A review by Shlomoh Sherman
February 5, 2015

Wings (1927)
Directors: William A. Wellman, Harry d'Abbadie d'Arrast (uncredited)
Writers: John Monk Saunders (story), Hope Loring and Louis D. Lighton (screen play), Julian Johnson (titles), Byron Morgan (story ideas - uncredited)
Stars: Clara Bow, Charles 'Buddy' Rogers, Richard Arlen, Gary Cooper
Plot: Two young men, one rich, one middle class, who are in love with the same woman, become fighter pilots in World War I.
Plot Outline: Wings is the story of two men who have gone to war and the girl they both leave behind. Director William A. Wellman makes one of his most humanistic statements as he explores the devastating results of war. Wings -- The stratagem employed by fighter pilots in WWI, reflected in the William Wellman film, Wings.
Plot Keywords: pilot - france - friendship - friendship between men - male rear nudity
Taglines: The Drama of the Skies, An Epic of the Air
Genres: Drama - Romance - War - Action
Motion Picture Rating (MPAA): Rated PG-13 for war violence
Country: USA
Language: English
Release Date: January 5, 1929 (USA)
Filming Locations: Bexar County, Texas, USA, Tucson, Arizona, USA, Camp Bullis - Harry Wurzbach Rd, San Antonio, Texas, USA, Camp Stanley, San Antonio, Texas, USA
(battle of St. Mihiel), Fort Sam Houston, San Antonio, Texas, USA, Kelly Field, San Antonio, Texas, USA (aerial sequences)
Box Office: Budget: $2,000,000 (estimated)
Company Credits:
Production Co: Paramount Famous Lasky Corporation
Technical Specs:
Runtime: 144 min
Sound Mix: Mono (Western Electric Sound System) (musical score and sound effects)- Silent
Color: Black and White
Won 2 Oscars: The first Academy Award for Best Picture and Academy Award for Best Engineering Effects (Roy Pomeroy).

Since seeing Clara Bow in IT, I have been waiting for Wings to come on TV and finally TCM has shown it. I fell in love with Clara Bow when I first saw her in IT and in this film, she is still the pretty, sexy, damsel in distress that every red-blooded American male wishes to rescue. Unfortunately, as stated below in the Trivia section, Clara Bow wasn't happy with appearing in the film, as she knew her part was merely decorative.

I could say that the real stars are Charles 'Buddy' Rogers [Jack Powell] and Richard Arlen [David Armstrong], the two protagonists that start off as enemy rivals for the affections of Sylvia Lewis, played by Jobyna Ralston, and wind up as best buddies when they become pilots in the USA Army Air Force. Actually the true star is the aerial battle scenes which simply dominate the film. I can only echo the sentiments of reviewer, J F McMahan: "I was struck by the acting, aerial stunt work, sophisticated camera work and great storytelling. As I was watching I couldn't help but think that this 1927 film has so much more to offer than many contemporary attempts at the war/action genre."

It's simply astounding to realize that even in 1927, movies had advanced so far that these amazing air battle scenes of WWI could be reproduced so realistically.

The story itself is simple. Small time girl loves boy next door who loves wealthy debutante who loves socialite boy friend. Girl, Mary Preston [Clara Bow], is so amarous for her wished for beau, Jack Powell, that she joins the army as an ambulance driver and is sent to Europe where she can be near him. Alas, he is enthralled with a local French girl and hardly recognizes Mary, even when she changes her uniform for a sexy French dress. In the cabaret scene, Jack becomes so inebriated that he can hardly stand up, allowing Mary the opportunity to take him to his room and put him to bed. When Jack falls asleep, Mary realizes that her dream of making him fall in love with her will not materialize. As she changes back into her uniform, 2 MPs enter the room while she is in a state of undress and refusing to see her innocence, they arrest her and send her back to America where she is discharged from the service.

As 1917 turns into 1918, the harshness of the was increases and the air sorties against the Germans increase in frequency and intensity. In an odd twist of plot, Jack mistakenly shoots down the airplane that David has stollen from the Germans. As David lies dying, Jack breaks down in tears and affectionately holds David in his arms, telling him that he now knows that Sylvia Lewis actually loves David, not himself.

The war over, Jack returns to civilian life, visiting David's parents and giving them David's medals and lucky teddy bear mascot. David's mother tells him that when she found out the details of her son's death, she hated Jack but now she forgives him, understanding that her son's real killer was the war itself.

Jack finally realizes that Mary is the woman who loves him and the one he wants to learn to love.

Wings came out in the late 1920s, barely ten years after the end of the Great War, and America's negative feeling towards the Germans is still alive. This is depicted in the subplot concerning the enlistee, Herman Schwimpf, played by El Brendel. When Schwimpf signs up for enlistment, the recruiting sergeant mocks him, saying, "You think Herman Schwimpf is a proper name for us to send over there to fight the Kaiser? I wish all of you Dutchmen were rounded up and put in detention camps until this war is over." By his mere presence, Schwimpf evokes nothing but antipathy and contempt from his superior officers, and eventually he is discharged from the army for incompetence. Undeterred, Herman re-enlists as an airplane mechanic and rejoins his buddies in France.

