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The Great Waldo Pepper

Theatrical release poster
Directed by George Roy Hill
Produced by George Roy Hill
Written by George Roy Hill
William Goldman
Starring Robert Redford
Bo Svenson
Bo Brundin
Music by Henry Mancini
Cinematography Robert Surtees
Editing by William H. Reynolds
Distributed by Universal Pictures
Release date(s) March 13, 1975
Running time 107 minutes
Country United States
Language English
Budget $5 million
Gross revenue $20,642,922

The Great Waldo Pepper is a 1975 drama film about a discontented pilot played by Robert Redford. The story takes place in the years 1926-1931.



Waldo Pepper (Robert Redford) feels he has missed out on the glory of aerial combat in World War I after being made a flight instructor. When the fighting ends, Waldo has taken up barnstorming to make a living. He soon tangles with rival barnstormer Axel Olsson (Bo Svenson). Enemies at first, Waldo & Axel become friends and try out various forms of stunts. One stunt goes wrong and Waldo is nearly killed after slamming into a barn. Waldo goes back home to Kansas to recuperate with an earlier lover Maude (Margot Kidder) and her family. Maude's brother Ezra (Edward Hermann) is an old friend of Waldo's and promises to build Waldo a high performance monoplane as soon as Waldo is well enough to fly it. In the meantime Waldo recuperates and joins back up with Axel and the two eventually wind up flying for a traveling air show owned by Dillhoefer (Philip Bruns). In an effort to attract bigger crowds, Dillhoefer introduces several young ladies into the show, including Mary Beth (Susan Sarandon) and Patsy (Kelly Jean Peters). As the show moves from town to town, and the crew practices new stunts, they experience problems, errors, and crashes. As a result of the death of Mary Beth during a wing walking stunt, Waldo is grounded by an inspector of the newly formed Air Commerce division of the Federal government, a man from Waldo's past during the war named Newt (Geoffrey Lewis). Waldo ultimately loses his pilot's license, but this doesn't stop him from flying for very long.

Under an alias, Waldo gets a job as a stunt pilot in a Hollywood film depicting the air battles of the Great War. Famous German air ace Ernst Kessler (Bo Brundin) has also been hired by the producers, as a consultant and to fly a Fokker Dr. I replica. The disillusioned, bitter and heavy drinking depiction of Kessler is based on the real German ace and stunt flier Ernst Udet. During filming of a famous wartime duel, though their fighters are unarmed, Waldo and Kessler begin dogfighting in deadly earnest, using their airplanes as weapons, each repeatedly colliding with the other. Eventually, they both realize that their planes are too damaged to land. Instead of fighting, each salutes the other, and flies his own way. The last shot of the film is of a page in an album. One of the pictures is of Waldo. Underneath the picture is a caption: "Waldo Pepper. 1895-1931".


Frank Tallman flew the air sequences using actual airplanes - not models. Tiger Moth biplanes were used for the crash scenes.

This movie was filmed in Elgin, Texas. Aerial sequences were filmed at Zuehl Airfield[1] near San Antonio, Texas.



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