Ace Eli and Rodger of the Skies (1973)

PG | 92-93 or 106 mins | Drama | April 1973

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HISTORY

       The film was shot on location in Southern California and in Mount Hope in south central Kansas, where the fictional town of Monument was created. A May 1972 IP reported that, although actor Cliff Robertson was a licensed pilot, veteran Hollywood aerial specialist Frank Tallman flew the two 1916 J-1 standard biplanes used in the film.
       According to the Official Screen Credits [OSC] for Academy Awards, on 4 Sep 1970 Twentieth Century-Fox bought the rights to the story on which the film was based from Amblin' Productions. Steven Spielberg, who wrote the story on which Ace Eli and Rodger of the Skies was based, took the name Amblin' Productions from his 1968 short film Amblin' , and later used it, without the apostrophe, for his Amblin Entertainment production company. Although Spielberg previously had written and directed some short films, and had worked in television, Ace Eli and Rodger of the Skies marked his first credit on a feature length film. The May 1972 IP article stated that Spielberg’s contribution to the story evolved from his interest in post-World War I barnstorming pilots, while screenplay author Claudia Salter, listed onscreen as Chips Rosen, contributed the father-son relationship.
       A 9 Jan 1970 Film TV Daily article noted that the film was being prepared for production by producer Joe Wizan with Spielberg directing and Salter as screenplay author. A year later, as reported in a 25 Jan 1971 HR article, Robert Fryer took over as producer and hired Joe Sargent to direct the film, but Sargent was later replaced by John Erman.
       According to the 14 ... More Less

       The film was shot on location in Southern California and in Mount Hope in south central Kansas, where the fictional town of Monument was created. A May 1972 IP reported that, although actor Cliff Robertson was a licensed pilot, veteran Hollywood aerial specialist Frank Tallman flew the two 1916 J-1 standard biplanes used in the film.
       According to the Official Screen Credits [OSC] for Academy Awards, on 4 Sep 1970 Twentieth Century-Fox bought the rights to the story on which the film was based from Amblin' Productions. Steven Spielberg, who wrote the story on which Ace Eli and Rodger of the Skies was based, took the name Amblin' Productions from his 1968 short film Amblin' , and later used it, without the apostrophe, for his Amblin Entertainment production company. Although Spielberg previously had written and directed some short films, and had worked in television, Ace Eli and Rodger of the Skies marked his first credit on a feature length film. The May 1972 IP article stated that Spielberg’s contribution to the story evolved from his interest in post-World War I barnstorming pilots, while screenplay author Claudia Salter, listed onscreen as Chips Rosen, contributed the father-son relationship.
       A 9 Jan 1970 Film TV Daily article noted that the film was being prepared for production by producer Joe Wizan with Spielberg directing and Salter as screenplay author. A year later, as reported in a 25 Jan 1971 HR article, Robert Fryer took over as producer and hired Joe Sargent to direct the film, but Sargent was later replaced by John Erman.
       According to the 14 May 1973 Box review, after post-production was completed in late 1971, the filmmakers were so displeased with the final cut that they insisted on using pseudonyms onscreen, rather than their real names. The OSC and most reviews list the real names for the onscreen pseudonyms: producer Boris Wilson, a pseudonym for Fryer and James Cresson; director Bill Sampson, a pseudonym for Erman; and screenwriter Chips Rosen, a pseudonym for Salter.
       The controversy led to the picture's delayed release. According to the Var review, the film opened first in 1973 in Washington, D.C. and Baltimore, MD to small audiences; however, the exact dates of those openings have not been determined. Information found in the production file on the film at the AMPAS Library indicated that the film opened in Los Angeles on 5 Dec 1973, while the NYT review stated that the film did not open in New York until 1 Mar 1974. The picture marked the feature film debut of Broadway actress Bernadette Peters. A modern source adds Joel Fluellen and Larry K. Staten to the cast. More Less

