"If you don't start treating
yourself better, you'll never
make it to Lifeday."
We watched this film hoping that it would be Titanic-type film, with doomed lovers aboard a doomed (air)ship. No such luck. Looks like we'll have to wait for Jan DeBont's proposed Hindenburg movie before we get that particular story. Zeppelin is a World War One spy film, with no romance involved, despite the inexplicable presence of a woman aboard the military airship of the title.
Michael York is our protagonist, Geoffrey Richter-Douglas. Although serving in the English military during the First World War, his family has relatives in Germany, and the conflict upsets him greatly. German high-altitude blimps (referred to as "zeps" for most of the movie) have been bombing London, further adding to his distress. He soon falls in with a beautiful German spy and is recruited to defect to the other side. The British army, not to be outdone, asks him to be a double agent. They need information on the latest secret zeppelin under construction so they can find a way to stop it.
Richter-Douglas agrees to the British proposal. He departs for Germany under cover of night, and the Brits make it look good by shooting him in the arm during his escape. Once in Germany, he is immediately shown to the hangar where the new zeppelin, the LZ36 (that's "el-zed thirty-six" to those speaking the King's English), is being tested. When Geoffrey asks to see the hanger, you'd think the Germans would suspect something was up. "So, when do I get to see the secret blimp? Not that I'm a spy or anything like that!" York as Richter-Douglas is a hero who never really does anything heroic. He gets shot in the arm a couple of times, and in the most dramatic moment of the film, when he needs to decide where his loyalties lie, he faints.
The film's resident hotty is Elke Sommer (previously running around the desert in The Invincible Six) as Erika Altschul, wife of Professor Altschul, the zeppelin's designer and former friend of Geoffrey's. Sommer is present for no other reason than to balance the overwhelmingly male cast, and there are twenty minutes of dialogue dedicated to justifying her presence on the LZ36 when the "action" begins.
Zeppelin fall down, go boom.
We put the word "action" in quotes above because once something remarkable does begin to happen, it's remarkably boring. Geoffrey, for reasons unknown, is brought along on the LZ36's first test flight, along with the Professor, his wife, Mary Ann, the Howells, etc. The zep performs admirably, but then the German intelligence officer on board commandeers the ship, ordering the crew to fly on a course for England. What follows are a couple of tedious refueling scenes before we finally learn what the heck this film is really about -- the secret plan of the Germans, which we will not reveal here, except to say that it involves dropping York out of the zep from a high altitude. We wish.
The plan is actually sucessful. Sort of. Or maybe not. It's hard to tell whether it worked or not, because the movie just leaves that plot point hanging. And that's not the only one. Zepplin has the bad habit of not finishing what it starts. At the begininng of the movie it is stated that Geoffrey has vertigo, but this never impacts on the plot. Geoffrey has a cousin who is fighting in the German army. This cousin is mentioned a couple of times, but nothing ever comes of it. A big deal is made about "incendiary bullets" that the British have developed to take down the zeps, and yet they never get used. Just about the only thing that does pay off in the entire movie is all the talk about how easy it is for zeppelins to blow up. Lo and behold, at the end of the film, the LZ36 does blow up, but it's kind of like watching a silver whale deflate. Not exactly the stuff of which must-rent movies are made.