March 2015 Blind Spot: WINGS (1927)

Wings1927PosterI was pretty excited to finally watch this movie. I’m not usually into silent films, but this one came highly recommended. The film starts off with a light, whimsical tone in small town America where Jack (Charles ‘Buddy’ Rogers) is working on his beloved car and dreaming of flying. The girl next door Mary (Clara Bow) is in love with Jack but he is blind to her affections. But he’s not the only one with unrequited love, as Jack is in love with Sylvia (Jobyna Ralston) who actually loves David (Richard Arlen).

Most of the film is about World War I, featuring some impressive aerial scenes as well as some intense ground battles that seem less bloody as the film is shot in black and white. Per IMDb trivia, real soldiers from the army’s 2nd Infantry Division, stationed in Corpus Christi, Texas, were used as extras. It’s really astonishing what they’d accomplished here long before CGI was used. Apparently the actors were actually working the planes themselves with a camera strapped to the engine cowling. IMDb trivia also noted that actors had to get the plane up in the air, keep it up, fly it so that clouds or German fighter planes could be seen in the background, operate the (motorized) camera and land the plane and act at the same time. Here’s the scene of the first Dogfight scene:

The story focuses primarily on the relationship between two fighter pilots Jack and David from two different walks of life. What began as a rivalry, as they’re in love with the same woman, turns into a genuine friendship. Despite being from a privileged family, David is really likable and even noble young man. He could’ve easily just told Jack that Sylvia didn’t love him but he couldn’t bring himself to let his friend know that Sylvia only gave Jack the locket with her picture as she felt sorry for him. 

Wings1927_RogersArlenThe most heart-wrenching scene was when David’s dying, as his plane was shot by Jack himself. He had stolen a German plane after his plane crashed, and of course Jack didn’t know it was David piloting it so he kept shooting at it. It’s especially tragic as just before their mission, David had told Jack he had a hunch he wouldn’t be coming home.

Wings1927_DeathbedKissThe film featured the first kiss between two men, but it’s really not as controversial as people might’ve made it out to be. The scene is about a deep, profound friendship between the two men, as well as Jack being overwhelmed with a sense of guilt and sadness. It’s really quite a moving scene, in fact, I couldn’t help tearing up watching it. The scene that followed when Jack had to tell David’s parents is equally heart-wrenching. I think the film succeeds in showing the true brutality of war, not just in the bloody war scenes, but in the scenes where families are crestfallen when they learn their loved ones have perished.

The film is rated PG-13 for the brutal war scenes, as well as a brief scene of nudity as a girl was changing her clothes. I think some of the violence are quite graphic for its day – pilots getting shot and bleeding to death, soldier getting crushed by tank and frequent shots of blood spurting out as people get shot. Surely it’s nothing compared to today’s war films though.

Wings1927_dogfightscene

Now, you can’t review this film without mentioning Gary Cooper. Yes he’s only got a 2-minute cameo but apparently his brief appearance here launched his career. Can’t say I’m surprised, I’m sure both men and women would’ve said ‘Who’s THAT?’ when he came on screen. He’s absolutely striking and even the scene of him just woken up… sleepy eyed, clenched jaw, and messy hair… he’s really quite mesmerizing. It’s fitting as the two characters who shared the scene with him were also captivated by Cooper’s Cadet White. I think he’s the only classic actor who could give even Gregory Peck a run for his money, and undoubtedly the two actors were often compared to each other in terms of looks and acting style. [note to self: watch more Gary Cooper films] 😉

Wings1927_GaryCooper2

There are lots of love going on during filming as the Arlen & Ralston got married shortly after filming and Cooper had a longtime affair with silent star Clara Bow. The silent film star was pretty fun to watch with her cherubic face and big, expressive eyes. Her scenes are a bit sentimental, consisting mostly of her crying and fawning over Jack. I thought there’d be more to her character considering miss Bow had been quite famous by the mid 20s. The whole bar scene where she tried to seduce Jack who’s completely wasted is pretty silly, but the scene when they’re alone in the room must’ve been quite risqué for that era, not to mention the brief breast-flashing scene. This was pre-Hayes code as this was released a few years before censorship was enforced starting in 1930.

Wings1927_ClaraBow

Despite the nearly 2.5-hour running time, I wasn’t bored watching it. The cinematography is quite stunning, and the aerial stunts live up to the film’s title! Director William Wellman had about 80+ films to his credit but this is the first film of his I’ve ever seen. Well I might have to check out more of his work now. I also like the music, which is always key in silent films, and I read that the entire score was written and recording using Wurlitzer Pipe Organ. Wings won the first ever Academy Awards and it also won Best Engineering Effects, akin to Best Special Effects in today’s Oscar. I do think it merit both awards, though I think both Rogers and Arlen were good enough to be nominated in the acting category.

