you're reading...
Drama - Historic, Drama - US

The Great Waldo Pepper (1975)

Duration1h 47m
RatingsUK: A, USA: PG, Sweden: 11
Source of storyAn original screenplay, loosely based on real WWI flying events and personalities, and early barnstorming air circuses.
DirectorGeorge Roy Hill
Writers/ScriptGeorge Roy Hill, William Goldman
StarringRobert Redford, Bo Svenson, Susan Sarondon, Geoffrey Lewis, Phillip Bruns, Margot Kidder, Bo Brundin
RatingsIMDb: 6.7/10 by 6,100 people.  Rotten Tomatoes: 70% by 10 reviewers. Review2view: 7/10.

Summary: Waldo Pepper is a former WWI pilot who has taken  up barnstorming to make a living and initially is seen giving people in rural Nebraska rides in his plane for money. When a rival, Axel Olsson turns up Waldo sabotages his aircraft, but they subsequently become partners, with on/off female partners Maude and Mary Beth. They join Doc Dillhoefer’s Flying Circus, but when it falls on hard times, suggest that Mary Beth will do a wing walk, losing her flimsy clothing. The stunt starts well, but Mary Beth freezes on the wing, and falls to her death. The accident draws the attention of the authorities to the circus, and even though Newt Potts, the inspector is a former colleague of Waldo’s, he is grounded. There is a further disaster when Maude’s brother Ezra, having designed a monoplane, flies it into the ground and dies in the resulting fire. Trying to make a  new start, Axel and Waldo go to Hollywood, and get jobs as stunt pilots in a war film, where Waldo is confronted with a German ace. How will it all work out.

 Content: There is no sex or nudity, maybe just  bit if drinking and smoking, although I don’t actually remember either. Most of the film is taken up with flying, with successes and failures. Axel’s plane ends up in a pond after being sabotaged by Waldo, when attempting a transfer from car to plane Waldo is almost killed by falling though the roof of a barn. The flying circus is presented with a lot of aerial tricks and then some wing walking and other tricky stuff. But when Mary Beth falls to her death the whole tone of the film changes, and the distress continued when Ezra is killed in a crash. The final aerial duel between the German ace and Waldo is extensive.

A View: This film was generally well thought of for its flying sequences, which are impressive, and apparently required the stars to really do tricks in the air without parachutes. So there is no CGI in this film. There is no doubt that the flying is successful, and mesmerising at times, but as critics have said, tend to overcome the drama. It has weathered well, and is one of those outings which I tend to watch because I know that what is presented on screen really happened. So well worth a view if you are even slightly interested in aircraft history.

There have been many films which feature aerial sequences. Three which have been reviewed on this site are: Top Gun, Air America and The Aviator.

About Victor R Gibson

Author of this site three technical books and two novels


No comments yet.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.


%d bloggers like this: