The Wings of Eagles (1957) Poster

User Reviews

Review this title
41 Reviews
Sort by:
Filter by Rating:
9/10
A sentimental movie where Ford gives a special warmth to a friend...
Nazi_Fighter_David19 December 2000
Warning: 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 Dailey—largely 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...
30 out of 34 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? Sign in to vote.
Permalink
Interesting Comment
artbeads28 December 2005
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!
16 out of 17 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? Sign in to vote.
Permalink
9/10
John Ford+John Wayne+Maureen O' Hara= Film Film Biopic
ozthegreatat4233031 May 2007
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.
18 out of 20 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? Sign in to vote.
Permalink
Ford-directed Biopic of Aviation Pioneer...
cariart17 October 2003
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!
41 out of 52 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? Sign in to vote.
Permalink
8/10
Excellent
zetes1 June 2002
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.
26 out of 33 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? Sign in to vote.
Permalink
8/10
A nice biographical film about Naval Commander Frank "Spig" Wead, credited with starting the air wing of the US Navy
Mickey-22 July 2002
"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.
21 out of 26 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? Sign in to vote.
Permalink
8/10
An excellent "non-war" movie about people who make winning wars possible.
hold2file28 July 2002
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."
18 out of 22 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? Sign in to vote.
Permalink
7/10
Hollywood biography based on a Air hero named Frank Wead with sterling performance by John Wayne
ma-cortes5 July 2011
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 .
12 out of 14 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? Sign in to vote.
Permalink
Touches Me
dmombit28 July 2002
I have two fav John Wayne movies and this is one of them. The other is "McLintock!"

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...

dmombit
21 out of 27 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? Sign in to vote.
Permalink
9/10
"Star Spangled Spig"
bkoganbing11 September 2006
Warning: 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.
12 out of 16 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? Sign in to vote.
Permalink
5/10
A Fella Named Spig
utgard1425 April 2014
John Ford's biopic about the life of aviator-turned-screenwriter Frank "Spig" Wead, played by John Wayne. It's an odd movie. The first half is light with slapstick comedy and one dark moment. The second half is a drama about overcoming adversity. The mix doesn't work that well. The comedy is mostly weak. The dramatic stuff is better, though a little depressing. More faithful, facts-wise, than your average biopic from back in the day. For whatever that's worth. Cast is full of Ford regulars. Maureen O'Hara is beautiful but it's not her best work. My favorite part is Ward Bond as John Dodge, an obvious parody of Ford himself.
10 out of 13 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? Sign in to vote.
Permalink
8/10
it must be the Metrocolor
RanchoTuVu5 July 2007
This bio-pic about the naval aviation proponent and writer Frank "Spig" Wead may have one sitting on the fence for a moment or two at the beginning, not sure whether or not to stay with it, but there's a magic that slowly casts its spell, with the Metrocolor and a great opening set in Pensacola, Florida in the 20's, and John Wayne as "Spig" Wead commandeering a pontoon plane and crashing it right into a big party for southern belles and military brass. And the rest of the film does its best not to let the opening down. For a John Ford-John Wayne collaboration that maybe not that many people have ever even heard of, this film is a true surprise, not only looking fantastic with the sets and color, but featuring great acting from Wayne in a very different role for him. The chemistry between him and Maureen O'Hara had a few years to refine itself after "THE QUIET MAN", and here it seems even more interesting and mature, if a little less fiery.
6 out of 8 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? Sign in to vote.
Permalink
5/10
Garish Side Of Ford
slokes16 May 2015
John Ford's willingness to play it up big in his movies was normally one of the director's great strengths. But sometimes it got away from him. A good example is this tribute to his friend "Spig" Wead.

Wead (John Wayne) is a U. S. Navy officer chafing to get up in the air. The way he sees it, "How else are we gonna get aviation?" To that end, he takes on the Army, Navy superiors, and even his wife, Min (Maureen O'Hara). His commitment to air power is such that it cancels out everything else, until a sudden accident forces a change of focus.

"Spig Wead," Min fumes at one point. "Never listen to anybody else. Just do exactly what you wanna do all the time."

