Movie Name: Wings
Studio: Paramount Pictures
Release Date(s): August 12, 1927
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
Jack Powell (Charles “Buddy” Rogers) and David Armstrong (Richard Arlen) are both in love with Sylvia Lewis (Jobyna Ralston) though Jack doesn’t realize that his neighbor Mary Preston (Clara Bow) is also in love with him. When war breaks out in Europe, Jack and David sign-up to impress Sylvia but quickly become fast friends. As Mary continues to pine for Jack, David realizes Jack’s misplaced love. Shot down behind enemy lines, David fights to make it back to friendly territory, but doesn’t realize that he could soon find himself in the crosshairs of Jack’s quest to avenge him.
Directed by William A. Wellman, Wings is a silent war picture set during World War I. The movie is the first winner of the Academy Awards “Best Picture” award for the years 1927 and 1928 though at the time the award was known as “Best Presentation”. The movie also picked up a “Best Engineering Effects” award for Roy Pomeroy. The movie has been selected for preservation in the National Film Registry by the Library of Congress.
Wings is the only silent picture to win the Academy Award with the game changing The Jazz Singer also released in 1927. Silent pictures are often tough, but I do have to marvel when watching Wings when considering its historical context. It is a miracle that the film even exists since it was believed to be lost before the film was rediscovered in the Cinémathèque Française archive in Paris…it is a good thing that it was found and saved.
The story of Wings is rather slow paced. The lead up to the war and aerial fights is a long one and the inclusion of the dialogue cards just means that the movie moves even slower. I do like the nice ending sequence with Jack actually shooting down his friend and ally David when he doesn’t realize that David has stolen a German plane. It is a very touching moment and actually quite tense as David tries to make Jack realize what he is doing. I just wish that the tension had carried throughout the movie (especially cutting out some of the “bubbles” scene when Mary finds Jack drunk in Paris).
The three main actors Charles Rogers, Richard Arlen, and Clara Bow do a good job expressing themselves. I’ve seen good silent film acting, and I’ve seen bad silent film acting and this is one of the better portrayals. I can see how Clara Bow would have become one of “America’s Sweethearts” because she has a nice honest appearance and really does feel like a “girl next door” (she literally is in this film). The movie also is noted for one of the early film appearances of Gary Cooper as the doomed Cadet White.
What does stand out about Wings is that Wings looks fantastic. You have to remember that the Wright Brothers first flew a plane in 1903 and in 1927, flight was still on a learning curve…add to that some amazing photography and the film stands out simply for that. I also am quite impressed by how good the film physically looks since it was nearly lost. The movie has been cleaned up, touched up, and the prints of the movie are pretty amazing.
The movie also shows how film has changed. It came out before there was a real crackdown on film content. There is a scene early in the movie where you can see physicians examining soldiers and their backsides are exposed. In the Paris scene, Clara Bow’s breasts are seen momentarily as she dresses…what now would earn an R-Rating or simply be cut wasn’t that big of a deal (the movie was re-rated PG-13 when it was re-released in theaters on an anniversary showing). The film is also noted for the first “male-to-male” kiss. It is fraternal with a French officer presenting medals of valor and later with a deathbed kiss between Charles Rogers and Richard Arden…it is a bit odd however to see it today.
Wings is worth seeking out for fans of the Oscars or simply film historian fans. The movie is slow and clocking in at almost two and a half hours, it isn’t for everyone. It does feature an intermission which I do recommend using as a stopping point if you are looking for a break. Despite its age, Wings has held up.
[easyazon-block align=”center” asin=”B00AEBB9QY” locale=”us”]