Glad I finally saw this one. It’s not perfect as the story is a bit melodramatic at times, in fact, the film tries to incorporate the love-during-wartime story but the romance isn’t as convincing to me. The war aspect certainly works better, but still it’s more emotionally-engaging than I had expected, especially the friendship between the two leading men. I think it’d have looked pretty amazing on the big screen too, given the masterful digital restoration by Paramount to coincide with its 100-year anniversary celebration. You can watch a 15-min video of the restoration on Youtube, the process of cleaning up, fixing all the scratches, tinting, etc. whilst maintaining the level of authenticity of the original art. The restored sound work makes the war scenes felt really suspenseful… sounds of planes flying, bullets spraying, bomb exploding, they definitely adds to the realism of the piece. Wings definitely takes flight, in more ways than one.

4halfReels


The Blind Spot series was originally spearheaded by Ryan at The Matinee,
and I was also inspired by Dan’s list at Public Transportation Snob.

2015BlindSpotCheck out my list of 2015 Blind Spot Films


Have you seen WINGS? Well, what did YOU think?

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35 thoughts on “March 2015 Blind Spot: WINGS (1927)

  1. PrairieGirl

    Even more interesting is the background on the film: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wings_(1927_film)
    All the air scenes were shot live in Texas.
    From Amazon: The DVD version includes only one (1) special feature, the aforementioned “Wings: Grandeur in the Sky” (the “making of” documentary). The Blu-ray version includes three (3) special features: the making-of documentary “Wings: Grandeur in the Sky,” as well as “Dogfight,” a featurette covering early aeronautics, and “Restoring the Power and Beauty of Wings,” which details the film’s restoration process.

  2. Hey Flixy, somehow my first comment didn’t get posted:
    LOVE this movie, glad you finally got to see it. Who’d have thought such an old film would be so good today? The Academy Awards could have been created just to honor this film 😉

    1. Hi Becky! Yeah I’m glad I saw this, thanks for your recommendation. It really deserved its Best Picture win, and if there’s a category for Best Cameo, it should’ve gone to Gary ‘yowza’ Cooper! 😉

  3. Stu

    Fascinating read, Ruth. I hadn’t heard of this before but I’m intrigued. Very long for a silent film but I’d like to give it a try anyway.

    1. Hi Stu! It’s quite long but it didn’t feel sluggish, I was quite engrossed in the action and story for the most part. Definitely worth your time.

  4. Rich

    If you want more Gary Cooper, may I suggest the following to start with: SERGEANT YORK (another war movie), BALL OF FIRE (a comedy) and MR. DEEDS GOES TO TOWN (dramedy).

    I had the privilege of seeing WINGS on the big screen. The flying scenes still hold up, especially now thanks to the restoration.

    1. Hi Rich! Thanks for the recommendations! I’ll definitely see all of those, but maybe I’ll start w/ the two comedies as I’m curious to see him in comedic roles.

      That’s cool that you saw Wings on the big screen, man what a treat that must be!

    1. That’s great that you’ve seen this one Mark. Indeed it was a feat, and the fact that it’s till holds up to this day. It’s amazing how engrossing a silent film could be.

    1. Hi Michael, sorry, are you saying you haven’t seen this yet? I was wondering if they showed this at TCMFF, I’d think they must have at some point.

    1. Ahah, I was kinda in your camp too Ted about silent films, but I really love The Artist, so y’never know, you might dig this one since you’re into war films.

      1. I have Wings in my queue but let me wholeheartedly recommend The Passion of Joan of Arc by Carl Theodor Dreyer. Dreyer’s direction and Renee Falconetti’s performance make it well worth seeing. Especially the Criterion version of it with music composed by Richard Einhorn and Voices of Light especially for it. If I had to pick one artistic silent film to see it would be that one. It’s quite moving Ted. Check it out.

  5. Great review, Ruth! Very cool that you went so far back. That’s hard to do. I’d love to check it out sometime, and you’ve definitely encouraged that.

    1. I was really intrigued by this given that it’s a silent film that won the first ever Oscar. Given that I’m usually not into silent nor war films, I was surprised by how much I enjoyed this one.

  6. jackdeth72

    Hi, Ruth:

    Excellent critique:

    ‘Wings’ is a neat, compact film that tells a sprawling story very well!

    Direct plot with just enough back story. Danger and excitement of the war. Comradery amongst the pilots. Superb aerial photography.

