Sunday, February 15, 2009

Wings (1927)

Director: William A. Wellman
USA 1927
139 min

The year is 1917 in a small country town. Two young men, rich David Armstrong (Richard Arlen) and not-so-rich Jack Powell (Charles "Buddy" Rogers) are in love with a beautiful city girl, Sylvia Lewis (Jobyna Ralston). Sylvia on the other hand is only interested in David, but is too kind to tell Jack about her feelings. Jack's neighbour, Mary Preston (Clara Bow), is a sweet country girl deeply in love with him, but he doesn't notice her feelings.

Charles "Buddy" Rogers, Clara Bow and Richard Arlen.

Jack has always dreamt of being a pilot, and soon his dream comes true when he and his rival David need to join the war. Both men say farewell to their loved ones and depart.
Meanwhile, heartbroken about Jack going off to war, Mary sees a opportunity to meet him by joining the Women's Motor Corp.

This is an amazing war movie, that I think works as well today as it did then. The filming technique is impressing, letting all the actors fly real planes (Richard Arlen knew how to, since being a pilot for real in World War I, but Charles "Buddy" Rogers had to learn while filming), having thousands of extras in the battle scenes and real explotions going off everywhere. One man was even killed during the filming (an army pilot helping out on the shoot) and another stunt pilot broke his neck, having to spend six weeks in a hospital.

As I stated before, the camera work is really impressing. One frame I remember very well from the movie is when the troops a marching into the war, filmed from above, and in the sky above the horizone you can see men battling and tanks move across the battle field.

The airplane battle scenes are very convincing and engaging, and makes this film comparitable with war movies today. The film feels very modern over all, I nearly can't recall afterwards that it was a silent film I saw.

Another part of the movie I feel is worth mentioning is during the soldiers' furlough in Paris. Mary runs into Jack there, him being so drunk that he sees bubbles flowing in the air (these made with a technique making the scenes feel kind of surreal).
Mary, anyhow, follows him up to his hotel room, after a cat fight with another woman interested in him. Jack blacks out on the bed, and Mary decides to change her clothes from civilian to military. Unfortunately two soldiers walks in on her when she's naked, and she is sent back home for inappropriate behaviour.
The surprising thing about this scene is that they don't only imply Clara Bow being naked, for a quarter of a secong you actually can see her breasts. That, I feel, is very daring for a movie made in 1927.

Scene: Mary Preston (Clara Bow) arrives to an apparently empty town, and is soon attacked by the Germans.

There are some interesting trivia for this movie, apart from that I've already written about:

The director, William A. Wellman, does something we today would call a "cameo", even though he has a line, as a doughboy (a United States Army infantry man) in the last battle scene. After he's been shot down, he says:

"Atta boy. Them buzzards are some good after all."

His wife and daughter also makes appearances toward the end of the movie, as a farmer's wife and her daugther, whose house an airplane crashes into.

Also, according to Clara Bow biographer David Stenn, Bow was furious about having to wear a uniform that hid her figure, demanding to wear a belt that would bring out her curves.

This movie was the only one in the history of Academy Awards winning the prize for Best Production. (Best Production and Best Artistic Quality of Pruduction, that year won by Sunrise: A Song of Two Humans, were then replaced by the Oscar for Best Picture.)

Richard Arlen (David Armstrong in the movie) actually married the girl in real life. He and Jobyna Ralston (playing Sylvia) met and fell for each other during the filming of Wings.

One more footnote:
Remember me noticing Gary Cooper in a little role as an uncredited journalist in It (1927)? Imagine my happiness when I saw that he would have a role even in this movie, and this time his character had a name!
He divinly enters the screen at 00:27:03 as a sleeping Cadet White. At 00:27:37 he introduces himself to David and Jack, saying to the latter:

"Glad you fellows are here, Powell. We'll see a lot of each other."

...and he is just generally very sexy. He exchanges some words with the boys, chews off a bit of a candy bar, talks some more with the war newbies about mascots, one close-up at 00:29:44 and then he exits at 00:29:53. What happens next? He flies a plane, crashes it and dies.
What was the director thinking? Killing off the women's drool object after less than three minutes! Oh, those eyes... The Paul Newman of the 1920's. Shame on William A. Wellman.

Gary Cooper (standing) as Cadet White.


British Soldier: Hello Yank, welcome to a very merry little war. And now how about a wee drop for the King and Uncle Sam?

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?
Jack Powell: No, what?
Mary Preston: You can kiss the girl you love.

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