is a silent movie
about World War I
fighter pilots, directed by William A. Wellman
and released by Paramount Pictures
. It was the first film to win the Academy Award for Best Picture
-- and the only silent film ever to win Best Picture -- and stars Clara Bow
, Charles 'Buddy' Rogers
and Richard Arlen
, with Gary Cooper
in a scene which helped launch his star in Hollywood
, and also marked the beginning of his affair with Clara Bow.
Jack Powell (Charles "Buddy" Rogers) and David Armstrong (Richard Arlen) are rivals in the same small American town, both vying for the attentions of pretty Sylvia Lewis (Jobyna Ralston). Jack fails to realize that "the girl next door", Mary Preston (Clara Bow), is secretly in love with him. The two young men both enlist to become combat pilots. When they leave for training camp, Jack mistakenly believes Sylvia prefers him; she is too kindhearted to disillusion him, but lets David know that she loves him.
Jack and David are billeted together. Their tentmate is Cadet White (Gary Cooper), but their acquaintance is all too brief; White is killed in an air crash the same day. Undaunted, the two men endure a rigorous training period, where they go from being enemies to best friends. Upon graduating, they are shipped off to France to fight the Germans.
Mary joins the war effort by becoming an ambulance driver. When she is in Paris, she learns that Jack is on leave there. She finds him, but he is too drunk to recognize her. She puts him to bed, but when two soldiers barge in while she is innocently changing out of a borrowed dress back into her uniform in the same room, she is forced to resign and return to America.
The climax of the story comes with the epic Battle of Saint-Mihiel. David is shot down and presumed dead. However, he survives the crash landing, steals a German biplane, and heads for the Allied lines. By a tragic stroke of bad luck, he is spotted by Jack, who is bent on avenging his friend. Jack shoots David down. When Jack lands to pick up a souvenir, he becomes distraught when he learns what he has done, but before David dies, he forgives his comrade.
With the end of the war, Jack returns home to a hero's welcome. When he returns David's effects to his grieving parents, David's mother blames the war, not Jack, for her son's death. Then, Jack is reunited with Mary and realizes he loves her.
The film, completed with a then unheard-of budget of $2 million, was the first film to win the Academy Award for Best Picture
(then called "Best Picture, Production") for the film year 1927/28 (and was the only silent film to win), and won a second Academy Award for Engineering Effects
. The film was written by John Monk Saunders
(story), Louis D. Lighton
and Hope Loring
, and was directed by William A. Wellman
, with an original orchestral score by John Stepan Zamecnik (J S Zamecnik), which was uncredited.
It is one of the first films to feature a male-on-male kiss – a fraternal one – in the death scene near the end. It is also one of the first widely released films to show nudity. Clara Bow's breasts can be seen for a quick second during the Paris bedroom scene when army men barge in as she is changing her clothes.
Richard Arlen and William A. Wellman had served in World War I as military aviators.
The original Paramount release was color tinted and had some sequences in an early widescreen process known as Magnascope. Some prints had synchronized sound effects and music, using the General Electric Kinegraphone (later RCA Photophone) sound-on-film process.
was an immediate success, premiering on 12 August 1927
at the Critereo Theatre in New York and playing 63 weeks before being moved to second-run theaters. One of the reasons for its resounding popularity was the public infatuation with aviation in the wake of Charles Lindbergh
's transatlantic flight.
- Best Effects, Engineering Effects - Roy Pomeroy
- Best Picture - Production
For many years, Wings
was considered a "lost" film until a surviving print was found in the Cinémathèque Française film archive and quickly copied to safety film stock. It was again shown in theaters, including some with Wurlitzer
pipe organs. The print used by American Movie Classics
in the 1990s had a recorded Wurlitzer pipe organ accompaniment. The film has also been shown on Turner Classic Movies
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".
In 2006, director William A. Wellman's son, William Wellman Jr., authored a book about the film and his father's participation in the making of it, titled The Man and His Wings: William A. Wellman and the Making of the First Best Picture.
Along with Cavalcade
is one of only two Best Picture winners that is not available on DVD
in Region 1.
- Dolan Edward F. Jr. Hollywood Goes to War. London: Bison Books, 1985. ISBN 0-86124-229-7.
- Farmer, Jim. "The Making of Flyboys." Air Classics, Vol. 42, No. 11, November 2006.
- Hardwick, Jack and Schnepf, Ed. "A Viewer's Guide to Aviation Movies". The Making of the Great Aviation Films, General Aviation Series, Volume 2, 1989.
- Oriss, Bruce. When Hollywood Ruled the Skies: The Aviation Film Classics of World War II. Hawthorne, California: Aero Associates Inc., 1984. ISBN 0-9613088-0-X.
- Silke, James R. "Fists, Dames & Wings." Air Progress Aviation Review, Volume 4, No. 4, October 1980.
- Wellman, William Jr. The Man And His Wings: William A. Wellman and the Making of the First Best Picture. Westport CT: Praeger Publishers, 2006 ISBN 0-275-98541-5.