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If John Ford hadn't made THE WINGS OF EAGLES, Commander Frank W. 'Spig' Wead
would be best known today for the impressive collection of military-oriented
stories he wrote for motion pictures, during the 30s and 40s. Among his
credits are HELL DIVERS (with Wallace Beery and Clark Gable), TEST PILOT
(with Gable and Spencer Tracy), DIVE BOMBER (with Errol Flynn and Fred
MacMurray), and THEY WERE EXPENDABLE (for John Ford, with John Wayne and
Robert Montgomery). He brought to his writing a love of flying, pride in the
military, and an understanding that a 'greater good' must sometimes take
precedence over personal happiness.
In THE WINGS OF EAGLES, director Ford illustrates how Wead's life was every bit as interesting and dramatic as anything he wrote. A close personal friend (so much so that he even cast Ward Bond to play a thinly-disguised version of himself, named 'John Dodge', in the film), Ford was witness to many of the triumphs and tragedies of the pioneer Naval aviator/engineer's life. After completing THE SEARCHERS, Ford commemorated the tenth anniversary of his friend's passing with this sensitive, 'warts-and-all' tribute.
Wead (portrayed by John Wayne, in one of his most fully realized characterizations...he even sacrificed his hairpiece, as the older Wead, for the sake of authenticity), begins the film as a typical hell-raising Ford hero, a Navy flier who loved taunting his Army counterparts (led by the terrific Kenneth Tobey), lived for the sheer joy of flying bi-planes (even when he was clueless as to HOW to fly them), and had the love of a feisty yet devoted woman (Maureen O'Hara, of course!) But, in keeping with the tone of much of the older Ford's work, Wead's life does not tie itself up into a neat, happy package, but develops into a complex near-tragedy of a man so consumed with his career that his marriage breaks down, and has his greatest dream snatched away from him when an accident cripples him. Rather than falling back on the potential aid a wife could provide, he refuses her help, relying on his Navy 'family' (represented by Dan Dailey, in one of his most popular roles) for rehabilitation. With Pearl Harbor, Wead's expertise is again called upon, and he leaves a successful career as a screenwriter to rejoin the Navy, becoming the innovator of jeep carriers...only to see his health fail him, yet again, forcing him out of the service he loved.
It is a story both sad and moving, and Wayne, so often accused of being 'bigger than life' and one-dimensional in his portrayals, again demonstrates his underrated acting talent, capturing the frustration of a man who never truly achieves the ultimate triumphs he dreams of. Wead is a 'real' person, not always likable, but someone you learn to admire for his sheer determination to contribute, and not surrender to self-pity.
With an excellent supporting cast (particularly Ken Curtis, as Wead's lifelong friend, John Dale Price), THE WINGS OF EAGLES may disappoint someone looking for a 'typical' war movie, but, as a film biography, is far more honest than Hollywood's 'usual' hokum.
'Spig' Wead would have loved it!
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Maureen O'Hara is teamed with a very inferior part in "The Wings of
Eagles," a moving tribute based on a true story...
As Wayne's neglected, temperamental wife, she finds her dedicated husband frequently spending most of his time and energy on improving the status of Navy aviation...
On the night, Wayne is appointed skipper of a fighter squadron, he falls down a flight of stairs and suffers back injuries that render him a cripple...
Determined to fight his way back to some kind of independence, he persuades his wife to leave him and live her own life with their two daughters...
Nursed back to health by his sidekick (Dan Daileylargely instrumental in motivating him in physical rehabilitation) he begins a new civilian career as a successful Hollywood writer...
Just when Wayne and Maureen, now a successful businesswoman, plan a reconciliation, news is broadcast of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor...
Maureen is last seen having another test of Irish temper as she heaves her half-packed suitcase across the room, frustrated that she again has lost her husband to the Navy...
Despite his handicap, Wayne is sent to the Pacific theater of war to supervise his revolutionary jeep-carrier tactical system...
The film is filled with humor: Wayne's plane landing in the swimming pool strike in the middle of the admiral's out-door tea party; the clubroom fight and cake throwing; the assorted cast members falling into the pool... It is also filled with deep drama and heartbreaking tragedy: the tender kiss of a wife deeply in love on the head of a man in pain; Wayne learning to walk again; the shipmates on deck in full military ceremony to say goodbye to a decorated flying ace...
Ford gives a special warmth to a friend, considered a national hero...