"The Wings Of Eagles" is one of Ford's stranger movies. Sudden shifts in tone predominate. The film starts out a light-hearted service romp with pratfalls and car chases. Then sudden tragedy occurs. More light-hearted antics follow. Then Ford drops the big boom on Spig. The next half-hour centers on a long, painful convalescence.

Ford did mood shifts in his films all the time, of course. Normally, the gears didn't grind so loudly as they do here.

"Wings Of Eagles" is perhaps best known for Ford's insertion of an autobiographical element, a director named "John Dodge" who enlists Wead as a screenwriter, which Ford actually did after Wead's Navy career came to a sharp end. An argument can be made that Ford is actually presenting us with a double self-portrait: Wead comes off here as difficult, selfish, alcoholic, career-obsessed, and unable to hold onto relationships, all flaws Ford's biographers say the director had in spades. No wonder Ford can't decide whether to play it as comedy or tragedy.

Wayne is flat-out brilliant here. Just a year after making "The Searchers" with Ford, the actor was in his peak thespian form and plays the valleys of Wead's life with candid abandon, even shedding his hairpiece this one time on screen. For 15 minutes, he's required to carry major scenes with his face buried in a pillow, and pulls it off. I never got tired of watching him.

The same can't be said of the rest of this movie. The mawk runs thick with this one, with O'Hara doing a lot of crying into the camera while Spig flies around the world to prove something or other. Much of the rest of the time is spent on merry fisticuffs with rival Army aviators, or eye-rolling reaction shots from cigar- chewing Dan Dailey as Spig's enlisted buddy Jughead.

Spig's virtual abandonment of his family is one of the movie's constant themes. When Min tells one of her daughters about Spig's latest aviation record, the girl replies: "Would it be a record if Daddy came home?"

O'Hara has some good scenes, too, and so does Dailey, the latter especially as a prod to Spig's eventual rehabilitation. Both worked well with Ford and knew how to make use of the director's loose reins.

Yet Ford for some reason holds off on the happy endings. Normally, this might be a strength, but here it comes off as a bit wanton, especially when the film pushes so many light-comedy buttons. Through the chuckles, Spig suffers and suffers. After a while, so do we.
5 out of 7 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? Sign in to vote.
Permalink
4/10
Inaccurate, clichéd, and quite silly at times
grantss25 December 2014
Historically inaccurate, clichéd, and quite silly at times.

The movie starts in an almost farcical way, showing the hero as a lovable larrikin and defier of authority. It gets worse from there (and I didn't think that was possible at the time), as the next few scenes mainly involve silly punch-ups. At this point the movie looked like it was meant to be a slapstick comedy, and a very bad one at that.

From a point, however, it loses the silliness and becomes a drama. Some scenes are quite emotional and engaging but many feel trite and clichéd.

The WW2 stuff contains a host of historical inaccuracies. Things occur in the wrong chronological order and this part just seems very sloppily done. This is all despite the producers having some great WW2 footage at their disposal, and the help of the US Navy.

I mainly watched this because it starred John Wayne. He does fine in the lead role, but is miscast. He is far too old for the character he is playing.

Considering this movie was made long after WW2 had ended, so isn't a propaganda movie, and considering how little known Commander Wead is in terms of military history, I'm not really sure why this movie was made.
9 out of 15 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? Sign in to vote.
Permalink
My Absolute Favorite
bosspac27 May 2004
I, am retired US Navy, from a Navy family. I am also a naval history buff. I can watch this movie time and time again.

I have seen some errors in the cinematography over the years.

1. In the scene where Spig and Jughead give each other the thumbs up.

See if you can find it.

2. When Spig attends the accident board for loosing his aircraft, he is standing at attention holding his hat. The hat is missing the gold band.

Dialog

When Spig arrives at the ship, he refers to: being back with "Joc, and the ole Doc".

The ole doc I assume refers to the senior medical officer at San Diego. who never appears again after the hospital scenes.

