The Great Waldo Pepper (Umbrella Ent) (1975)

If you create a user account, you can add your own review of this DVD

Released 1-May-2009

Cover Art

This review is sponsored by

Details At A Glance

General Extras
Category Adventure None
Rating Rated G
Year Of Production 1975
Running Time 103:21
RSDL / Flipper RSDL (52:04) Cast & Crew
Start Up Programme
Region Coding 1,2,3,4,5,6 Directed By George Roy Hill

Umbrella Entertainment
Starring Robert Redford
Bo Svenson
Bo Brundin
Susan Sarandon
Geoffrey Lewis
Edward Herrmann
Philip Bruns
Case Amaray-Transparent
RPI $19.95 Music Henry Mancini

Video Audio
Pan & Scan/Full Frame Unknown English Dolby Digital 2.0 mono (192Kb/s)
Widescreen Aspect Ratio 2.35:1
16x9 Enhancement
Not 16x9 Enhanced
Video Format 576i (PAL)
Original Aspect Ratio 2.35:1 Miscellaneous
Jacket Pictures Yes
Subtitles None Smoking No
Annoying Product Placement No
Action In or After Credits Yes, Four minutes pre and during credits.

NOTE: The Profanity Filter is ON. Turn it off here.

Plot Synopsis

      The local DVD release of Robert Redford's 1975 film The Great Waldo Pepper should be reason for rejoicing. Sadly Umbrella entertainment have released a 4x3 transfer of the anamorphic image, resulting in a viewing experience that harks back to the bad early days of DVD releases. The print appears to be the same as is frequently seen telecast by subscription television in Australia, and happily has decent clarity and detail. While we do at least see what approximates the original image, I would avoid this release and hopefully wait for Universal to wake-up and reclaim this title for themselves and give the public a decent 16x9 enhanced release of a movie that should, and could,  look fantastic on DVD.

    In the early 70s Robert Redford's career was on an extraordinary high, with a string of memorable movies which included The Candidate and Jeremiah Johnson in 1972, The Way We Were and The Sting in 1973 followed the next year by The Great Gatsby. Probably Redford's two most icon-forming performances came under the direction of George Roy Hill, in Butch Cassidy and The Sting. Audiences embraced the actor's portrayal of these two nonconformist rebel loners, both characters deeply rooted in the American tradition. In 1975 the actor worked again with Hill and delivered a brilliant and entertaining performance as an early barnstorming flyer. Hill was both producer and director on this film, and the finished product emerged as a paean to the colorful days of aeroplane barnstorming, when young men with their heads in the clouds paved the way for today's commercial aviation. Hill's passion for these early flyers and their times is evident from the following statement by the director.

          "I wanted to do the air work in Waldo Pepper the old way, but the old way was costly. Many had been killed while making those early pictures, and the risk even today would be enormous. Before casting any of the flying roles in the picture, I made sure that the actors understood the danger involved and that they were willing to do it for real. They all agreed, with varying degrees of enthusiasm, and the result is the first film ... in which none of the actors were photographed in front of a process screen. That is Redford climbing out on the wing with no parachute, a terror-stricken Redford, but Redford nevertheless, and he is actually several thousand feet above the earth and not on a Universal Studios sound stage."

    Hill created a handsome period piece with this film, with the perfect opening created by using the old black-and-white Universal logo of the mono-plane circling the globe.The screenplay opens in 1926 Nebraska, with Waldo Pepper (Redford)   a World War One flyer who, in peace-time, doesn't quite know what to do with his life. He has ended up doing what he does best, flying, though for little money, giving barnstorming exhibitions across the mid-west.His partner in this enterprise is Axel Olsson (Bo Svenson), another wartime flyer, and each man has accepted his lot as an anachronism in the fast changing world of the twenties. William Goldman's screenplay, from a story by producer/director Hill, captured beautifully the poignancy of the plight of pioneers who see their world disappearing as it is overtaken by progress. The screenplay is beautifully constructed, imaginatively turning full-circle, with Pepper ultimately lending his services to a Hollywood film unit which is producing an aerial epic.Also in the cast is Susan Sarandon as a female barnstormer, Edward Herrmann and Margot Kidder. Behind the camera was the excellent Robert Surtees (The Bad and the Beautiful / Ben Hur), with the brilliant aerial photography  supervised by Frank Tallman. The aerial sequences are genuinely breathtaking, made in the days befrore CGI, with actors and cameramen -  and sometimes even director Hill - risking their lives before our eyes. The art direction of Henry Bumstead (Vertigo / To Kill a Mockingbird) is meticulous while remaining realistic, the evocative and attractive score is the work of Henry Mancini, and the costumes were by Edith Head. With names such as these, this was obviously an A1 production, with everything beautifully captured in Todd-AO 35 and Technicolor. The Great Waldo Pepper was a major release for Universal in 1975, though overshadowed by Universal's unprecedented earner that year, Jaws.

