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While the training exercises are realistic enough in WINGS OF THE NAVY,
filmed on location at actual training grounds in Pensacola and San Diego,
its story is strictly formula stuff with a love triangle between two
brothers (George Brent, John Payne) in love with the same girl (Olivia de
Havilland) holding the action sequences together.
This is almost like a B&W version of PEARL HARBOR--but lacking the punch of the PEARL HARBOR war scenes. It's a dated aviation drama, with a love story against the background of preparations for war. However, none of the characters have any real depth and there's the usual clumsy comedy attempts of Frank McHugh which become irritating after awhile.
The chief players are pleasant enough and it's interesting to see how the sea planes operated in San Diego--but the script is strictly off the Warner assembly line. Olivia de Havilland is pretty as a picture as the heroine but given little to do while Brent and Payne share most of the spotlight. The training scenes give us an interesting look at the air force equipment of 1939--and I'm sure it encouraged many young men to enlist two years before World War II broke out.
I am biased, as are all film reviewers. There are certain types of films we are naturally more positively predisposed to, and this is one of them for me. I love history and aviation and so it's not at all surprising that I thoroughly enjoyed this movie. Heck, there were a lot of very similar movies in the 1930s and 1940s--films about young cadets trying to make it through flight school, bombardier school, etc. After a while, they tend to blend a bit together in my head and I am sure that the average viewer would get tired of the genre pretty quickly. But if you also consider that this film was made by Warner Brothers (who made a lot of similar films) and stars some wonderful actors that I truly enjoy watching (George Brent, Olivia DeHavilland, John Payne and Frank McHugh), it's natural that I should like it. But, on the other hand, will you? Well, if you love this type of film, you are sure to be impressed. If you have not, then you probably will find that the film is a tad contrived and clichéd--particularly regarding the romantic triangle in the film. But considering how marvelously done the flying sequences are (exceptional for the time), the consistency of the writing and acting and the overall fun of the film, I think the average person would still probably give this movie a score of 6. I myself give it an 8 but realize that a good compromise between non-aviation/old movie lovers/history teachers and nuts like me is a score of 7.
The U.S. Navy Department cooperated fully with the making of this film, which was dedicated to the United States Naval Aviation Service. With war clouds hovering over Europe, the Navy knew that enlistments would increase with the release of the movie, so they eagerly allowed on-location shooting at the Naval Air Training Station in Pensicola, Florida and the Naval Air Station on North Island in San Diego, California, and allowed the use of naval equipment. I was surprised at the clunky WWI biplanes used for training in Pensicola, but was impressed with the huge "flying boats" in San Diego. These were multi-crew seaplanes which were lifted out of the water by huge cranes for storage on land, an impressive sight. The movie is sprinkled with a bit of tedious romantic rivalry between brothers George Brent and John Payne for Olivia de Havilland, some comedy provided by Frank McHugh, and some suspense about the outcome of a test flight of a plane Brent designed. It's very typical of the military films of the period, following a group of would-be pilots, some of whom make it and some of whom don't.
Covering a lot of the same ground, but a year earlier than MGM's Flight
Command, Wings Of The Navy is one of those military preparedness films
that Hollywood was importuned to make by the powers that be in
Washington, DC. Those folks knew that we would be in a shooting war and
shortly and this was their way of getting America psychologically
George Brent and John Payne play a pair of brothers who are career Navy men, Annapolis graduates and sons of a late naval hero. Dad was an early Navy pilot and Brent has followed in his footsteps. Payne would like to do the same, but he's in the submarine service. Nevermind, Payne gets himself a transfer much to Brent's displeasure because Payne's a competitive sort and likely to get himself killed trying to out do big brother.
The brothers are also rivals for Olivia DeHavilland who was once again in a thankless role of the girl who was the object. For someone of her talents, DeHavilland had precious little to do except look pretty. She was desperately trying to get roles of more substance. She would shortly in Gone With The Wind that same year of 1939.
Wings Of The Navy is a real treat for aviation buffs with the various types of planes that were the latest thing in 1939 being shown. Also some even earlier types of planes were what the Navy was training with even then. We lagged far behind Germany and Japan and even Great Britain at this point.
After World War II when President Truman decided to consolidate the services into one Department of Defense, the big sticking point was Naval Aviation. The Army was willing to let their Army Air Force become a separate Air Force service, the Navy insisted on controlling its planes that were taking off and landing from carriers. The compromise was reached and both the separate Air Force and the Navy controlling its aviation service was allowed. What we see here in Wings Of The Navy is a stage in the development of Naval aviation that helped win the Pacific War.
And it is to those who were in that service in that war that this film review is respectfully dedicated.
WINGS OF THE NAVY is a typical service picture of the time. It features
parallel stories of a young Naval Aviator (John Payne) training and his
eventual involvement with his Brothers' (George Brent) fiancé (Olivia
De Havilland). It will come to nobodies surprise that this triangle
will end in favor of the younger and better looking Payne with De
Havilland. Brent no doubt retiring back to Bette Davis. The rest of the
films cast is rounded out by standard WARNER BROTHERS contract players.
The real Stars' are the Planes and training facilities of the U.S. Navy. It is quite evident that the U.S.N. was deeply committed to the expansion of its air arm. This film focusing primarily on training, then the PBY Catalina Flying Boat, one of the most successful aircraft of its type, many still flying today. The prime striking arm of the U.S.N. the Aircraft Carriers are largely ignored.
Seeing this film a American no doubt felt that our Navy was ready for war. Others watching would not think so. Our future Allies' Great Britain and Soviet Russia were already flying the more advanced Fighters, Hawker Hurricane, Supermarine Spitfire and Polikarpov I-16 respectively. Future enemy Imperial Japan featured the likes of the Mitsubishi A6M Zero (I.J.N.) and Nakajima Ki-43 (I.J.A.), Nazi Germany their Messerschmitt BF-109 (Me-109). Even the Italians looked more impressive with their Reggiane Re.2000.
In the film our most advanced (experimental) Fighter is one of character George Brents' design. It is a Bi-Plane, looking more suitable for WWI then the coming conflict. No wonder Imperial Japan and Nazi Germany seeing films like this had such a low opinions of our war fighting capabilities. Fortunetly like a iceberg the unseen was far more impressive then what could easily be observed. They would find this out in less then a year once war commenced. Much to their chagrin.
Having read all previous reviews, and having just watched this Movie again on TCM, it seems Warner Bros have tried very hard to make a stirring story at the same time as glorifying the US armed forces (as they were at that time). Sadly, they have failed to give any real life to what should have been more than just a run of the mill programmer. Cast-wise, George Brent is far too stodgy in a role made for a Flynn or Cagney, John Payne was fine (very early in his career), Olivia de Havilland was gorgeous but really had nothing to do and was wasted, while the usual Warner stalwarts (like McHugh and Toomey) played the same old characters they have portrayed in countless films. Photography was not bad at all, and the sound track was very good.
I was seven years old when my parents took me to see "Wings of the
Navy" in 1939 at the Vogue Theater in Montebello, CA. I believe this
was the first movie I had seen. At least I don't recall any movie
before this one. I remember sitting near the back of the theater with
my parents. I really like the flying scenes and I remember the sounds
of the airplane engines. The love scenes did not do anything for me of
course. Boy that is amazing I can remember those details. I remember
calling the movie Wings of the Avery. Does anyone know if there was
ever a DVD or Video made of the movie? I have looked everywhere I can
think of with no luck. If someone knows where I can get a copy of it I
would be one happy guy.
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