Monday, August 25, 2008

Wings (William Wellman) *1/2

William Wellman

Cast: Charles "Buddy" Rogers, Richard Arlen, Clara Bow, Jobyna Ralston, Gary Cooper

Background: Paramount granted director William Wellman an unheard of budget of $2 million for a story about heroism in World War 1. Wellman had not yet distinguished himself with any film work, but he was given the gift of Clara Bow in a major role, which back then meant almost guaranteed success.

Story: Jack (Rogers) and David (Arlen) are two young men from the same hometown that go off to fight in World War 1. They're both in love with the same woman (Ralston), although Jack's next door neighor Mary (Bow) is the one in love with him. Jack and David become friends while training to be fighter pilots, and put aside their differences to take on the enemy.

Thoughts: If Michael Bay was alive in 1927, this is the film he would've made. Wings has battle sequences that were certainly advanced for the time period, but it features a brainless story and some particularly awful acting. As much as I liked Clara Bow in the flawed It, she is incredibly annoying here. She goes way overboard in making her character perky and is practically hopping up and down after every line. The story takes a major detour from the action in the 2nd act for an excessively long and annoying sequence where Jack is drunk and doesn't recognize Mary, who is trying to inform him that leave has been cancelled. The scene would be stupid no matter what, but it is seriously derailed by the awful performance from Buddy Rogers, who is even worse here than he was in My Best Girl. Then there's a major event that happens in the 3rd act that has some interesting psychological implications, and the right director could've done something interesting with it. William Wellman is apparently not that director. This is just really, really bad storytelling and the fact that the Academy chose to honor this film with the first Best Picture Oscar just shows they were just as stupid in the 20s as they are today. (Note: They did get No Country For Old Men right, but I'm still pissed about Crash.)

Postscript: This not only won the first Best Picture Oscar, but it was one of the most succesful movies of the silent era. The formula would be aped countless times over the years. Wellman would have a long and distinguished career, directing some very notable films, including Public Enemy and The Ox-Bow Incident. Richard Arlen would continue acting through the 70s, mostly in supporting roles. Wings also marked one of the first film appearances of Gary Cooper. Nothing notable here, but we will run into him again shortly.

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