SOURCE CITATIONS
SOURCE
DATE
PAGE
Box Office
14 May 1973
p. 4589.
Daily Variety
15 Jul 1971.
---
Daily Variety
23 Apr 1973.
---
Film Daily
9 Jan 1970.
---
Hollywood Reporter
25 Jan 1971.
---
Hollywood Reporter
23 Jul 1971
p. 8.
Hollywood Reporter
1 Oct 1971
p. 10.
Hollywood Reporter
24 Apr 1973
p. 3, 13.
International Photographer
May 1972.
---
Motion Picture Herald
5 May 1973.
---
New York Times
2 Mar 1974.
---
Variety
25 Apr 1973
p. 18.
CAST
PRODUCTION CREDITS
NAME
PARENT COMPANY
DISTRIBUTION COMPANY
NAME
CREDITED AS
CREDIT
DIRECTORS
2d unit dir
Asst dir
PRODUCER
WRITERS
PHOTOGRAPHY
Dir of photog
2d unit photog
Aerial photog
Cam op
Key grip
Gaffer
Still photog
ART DIRECTORS
Art dir
FILM EDITORS
Film ed
SET DECORATORS
Set dec
Prop master
SOUND
Sd mixer/Rerec
MAKEUP
Makeup supv
Makeup artist
Hairstylist
PRODUCTION MISC
Unit prod mgr
Scr supv
Dial coach
Aircraft and aerial seq by
Aircraft and aerial seq by
Casting dir
Unit pub
SOURCES
SONGS
"Who's for Complainin," written and performed by Jim Grady, produced by John Madara.
PERFORMER
COMPOSER
DETAILS
Release Date:
April 1973
Production Date:
late July--early October 1971 in Mount Hope, KS and Southern California
Copyright Claimant:
Twentieth Century-Fox Film Corp.
Copyright Date:
11 April 1973
Copyright Number:
LP43204
Physical Properties:
Sound
Westrex Recording System
Color
DeLuxe
Widescreen/ratio
Panavision
Duration(in mins):
92-93 or 106
MPAA Rating:
PG
Country:
United States
Language:
English
Passed by NBR:
No
SYNOPSIS

In mid-1920s rural Kansas, carefree barnstorming pilot “Ace” Eli crashes his plane during a joyride, killing his wife Wilma. Eli then decides to build a new biplane from a mail order kit to barnstorm for cash with his only son, Rodger. The precocious eleven-year-old Rodger cusses and smokes without remorse and dutifully takes care of his irresponsible father during the ensuing months. Once the plane is completed, Eli hints about leaving town to barnstorm, dreaming that they will resettle in his hometown of San Willow, Kansas. Easily distracted, Eli begins sleeping with Wilma’s sister, Aunt Hannah, thus delaying his departure. Meanwhile, Rodger mourns the loss of his mother by painting her name on the plane and waiting for Eli’s drunken return each evening. During the days Rodger plays with Hannah’s daughter Betty Jo, whom he haughtily berates as ignorant while secretly relishing her company. Finally deciding to take drastic measures, Rodger sets his family’s farm home ablaze, forcing his father into action. That day Eli and Rodger take off with their few belongings. Flying over the town of Monument, Rodger drops fliers advertising “Fly Eli," then, while his father lands the plane on the main street, offers to sell the crowd plane rides for three dollars apiece. After crashing the wing of the plane into a storefront, Eli promises free rides once the plane is fixed, then flirts with widow Rachel, with whom he has sex that evening. Meanwhile, Shelby, the spoiled daughter of a wealthy Kansan, is intrigued by the seemingly cosmopolitan Eli and seeks Rodger’s advice about how to woo his father, but Rodger assures her that Eli is “easy” with women. Days later, Shelby holds ... +


