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Aviators in World War I generally didn't wear the high-collar tunics like the one worn by Thad. This is because they needed to be able to turn their heads while flying. Rather, they wore a uniform coat that required a shirt and tie. See more »
A half-forgotten corner of France in a wholly-forgotten war. In memory of the heroes of the Lafayette Escadrille, who died in defense of life and of liberty. This monument, this patch of foreign sky, belongs to a handful of Americans who flew for France and died for France in the First World War. They came with an air of adventure or a sense of impatience in the days before America entered the war. The wore French uniforms, they fought in French planes, and they fell in love with ...
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And Introducing Bill Wellman, Jr. Jody McCrae Dennis Devine See more »
William Wellman's soaring aerial drama, "Wings," won the first Academy Award for Best Picture in 1927, and, three decades later, the director returned to World War I flying aces in his 1958 picture, "Lafayette Escadrille." Although Wellman's second depiction of early pilots and dogfights pales in comparison to his first effort, the film nevertheless has its moments. The aerial scenes, well photographed by William H. Clothier in black and white, are reminiscent of the earlier film. Evidently shot in the air, the fragile aircraft sweep across the French countryside, well, California actually, and we get point-of-view shots of pilots in their cockpits, similar to those in "Wings."
Although Tab Hunter was never known as a great actor, he plays young American troublemaker turned expatriate pilot, Thad Walker, quite well. The handsome blonde is hunky eye candy and quickly falls under the spell of equally blonde and winsome Etchika Choreau. Unfortunately, the film details the romance, trials, and tribulations of the dewy-eyed pair, which border on the clichéd, and neglects the camaraderie of Walker's fellow pilots and their daring exploits in the air. Among Walker's neglected comrades are a pre-"Fugitive" David Janssen, a pre-"Billy Jack" Tom Laughlin, and Brett Halsey. Oh, and there is another young actor among the pilots, a tall good looking guy, Clint Eastwood, whose subsequent career would overshadow those of both the film's star and its Oscar-winning director.
Albert Sidney Fleischman's screenplay has problems with credibility and evasiveness. Despite his wholesome demeanor, Walker is supposed to be troublesome, having suffered at the hands of his father. His conflicted behavior results in some melodramatics involving a French officer, the stockade, and desertion, none of which is convincing. Seeking a job because his "wife," who may or may not be a lady of the evening, is supporting him,he goes to what viewers may perceive as a madame to work at what the audience may construe as a pimp. Not only are the proceedings purposely vague in a 1950's Production Code way, they are at odds with the character as we perceive him and certainly at odds with the image Tab Hunter enjoyed.
In "Wings," Wellman focused on the aerial spectacle and relegated the personal stories to supporting status. With "Lafayette Escadrille," he goes in the other direction. If the drama had been as compelling as the dogfights and biplanes, the movie would have been successful. Unfortunately, the travails of two beautiful people do not sustain interest, despite Tab's often well-exposed torso. Despite the flaws, "Lafayette Escadrille" is not a disaster and worth a look; the aerial photography is good, the vintage planes are wonderful, Tab's muscles are well defined, and young Clint is obviously on his way to a brilliant career.
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