Directed by: William A. Wellman
Clara Bow as Mary Preston
Charles Rogers as John “Jack” Powell
Richard Arlen as David Armstrong
Jobyna Ralston as Sylvia Lewis
“All set?” “O.K.!”
To sum up: War breaks out and two young pilots are off to fight it; leaving as boys, they
come home men. Oh, they’re both in love with the same girl.
Boy, in light of the “big” movie of this past
summer (Pearl Harbor), I’ll bet you think you know this film. Not so kiddies, for this is 1928 and we’re talking World War I. The Great War. The War to end all Wars.
Once upon a time, there was a young college student that was hanging out alone in his friend’s apartment. There was nothing to do except watch TV Flipping channels, this dashing young man came across an old movie being broadcast on AMC and he started to watch it and stayed with it to the end.
As I’m sure you know, that student was I and that movie was Wings (it would be kinda stupid to be talking about Phantom of the Opera in a review of Wings now wouldn’t it?) It was one of the first silent movies that I had ever saw and I came away liking it. Having grown up thinking that old films were primitive, I remember being struck be the strong visual images in it.
Well, just recently, I decided to rent the film and see how a few years would have changed my point of view. The result? I still liked it.
The film stars Charles Rogers as Jack Powell, a young, idealistic boy who has his eyes in the sky and dreams of being a pilot.
His neighbor, Mary Preston, played by Clara Bow is, like, totally into him. She’s kind of a Tomboy and unfortunately, to Jack she is just a good buddy who he can talk cars with. But she does have the best hair in the film; the kind that goes anywhere it wants to. I find it hard to believe that this style was ever popular.
Jack is in love with Sylvia Lewis, an out of town girl that is carrying a torch for David Armstrong, the rich guy in town.
Soon, the ominous blazing word of WAR appears over panning clouds and our boys are off to join the fight. One humorous moment was unintentional. The boys all show up to bootcamp and all of the recruits are wearing suits. I try to imagine the days where wearing a suit and tie was considered everyday attire.
When there’s a need for women who can drive, Mary joins the Motor Corps and is off to Europe as well.
Anyone who has watched any film or TV will know what’s going to happen and indeed, the film carries all the little set pieces of what will become cliches of war films for the next Fifty years. There’s the girlfriend’s picture, the good luck charm in the form of a childhood toy bear, the two rivals being in the same outfit, the comic relief in the form of
Schwimpf, the clumsy recruit with an American flag tattooed on his bicep, and many others. But it was because I knew that they weren’t very strong clichés when the film was made and that they were well executed that I was able to enjoy the film.
The film contains a number of scenes that, to me were quite startling. When the boys are in the air, they are really in the air high above the ground flying in biplanes. There are a number of acrobatic duels that are always interesting to watch.
Some contain elements that are unrealistic such as when David’s gun jams, his German opponent, Von Kellerman lets him go in the spirit of the “Chivalry of the air”. But these are few and far between.
On the more realistic side is a person spitting blood after he and his plane take a hit.
It’s a mishmash of the silly and the serious (and of course melodramatic) as the story tries to be exciting, serious, and funny all at the same time.
There are some amazing shots in the film; a high overhead shot of a German Bomber and it’s escorts taking off; some startling flying and crashing of planes; and one incredible overhead shot as it follows a group of bombs all the way to the ground and blow the hell out of the town below.
Since these were the days before elaborate special effects, it was even more amazing to watch knowing that what was shown was real.
If there is a downside to the film it’s that the story itself is pretty standard fare. There are no real surprises in the love story and many of the elements proceed to their logical conclusions. As I indicated earlier, this may have more to do with the fact that many of these elements have long since become clichés of the genre.
But there are little moments within the progression of the love story don’t proceed to their expected conclusions and it is these little twists and turns that make the story enjoyable. Jack and Mary meet up during the war but it doesn’t go as one might expect. Jack and John’s rivalry moves in a direction not always explored in these types of situations.
All this and a daring little twist between David and Jack’s lives make this a fun