Aces High (Umbrella) (1976) (NTSC)

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Released 7-Feb-2018

Cover Art

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Details At A Glance

General Extras
Category War None
Rating Rated M
Year Of Production 1976
Running Time 108:36
RSDL / Flipper No/No Cast & Crew
Start Up Programme
Region Coding 1,2,3,4,5,6 Directed By Jack Gold
S. Benjamin Fisz
Umbrella Entertainment
Starring Malcolm McDowell
Christopher Plummer
Simon Ward
Peter Firth
David Wood
John Gielgud
Trevor Howard
Richard Johnson
Ray Milland
Christopher Blake
Gilles Béhat
Elliott Cooper
David Daker
Case Amaray-Transparent
RPI ? Music Richard Hartley
Carlo Rustichelli

Video (NTSC) Audio
Pan & Scan/Full Frame None English Dolby Digital 2.0 mono (192Kb/s)
Widescreen Aspect Ratio 1.78:1
16x9 Enhancement
16x9 Enhanced
Video Format 480i (NTSC)
Original Aspect Ratio 1.66:1 Miscellaneous
Jacket Pictures No
Subtitles None Smoking Yes
Annoying Product Placement No
Action In or After Credits No

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Plot Synopsis

     In France in late 1917, when the life expectancy of new RFC pilots was less than two weeks, Lieutenant Croft (Peter Firth), with all of 15 hours flying time, gets himself posted to the squadron commanded by Major Gresham (Malcolm McDowell); Croft idolises Gresham having attended the same school. However, things in France are not as Croft had expected; the only way Gresham is able to fly is to drink heavily while another pilot, Crawford (Simon Ward), is a cynic and a coward, refusing to fly. Others however seem more adjusted to squadron life and welcome Croft, included aged squadron adjutant Sinclair (Christopher Plumber) and a pilot, Thompson (David Wood), who leaves as little to chance as possible. Croft must learn his flying skills quickly to have any chance of survival, especially when the squadron is ordered to undertake the almost suicidal mission of shooting down German observation balloons.

     Aces High is based on the play Journey’s End by R C Sherrif, changing the location from the trenches to a RFC squadron. On the ground many of the characters are clichéd: the leader who drinks, the coward, the wise older man, the young, naïve virgin. The events on the ground are just as clichéd; the sing-a-longs and antics in the mess, including the hosting of a riotous party for a German pilot Gresham had shot down, the visit to the “club” where Croft loses his virginity, the scrounging mess corporal. Other than Christopher Plummer none of the characters are particularly convincing, the worst being Simon Ward who fails to give his role any conviction. Cameos by guest stars including John Gielgud, Trevor Howard, Richard Johnson and Ray Milland do add a brief touch of gravitas, however, while the airdrome location and the muddy trenches do look realistic. But of course the drawcard in this type of film is the aircraft.

     Made in 1976 prior to the advent of CGI, the aircraft used in the film may not be authentic (I doubt if any WW1 vintage aircraft were still flying in the 1970s) but the flying sequences in Aces High are spectacular with biplanes, a monoplane and a triplane spinning and twisting around the sky. Just watching biplanes emerging from the clouds, landing or taking off is an absolute joy. While Aces High may be pedestrian while on the ground, in the air it soars!

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Transfer Quality


     Aces High is presented in the 1.77:1 aspect ratio, the original ratio being 1.66:1. It is NTSC and 16x9 enhanced.

     This is a reasonable print for an unrestored 40 year old film. Colours are generally natural but dull (it is winter in Flanders after all) although the red curtains and the red feather boa in the club sequence are bright and bleed a bit. Detail is generally fine, blacks are acceptable while shadow detail can be a bit indistinct. Skin tones can vary, sometimes looking very red, while brightness can also vary, although not markedly. There were frequent tiny marks, mostly noticeable against the sky, although none were large or distracting. Grain is nicely controlled.

     No subtitles are available.

Video Ratings Summary
Shadow Detail
Film-To-Video Artefacts
Film Artefacts


     The audio is English Dolby Digital 2.0 mono at 192 Kbps. The film was shown theatrically with mono sound.

     Dialogue is always clear and easy to understand. The engines of the aircraft taking off and while dogfighting and the explosions of anti-aircraft fire had a bit of resonance although the machine guns were somewhat flat. The score by Richard Hartley was also a bit predictable.

    I did not notice any lip synchronisation issues. Pops, clicks and hisses were not present.

Audio Ratings Summary
Audio Sync
Surround Channel Use


     Nothing. The programme starts when the DVD loads.

R4 vs R1

NOTE: To view non-R4 releases, your equipment needs to be multi-zone compatible and usually also NTSC compatible.

     There have been various versions of Aces High released; none have any extras, the aspect ratios vary from 1.66:1 to 1.85:1 and all suffer from artefacts to some extent. The previous release in this country was reviewed on this site here; it was PAL but the greatest drawback was that it was the cut version of the film running only 97:05, missing a number of scenes including the pilots in the mess looking at pictures of nude woman. This new release is Region All and uncut, running 108:36, and at least it looks OK.


     Aces High features stodgy acting and clichéd situations but once it gets into the air, which fortunately is quite often, the aerial sequences are stunning and will delight any fan of flying movies or vintage aircraft.

    The film is over 40 years old; there are some artefacts but the video and audio are acceptable. There are no extras.

Ratings (out of 5)


© Ray Nyland (the bio is the thing)
Tuesday, March 06, 2018
Review Equipment
DVDSony BDP-S580, using HDMI output
DisplayLG 55inch HD LCD. This display device has not been calibrated. This display device is 16x9 capable. This display device has a maximum native resolution of 1080p.
Audio DecoderNAD T737. This audio decoder/receiver has not been calibrated.
AmplificationNAD T737
SpeakersStudio Acoustics 5.1

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