Joc, is the CO of the Carrier, but I cannot find him in any scenes prior to the pier side scene at the ship.
8 out of 13 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? Sign in to vote.
Permalink
7/10
Not a war movie, just Hollywood serio-comedy
bob99822 October 2019
This was the fifth and last picture Maureen O'Hara made for John Ford, and it's one of her least interesting. She's used mostly for flavouring; a female to spice up an almost entirely male cast. You have to wait for the sea battle footage late in the picture to get a real grasp of what the challenges of war were all about. The scenes with Ward Bond savour of the Hollywood insider and are not so interesting. Dan Dailey's manic Jughead is the most memorable character.
2 out of 2 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? Sign in to vote.
Permalink
3/10
Wayne Goes Topless
wes-connors17 August 2007
In this absurd John Ford biography, John Wayne and Maureen O'Hara play the young Mr. & Mrs. Spig Wead. Watching their drinking and smoking habits, it's a wonder they didn't burn down the house, or fall down the stairs, earlier. Mr. Wayne is way too old for these shenanigans; all of the slapstick carousing could not have been good for his health. Favorite early film moment: check out the way Wayne attacks Ms. O'Hara's face in the "love scene" before the accident!

Intermission: John Wayne and Dan Daily sing, "I'm Gonna Move That Toe".

The movie becomes more dramatic. To show his advancing years, Wayne plays without his toupee; surprisingly, he looks more natural, and vulnerable, than he ever will again. Not so for O'Hara; who looks like Maureen O'Hara with an ugly streak of silver paint in her hair.

Check out the scene with Wayne saying, "…it's too late"; then, O'Hara kisses his balding head - a symbolic way of saying, "John Wayne, you are older than your years, take it easy, we love you." It's a very nicely photographed scene, and the highlight of the movie. That's what the film has to offer - nice moments.

Finally, the movie becomes a war story. There are a lot of bombs, and airplanes crash. The John Wayne/John Ford "formula" production shows signs of crashing with "The Wings of Eagles".

*** The Wings of Eagles (2/22/57) John Ford ~ John Wayne, Maureen O'Hara, Ward Bond, Dan Dailey
13 out of 25 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? Sign in to vote.
Permalink
7/10
Rambling, ambiguous, and funny.
rmax3048237 August 2006
Warning: Spoilers
All the critics have called John Ford's humor "broad" and I guess this is a pretty good example of what they mean. The opening scenes involve ancient float planes, a Stutz Bearcat, people falling into water, and a crash into the swimming pool at the Admiral's tea party. (Tea party!) Subsequent scenes involve gala fist fights between matched hordes of Army and Navy pilots, led by Kenneth Toby and Wayne respectively. There are cakes smashed into faces. The whole thing could have been a silent comedy.

And yet the humor, by no means ever sophisticated, is pretty funny at times, and not always slapstick either. A good example is the scene in Spig Wead's (John Wayne's) office, with Pincus (Tige Andrews) and Carson (Dan Dailey). Dailey is having difficulty trying to make a long-distance call. Andrews is sitting with his shoe off. Wayne asks what's wrong, did he stub his toe? "Ah, no," says Andrews, "ya see, I keep my money in my shoe and every time I step on it --" and he's interrupted when Admiral Moffat enters the room. Wayne, Dailey, and Andrews snap to attention and listen to the Admiral's speech. There is a brief pause after Dailey suddenly shouts into the phone, "Why don't you GET OFF THE PHONE, you dumb head!" In the sudden silence everyone stares at Dailey who then looks embarrassed and apologizes to the Admiral. When the Admiral has finished his speech to his respectful listeners he turns to leave the room and notices Pincus, a mere enlisted man, goes over to him and greets Pincus warmly. Pincus smiles easily, shakes the Admiral's hand, and inquires after his family. "How's da wife, sir? And dem lovely kiddies?" "Fine, fine. Good to see you, Pincus," says the Admiral and exits. Wayne and Dailey gape speechless at Pincus before getting back to business.

I've described this scene in extenso because it could NOT have come from a silent comedy. None of the humor is physical. It's what might be called interactional humor. And Ford explains absolutely none of it. We have no idea why Dailey began shouting into the phone during the Admiral's speech, or what the hell kind of background the Admiral and the lowly Pincus share. There is no set-up for the gags whatever. They come as a shocking surprise and that's what makes them funny.

