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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
Wings of the Morning is both the title of the film and the name of a gypsy horse who rides in the English Derby at Epsom Downs. It was the first modern technicolor film to be shot in the British Isles. To insure quality cinematographer Ray Rennahan who was THE color guy in Hollywood was brought over and he did a first rate job. I guess for good luck Henry Fonda who appeared in the first outdoor technicolor film in the USA came over to appear in this one. In the tradition of Americans appearing in British productions, Fonda plays a Canadian horse trainer with the Irish name of Kerry Gilfallen replete with his Nebraska twang.
In fact most of this British production is shot in Ireland and I hope that Wings of the Morning is available to folks in Ireland in any format. Their country is really nicely captured in some really lush greens. And there is some nice color footage of London and the Epsom Derby in the middle Thirties.
There are two stories, a brief prologue involving gypsy princess Annabella and the Irish Lord Clontarf played by Leslie Banks. They wed against all convention and soon after, Banks is killed in a riding accident. Of course most of the family snubs the widow and she returns to the gypsies.
Fast forward some forty years and Annabella is now playing her own great granddaughter and she's back in Ireland having fled Spain from the revolution going on there. She flees like Katharine Hepburn did in Sylvia Scarlett, in the guise of a boy and fools everybody including horse trainer Henry Fonda.
Of course the romance develops and a pair of horses get trained and primed for the Epsom Derby. Horse stories are no different in the UK then they are the USA and if you've seen enough of them on the silver screen you have an idea how the rest of the film goes.
Champion jockey Steve Donoghue makes an appearance in Wings of the Morning and lucky indeed we are to have a technicolor filmed appearance of the great John McCormack who favors us with four songs sung at a party scene at Clontarf castle. McCormack was an icon in many an Irish and Irish American household. A great concert singer, he and an Italian tenor named Caruso share equal credit in developing the record industry as they both signed with Edison's fledgling RCA Victor label back in the day. You couldn't find too many Italian households without a Caruso record back in the day nor many Irish households without a gramophone and McCormack records to play on them.
During his sequence McCormack sings and reads material, lyrics I'm sure he must have sang a gazillion times. My guess is that he was 53 when Wings of the Morning was made and may have been sustaining memory problems. McCormack died in 1945 and had not sung for several years at that point.
Wings of the Morning were it not for McCormack and technicolor would be a rather ordinary race track story. Still it's good entertainment and for folks in Ireland, a must.
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