Ever see the Young Indiana Jones Chronicles? Also known as The Adventures of Young Indiana Jones, it was on in the early nineties and one of my favorite shows in high school. Not only was Sean Patrick Flanery really, really cute, but Indy got around. Forrest Gump would be jealous of the number of historical figures Indy met over the course of the series.
One major aspect of the show was World War One, and like some Americans, Indy didn’t want to wait for America to enter the fight. Instead, he joined the Belgian army under the pseudonym, Henri Defense (inspired by the No Smoking sign above the recruiter’s head) and after briefly fighting in the trenches, he became a spy.
In Attack of the Hawkmen, Indy (Sean Patrick Flanery) and and his friend, Remy (Ronny Couteurre) are now in spy school but they’re both bored stiff. Indy really wants to get assigned to the French army, so he forges letters of transfer to their Secret Service.
The plan works…a little too well. After getting outed by the very impressed commanding officer, Bragas (Victor Spinetti) Remy is assigned to be a contact for the Belgian resistance in Brussels and Indy is assigned to be a photographer for the Lafayette Escadrille, a group of American pilots who fought the Germans in the air and performed reconnaissance for the French. To say Indy’s job has a high turnover is a flippant understatement: The last photographer got killed after only eight days.
Indy’s first flight is rather auspicious. He has to climb down and check the landing gear while his pilot does all kinds of evasive maneuvers, including barrel rolls, and then they’re shot down by Baron von Richthofen (Mark Warren). Yep, as in the Red Baron. Long story short, after a fancy lunch with the Baron and his fellow officers, Indy is sent back to the Escadrille.
The Baron issues a challenge to a duel at dawn with the Escadrille’s local hotshot Charles Nungesser (Patrick Toomey). Nungesser looks accident-prone; some part of him is always bandaged or casted, but he’s such a daredevil he makes Han Solo look cautious. He’s also a charmer, flashing his gold-capped teeth in a hero’s grin at every opportunity.
Nungesser and Richthofen’s duel ends in a draw, but Indy manages to snap a photo of the Baron getting shot down, and that makes him a target. Among other things, Indy’s in for some major Baron stinkeye the next time he goes up, but there’s nothing much he can do besides wait out the rest of his two weeks and hope he doesn’t become another one of the honored dead.
Yeah, we all know Indy makes it just fine, but he’s not done with airplanes or the Red Baron. His next assignment is to meet with Dutch airplane designer Anthony Fokker (Craig Kelly) and convince him to build airplanes for the French instead of the Germans. Indy’s got all kinds of gear this time–fake papers, a knife that pops out of one of his shoes, camera parts hidden in one of his heels, and a box of Dutch cigars. Nungesser will fly him in and wait for Indy to come back.
Fokker’s a no-go because as far as he’s concerned, there’s no difference between the French and the Germans. They’re both building airplanes to kill people. The only difference is that the Germans pay him more. Indy might feel a little dejected except that he overhears people talking about a super-secret, super powerful new plane that can fly across the Atlantic and drop bombs on New York City.
Indy’s not going to take this new information lying down, so he hatches a plan. I won’t ruin anything, but it all winds up pretty spectacularly.
One of the great things about Young Indy was that the episodes were meticulously researched and kept as authentic as possible. In the case of Hawkmen, it was really important to communicate how raw and untried air combat really was during the First World War. Or just flying in general. Aviation came very far very fast, and in a few short years pilots had gone from flying flimsy wicker airplanes to more elaborate (and sturdier) canvas and metal aircraft with broader wingspans and more maneuverability. Combat was initially so rough that pilots would fire at each other using pistols and rifles, but later in the war machine guns were fitted to airplanes.
That doesn’t mean the show wasn’t above artistic or dramatic license, however. Hawkmen‘s portrayal of the Germans inventing a long-range bomber never occurred; in fact, Fokker’s first long-range plane of any kind was the Tri-Motor, which appeared in 1926.
As for the Red Baron and Nungesser, Hawkmen correctly portrays the two of them dueling in the air, although it happened on more than one occasion. It also nails Nungesser being all cocky and flamboyant while looking like a disaster area and Richthofen inspiring reverence and deference in his fellow pilots.
Ironically, both Richothofen and Nungesser would die under mysterious circumstances–Richthofen was shot during an aerial battle by Australian pilots but no one knows the exact details because Richthofen’s rival flyers were too busy picking the Baron’s plane apart for souvenirs.
Nungesser, meanwhile, was lost while trying to cross the Atlantic by air with co-pilot François Coli in 1927. No one knows how or where it happened, but Lindbergh was fully prepared to back out of the race if Nungesser and Coli were safely in the air. No trace of the plane has ever been found, although there are rumors of sightings from time to time.
Straight up, Hawkmen is fun. It reads like a TV movie, but one of the great things about the Young Indy series was that it was one of a few standout shows in the early to mid-nineties that changed what TV shows and movies could be. Suddenly, they looked more polished and cinematic. Sure, it was pricey, but it was worth it. Mostly, anyway–the high price tag was one of the reasons the show didn’t last too long. Fortunately, it’s still pretty accessible on DVD and Paramount Plus, so if anyone is a fan of Indiana Jones or history (maybe both?) it’s well worth checking out.
For more airborne goodness, please click here. See you tomorrow for Day Two…
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