Not one of Ford's best works as a director, but it's an excellent film nonetheless. It's one of the best biopics I've ever seen. The subject is Frank "Spig" Wead, a Navy man through and through who, despite all his success in the service, was never able to make much of a connection with his wife and daughters. It was a very personal story for John Ford, who was a good friend of Wead's. Wead was the screenwriter on Ford's excellent They Were Expendable (and also Air Mail, which I haven't seen). The film concentrates on the man and his relationships. John Wayne gives a downright excellent performance as Wead. Maureen O'Hara is back as his love interest, and their interactions here are marvelous. Also giving excellent performances are Ken Curtis (maybe his best role in a Ford film), Dan Dailey, and Ward Bond as the first movie producer who hires Wead. Bond's performance is in loving imitation of John Ford. The Wings of Eagles is a very touching tribute to a friend. The only problem is that it is such a personal story to Ford that the most interesting part, the relationship with the wife and kids, is not treated fully in order to make Wead look better than he probably did in real life. 8/10.
I have two fav John Wayne movies and this is one of them. The other is
Today is the first time I've seen "Wings of Eagles, The" for years and years. Probably because it's always been such an emotional movie for me. I always cry at the ending...most likely because the very thing Spig Wead wanted seemed to elude him. Perhaps because his desire was never really clearly defined, even to him.
As I sat watching it, I got the bright idea of looking it up in the "IMDB" movie database. I was curious about the writing that Wead did and also the timeline. I came across a couple of reviews and decided to add my two sense (sic) worth.
I realized today that the things I like about the movie were partially the things that one of the other reviewers didn't. I LIKE the way Wead's story is presented. It isn't neat and orderly. No cheating endings or story movement. It seems like he was very self-involved and dealt better with other men than with his wife. I suspect that both Spig and Min were trapped by their societal roles in a way that many others were at that time. They did't have that same open way of spilling their guts that we've all embraced in today's world.
Men were men and women...weren't! LOL!
Anyway, I was always crazy about John Wayne and had such a crush on him whenever he'd appear in Navy whites. Something about that craggy face and those blue eyes grabbed me every time. Plus, I share his birthday so that made him extra kewl in my eyes.
Ford was wise NOT to turn this into a typical John "Hero" Wayne vehicle. That was probably why they worked so well together in all of those films. He was no more snowed by Wayne's larger than life personna than Wayne was of Ford's. I would love to have been a fly on the wall when those two were goin' at it.
Although Wayne was fiftyish when he did this film, I think he displayed a good youthful Wead as well as the somewhat more mature one. A better, more subtle acting job than the other reviewer gave him credit for doing.
Time for Spig to bite it so I'm off now...
"The Wings of Eagles" starred John Wayne and Maureen O'Hara and was directed
by John Ford. While not a blockbuster by any stretch of the imagination,
the film nevertheless has some great touches that would make a viewer wish
to see the film again. Wayne played Lt. Commander Frank "Spig" Wead, the
man credited with getting the Navy an air wing to support its military
ships, and Maureen O'Hara plays the wife that has to contend with Spig's
love of country first and family second. Dan Dailey has a good role as
Wead's best friend in the military, while other members of the John Ford
company of players contribute their talents to the film. Ken Curtis shows
up a good bit, and Ward Bond has a role as a film director that smacked of a
caricature of John Ford. Bond plays this to the hilt, and seemed to enjoy
the chance to show Ford how he came off, at times.
The scenes that were very watchable could include several fight scenes between members of the Army Air Corps and their Naval counterparts, plus a very heart rending view of Wayne's efforts to rehabilitate himself, following a fall down a flight of stairs at his house. Good, but not great, an 8/10.
Despite the title and the time frame (and the misunderstanding of the movie by other reviewers), this is not a typical war movie. This movie is really a biography and personal study of the obsessiveness and dedication that is necessary in the technological nature of warfare today. In one respect it is too bad that the movie stars John Wayne because the expectation is that it would feature a "gung ho" performance. Instead it is an amazing acting effort by Wayne as a suffering, crippled, insensitive Navy officer and author whose vision and commitment made much of the Naval air force possible. It is an excellent performance by Wayne and almost more of a "stretch" for him than Dustin Hoffman portraying an autistic "Rainman."
The iconic director and his usual cast of players take on Naval Aviation in this look at a man who helped to advance navy aviation as John Wayne again looms on the screen bigger than life in the role of Frank "Spig" Wead, a pioneer of the navy air corps. Based on the autobiography of Wead the usual themes of adventure, patriotism and romance abound with stellar supporting roles with veteran actors like Ken Curtis, Dan Daily, and Ward Bond as a thinly veiled portrait of director Ford himself. Set against the background of World War II the film is about courage and commitment in a big way, and there really is not another actor who could have brought it to the screen with the believability that the "Duke" manages so easily. One of his finer roles.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
John Ford remarked that Wings of Eagles was the last really good film
he directed and though I disagree with that, Wings of Eagles does rank
as one of his and John Wayne's best films.
