is infuriated by this and has the words painted over). He crashes his machine after a combat; trapped in the wreckage Ziegel saves his life.

-   Stachel receives his Blue Max halfway through the book. He likes the admiration he receives for being considered a ‘hero’, but receiving the medal does not make him feel better about his insecurities, nor does it curb his drinking problems.

-   Stachel Is wounded through him crashing his D.VII after combat with an American SPAD (as opposed to after saving Richthofen’s life as in the movie).

-   Heidemann selects Stachel to participate in the Johannisthal trials, unlike in the movie.

- Heidemann witnesses Stachel and Rupp’s alcohol deal go bad, and realises he has a problem to deal with, as his ‘hero’ is not so heroic after all. He deals with this problem by (uncomfortably) posting Rupp from the unit and undermining his character, rather than tarnish Stachel’s now ‘heroic’ name. Stachel does not know of the reasons or the words Heidemann placed into Rupp's transfer papers, only the result; that Rupp is gone.

-   Stachel opens up to Graf Von Klugermann about a ‘friend’ with an alcohol problem, asking the Graf how he might be able to help his friend. The Graf sees through Stachel’s story, and considers him as doomed. It is later revealed that Graf Von Klugermann helped Elfi (Heidemann’s wife), recover from alcoholism (itself driven by the coldness of her husband’s propriety). Stachel tries to press Elfi on this, to learn how she did it, but she remains elusive in her answer, frustrating Stachel.

-   Stachel is informed that he is to be made head of the Jasta when Heidemann is transferred to Kogenluft as its aerial press officer (which was part of Heidemann’s ultimate plan, as above).

-   There is no ‘monoplane’ in the book; it’s a biplane (the “Adler D.II”), described as flimsy looking, and unstable.

The ending…

- In the book, prior to their first flight of the Adler in the Johannisthal trials, Heidemann reveals his scheme to Stachel, which makes Stachel quite upset. Stachel flies the new Adler first, throwing it through some heavy spins, and notices structural weaknesses and a break in the wing spar as he lands. Stachel, resentful of being used by Heidemann, lets Heidemann fly the Adler without telling him about the defect, actively encouraging Heidemann to take the aircraft for a good long spin.

As Heidemann taxis the Adler to takeoff, Stachel gets alcohol spilt onto him by a drunk Major witnessing the flying. Stachel gets into a war of words with the conceited Major;. Stachel realises this man is a mirror image of himself. He realises his own selfishness and hypocrisy, and ultimately seeing his fate as a helpless and morally fraudulent:

“Who was a drunken swine?
Who was a liar, a cheat, a charlatan?
Who was a cruel, deceitful, arrogant and covetous hypocrite?
Who had offered his surrender to the Great Fraud, when all along he himself was the Greatest Fraud?
Dear God in Heaven! Bruno Stachel!”


- He realises “with a dreadful certainty that Heidemann’s reprieve would be the first brick removed in Bruno Stachel’s search for Bruno Stachel in the rubble of his spiritual bankruptcy”. He jumps in a motorcycle sidecar and demands its rider motor out to the taxiing machine to stop Heidemann. They head towards the Adler at speed, and the motorcycle and Adler almost collide. Heidemann stops the Adler from its takeoff roll, and Stachel pleads him to not fly the machine. Heidemann smells the alcohol spilled onto him earlier, and scorns him for being drunk on duty (which he isn’t). Hiedemann places Stachel under arrest for being drunk and disorderly, saying that “such charges are long, long overdue”. This again makes Stachel angry, so he resigns himself and leaves Heidemann to his fate.

- Heidemann is killed in the resultant crash. Stachel decides to see Elfi, but is intercepted by Kaeti whilst on his way. Kaeti tries in turn to blackmail Stachel to marry her, after her husband dies, by in turn threatening to reveal the fact that Stachel shot down a surrendered aeroplane (the two seater incident we see in the book and movie),as well as effectively causing the death of Willi, thus tarnishing his ‘heroic’ name. Stachel calls her on this, whereas she says she has evidence of Rupp witnessing the event. Though not mentioned explicitly at this point in the book, Stachel is clearly not aware that Heidemann had effectively tarnished Rupp’s honest name in his transfer papers, which would have undone Kaeti’s plans (and in retrospect, might have led Stachel down a different path). Stachel likewise succumbs to Kaeti, and agrees to marry her. He does not go on to see Elfi. 

- The book ends with Stachel in a hotel bar, close to the end of the war, betrothed to Kaeti and resigned to his moral defeat and flaws of character. He listens to another aviation officer grandly talking to his men about Germany’s elite not having been defeated, encouraging them to stand ready to face the next biggest challenge; what will happen to Germany after the war. He encourages them to pick a strong man, to lead the elite and Germany’s rise from the ashes. Impressed, Stachel complements the man on his oration and drinks to him. The man in question, is Hermann Goering.

The movie, or the book…?

Stachel is the anti-hero in both movie and book. He is a far more flawed character in the book, and harder to like as a result, however Hunter makes the reader feel sorry for Stachel at certain times, but then quickly loathe him at others. Stachel’s attempt to save his own soul, so to speak, at the end of the book, and his attempt (and rationalisation) to redeem himself, is not particularly strong. He becomes the victim of his own flaws and decisions, each of which coming back to bite him in a distinct and important way. He falls back into his own flawed self, and the book alludes to there being more in store for young Bruno after the war. The movie has him die, of course, but this is likely because the plot that the movie takes leads, really, to only one satisfying conclusion; the anti-hero must die. This is fairly typical Hollywood of the day.

