Monday, January 25, 2016

The Great Waldo Pepper

Year 8, Day 25 - 1/25/16 - Movie #2,226

BEFORE:  I'm back on track with one movie a day, in fact I'm now ahead in the count, but there's no room to take a day off, not with February approaching so fast. 

Two actors carry over from "Maverick" - Geoffrey Lewis and Margot Kidder.  That's the funny thing about character actors, like Mr. Lewis, and Peter Jason, and Bert Remsen, etc. - once you start to notice them, you see them nearly everywhere.

THE PLOT: A biplane pilot who had missed flying in WWI takes up barnstorming and later a movie career in his quest for the glory he had missed.

AFTER: This one's got quite the pedigree, from George Roy Hill, the director of "The Sting", "Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid", and even "Slaughterhouse Five" - and with a screenplay from William Goldman, who also wrote the screenplays for "All the President's Men", "Marathon Man", "Misery", "Chaplin" and even "The Princess Bride".  Geez, I wish I'd paid more attention all along to who directed and wrote each film, I'm sure there would have been more connections to make.  Like, William Goldman also wrote the screenplay for tomorrow's film, that's a nifty little thing to point out.

I'm done with Westerns, so this would seem to start me on a new topic, but there are some connections between Bret Maverick and Waldo Pepper - both are con men of a sort, since Mr. Pepper is slightly less than truthful about his World War I flying career.  And both are showmen and gamblers, it's just that Waldo Pepper decides to do his gambling in the form of aerial stunts, that sometimes pay off, and other times result in serious injuries.  

There's a particular moment in U.S. history depicted here, where flying had been mostly used for the purposes of war, but in peacetime became something of a novelty - certainly not used by most people for getting across the country quickly.  So it also became a form of entertainment, Waldo Pepper hustles crowds by offering them individual plane rides, and then tries to get himself into an airshow as a performer.  And airshows back then were just about as dangerous as the ones we have today - time and time again we hear about crashes at airshows.  Why do we still have airshows?  Hasn't the novelty worn off by now?  And who cares if the Blue Angels do a fly-by over a sports stadium?  Yawn, haven't we all seen planes before?  Call me when you get some performing drones.

But anyway, back to post WWI America.  After some notable accidents, Pepper gets grounded by the CAA (which seems a little off, because Wiki is telling me that the Civil Aeronautics Authority wasn't formed until 1938, and this film is set in the late 1920's...) so he does what anyone with a bad reputation and few marketable skills does, he heads out to Hollywood.  Wouldn't you know it, but war films had suddenly become hot, so they were looking for people who could fly biplanes and were willing to do crazy stunts, like jumping out of them.  

So much of the drama, however, is meant to be drawn from the story of Kessler, the German pilot, who recounts the familiar tale (at this point) of being outnumbered by the four American planes, and shooting down three, but sparing the fourth.  Once the story is told from his point of view (not Pepper's, and not that of the pilot who really was there) then more insight is gained on the mentality and P.O.V. of a great enemy combatant.  But on the other hand, it's just a guy telling a story.  We don't see it happen, not even in flashback, so in the end it's not very exciting.  Breaking the "Show, don't tell" rule, as usual, doesn't impress me.  If the story is so great, why isn't the whole movie about THAT story, and not this one?  

Plus, Waldo Pepper's fate is completely ambiguous - left up in the air, as it were.  You can call that being "arty", or you can call it a narrative copout.

Also starring Robert Redford (last seen in "Little Fauss and Big Halsy"), Bo Svenson (last seen in "Kill Bill, Vol. 2"), Susan Sarandon (last seen in "The Big Wedding"), Bo Brundin, Edward Herrmann (last heard in "The Wolf of Wall Street"), Philip Bruns.

RATING: 5 out of 10 crutches

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