1889. An Irish lord marries a beautiful gypsy but falls off his horse and dies. His family, who hates the gypsy, chase her out of home and she takes refuge in Spain. 1937. Nearly half a century later, the gypsy, fleeing the Spanish Civil War, returns to Ireland in the company of Maria, her pretty granddaughter. Maria falls for handsome Kerry, a young horse trainer, but the trouble is that she was engaged to a man in Spain. One day, the Spanish fiancé reappears. Written by
Shot partially on location in Killarney, Ireland in Glorious Three-Strip Tecnicolor, "Wings of the Morning" can claim to be the first film shot in that process on the British Isles. Iconic cinematographer Jack Cardiff gets his first Technicolor credit as the film's camera operator and would go on to one of the most illustrious careers in film history. However, although it was financially successful during its initial release, fans of John McCormack and Henry Fonda will be disappointed with it today.
John McCormack, the pride of Athlone, County Westmeath and arguably the greatest Irish tenor of all time, failed in several attempts to break into the movies. That's not surprising when one views his stiff acting and singing in this film. Although he sings three songs here, he evidently didn't even bother to memorize the lyrics and sings while looking at a notebook he carries with him. It's no wonder that the film editor decided to cut away from him to inserts of the idyllic Irish countryside during his performance rather than keep the overweight and unphotogenic singer on screen.
Fonda supposedly played a Canadian in this British movie shot partially in Ireland but clearly didn't have a competent dialogue coach because he plays his early scenes with a decidedly Southern drawl. He later lapses into his singularly un-Canadian Midwestern twang.
At this point in his career Fonda was a free-lancer and didn't have to do this film, which was designed as a showcase for French beauty Annabella in her English-speaking debut. After he did sign a long-term contract at Fox in 1940 as a condition of getting the role of Tom Joad in "The Grapes of Wrath," the respected actor chafed when required to play support for films designed to showcase other Fox stars. His unhappy experience on the Alice Faye vehicle "Lillian Russell" is a prime example. Why did Fonda agree to do the film? A good guess would be that the trip to Englasnd and Ireland, rather than the script, was enough motivation.
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