There's a similar unstated quality at the climax of the film. Dailey has saved Wayne's life by taking the bullets himself. He winds up in sick bay playing poker with the other patients. Wayne visits him to thank him. The two have been lifelong friends. Ordinarily, under these conditions, a viewer expects to see a lot of sentiment, even between two plain-speaking macho loudmouths. Instead, Dailey brushes off Wayne's thanks brusquely. And later the two don't get together for Wayne's retirement from the ship and from the Navy after a heart attack, as if Wayne were leaving a drinking party for a few minutes to visit the bathroom. The sense of loss -- of almost tragic finality -- is underscored by the absence of any emotional display. And it is left unexplained by Ford, just as Dailey's phone call and Pincus's friendship with the Admiral was. This is anything but a routine scene.

It's not among Ford's best films. He wanted to call it, "The Spig Wead Story," but the studio objected that no one would want to see it and they were right. Spig Wead sounds like a quarterback for Notre Dame. And the script, following Wead's real life meandering, is all over the place, switching in the middle from a service comedy to a complicated and unfocused story about a screen writer. And it doesn't tell us much about Wead's second career. "I didn't want to make it," said Ford about the movie, "but I didn't want anybody else to make it." Probably no one else would have made it.

The romance between Wayne and O'Hara is handled clumsily. They're forever breaking up and getting together again -- or almost getting together. O'Hara is, as always, drop-dead gorgeous in Technicolor. And I doubt that anyone but Ford could have forced John Wayne to doff his toupee. Yet the acting itself is schematic, partly because the dialog is so burdensome. Who could possibly have made believable Wayne's lines after he has fallen down the stairs and broken his back? "Don't move me. My back. Can't feel anything. Call . . . hospital. Navy . . . hospital." Sounds like . . . comic book. At one point in the film, Ford ridicules himself ("John Dodge") instead of someone in his cast.

The director was beginning to run out of steam by this time. He was over 60 and had a lot of scar tissue. Still, the movie is worth watching.
5 out of 8 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? Sign in to vote.
Permalink
10/10
Wings in the heavens with Ford Wayne stock company
frank412217 October 2019
John Ford's strongly felt biopic is a nostalgic personal project of his real life friend Frank W. 'Spig' Wead played by John Wayne. Duke excells at displaying a range of emotions, the love of his family, the warmth toward his friends, his nearly-suicidal melancholy, and the great love for his wife played by Muareen O'Hara. O'Hara stuns as always with her striking beauty and tremendous acting skills in a challenging role as Navy wife and mother. Ward Bond was free to do the Ford character and as always he played it to perfection. Dan Dailey as 'Jughead' Carson may have played the strongest role as Spig's confidant. If that's not enough Tige Andrews, Kenneth Tobey and Ken Curtis gave outstanding performances. A great cast and inspirational story flew The Wings of Eagles to the heavens.
3 out of 4 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? Sign in to vote.
Permalink
Not my favorite
verneaux6 April 2019
First of all, John Wayne lands his plane in a swimming pool - ruining the party that is taking place. Maureen O'Hara takes this as a challenge to her status as biggest jerk in the movie and drives a Jeep into the same swimming pool. What a pair of a**holes. Of course, they are perfect for each other. Wayne proves to be a lousy husband/father who is absent most of the time. O'Hara takes this as another challenge to her jerk status. So when Wayne makes one of his infrequent visits to his home he finds his two daughters (both under ten) alone and fending for themselves while their mother goes out drinking and dancing at the officer's club. The two little girls are even cooking on the stove. Wayne doesn't find this at all objectionable - when O'Hara boozily comes home he doesn't get mad, he offers her another drink. Please.
4 out of 6 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? Sign in to vote.
Permalink
7/10
Dopey fun with John Wayne
MartinHafer28 January 2006
Warning: Spoilers
The fact that I called this film "Dopey" isn't exactly a slam against the movie--really. It's more a reference to the light and silly spirit of the first half of the film where John Wayne and Dan Dailey act a little more like frat boys than navy fliers. This aspect of the movie was not my favorite part, I admit, but it was still a lot of fun. Once 'Spig' Wead (Wayne) is nearly killed in an accident and is so badly hurt that his flying days are over, the movie seemed a lot more like a real-life version of the life of this actual person who served in the US Navy and was a consultant to Hollywood. However, the only negative I have is about Wead's life. If his marital difficulties were as they were described in the movie, it was a bit of a downer and made connecting to his character a little difficult for me. While he was a brave and dedicated man, any guy who'd give up his wife that easily seems nuts. Plus, it just seemed wrong for Wayne and O'Hara NOT to be together. Too bad they couldn't, for once, change his life to make a better movie (after all, they did this in Errol Flynn movies all the time!).
4 out of 6 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? Sign in to vote.
Permalink
7/10
a sketchy life...
antcol81 August 2006
I feel like I'm missing something...Spig sacrifices his personal life with that bad-ass Maureen O'Hara because of his sense of duty to the Navy. Maureen is smoking all the time because she's frustrated. His daughters are these barely - seen cutie pies. His real love affairs are with the Navy, and by extension with his colleagues. Dan Dailey does the kind of Ford extension of the Walter Brennan surrogate wife thing. And plays the hell out of the Ukelele. Ward Bond does a cool John Ford impression. The Army vs. Navy fights are that kind of usual Ford free-for-all that later becomes the subject of Donovan's Reef. They're very stylized but not particularly compelling. Some people put this one up with Ford's best. Why?
6 out of 11 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? Sign in to vote.
Permalink
9/10
The best John Wayne movie, besides The Shootist
Eirehawk16 January 2005
Warning: Spoilers
This movie surprised me when I first saw it-I wondered where had it been? This movie is just flat out terrific, Wayne, O'Hara, all the supporting cast members, the story, the fact it's true(based on a true story), and that John Wayne is human make for a 9 in my book. (I give The Shootist a 10, as the best John Wayne western.)