Although most reviewers love the film, and it WAS the first movie to win an Oscar for Best Picture and Best Engineering Effects, not every review is positive.

For example, the Rotten Tomatoes reviewer, Hal Erickson[ ], has this to say: "Wings, the first feature film to win an Academy Award, tends to disappoint a little when seen today. Too much time is afforded the wheezy old plotline about two World War I aviators (Buddy Rogers, Richard Arlen) in love with the same woman (Jobyna Ralston), while the comedy relief of El Brendel is decidedly not to everyone's taste." But then goes on to say: "Clara Bow is permitted a sequence in which, disguised as a Parisian floozie while trying to rescue a revelling Rogers, she displays a great deal of epidermis. One of the film's chief claims to fame is its "introduction" of Gary Cooper (who'd actually been in films since the early 1920s), in a brief but crucial role as veteran flyer with a cheerily fatalistic attitude... the film contains some of the best flying sequences ever captured on celluloid."

10 GREAT FILMS ABOUT WOMEN IN WARTIME, the website at , proclaims: "The film was also the first film to be awarded the best picture Academy Award at the first annual Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences award ceremony in 1929 and was one of the first films to show two men kissing. With such a masculine list of accolades, it is perhaps no surprise that is also a great example of the sidelining of women Ė even the most bankable of actors Ė in war films. Rewritten to accommodate the inclusion of Paramountís biggest star Clara Bow, it gained her incandescent screen presence but not her approval, with her famously declaring 'Wings is Ö a manís picture and Iím just the whipped cream on top of the pie'".
At the same time, it gives some praise to the unbearably sappy, MRS. MINIVER (1942), and deserved praise to ZERO DARK THIRTY (2012) in which the location and killing of Osama binLaden was accomplished by a woman, CIA agent Maya, assumed to be based on a real CIA agent named Jen.

Turner Classic movies showed a newly restored version in excellent condition. The film is accompanied by a performance of a musical score by an eleven-piece ensemble. As more and more classic movies are made into DVDs, Wings deserves to be added to that effort.

Did You Know?

Director William A. Wellman's wife Margery Chapin and daughter Gloria Wellman play the peasant mother and daughter whose house gets crashed into toward the end of the film.
Gary Cooper's two-minute cameo effectively made him a star. It also marked the beginning of his affair with Clara Bow
Was the only silent movie to win the Best Picture Oscar until The Artist (2011) won Best Picture in 2012.
Was considered lost for many years until it was discovered languishing in the Cinematheque Francaise film archive in Paris.
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.
Chocolate syrup was used as blood in the movie.
Wings was one of the first to show two men kissing (in a fraternal moment between Rogers and Arlen during the deathbed finale), and also one of the first widely released films to show nudity.
In 1997, Wings was selected for preservation in the United States National Film Registry by the Library of Congress as being "culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant", and the film was re-released to Cinemark theaters to coincide with the 85th Anniversary for a limited run in May 2012.
The Battle of St Mihiel was meticulously staged, with William A. Wellman spending 10 days choreographing and rehearsing 60 planes and 3,500 extras.
This was the first movie to incorporate product placement.
Director William A. Wellman appears in the film, in what today could be called a "cameo" (although he does "speak"). During the final battle scene Wellman, portraying a doughboy, is shot and exclaims "Atta boy. Them buzzards are some good after all."
Much of the film was based on the experiences of director William A. Wellman as a combat pilot during World War I. While stationed in France, he joined the French Foreign Legion's Lafayette Flying Corps, N.87, les Chats Noir (Black Cat Group). The plane he flew was a Nieuport 24 fighter, which he named "Celia" after his mother. He was credited with three recorded "kills" of enemy aircraft, plus five probable kills. Wellman was shot down in combat and survived the crash, but walked with a limp for the rest of his life. He received the Croix du Guerre for his service. After the war, he returned home and joined the US Army Air Corps for two years, where he taught combat tactics to new pilots at Rockwell Field in San Diego.
Director William A. Wellman had his cinematographer Harry Perry lash his cameras to the stunt planes to capture the vertiginous feelings of being in dogfights.
Paramount Pictures was keen to exploit the presence and reputation of Clara Bow by inserting a scene that required her to be topless. Although she was mainly seen from the back, she was briefly glimpsed by the camera from the front.
The US military cooperated heavily in the making of this film, providing thousands of soldiers, millions of dollars worth of equipment and virtually all of the pursuit planes the army had at the time.
Richard Arlen, whose character is a fighter pilot, had actually been a pilot with the Royal Canadian Flying Corps in World War I (though he never saw combat).
As a former pilot, director William A. Wellman knew how vital it was to have clouds for the dogfights, but the skies over Texas were clear for the first four weeks of production so no aerial scenes had been shot. When executives at Paramount Pictures questioned him about the delay, he explained that without clouds the audience would get no sense of speed or even movement--clouds gave audiences a sense of perspective, speed and direction, and without them planes flying around in a clear sky would just look like a swarm of flies.
With the thousands of extras battling on the ground, dozens of airplanes flying around in the sky and hundreds of explosions going off everywhere, only two injuries on the entire picture were incurred. One was by veteran stunt pilot Dick Grace. A plane he was crashing was supposed to completely turn over, but it only turned partly over. Instead of being thrown clear of the plane, which was the plan, Grace was hurled against part of the fuselage and broke his neck. He returned to the company after six weeks in the hospital. The other injury was to one of the army pilots helping out on the shoot. Unfortunately, he was killed, and director William
A. Wellman feared it would shut down production, but the army held the pilot, not the director, responsible.
Clara Bow wasn't happy with appearing in the film, as she knew her part was merely decorative.
The entire score was written, composed, and recorded using a Wurlitzer Pipe Organ.
A scene of an aerial raid on a German troop train was filmed but not used. It later turned up as part of The Legion of the Condemned (1928).
Soldiers from the army's 2nd Infantry Division, stationed in Corpus Christi, Texas, were used as extras. The same division was used for Rough Riders (1997). Richard Arlen and Jobyna Ralston met on the set and were married during production. Their marriage lasted until 1946.
The "German" fighters in the film are actually Curtiss P-1 "Hawks". Producer Lucien Hubbard hired William A. Wellman because of his WWI aviator experience. Richard Arlen and writer John Monk Saunders had also served as pilots during the war and acted as military advisers on the film, too.
In 1925 and 1926, Byron Morgan sent ideas for a story about air service in World War I to Famous Players Lasky Corporation. The company agreed when he brought this to their attention, and settled with him for $3750 which included his waiving claims to all rights to his material.

