Zeppelin (1971)


One of the reasons for my interest in the Great War is its diversity. The war was fought all over the planet and the nature of the fighting was shaped by the terrain that it was being fought over. It was, of course also fought in the skies and on the seas. There are relatively few sea based films covering events from the Great War but many that deal with the actions of the men fighting in the skies. The difference with today’s’ film is that it’s the only one on the list, and probably the only one produced that deals with the subject of the German dirigible airships, the Zeppelins.

I’m not really surprised there’s only one airship movie. The slow moving nature of the beasts themselves coupled with the lack of space in which to have the various happenings required to make a feature don’t lend themselves to the production of an action packed adventure flick. The flammable status of the gas also helps to make everyone look slightly stupid as they shuffle about in their slippers trying to look heroic or mean or sexy. But, in deference to these shortcomings there is indeed a film about a Zeppelin…it’s called Zeppelin (1971).


From the very start the plot smells American. The Germans want to steal some important British documents such as the Magna Carta in an attempt to break their spirit and therefore win the war. As a British citizen and passport owner I believe I have the right to speak for myself and also on behalf of the British Public when I state the following. ‘We don’t give a toss about the bloody Magna Carta!’ I’d go further than this and say the vast majority of the undernourished consumptive Brits of the era would not have had any idea what the Magna Carta was. Still, as a plot device it gives us a hook to hang our film on so there you go.

The stars of the film are Michael York (another Straight A’s graduate of the Roger Moore School of Acting, Switzerland) and his love interest Elke Sommer, who I only know from her single appearance in a Carry On Film. York and Sommer were clearly cast in their respective roles based purely on their accents. I imagine the American casting agent was cock-a-hoop when he heard these two hitting every single stereotype for a stuffy English gent and a sexy German fraulein.

Michael York 03

In fairness, they enunciate their ways through the script quite well and even, maybe, create the perception of a hint of chemistry. They should also be applauded for keeping straight faced, focussed and professional as the ridiculousness of the story unfolds. The whole cast seems to be playing their respective roles without the merest nod to camera of glint in the eye to give away that they’re aiming for a laugh. It took me a while to realise it but I think this is an Action-Drama, maybe even a Thriller!

But…it’s neither of these things. It’s a romp. It’s good harmless fun. The deaths left me with a smile as people are dumped over the side of the airship and fall into the cotton wool clouds or take a bullet and fall in completely the wrong direction. The special effects are actually passable in places but then dreadful in others. Does this matter? No, not really.

It’s a bit like a cheap Bond film. German henchmen pop out of wherever they were hiding towards the end of the movie to mount an attack on the Scottish castle that holds the required documents. York is dragged along and looks particularly uncomfortable running on camera. I don’t think ‘Action’ is really his genre.


What do I make of all this? Did I enjoy it? Yes. Would I watch it again? Not in a hurry. Would I recommend it to anyone? Not people I like. It’s harmless fun, I suppose, and as such what’s there not to like. But, if I think about it, I ripped into ‘Shout at the Devil’ for not taking itself seriously and in a way that’s what I like about Zeppelin. So what’s the difference between them that makes one a bit of harmless fun and the other an unfunny (and possibly disrespectful) waste of time and money? Can I possibly say ‘I don’t know’?

Maybe it’s just that the sum of all the slightly disappointing parts of Zeppelin add up to a fraction more than those of Shout at the Devil. Whatever, forget the comparisons. It’s okay, I liked it, but don’t make me watch it again.

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