My Thoughts While Watching:
When I decided I would try to watch old Oscar-winning picture movies over the next year, I kind of dreaded the oldest one because of it being a silent film. However, the movie was restored by Paramount in 2012 so the quality of the film is phenomenal. The clarity of the picture is great. Because it is a silent film, you have to read flashcards of dialogue that are inserted at pivotal moments. Interesting enough, there is a ton of dialogue for which there are no flash cards for you to read, you have to self-interpret what they are saying and rely on body language/facial emotions. I find that interesting. The number of interpretations of one movie could be limitless. However, because it is a silent film and you are required to read through the movie, you have to pay attention and not play on your phone or try to take (ahem) movie notes during the movie.
SPOILERS *** SPOILERS *** SPOILERS *** SPOILERS *** SPOILERS *** SPOILERS *** SPOILERS
Here, I am going to insert IMDB’s story-line for the movie as it describes the movie fairly well: 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 (I would interject here that he used the help of his neighbor Mary who was of great help but who fell in love while working on “shooting star” the name of the car). 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 neighbor, 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.
After watching the movie I chuckled and wondered: Is this the movie on which they loosely based Pearl Harbor with Ben Afleck? ((It isn’t but still – two wartime pilots love the same woman and one of them dies in a plane crash. The similarities are striking).
Clara Bow plays Mary. She is very charismatic and makes understanding the emotions of a scene easy. She is so adorable, even by today’s standards. I wish they would have had a blonde Sylvia, just to add extra clarity in who is the love interest and who is the friend. As Mary helps Jack build a car she becomes enamored with him. They name it the Shooting Star. There is an exchange between the two: Do you know what you do when you see a shooting star? You kiss the girl you love. When that second line happens, Mary prepares herself for what she feels is the inevitable kiss. However, Jack jumps into the newly finished car and speeds away to Sylvia.
Sylvia is the least developed of the four main characters. And, in my humble opinion, an asshole. Jack ends up with her picture in a locket by accident. She does not have the heart to tell him otherwise. But the love of her life David knows. And she makes excuses to him that forces him to keep their relationship a secret.
The fifth main character in this movie is the war, complete with its planes and pilots. If you are an aviation enthusiast, this is a neat little movie to watch with its biplanes, both American and German. Jack and David find themselves at ground school to become pilots, where they hate each other. During a boxing match they finally beat each other to a pulp and realize they want to be friends (it’s Hollywood). Meanwhile, girl power Mary enlists in the Women’s Motor Corp and is right there in the wartime action unbeknownst to Jack, her “best friend”. (Let me interject here, he really sees her as his best buddy). In one scene, she tracks a VERY drunk Jack to a bar on his off duty time where he is enjoying champagne bubbles with a gutter snipe. In a twist, he is carried off by fellow officers back to emergency actions and never realizes Mary was there.
There are several “dog fights” (I put that in ” ” only because that is how it was shown on the flashcards and I giggled) in which both American and German pilots died in their open air planes. The fight scenes were very interesting in that a biplane’s gun fires as the blades in front of it spin. They were developed to time the rotation of the prop and to shoot between revolutions (not explained in the movie but by Husband who watched the movie with me). To be able to attack another plane, it had to be done with the enemy plane in sight, therefore from behind. And, quite like the old fighting styles, movies styles are in their initial stages during this time so there are no CGI and most stunts required blowing up mock planes or biting into a packet of dark liquid and bleeding through your mouth. I chuckled a little but I do appreciate (in some instances) how far movies, especially their special effects and sound, have come.
Jack and David fly missions together until one day Sylvia’s picture falls out of the locket. David picks it up to hand back to Jack only to realize it is his name on the back of the photo. He refuses to give it to Jack and with no explanation tears it into pieces. But before an altercation can occur, they are called on a mission! Long story short: David is shot down but lands alive, steals a German plane AND you guessed it… is shot down BY JACK and succumbs to his injuries but not before Jack lands and realizes that it is his friend. He hugs him, kisses him and allows him to die in his arms.