This is also a great love story, between Wayne and O'Hara-which is more realistic than most of these "guys in war" stories. Also, a tip of the hat to the part of the story dealing with nerve injuries and rehab, and the backdrop of America's unpreparedness in air power post-WW I, think about Billy Mitchell while you're watching this movie.

Must see for Wayne, O'Hara, or John Ford fans.
5 out of 9 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? Sign in to vote.
Permalink
6/10
Bringing air power to the Navy...
moonspinner554 July 2007
Frank "Spig" Wead's life story, as directed by real-life friend John Ford, starring John Wayne as the hot-shot aviation expert who transforms the U.S. Navy in the 1920s with his piloting prowess, rivaling (but not alienating) the Army in aviation power; later, after suffering a spinal cord injury and a separation from his wife and children, Wead discovers an untapped talent for writing, becoming a successful screenwriter and playwright! Ford bounces jovially from aerial slapstick to human drama to personal tragedy to wartime chaos, and, despite some bumps, keeps this biography lively and colorful. John Wayne and Maureen O'Hara, both of whom toss cigarettes and matches away with abandon, are reassuring as husband and wife, and though O'Hara's initial exit is perplexing, Ford's handling of the narrative doesn't jar us with unresolved feelings. The third act during WWII is just a jumble of patriotic scenes, but Wayne's expression at the finale is surprisingly genuine. He and Ford do Wead's incredible story justice. **1/2 from ****
6 out of 12 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? Sign in to vote.
Permalink
5/10
Someone had to lead the way.
michaelRokeefe25 January 2003
John Ford's tribute to Frank 'Spig' Wead(John Wayne) the pioneer aviator who helped develop naval air power and later turned to screen writing. The first half of the movie is played for every laugh to be had. The second half becomes sentimental and sometimes a little too dramatic in contrast with the movies earlier scenes. Well directed with top notch sets; and an all-star cast that features:Maureen O'Hara, Dan Dailey, Ken Curtis, Barry Kelley, Edmund Lowe and Ward Bond even "spoofs" Ford himself. Wayne does well running the gamut from slapstick to drama. His scenes with O'Hara always seem magical. This film is enjoyable family entertainment.
4 out of 7 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? Sign in to vote.
Permalink
An error has occured. Please try again.

See also

Awards | FAQ | User Ratings | External Reviews | Metacritic Reviews


Recently Viewed