Von Richthofen and Brown

Von Richthofen and Brown, alternatively titled The Red Baron, is a 1971 war film directed by Roger Corman and starring John Phillip Law and Don Stroud as Manfred von Richthofen and Roy Brown. Although names of real people are used, the story by Joyce Hooper Corrington and John William Corrington makes no claim to be historically accurate, and in fact is largely fictional.[4]

Von Richthofen and Brown
Theatrical release poster
Directed byRoger Corman
Produced byGene Corman
Written byJohn William Corrington
Joyce Hooper Corrington
StarringJohn Phillip Law
Don Stroud
Music byHugo Friedhofer
CinematographyMichael Reed
Edited byAlan Collins
The Corman Company
Distributed byUnited Artists
Release date
  • July 28, 1971 (1971-07-28) (US)
Running time
97 minutes
CountryUnited States
Budgetunder $1 million[1] or $950,000[2]
Box office108,851 admissions (France)[3]


In 1916, Manfred von Richthofen is newly assigned to a German air squadron under the command of Oswald Boelcke. Across the lines, Roy Brown arrives at a British squadron under the command of Lanoe Hawker. The two pilots are very different; Richthofen is a gentleman who respects tradition and believes in a gentlemanly approach to war, while Brown is a cynical, cocky, ruthless rebel without a cause who doesn’t believe in honor.

Boelcke is killed after a mid-air collision and Hawker is killed by Richthofen. Richthofen assumes command of the squadron and becomes outwardly energized by the war. Outraged by an order to camouflage his squadron's aircraft, he paints them in bright conspicuous colors, claiming that gentlemen should not hide from their enemies. Later, Richthofen dances with Ilse and even kisses her. Brown bullies his way to leadership and has his squadron hunt in packs with a plane as bait.

Richthofen suffers a skull wound during an aerial battle, and when he returns to combat, he begins showing troubling signs of memory loss and confusion. After Brown and his squadron attack Richthofen's airfield, destroying their aircraft on the ground, Richthofen, with the help of a batch of new fighters from Anthony Fokker, launches a counterattack on the British airfield. Back at their aerodrome, Richthofen rebukes fellow pilot Hermann Göring for strafing medical personnel.

Richthofen's passion for the war fades, becoming dismayed and depressed that his squadron is losing so many pilots. He refuses a job offer from the government deciding to help fight alongside his men, knowing it will probably lead to his death in combat. Caught between his disgust for the war, and the responsibility for his fighter wing, Richthofen sets out to fly again. Brown becomes very uncooperative, developing a rather defeatist attitude.

On April 21, 1918, Richthofen and Brown engage in an aerial duel during which Richthofen is mortally wounded by Brown but, as his final act, manages to land his aircraft before he dies. The Allied pilots congratulate Brown, while the German squadron mourns Richthofen’s death. Richthofen is buried with full military honors by the Allies, and Göring assumes command of the squadron.



Roger Corman had been interested in making a film about Manfred von Richthofen for a number of years. He felt that the Baron was the last true knight, an aristocratic warrior with a code of honor, and wanted to show how the Baron's way of thinking was archaic compared to the wholesale slaughter of World War I. Another thing he wanted to do was to contrast the Baron with the man who had been credited with shooting him down, Canadian RAF pilot Roy Brown, although it is now considered all but certain by historians, doctors, and ballistics experts that Richthofen was actually killed by an AA machine gunner firing from the ground.[4]

In 1965 it was announced he had commissioned a script called The Red Baron from Robert Towne.[5] He pitched the project to 20th Century Fox along with the St Valentine's Day Massacre; Fox decided to make the latter, as they already had The Blue Max. Years later Corman signed a deal with United Artists who liked the idea of a film about the Red Baron but did not want the film to be too German, so Corman agreed to make it about Roy Brown and other characters from both areas of the battle front that could be added to the script.[6]

Although the story of the two foes who meet in a fateful last flight, was essentially a historical subject, Corman's intention was to treat the subject as an allegory of the modern war machine in conflict with antiquated old world notions of chivalry.[7]