The character development and story arc is certainly more interesting in the book than the movie, but I can see why these character developments were largely left out of the movie; they were too hard to translate onto screen without simply becoming a melodrama. Yes, there is flying in the book, but this is very much back stage to the drama. The movie is the opposite; the flying (and perhaps Ursula Andres) being the real attention grabbers, with the story being little more than a means by which to move to the next flying sequence, or next piece of bedroom or ballroom set piece.

It would have taken a very strong script and a very strong actor to play the Stachel of the book, and really explore the character’s flaws and quandaries. In contrast, Peppard’s Stachel could have been played by just about anyone (let’s be honest, it kind of feels like Peppard ‘phoned in’ his role in the movie. He was probably cast because he was effectively at the height of his career (he was something like 37 years old at the time), and along with Mason and Andress, would have drawn the movie goers to the theatre).

If I try and forget the movie, the book is honestly a little stilted. Stachel’s story arc doesn’t really go anywhere. He finishes the way he starts; sad and lonely, still lost in himself and a slave to his situation and tendencies, never really having moved anywhere. The other characters likewise don’t have great arcs either, and the character relationships don’t tend to move or resolve. It’s a bit of a run-of-the-mill drama of a book by todays standards, but it does explore themes of self value and how these are used by various characters to shape their actions and manipulate the world around them. No one is innocent in their ultimate fate.

Hunter set the story in an interesting environment, and in the 1960s era of renewed interest in World War One aviation, it is understandable how this book was picked up for a movie. I grew up with the movie, so I will always have a soft spot for it. It’s simply good old fashioned entertainment and drama, with some great flying sequences to boot. Having read the book, I can see why the film and script is the way it is; but I feel that it misses some of the essence of the book and characters.

I like the book, and I’ll certainly go back and read it again. I’d recommend it to those who want to explore the essence of the characters a little more.

...but I’ll always love the movie, even if only for it being the seed of my love of WW1 aviation.

Other observations.

Hunter does an excellent job of describing combat, locations, machines, markings, events during the war, and so on, with reasonable accuracy. For example, in the book, he describes Jasta 27 markings correctly. In another example, Stachel has a combat with an aircraft whose marking are described in detail – though not explicitly called out in the book, the markings were obviously that of Eddie Rickenbacker (this is the combat after which he crashes and is wounded). He was clearly a lover of the time period and an aviation history buff. It is no wonder then that he was annoyed at the final movie’s choice of colours / markings for the machines.

Anyways, those are my impressions for those interested (probably nobody, hehe). 

Let me know your thoughts and impressions on the book; did you like it? Which do you prefer, the book or movie?

Cheers!

BC
« Last Edit: August 31, 2021, 07:53:06 PM by Brad Cancian »

Offline macsporran

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Re: Finally getting around to it...
« Reply #3 on: August 31, 2021, 07:38:44 PM »
It's so long since I read the book and I don't have a copy now, but I'm sure the prototype at the flying competition is an "Adler" - rather than an Alder. I remember this because I was doing schoolboy German at the time and recognised the word for "Eagle" as appropriate for a supposed wonder plane.
Sandy

Offline Brad Cancian

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Re: Finally getting around to it...
« Reply #4 on: August 31, 2021, 07:48:11 PM »
You're correct Sandy, for some reason Auto Correct has foiled me...! Blast! I'll go back and fix that :)

Offline macsporran

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Re: Finally getting around to it...
« Reply #5 on: August 31, 2021, 08:10:52 PM »
Cheers, Brad - I wasn't trying to be picky - the name had stuck in my memory as such a good name for a WWI plane.

It's great to be reminded of these books that we read so long ago. I've just finished re-reading The Big Show by Pierre Clostermann after somebody mentioned it online. None of the revisionism of our current crop of armchair authors - just the visceral kill or be killed certainties of the time.
S

Online lcarroll

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Re: Finally getting around to it...
« Reply #6 on: September 01, 2021, 12:24:20 AM »
Brad,
    God Gawd Man, you missed your calling, what an excellent read your review is! You should be working as a Literary Critic, well done!
Sandy,
   It was probably me that mentioned "The Big Show", another of my favorites from my teen age years which I also re-read recently. The last lines of the book are unforgettable, remind me of those in "Winged Victory".

Cheers,
Lance

Offline WD

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Re: Finally getting around to it...
« Reply #7 on: September 19, 2021, 05:39:05 AM »
I read all three books in the trilogy, and liked them all, but the first one was my favorite, hands down. I used to say all three would make a great movie/mini-series, but I hope and pray Hollywood stays far, far away from it now with the current state of movie-making.

One thing about Jack Hunter that many may not be familiar with was that he was a prolific WWI a/c artist. I had a friend (R.I.P.) on the old Aerodrome Forum that said one of his prized possessions was an autographed hard-cover copy of The Blue Max in which Jack had hand drawn a/c in the margins throughout the book. How cool is that? 

WD