In mid-1920s rural Kansas, carefree barnstorming pilot “Ace” Eli crashes his plane during a joyride, killing his wife Wilma. Eli then decides to build a new biplane from a mail order kit to barnstorm for cash with his only son, Rodger. The precocious eleven-year-old Rodger cusses and smokes without remorse and dutifully takes care of his irresponsible father during the ensuing months. Once the plane is completed, Eli hints about leaving town to barnstorm, dreaming that they will resettle in his hometown of San Willow, Kansas. Easily distracted, Eli begins sleeping with Wilma’s sister, Aunt Hannah, thus delaying his departure. Meanwhile, Rodger mourns the loss of his mother by painting her name on the plane and waiting for Eli’s drunken return each evening. During the days Rodger plays with Hannah’s daughter Betty Jo, whom he haughtily berates as ignorant while secretly relishing her company. Finally deciding to take drastic measures, Rodger sets his family’s farm home ablaze, forcing his father into action. That day Eli and Rodger take off with their few belongings. Flying over the town of Monument, Rodger drops fliers advertising “Fly Eli," then, while his father lands the plane on the main street, offers to sell the crowd plane rides for three dollars apiece. After crashing the wing of the plane into a storefront, Eli promises free rides once the plane is fixed, then flirts with widow Rachel, with whom he has sex that evening. Meanwhile, Shelby, the spoiled daughter of a wealthy Kansan, is intrigued by the seemingly cosmopolitan Eli and seeks Rodger’s advice about how to woo his father, but Rodger assures her that Eli is “easy” with women. Days later, Shelby holds a party on the lawn of her mansion to honor Eli, whom the crowd celebrates as a war hero. Eli, eager for attention and financial gain, does not correct them despite having no official credentials as a war hero. That evening, Shelby leads a drunk and wobbling Eli into the barn to tease him, while lonesome Rodger calls Hannah. The next day, the duo fly off before dawn to avoid having to offer free plane rides to the townfolk. Spotting a newly married couple driving the road, Eli lands the plane and takes the bride for a ride in exchange for a large sum of money. Later that day, they interrupt a baptism, where Sister Lite, seeing a financial opportunity, proclaims to the crowd that flights bring Christians closer to heaven. After selling over $200 in rides, Sister Lite and Brother Foster fight with Eli over their share of the profits, prompting Eli to flee with the money. In his enthusiasm over his ill-gotten gains, Eli throws Rodger into water to be baptized despite Rodger’s pleas that he cannot swim. The boy almost drowns, but saves himself as his father proclaims, “I am resurrected.” At the next town, Rodger befriends young Dumb Dickie by promising him a free ride, but Eli spends the entire afternoon giving rides to the prostitute Allison, thus forcing Rodger to break his promise to Dickie. Despite Eli's exaggerated claims of sexual prowess, after a few hours in bed him, Allison proclaims that he is not a good lover. Soon after, Sister Lite sends several men to retrieve the money from Eli. After the men beat up Eli, Rodger tends to his father’s wounds, then goes to Allison to pay his father’s bill. When the prostitute states Eli owes her ten dollars, Rodger calculates that after three rides at three dollars each, Allison owes them nine dollars and hands her the outstanding one dollar, adding fifty cents for the grown up kiss she has just given him. On another night, Eli flirts with Shelby at a cock fight, then accompanies with her to a hotel room, where she refuses to sleep with him. Meanwhile, Rodger, drunk on beer he has shared with new friend Frank Savage, cries for his mother and falls asleep under the plane waiting for Eli’s return. Days later, father and son damage one of their plane's wings while stunt flying and are forced to land. Shelby tows them back to town and gives Rodger a white silk pilot’s scarf like his father’s, prompting a jealous Eli to rant that Shelby is a whore and refuse to speak to her for days. Ready for his own acclaim, Rodger secretly takes the plane up to perform his owns stunts, but his flight is witnessed by Eli and Shelby. The boy returns to the hotel triumphant, but upon seeing Shelby and his father in bed, the heartbroken Rodger runs to his room. Oblivious to his son’s feelings, Eli enthusiastically professes his love for Shelby, asking her to settle in San Willow with him. Dismayed that Eli is no more glamorous than most men, Shelby insults him and then tries to console the boy, who calls her a whore, prompting her to leave them. Rodger comforts his weeping father and pours water over him to “resurrect” him. Realizing his dreams of fame are inflated, Eli flies Rodger back to Hannah and Betty Jo, the only home they know. +

Legend
Viewed by AFI
Partially Viewed
Offscreen Credit
Name Occurs Before Title
AFI Life Achievement Award

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