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Bert I. Gordon
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The best thing that can be said about "Ace Eli and Rodger of the Skies" (1973) is that its lame title accurately reflects the quality of the film. If a period piece about a WWI flyer adjusting to civilian life as a barnstormer is what you are looking for, I suggest "The Great Waldo Pepper" (1975). Both films are relatively high budget with professional production design, but "Waldo" has better flying scenes and a far more engaging story.
What Eli has is Pamela Franklin ("The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie") and amazingly that is almost enough to make it worth watching. Actually it is a must see for all her fans but they already know that.
Cliff Robertson is sadly miscast as the Ace Eli character and this decision saps the energy out of pretty much every scene in the film. The kid from "The Poseidon Adventure" plays Rodger (Ace Eli's 11-year old son). He also played opposite Robertson in the "Come back Shame" episode of "Batman", this kid is no Dakota Fanning so don't get your expectations up too high.
For those too young to remember, from the late 1960's until the late1970's Hollywood catered to the counterculture baby boomer market. This followed the success of "Easy Rider" and "Bonnie and Clyde", films that succeeded because they broke a lot of Hollywood conventions. Pretty soon almost all films were breaking Hollywood conventions, unfortunately they were the same conventions being broken in the same way; making them just a new set of conventions. These included mandatory scenes of a man in bed with a woman and the inclusion for no particular reason of a few assorted political subtexts.
This was not a big deal when confined to contemporary stories but this stuff soon got incorporated into revisionist films about historical events and characters. "Ace Eli" is one of these, joining (but not as good as) stuff like "Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid", "Little Big Man", and "The Great White Hope".
Buried somewhere in "Ace Eli and Rodger of the Skies" are coming of age story elements and maybe even a couple of themes; but I just watched the whole thing and can't even begin to identify what they were actually trying to communicate. Blame the writer, the director, the editor, or all of the above. Then maybe blame a bunch of Hollywood types who thought it might be a good idea to explore the mysteries of 1970's female discontent in a 1920's setting. What should have been clear in pre- production is that spicing up a family film will not attract teenage and adult viewers, but it will make the thing too risqué for family viewing. And they wonder why these things lose money.
If you check the credits you will see that "Ace" is based on a story by Steven Spielberg. If you watch the film you will understand why Spielberg is best known as a director and not as a writer.
Then again, what do I know? I'm only a child.
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