Wings (1927)

  • Posted on: 22 February 2016
  • By: Noah Brand

It’s hard to remember now just how amazing airplanes were in the 1920s. Barnstormers used to cruise from one small town to another, charging impressive fees just to show off their miraculous flying machines. That sense of wonder deeply informs Wings, in a way that’s hard to understand from here in the miracle-jaded future. The story of two young pilots and their service in WWI is nothing new even for the time, but the flying shots are spectacular, and in 1927 they might as well have been magic.

The ever-adorable Clara Bow is featured as the girlfriend of one of the pilots, because otherwise we’d think that the pilots were in love with each other. Honestly, half my friends think that anyway, because it’s the most obvious reading of their scenes together. The odd part, though, is that Bow’s entry into the theater of war halfway through the film triggers a strange, special-effects laden interlude where this dark, tragic war movie turns into a zany sex comedy for ten minutes, in which our hero gets drunk, Ms. Bow strips down to as little as they could possibly get away with, and wacky misunderstandings ensue. Then it’s right back to the horrors of war. It’s a very odd structure, kind of like having a halftime show at a public execution.

One random point: in one scene, I saw a minor character and commented “Wow, he looks almost like a young Gary Cooper.” Then they cut in for a close-up and it was a young Gary Cooper. It was a startling reminder of just how long Cooper’s career was, from the silent era onward, and how many good pictures that guy was in.

What did this beat?
The Racket and Seventh Heaven, neither of which I’ve seen.