The film is set during the years 1917-1918. However, most of the female civilian clothes and hairstyles are contemporary with the late 1920s, particularly the clothes worn by Clara Bow in the home sequences and in the Follies Bergere sequence. Bow's and almost all the other female characters have bobbed hair, common in 1927 but almost non-existent during World War One.
When Schwimpf is punched and falls down, he drops his coat on the ground, but is on the table in a following shot.
At 1:27:27, the position of David holding the letter changes between shots.
Mary paints the "shooting star" on the left side of Jack's car. Jack immediately drives off to pick up Sylvia. Jack and Sylvia drive past Mary. The "shooting star" is now on the right side of Jack's car.
When David says goodbye to his stiff and formal parents and is then greeted affectionately by his dog, as he pets the dog's head, a "treat" can be seen hidden in his hand to make the dogs affectionate.
Jack and David shoot down a German bomber. The soldiers in the just-bombed village come running out and celebrate atop the bomber's wreckage, but by the time it was shot down, the bomber was a good many miles away from the village - too far away for the troops to just run out to its wreckage.

Sergeant in Mervale: Hey, if youse guys need kissin' *I'll* kiss you - wit' a gun-butt!
Mary Preston: D'you know what you can do when you see a shooting star?
John "Jack" Powell: No, what?
Mary Preston: You can kiss the girl you love. British Soldier: Hello Yank, welcome to a very merry little war. And now how about a wee drop for the King and Uncle Sam?

Wings - (1927) (uncredited) - Music by J.S. Zamecnik
A Midsummer Night's Dream - (1843) (uncredited) - Written by Felix Mendelssohn-Bartholdy

Frequently Asked Questions
Q: What is a Bangalore Torpedo?
It's an explosive charge placed at the end of a long, flexible tube used in clearing mines, barbed wire, and other obstructions. In World War I, they were usually 5 foot long threaded pipes and combat engineers were able to keep adding pipe from the relative safety of a trench. The basic design is still in use today.

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Theater showings of restored Wings! - JackBluegrass
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Did 'Pearl Harbor' (2001) rip this off? - JoReia
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What MPAA should WINGS receive today? - mrcleangarrett
Where is Gary Cooper in this? - The Colourful Jester

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Complete credited cast:
Clara Bow            ... Mary Preston
Charles 'Buddy' Rogers ... Jack Powell
Richard Arlen      ... David Armstrong
Jobyna Ralston     ... Sylvia Lewis
El Brendel            ... Herman Schwimpf
Richard Tucker      ... Air Commander
Gary Cooper            ... Cadet White
Gunboat Smith      ... The Sergeant
Henry B. Walthall      ... David's Father
Roscoe Karns      ... Lt. Cameron
Julia Swayne Gordon ... David's Mother
Arlette Marchal      ... Celeste

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