Work on the film went ahead, with Corman able to work with a much larger budget than he enjoyed with his earlier features.[8] Ex-RCAF pilot Lynn Garrison supplied the aircraft, crews and facilities, and personally coordinated the flying sequences; Garrison had purchased the collection of hangars, aircraft, vehicles and support equipment accumulated for filming 20th Century’s top-grossing film, The Blue Max, after the production wrapped in 1965.[Note 1] The collection included replica Pfalz D.IIIs, Royal Aircraft Factory S.E.5s, Fokker D.VIIs, Fokker Dr.Is. A number of de Havilland DH.82A Tiger Moths and Stampe SV.4Cs had also been converted to represent other aircraft, for a total of 12 aircraft available for aerial scenes.[10][11] As with "The Blue Max," flying sequences were based at Weston Airport in Ireland. Richard Bach, author of Jonathan Livingstone Seagull, was one of the film's stunt pilots, and wrote about some of his experiences at Weston during its production.[12]

United Artists who were financing the picture turned down Bruce Dern who was Corman’s original choice for Roy Brown. Don Stroud - whom Corman had selected to play Richthofen - was given the role instead and John Phillip Law was cast as the Baron. United Artists also insisted on re-dubbing the actors' voices with fake German accents in post-production.[13]

For the aerial sequences, Corman used an Aérospatiale Alouette II helicopter, along with a Helio Courier, for the photography, supported by a number of specialized camera mounts Garrison developed for use on individual aircraft. This allowed footage of actors, such as John Philip Law and Don Stroud "flying" the aircraft. Garrison trained Law and Stroud to the point where they could take off, land a Stampe, and fly basic sequences themselves from the rear seat, filmed with a rear-facing camera. Stunt pilots such as Bach were used for the more complicated sequences.

Corman used a filming schedule that included so-called "Blue Days, Grey Days and Don’t Give a Damn Days" so that the aircraft were used no matter what the weather presented.

On 15 September 1970, Charles Boddington, a veteran of both The Blue Max and Darling Lili, was killed when his S.E.5 spun in during a low-level manoeuvre over the airfield. The next day, during the last scheduled flight on the shooting schedule, Garrison and Stroud were involved in a low-level sequence across Lake Weston in a Stampe, when a jackdaw struck Garrison in the face, knocking him unconscious. The aircraft then ran through five powerlines, snap rolled and plunged into the River Liffey inverted. Garrison and Stroud were rescued from the water. Stroud was uninjured, but Garrison required 60 stitches to close a head wound. Both incidents occurring in such a short period resulted in Irish authorities grounding the production. Corman lobbied for restoration of flying and a few days later, was successful.[14]

Some of the interior shots in Von Richthofen and Brown were filmed at Powerscourt House, a noted stately home in County Wicklow Ireland. Powerscourt had been designed by Richard Cassels, a German architect, and the entrance hall had a Germanic motif, lending a visual connection to a German location.[Note 2] Some external shots were filmed outside the Irish parliament building, Leinster House.[16]

A sex scene between Law and Karen Huston was edited out after it caused an American preview audience to laugh.[17][18]

Corman felt the pressure of directing a big-budget feature were such that he wanted to take a sabbatical.[19] Although heavily involved as a producer during the interim, he did not direct another film until Frankenstein Unbound (1990).[20]


Von Richthofen and Brown received mixed to negative reviews from both viewers and critics, although Roger Greenspun, in his review for The New York Times saw Corman's work as "... an extraordinarily impressive movie by a filmmaker whose career has not always been marked by success, or even noble failure."[21] Critics also connected Corman's anti-war views with the central characters of the film, seeing the antagonists as representing the modern relentless killing machine versus old world chivalry.[9]

As an aviation epic, reviewer Leonard Maltin noted, "Aerial work is excellent, it's the ground work which crashes."[22]