    Very nicely done!

    1. Amen to all you said Kevin. I’m glad I finally got around to seeing this. I couldn’t believe they almost lost this film, well glad it didn’t happen and they’re able to do restoration work on it.

  7. Pingback: Everybody’s Chattin’ + MARCH Viewing Recap |

  8. Wow, that dog-fight scene/making of has me wanting to see this NOW. Stuff like this is why I dislike CGI so much, so much ingenuity and creativity went into pulling off great shots in the good ol’ days… Now its just fake computer coded stuff that I am sure is hard to program, but feels soulless.

    Great write up Ruth, I reckon my dad told me about this flick once. Sounds up my alley, I love silent film too – I also have one on my blindspot list :D:D

    1. Hi Jordan! Amen on what you said, I think too much CGI can ruin a film, I love how creative filmmakers back then when they had to physically film challenging scenes like this one. I’m not totally against CGI, esp if filmmakers know how to use it to enhance the story, but yeah, a lot of them feel soulless.

      1. It should be you know, 10%-20% MAX cgi in film, to help with stuff that can only be done via computers, to push the limits etc etc. Lucy did that well, dumb story but it used CGI well.

        But…. just look at 2001. Every non-movie-person I show that to REFUSES to believe me when I tell them its from the 60’s! Cos of the looks!

        It was my sister who couldn’t believe it last, couple of weeks ago I was watching the BR. I couldn’t help it, “So…. what looks better you reckon? This or all the CGI crap?”

        I wasn’t expecting her to not answer immedietely, she was hyptotised my the film! She finally agreed with me. Haha and thats my lil sis, young twenties….. ah I feel an odd sense of pride! ;P

        I really, really gotta get me this WINGS movie. Those dog-fighting scenes look so goddamn good.

        1. Can you believe it I still haven’t seen 2001? But that’s on my Blindspot this year and my pal Ted has the Bluray so I’m gonna borrow that from him to watch either this month or the next.

          If you have Netflix, WINGS is available on streaming!

          1. o.O!!! Wow, yes that is a massive blindspot you’ve got there 😛 Can’t wait to hear what you have to say about it!

            Netflix quite literally only hit Australia less than a month ago. Not to mention our internet is so dinosaur-aged that I honestly think there are going to be MASSIVE complaints about being unable to stream HD.

            So… yeah, one kinda has to use workarounds just to access the proper Netflix and subsequently the full Netflix library. Nothing illegal, its just BS and the way they are trying to introduce it here is doomed for failure.

            1. Yeah I hope the film lives up to the hype 🙂

              Ah I didn’t know Netflix just opened there in Down Under. It is annoying if you have slow internet connection. Is the regular disc subscription available? You can still rent it that way, too right?

              Btw, about the monthly feature thing, it’s already up now so all you have to do is stop over the blog 🙂

              1. Yeah, contrary to that very funny southpark episode about blockbuster shutting down (check it out if you like the show, some classic references to The Shining in that episode), Blockbuster still make a good business here. Mainly cos of said shitty internet, HD-streaming is next to impossible to watch smoothly. Buffering…. Buffering…. Plus Blockbuster are good, they fucking have almost everything I’ve ever asked for, real obscure shit, aussie films that I couldn’t even pirate if I wanted to. I give them ten years before they are dead – once our internet is somehow up to at least a quarter of what the rest of the developed world has, then streaming will reign supreme. But atm I am just waiting to see news reports of people complaining about the service.

                I am pretty sure you won’t be dissapointed Ruth. I wish I could erase my memory, I’ve seen it at least 50 times! When do you plan to watch it? That is one Blindspot entry I am very much looking forward to!! 🙂

          2. o.O!!! Wow really??

            Netflix quite literally only hit Australia less than a month ago. Not to mention our internet is so dinosaur-aged that I honestly think there are going to be MASSIVE complaints about being unable to stream HD.

  9. Glad you loved it, Ruth! It’s been a few years since I saw it, but I’d probably give it 4/5. I’ll second the Ball of Fire recommendation for Gary Cooper films, and I’d also recommend Meet John Doe, Design for Living, Beau Geste, The Fountainhead and High Noon.

    1. Thanks so much for the recommendations! I can’t wait to see all of those, I think Ball of Fire is one I’m gonna see first, that’s the one w/ Barbara Stanwyck right? I like her, too!

      1. Yeah, Ball of Fire has Barbara Stanwyck, and it’s a great screwball comedy (co-written by Billy Wilder). Highly recommended. 😉

  10. Pingback: Movie Review – Wings (1927) |

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