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Film / Wings

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Wings is a 1927 film directed by William A. Wellman that tells a love story between two pilots, Jack (Charles "Buddy" Rogers) and David (Richard Arlen), and two girls, Mary (Clara Bow) and Sylvia (Jobyna Ralston). Both Jack and David are in love with Sylvia, and Jack doesn't even notice that Mary is crazy about him, despite the fact that Mary is played by Clara Bow. Their lives are disrupted by World War One. Notable for its realistic air battles, filmed without miniatures or rear projection (the latter hadn't been invented yet).

It's also notable for the fact that it won the very first Academy Award for Best Picture. Note that there were two categories for Best Picture in the first year. The one that's officially counted today is "Best Production," which was won by this film. The other one, "Unique and Artistic Production"—an award that was never given again after that first ceremony—was won by Sunrise: A Song of Two Humans.


For several decades, it was also the only silent film to have won Best Picture, as the first ceremony coincided with the rise of "talkies."note  The only other one—The Artist—won Best Picture a whopping 84 years later.

Not to be confused with the 1966 Russian film. Or the 1990s sitcom (also produced by Paramount). Or Paul McCartney's 1970s band. Or the third book in the Nomes Trilogy. Or the video game (although, like this movie, the latter has a WW1 theme).

Gary Cooper, then a rising star, has a small part as another American pilot.


The film features the following tropes:

  • Ace Pilot: All of them, but Jack is good enough to get a nickname, and he becomes famous in France.
  • Advertised Extra: Notice Gary Cooper has fourth billing on the poster? Well, his character, Cadet White, only appears for three minutes at most before he dies performing stunts.
  • The Alleged Car: The old jalopy that Jack is trying to fix up in the opening scene.
  • Ambiguously Gay: A blink-and-you'll-miss-it shot of two lesbians caressing at a Paris nightclub.
  • Beauty Is Never Tarnished: Even during his death scene, David still looks pretty good for a guy who's been shot and crash-landed into a building, with only a small trickle of blood at his mouth to mark he's dying.
  • Betty and Veronica: Mary and Sylvia, though the latter doesn't have too cold a heart.
  • Blood from the Mouth: From an American pilot after he's raked by machine gun fire.
  • Book Ends: "D'you know what you can do when you see a shooting star? You can kiss the girl you love."
  • Catch-Phrase Spouting Duo: "All set?" "OK!"
  • Defeat Means Friendship: All it takes is one hardcore boxing match for Jack and David to become best friends.
  • Defrosting the Ice King: David starts off with a very icy, repressed personality, and a little bit of the male version of resting bitch face, but Jack discovers there's a heart of gold and a loyal friend under the frosty exterior.
  • Enhanced on DVD: To emulate the roadshow release, the Blu-Ray and DVD have an option to replace the organ score from a 1980s rerelease with an orchestral score (recorded with the original composer's sheet music) and period sound effects.
  • Epic Tracking Shot: For 1927, a very impressive tracking shot in which the camera zooms across several tables at a nightclub.
  • Heartbroken Badass: Jack is distraught when he thinks David's been killed. He goes all-out once he realizes he's accidentally killed his best friend.
  • Hindenburg Incendiary Principle: Two blimps get shot down and blown up.
  • Impairment Shot: A very, very drunk Jack can't focus well enough to recognize Mary in a Paris restaurant.
  • Jump Cut: From a medium shot of Jack to a closeup of Jack's face as he realizes he shot down his buddy.
  • Just Plane Wrong: The movie has newer American biplanes standing in for SPADs and Fokkers.
  • The Lady's Favour: Sylvia's portrait. Mary also gives a photo of herself to Jack, but it doesn't play as big a role.
  • Logo Joke: The 2012 version with added sound effects and overture begins with different Paramount logos appearing in backwards chronological order.
  • Love Dodecahedron: David loves Sylvia. Sylvia loves David. Jack loves Sylvia. Sylvia accidentally encourages Jack. Mary loves Jack. Jack ignores Mary. Jack and David have a very strong friendship.
  • Memento MacGuffin: Both Sylvia's portrait and David's medal.
  • Ms. Fanservice: That's Clara Bow, people.
  • Murder the Hypotenuse: Averted It's more "shoot the hypotenuse dead in the fog of war by complete accident and suffer Heroic BSoD". Jack shoots down David, who had just stolen a German biplane. When Jack realizes it, he's far from happy.
  • Mushroom Samba: Champagne is a hell of a drug. Jack hallucinates bubbles.
  • No Celebrities Were Harmed: Count von Kellermann is definitely not Manfred von Richthofen (the Red Baron).
  • Oblivious to Love: Jack is completely clueless regarding Mary's love for him.
  • Plucky Comic Relief: Herman Schwimpf.
  • Product Placement: Cadet White munches a Hershey's Milk Chocolate with Almonds bar.
  • Reality Is Unrealistic: The air battles were mostly filmed on cloudy days to give them a sense of perspective, because otherwise the real planes looked like models.
  • Remaster: The Blu-Ray presentation gives a remarkable example. The original negative no longer exists, but Paramount obtained a duplicate negative. They proceeded to restore clarity and remove defects from each frame, then digitally tint the film in correspondence with archival tinting guides.
  • Red Baron: Jack is known as the Shooting Star.
  • Red-plica Baron: A Richthofen-based character appears briefly in the movie and is one of the first despictions of the Red Baron in movies.
  • Sexy Backless Outfit / Sideboob / Toplessness from the Back: All in the same scene, as Paramount Pictures took maximum advantage of Ms. Fanservice Clara Bow. Mary has to lure a very drunk Jack away from the clutches of another girl at a nightclub. She puts on a little cocktail dress to do it, then gets caught by the MPs while she's changing out of it.
  • Scenery Porn: A lot of this film doesn't age very well, but the aerial combat sequences are still very impressive.
  • Splash of Color: The flames shooting out of machine-gun barrels and erupting from burning planes are hand-colored.
  • Teddy Bear: David carries a little one for good luck. Until he forgets it.
  • Tempting Fate: Cadet White says he never carries a good luck talisman, says that when your time is up it's up, walks out to his plane, and is killed in a mid-air collision.
  • Trapped Behind Enemy Lines: David, shot down in German territory, steals a German plane in order to get back to the Allied lines. It works, until Jack shoots him down.
  • Unkempt Beauty: David is a very good-looking man when he starts off the film, though he looks very prim and proper as a blue blood of the time would have. He steadily gets a little more unkempt until he's completely dirty with his hair messed up as he tries to escape from behind the German lines.
  • Victoria's Secret Compartment: Where Mary keeps the letter saying that leave is cancelled and all military personnel have to report to their units.
  • War Is Glorious / War Is Hell: Mostly the former, since air combat was one of the only glorifiable parts of World War One, but the trench scenes emphasize the latter.
  • Women Drivers: The stereotype of poor women drivers becomes averted for Mary, who helps Jack repair an automobile at the beginning, and volunteers as an ambulance driver to help the war effort.
  • Worthy Opponent:
    • David's machine gun jams, leaving him a sitting duck, "but there was chivalry among these knights of the air." Instead of killing him, the German salutes and flies away.
    • Then a German pilot drops a note over Jack's airfield that David was shot down and then killed after trying to escape.