See also


Explanatory notes

  1. Alun Evans in Brassey's Guide to War Films, compared and contrasted the two features, noting that both aerial films were spectacular, albeit flawed.[9]
  2. Powerscourt House was also used for scenes in Stanley Kubrick's Barry Lyndon a few years later. The house was destroyed in an accidental fire in 1974, so the films shot there serve as a record for the lost interiors and valuable artifacts, including some left there by Oliver Cromwell.[15]


  1. Corman and Jerome 1990, p. 169.
  2. Goldman, C. (1971). An interview with ROGER CORMAN. Film Comment, 7(3), 49-54. Retrieved from https://search.proquest.com/docview/210229038
  3. Box office information for Roger Corman films in France at Box Office Story
  4. Corman 1978, p. 224.
  5. "Movie Call Sheet: Spiegel to Film 'Swimmer'." Los Angeles Times, D13, March 19, 1965.
  6. Strick, Philip (Fall 1970). "Ma Barker to von Richthofen: an interview with Roger Corman". Sight and Sound (39.4 ed.). p. 182.
  7. Hyams 1984, p. 188.
  8. Smith, Richard Harland. "Articles: 'Von Richthofen and Brown'(1971)." Turner Classic Movies. Retrieved: July 6, 2014.
  9. Evans 2000, p. 195.
  10. Hardwick and Schnepf 1989, pp. 52, 54.
  11. "Celluloid Over the Western Front." Air Progress, October 1979, p. 53.
  12. Richard Bach, "I Shot Down the Red Baron, and So What" in "A Gift of Wings", Dell Reissue 1989, First edition 1974; Kindle pp. 23, 27 and 29 ISBN 0-440-20432-1
  13. Frank, Alan. The Films of Roger Corman. Batsford (1998)
  14. "Notes: 'Von Richthofen and Brown' (1971)" Turner Classic Movies. Retrieved: 7 July 2014.
  15. "Powerscourt Estate." Archived 2014-07-14 at the Wayback Machine All Ireland Travel. Retrieved: July 6, 2014.
  16. "Von Richthofen and Brown". Getty Images. Retrieved 26 November 2019.
  17. Frank, Alan. The Films of Roger Corman. Batsford (1995)
  18. "Von Richthofen and Brown (1971) - Notes". Turner Classic Movies. Retrieved 22 May 2014.
  19. Corman 2012, pp. 150, 159.
  20. Corman 1978, p. 234.
  21. Greenspun, Roger. "Movie Review: 'Von Richthofen and Brown' (1970)". The New York Times, July 29, 1971.
  22. Maltin 2009, p. 1149.


  • Bach, Richard. A Gift of Wings. New York: Dell, 1989. ISBN 978-0-44020-432-9.
  • Corman, Roger. How I Made A Hundred Movies In Hollywood And Never Lost A Dime. New York: da Capo Press, 1978. ISBN 978-0-30680-874-6.
  • Corman, Roger. Roger Corman: Interviews. Jackson, Mississippi: University Press of Mississippi, 2012. ISBN 978-1-61703-165-6.
  • Corman, Roger and Jim Jerome. How I Made a Hundred Movies in Hollywood and Never Lost a Dime. London: Muller, 1990. ISBN 978-009174-679-7.
  • Evans, Alun. Brassey's Guide to War Films. Dulles, Virginia: Potomac Books, 2000. ISBN 1-57488-263-5.
  • Hardwick, Jack and Ed Schnepf. "A Viewer's Guide to Aviation Movies". The Making of the Great Aviation Films, General Aviation Series, Volume 2, 1989.
  • Hyams, Jay. War Movies. New York: W.H. Smith Publishers, Inc., 1984. ISBN 978-0-8317-9304-3.
  • Maltin, Leonard. Leonard Maltin's Movie Guide 2009. New York: New American Library, 2009 (originally published as TV Movies, then Leonard Maltin’s Movie & Video Guide), First edition 1969, published annually since 1988. ISBN 978-0-451-22468-2.

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