Saturday, 8 January 2011

Zeppelin (1971)

I have to admit to being somewhat obsessed with zeppelins. I’ve never understood why there haven’t been scores of movies about zeppelins. So despite my reservations about the Warner Archive range of outrageously priced DVD-Rs I just had to buy Zeppelin.

The fear with a movie like this is always that it will turn out that zeppelins actually play a very minor role. You need have no fears on that on that point about this movie. Most of the movie takes place onboard a zeppelin.

Michael York is Geoffrey Richter-Douglas, a young lieutenant in a Scottish regiment of the British army, attached to a unit that is trying to find an answer to the zeppelin menace spreading terror through the country. The German airships can fly higher than any existing British fighter aircraft and anti-aircraft guns have so far had little effect on them. The new British fighter about to come into service, the S.E.5, should change all that but there is concern that the enemy is about to introduce a new model zeppelin, the LZ36, which may be able to fly even higher than the S.E.5.

As it happens Richter-Douglas is half-German, and has a family back in Germany that is very well-connected indeed. He has met Count von Zeppelin socially. Richter-Douglas has been targeted by a beautiful German spy with whom he is having an affair. She is trying to persuade him to change sides and return to Germany but what neither of then knows is that British intelligence officers have been manipulating their affair behind the scenes. The British want him to return to Germany as well, but as a double agent. They want the secrets of the LZ36.

So far the plot seems a little complex but it more or less makes sense. Once we get to Germany it starts getting crazier, and once we’re aboard the zeppelin it’s starting to veer towards full-blown silliness. And that’s as it should be. If you’re watching a war/spy/adventure movie about zeppelins the last thing you want is a sensible coherent plot to take all the fun out of proceedings.

There’s a romantic sub-plot involving the beautiful young wife of the chief zeppelin designer. But Erika Altshul is more than just the love interest in this movie. She’s a zeppelin engineer herself and has logged more flying hours than almost any zeppelin commander. The role gives Elke Sommer the chance to show that she can be more than just a glamorous eurobabe. She’s arguably the most interesting character in the movie, beset by various conflicting loyalties and trying to find a way to behave like a decent human being in the middle of a war that is making that very difficult indeed.

Michael York could play this sort of role in his sleep. As always he’s likable and manages to be heroic without being annoying about it.

And there’s the kind of supporting cast that fans of British cult movies of this era dream about - Marius Goring, Peter Carsten, Anton Diffring and Andrew Keir, all get to have a great deal of fun.

This movie of course belongs to the happy time before the advent of CGI and the zeppelin looks genuinely imposing. I have no idea what the budget was but it must have been fairly substantial. The zeppelin interiors are impressive, and there are some pretty decent action scenes. And a rather cool aerial battle between a zeppelin and British fighter planes.

It was clearly aimed at a broad audience so there’s no sex or nudity. But then Elke Sommer never needed to take her clothes off to look sexy.

It’s all terrific goofy fun. Treat it as a popcorn movie and you’ll have a ball.

I’ve been regarding these Warner Archive DVD-Rs with some suspicion but I have to say that the picture quality is very very good indeed. The big concern though is that these discs come with warnings that they may not play on anything other than a conventional DVD player, in other words they may not play on a computer. These fears seem to be justified. This disc will not play in my old PC. Surprisingly though it does play on both the internal DVD drive of my iMac (which generally has huge problems playing anything at all) and on the external DVD burner attached to my Mac.

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