It's a loving tribute to a great American hero and friend of theirs, Frank W. "Spig" Wead. Wead was an early Navy flier who sustained a broken back during a fall down a flight of stairs in his home. Washed out of the Navy, Wead turned to writing and became a noted screenwriter on mostly military subjects. For John Ford he did the screenplays for his films Airmail and They Were Expendable.
After Pearl Harbor Wead applied for and got active duty though he was desk bound at first. And eventually he did get to the Pacific Theater and served on one of the carriers he fought so valiantly for in and out of uniform.
Wayne gives one of his best screen performances and he's equally matched by Maureen O'Hara as his wife and Dan Dailey as his good friend who sees him through the paralysis and eventual recovery.
There's no happy ending here for the Duke and Maureen, unlike Rio Grande and The Quiet Man. Spig is a flawed human being, as dedicated to partying and carousing as he is to the Navy and Naval Aviation. The carousing gives John Ford an opportunity to do some of the rough house comedy his films are known for. As for Maureen who has to deal with the death of one child and the raising of two daughters, it does become too much for her. O'Hara is not given enough credit for her performance in Wings of Eagles. She calls him, "Star Spangled Spig" but from a term of derision it becomes one of admiration.
Wings of Eagles proved to be the last film for character actor Henry O'Neill who plays one of Wead's Navy doctors. And it is the last film that Ward Bond did for John Ford and the last film the trio of Ford, Wayne and Bond worked together on. They did an episode on Bond's Wagon Train series which he was starting right after the shooting of Wings of Eagles. The episode aired right after Bond died in 1960.
And wouldn't you know it. Bond's role was as director John Dodge which in fact was John Ford. Rather unique in the annals of Hollywood that a noted director had a broad characterization of himself in his own film. Was this how John Ford saw himself?
As long as America produces men and women like Spig Wead this country will endure. And hopefully films about them will be made to record their deeds and courage.
I just caught this on TCM. It's a stretch in acting for Wayne, I think.
He rarely did characters with flaws, either physical or mental.But he
does a great job.
Did anyone catch a wonderful comment made by Wayne while he and the naval staff were watching films of the carriers being bombed? Wayne is commenting that the solution to the Navy's problem is obvious, but it is eluding him. There is some banter about how to get your thinking going when it's at a standstill. That is, how to get into action when things seem unworkable. Wayne comments, "In Hollywood we'd stop and look around and here's the 7th cavalry coming." All things considered, I thought it a great comment!
Wonderfully shot Ford film with a lively look at the spirit of Navy ,
including glorification of military life , familiar drama , love and
sentimental nostalgia with interesting character studio of a varied
assortment of individuals . It's a first-rate war melodrama , including
comedy , and masterfully directed by the great John Ford . It's based
on the life of one of America's greatest air heroes , Frank ¨Spig¨Wead
, an Air hero who wrote plays about the war . He starred some rousing
exploits in the ¨Schneider Cup Air Races¨. But he suffers a home
accident and is interned in ¨San Diego National Hospital¨, and despite
being crippled and wheel-bound he subsequently made a substantial
contribution to America's war effort in the Pacific during WWII. He was
a famous aviation pioneer become Hollywood screenwriter and one of them
was ¨They were expendable (1945) ¨ directed by the same Ford and also
with Wayne in the main role . This is a great and stolid drama, a John
Ford's lusty realization and marvelously constructed.
This classic picture ranks as one of the best of John Ford's work. It contains Ford's usual themes as familiar feeling , a little bit enjoyable humor, friendship and and sense of comradeship among people . Multiple highlights as the fights between Air and Army soldiers and of course the sensible final farewell on the carrier . Interesting screenplay portraying in depth characters and brooding events with interesting issues running beneath script surface is written by Frank Fenton, John Ford's habitual, and based on the life and writings of Commander Frank W. 'Spig' Wead .
This excellent film featuring a magnificent performance by whole casting . Awesome John Wayne in a larger-than-life character . Enticing and intimate Maureen O'Hara in a sensible role with sensational acting . Excellent co-starring cast as War Bond as John Ford-alter ego, including pipe-smoking and hat . In the film appears , as usual , Ford's favourite actors as Ken Curtis , Mae Marsh , Kenneth Tobey, Willis Bouchey, Jack Pennick , some of them are uncredited . Good cinematography by Paul Voguel and jingoist musical score by Jeff Alexander. Rating : Better than average . Worthwhile watching .
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