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Aces High (1976)

A team of well-trained British fliers soars into action in the skies over Europe during World War I in this spirited remake of Journey’s End (1930) transposed to the air war (which makes it almost identical to The Dawn Patrol).

Set in France in 1917, eager young recruit Lieutenant Stephen Croft (Peter Firth) is thrilled to join the elite 76 Squadron Royal Flying Corps – the predecessor to the RAF – under the command of a renowned flying ace, Major John Gresham (Malcolm McDowell), his former house-captain and hero.

But the naive young flyer is shocked to discover his commander has turned to drink to steel his nerves as the high fatalities among his men take their toll.


Despite father-figure Captain Sinclair (Christopher Plummer) attempting to soften his introduction, the realities and futility of WWI are laid bare to the boyish Croft as he observes the casualties of trench warfare, discovers the short average lifespan of a fighter pilot and encounters the battle-weary and panic-stricken Lieutenant Crawford (Simon Ward).

A stellar cast produces uniformly sensitive performances of suppressed emotions with Firth as the bushy-tailed raw recruit, Simon Ward’s terrified pilot, and Christopher Plummer as the disciplined but emotionally soft older officer.

Derek Cracknell’s aerial cinematography is entertainingly intense with a combination of close-ups and long shots that produces sequences of cumulative intensity that achieve the right degree of awe and horror.

Major John Gresham
Malcolm McDowell
Captain ‘Uncle’ Sinclair

Christopher Plummer
Lt. Colonel Silkin

Trevor Howard
Lt. Crawford

Simon Ward
Lt. Stephen
Peter Firth

John Gielgud
Brigadier General Whale
Ray Milland
Major Lyle
Richard Johnson
Lt. ’Tommy’ Thompson
David Wood

Jack Gold