It really seemed very romantic. Just saying. While packing up David’s belongings to return to his parents, Jack finds all of the letters that Sylvia sent in which she explains her love for David and Jack’s mixup with the locket. Crushed, he returns home having lost his best friend by his own hand and in the same moment the girl he thought loved him.
ANNNDDDD… of course there is Mary to help pick up the pieces. They talk into the night and return to the same dialogue that got the movie started when they see a falling star… What do you do when you see a falling star? And, this time, Jack gets it right and kisses his tomboyish best friend and drops all ideas of the romanticized Sylvia.
All in all – it was Pearl Harbor without Ben Afleck’s annoying voice. I kid, I kid…but do I? Ha. I don’t mind BA and I loved Pearl Harbor, so there’s that. I would recommend this movie for film lovers to experience the growth that has occurred in the past 90 years or aviation/war enthusiasts who love seeing old planes on film.
Side note: some of the planes in the “German Circus” include: Fokkers and Gotha.
Two neat words I learned were: Gendarme and Airdrome. Also, for more info on the Air Service, click HERE. Daddy would have loved this movie. AND we could have watched it and he could have talked through the whole thing without annoying me because there is no dialogue to miss!
Ohhhh….. there was a two-minute role in which Gary Cooper plays White, a pilot who is immediately shot down.
Some Extra Video:
IMDB Synopsis: Two young men, one rich, one middle class, who are in love with the same woman, become fighter pilots in World War I.
You can watch it on Amazon Prime for $2.99
Lead Actress: Clara Bow
Lead Actor: Charles ‘Buddy’ Rogers
Supporting Female: Jobyna Ralston
Supporting Male: Richard Arlen
Others of note: El Brendel (comedic relief actor who played fellow soldier Herman Schwimpf)
Director: William A. Wellman
Additional Movie Info:
It received a Rotten Tomatoes rating of 95% Fresh. It received a Rotten Tomato audience rating of 78% liking it. Average Rating: 3.8/5 with a number of User Ratings: 3,456.
Specs: Release date: 5 January 1929 (USA) / Runtime: 144 minutes / Budget: $2M
- Was lost for decades until a copy was discovered languishing in the Cinematheque Francaise film archive in Paris, France.
- The only silent movie to win the Oscar for Best Picture (then called “Best Production”), until The Artist (2011) in 2012.
- Wings was the very first winner of the category of Best Picture, then called “Best Production,” at the 1st Annual Academy Awards held at the Roosevelt Hotel in Hollywood, CA on May 16, 1929. The ceremony lasted all of five minutes and was broadcast on local Los Angeles radio station KHJ 930 AM.
- Chocolate syrup was used as blood in the film.
- Gary Cooper’s two-minute cameo effectively made him a star and it also marked the beginning of his affair with Clara Bow.
- This film played in theaters for sixty-three weeks upon initial release. One of the reasons why it was such a resounding success was that the public had become obsessed with aviation following Charles Lindbergh‘s successful trans-Atlantic flight.
- 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.
- This film contains the first on-screen kiss between two men.
- 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 only movie to win an Academy Award for Engineering Effects.
- The U.S. 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.
- Wings contains some of the earliest footage of onscreen nudity (mostly male)… um, did I miss something?
- 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).
- The entire score was written, composed, and recorded using a Wurlitzer Pipe Organ.
- When Wings was revived in 1981 at the Radio City Music Hall in New York City, Carmine Coppola conducted a full symphony orchestra with synchronized special effects.
- The “German” fighters in the film are actually Curtiss P-1 “Hawks”.
- First film for legendary costume designer Edith Head.
- The climactic battle scene involved 3500 soldiers and dozens of planes and was shot in one take that lasted five minutes.
- Held the record for the Best Picture Oscar winner with the shortest name until Gigi (1958).