Two young men from the same town but different social classes end up as fighter pilots in WW1. Jack Preston is a keen auto mechanic, building and modifying cars. David Armstrong comes from a wealthy family. They are both in love with the same woman, Sylvia. Her heart belongs to David but she doesn't let Jack know and plays along with his infatuation. Meanwhile, Jack's neighbour, Mary, is deeply in love with him but he just views her as a friend. WW1 interrupts the romantic entanglements as Jack and David enlist in the US Army Air Service (Air Service of the AEF at the time). They are initially bitter enemies, due to them both vying for Sylvia's affections. Over time, however, they become very good friends. They are both posted to the same fighter squadron in France, where being a fighter pilot means every day could easily be your last.Written by
In contrast to co-star Richard Arlen, Charles 'Buddy' Rogers did not know how to fly a plane when production began, but learned how to by the end of it. During filming, Rogers' flight instructor and sometime backup pilot was Lt. Hoyt Vandenberg (aka "Van"), an Army Air Corps pilot at California's March Field (Vandenberg later became a four-star general, commanding the 9th Air Force in World War II, and served as the US Air Force's first official chief of staff after the war, when the Air Force was made a separate branch of the military). For close-up scenes where Jack and David (and other characters) are flying, the actors are actually working the planes themselves. To shoot these scenes, a camera was strapped to the engine cowling. The actors had to get the plane up in the air, keep it up, fly it so that clouds or German fighter planes could be seen in the background, operate the (motorized) camera and land the plane-and act at the same time. During Rogers' early flights, Vandenberg would hide in the back seat of the plane and operate the controls while Rogers gave his performance. See more »
At 1:27:27, the position of David holding the letter changes between shots. See more »
Can't you understand? Your leave - cancelled! You've got to go back! War!
John "Jack" Powell:
No war - jus' bubbles! Isn't any war - - Isn't any war - - Isn't any war -...
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An epic WWI movie that uses all the classic approaches to a war film and has a lot of great battle footage. It's a tale of rivalry over a girl, of fighting for country (and against the Germans), and of facing death. There are several scenes that make death really gruesome--blood spurting from a pilot's mouth, or a man crushed under a tank--that took me by surprise. I didn't know that such a mainstream American film would go there.
"Wings" is in a way exactly what American movies would look like thereafter--not just war movies, but all of them. By that I don't mean directors studied this movie and it was the inspiration from here on. But just that the story line, the romance, and even the filming, adventurous but straight on, with more attention to characters and plot than visual effect, all of this would be how films would be made for decades. Including many more by the director, William Wellman, who is one of handful of truly expert but never quite daring and inventive directors of classic Hollywood.
To back this up neatly, compare this film to the other film that jointly won Best Picture this year (the first year the Oscars were given, and the only year when the best picture category had two separate parts). That is Murnau's "Sunrise." Never mind which is better ("Sunrise," easily by most accounts). Notice how this film is utterly conservative and "conventional" in its approach to the art of making movies. It's superbly well done, but well within the rules of the time. Yes, there are moments of inspiration, including some double-exposed stock where a scene takes play in the sky over another scene on the ground. But "Sunrise" shows the lyrical art of the camera, and of editing, and of a less literal kind of storytelling. "Wings" is probably much easier to watch for most people--that's the idea. But "Sunrise" is far more engaging and complex, begging you to watch it twice. I doubt anyone needs to see "Wings" a second time.
But then, I have to admit the acting makes more sense in this film. The naturalism of the three leads helps you get emotionally involved. The most famous by far is the woman, Paramount's biggest star, Clara Bow. She doesn't get a huge role (the men do the fighting and flying) but at least when she's there she's a treat. The flying is actually done by the actors, and many of the people involved were veterans (including Wellman, who was a WWI pilot himself).
It's pretty exciting to find this so exciting all these years later. Give it a look. It's been restored really well (there's even a new Blu-Ray release). And it looks great. Don't expect anything new from the story or the filmmaking, but just expect a really well made high drama affair.
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