barnstorming era. Robert Redford is the Great Waldo Pepper, a World War I "flying ace," who never saw combat because of his value as an instructor, thus he missed the actual fighting. He yearns for the chance to use his skills in combat against Germany's ace, von Kessler. Coincidently, Kessler is in America and it so happens he flys action scenes for a movie company, based on his life as a fighter pilot. Pepper befriends Kessler on the movie set and both face each other in "actual combat." The finale is not only thrilling, but touching.
Buy it, see it, enjoy it.
I like Robert Redford in almost anything, and he's at his best here as a barnstorming pilot in the 1920s who pretends to have seen more action in World War One than he did. He made me feel for the character when he said, "It should have been me" after rival flyer Axel Olsen exposed him as a "four-flusher" for claiming he was a key figure in a famous battle.
Pepper finally gets his chance to go up against the German World War One ace Ernst Kessler (perhaps loosely based on the real German ace Ernst Udet) as a stunt pilot in a movie crew.
The dialogue scenes between Pepper and Kessler leading up to the climactic dogfight are the best part of the movie, even though Kessler's lines seemed to be written more in the interest of serving the plot than in serving the character.
The idea that Kessler was a man who only felt at home in the air, for whom nothing worked out well on the ground, resonated with me, as it did with Pepper, who felt the same way.
In closing, I'd like to mention the beginning of the movie when Waldo Pepper lands at a small town in Iowa to offer airplane rides. He promises a free ride at the end of the day to a boy named Scooter if he will tote a 5-gallon gas can back and forth from the filling station to keep Pepper's plane fueled.
The song that plays over the opening credits during this sequence has stuck with me for 28 years. I heard it again in 1992 while attending a boot camp graduation ceremony at the Great Lakes Naval Recruit Training Command and remembered it from the movie. I don't know the name of it, but I love that song.
Anyway, at the end of the day Scooter asks for his free ride and Pepper says he only promised that to get him to haul gas. He never takes kids for rides. Whether the character is kidding or not isn't clear, but it certainly seems that Scooter (and his dog) get the best ride of the day.
That sequence establishes Pepper as a decent, if somewhat slippery character and gets the movie off to a good start.