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The Red Baron (2008) Review

Updated on November 29, 2010
Nick Burchett profile image

Nick is a US Army veteran, husband and father of three, and has a BA in History. He is a Civil War aficionado and also enjoys genealogy.

Movie poster for The Red Baron (2008)
Movie poster for The Red Baron (2008)

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The Red Baron is a film distributed by Warner Brothers by director Nickolai Mullerschon who is a German film director, producer and screenwriter who has mainly written and directed German-speaking television programs. The Red Baron is his first mainstream work in film.

The Red Baron is a biopic on the life of Baron Manfred von Richthofen, the German World War I flying ace credited for downing 80 enemy aircraft. The film portrays Richthofen as having a fascination with flying from his youth and after the prospect of dying unheroicly in the trenches at Verdun he signs for a position as a fighter pilot in the Imperial German Air Service.

As the story progresses we find that Richthofen has multiple encounters with Canadian pilot Captain Arthur "Roy" Brown, the first being when he shoots down Brown’s plane and then renders medical assistance to the injured Brown along with German nurse Kate Otersdorf, who becomes Richthofen’s love interest, and a second encounter which they are both forced to ditch their planes and Brown proceeds to tell Richthofen the details of Kate’s love for him and that he hopes that the two pilots not meet again until after the war.

The film portrays Richthofen as a daring and skilled pilot who, even during time of war, has compassion for his enemy and has a foul taste for war altogether. He at one point scolds his younger brother Lothar, who is portrayed as a cold-hearted and ruthless fighter pilot, for pusrsuing and contunially firing upon an enemy pilot whose aircraft was clearly disabled and was preparing to land. Richtohofen at one point is shot down and suffers a serious wound to his head and is nursed back to health by Kate who berates him for considering war “a game”.

As he heads off to his final battle he is ultimately shot down and killed by his friend Captain Brown. Kate crosses the Allied lines with Brown’s assistance to reach Richthofen’s grave professing her love for him and the movie ends with a funeral wreath left by the Royal Flying Corps in memory of the Manfred von Richthofen.

Upon reading material from Richthofen’s autobiography from 1917 as well as “The Red Knight of Germany by Floyd Gibbons written in 1927, the historical inaccuracies of this film are so numerous that classifying this as a historical film is quite misleading.

Richthofen's only interest in flying came after he felt he would die ingloriously in the trenches at Verdun. There is no record, even in his memoirs of having any interest in air-flight as a young boy.

The most glaring inaccuracie is the comraderie between Richthofen and Brown. There is no record of Richthofen and Brown ever meeting, let alone having the kind of “buddy” relationship the film portrays. Also, the idea that Richthofen would scold or order his squadron to avoid killing enemy pilots is contradictory to Richthofen’s adherence to the “Dicta Boelcke”, set forth by his mentor and hero (and conspicuously absent from this film), Oswald Boelcke.

The entire Kate/Richthofen relationship goes against everything that Richthofen believed – that for a pilot to have a relationship was unwise as the life expectancy of a pilot was very short and to do so would be dishonorable. But the film is entirely based on this relationship. It is historically correct that Richthofen's nurse after his head wound was indeed named Kate Otersdorf, but there is no record of a relationship with her, and in fact, it is known that Richthofen indeed had a "secret" love, that he intended on marrying after the war, but that it was not Otersdorf.

Ultimately you have a film that takes the life of a legend and not only distorts it, but presents him in a way contrary to his documented beliefs.

With a thin and homogenous plot, the multiple and glaring inaccuracies in the historical content it was very difficult to sit through this entire film without feeling a bit cheated. The real-life exploits of Manfred von Richthofen are more than enough to make an action packed film without layering it with fluff and a make-believe storyline. While the fight scenes were indeed riviting at times it was hard to overcome the shortcomings of the film. I was highly disappointed in the film and would not recommend it even for entertainments sake, let alone for any historical value.



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      7 years ago

      this is of course your opinion but i found this movie of magical quality. i'm also aware that hollywood or anyone's 'hollywood' film glosses up people's lives sometimes with some glaring differences but this is expected. there is an old saying among the glitterati that if the myth becomes more stronger than the legend - print the myth. why would the baron be any different or be subjected to less? if people want to know more about him, his life and times ... then so be it, read a book and get educated (whatever!). this movie's portrait, if somewhat flawed, is a sensative one of the wonderful cast of true characters. it is, also and by the way, not uncommon for servicemen to fall in love with their nurses during healing times, whether they had a wife or sweetheart at home. life was in deed short and many painfully knew that taking what life had to offer them when it was offered was more realistic than most else (and crazy if you didn't). no matter what war but it seems WW1 was truly horrible in that the world had never seen this mass destruction before and it horrified many - sad to say not enough to stop WW2.

      i truly enjoyed seeing this movie and was amazed at the performances of each and every actor involved. sad and riveting times caught on celluloid nicely, i thought. made the people of nearly 100 years ago and a continent away come alive as no other movie could or has done in many years. it also gave a rather unique picture of the 'enemy' as seen from across the timeline and many bodies of water. does a film of sorts need to be accurate? ok, maybe, but you got to admit that even if it was a glossed over account of the baron and his band of (not-so) merry men and women, it certainly will whet the appetites of those who want to know more. now, is that special? i think so. i never knew there was a kathe otersdorf - i do now and am kind of obsessed into knowing more about her. if this is a legacy of that film - well that's not bad. a person is never truly dead until someone somewhere forgets him or her. that's a certain death!


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