    This film, if seen under favourable conditions, is an exhilarating joy to behold. Meticulously produced with inteligence and heart, and containing a virtuoso performance by one of the greatest stars of all time. What a shame that we still do not have a worthy release of this film on DVD.

Don't wish to see plot synopses in the future? Change your configuration.

Transfer Quality


    Originally photographed in ToddAO-35, with an aspect ratio of 2.35:1, this 4x3 transfer does, at least preserves the aspect ratio of the original image.
    There are approximately four minutes pre-credits. This footage, and the credits themselves, are presented at 2.45:1. The remainder of the running time is presented at 2.35:1.
    Given that this release is not 16x9 enhanced, the image is quite clear and sharp.
    Shadow detail is reasonable, with a small amount of low-level noise. This is first evident in the darkened cinema scene when Redford and Sarandon are watching a Valentino silent.
    Colours are generally bright, but subdued with a slight suggestion of "period". The almost sepia tones of The Sting are avoided, and the outdoors scenes are quite vivid. The aerial sequences look extremely fine, with a backdrop of seemingly eternally blue skies. At times the yellow planes, the grass and the blue skies combine to make a memorable image.
    Skin tones are extremely good.
    There are many compression issues, with frequent aliasing and edge enhancement. The opening few minutes provide a text book case of what can go wrong with film to video compression. At times you feel that the image will shimmy right off the screen.

    The print used is obviously in very good condition, clean and free of debris of any kind. The only flaw noticed was an emulsion "blob" early in the film (2:28). The ubiquitous clear blue skies are basically free of any debris.

    The disc is dual layered, with the change occurring at 52:04 in the fade-to-black at the end of Chapter 9.

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


    There is one audio stream on this disc.
    The film is presented in two track mono, which is excellent allowing for the inherent limitations.
    Dialogue is akso excellent, perfectly clear and always intelligible.
    The Mancini score sounds great - even in mono. The main theme is a particularly lovely waltz, at times played by a sole piano. The score ranges from big brass band "oom-pa-pa" to 20s flavoured jazz. This is a particularly lovely Mancini score - one I have had on vinyl for many years.
    There are no crackles or pops, and no drop-outs.
    Post-dubbing is noticeable in some of the aerial sequences, but does not detract from the impact of these scenes.
    I feel sure that the film would originally have been "stereo", at least, but can find no concrete evidence to support this.


Audio Ratings Summary
Audio Sync
Surround Channel Use




    There are absolutely no extras on this disc. Not even a menu or chapters.




R4 vs R1

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

    While there is a release of The Great Waldo Pepper in Germany, there is no current release in the USA or the UK.
    There had been a USA release, not widescreen, which is reported to have been of very poor quality. This is no longer available.
    Surely we must see a respectable release of this film in the near future.


    This is a major film from a major star. With excellent performances, brilliant and exciting actions sequences and top production values, it is difficult to understand why it is not still under the Universal banner.Perhaps it is related to George Roy Hill being the producer. Any information would be appreciated.

Ratings (out of 5)


© Garry Armstrong (BioGarry)
Wednesday, June 03, 2009
Review Equipment
DVDSONY BLU RAY BDP-S350, using HDMI output
DisplaySamsung LA55A950D1F : 55 inch LCD HD. Calibrated with THX Optimizer. This display device is 16x9 capable. This display device has a maximum native resolution of 1080p.
Audio DecoderBuilt in to DVD player. Calibrated with THX Optimizer.
AmplificationOnkyo TX-DS777
SpeakersVAF DC-X fronts; VAF DC-6 center; VAF DC-2 rears; LFE-07subwoofer (80W X 2)

Other Reviews NONE
Comments (Add)
Universal and Umbrella -
Universal and Umbrella - wolfgirv