Wings (1927)

Wings is a movie. It has Clara Bow in it. It was good.

Taking place in World War I, two Leave it to Beaver-type dudes battle over the affections of a girl. Meanwhile, Mary, the neighbor of the actual protagonist Jack Powell (Charles Rogers) played by Clara Bow goes off to war. The other dude is David Armstrong (Richard Arlen) She ends up following along as she is in love with her neighbor. They end up flying planes and fighting in trenches, and all the fun exploits of World War I are featured. Except for gas which is kind of strange.

I guess the first question to come to mind is why I picked Clara Bow to shout out instead of the true main character Jack Powell. Quite simply, I think she has the best performance in this film. I’m not sure how else to put it, but through her charisma and on-screen presence, she presented her character in the most engaging way. While the romantic storyline didn’t click for me (as it has yet to do in any silent feature I’ve watched thus far), I did find myself rooting for her and feeling sorry for her character when she went through her struggles. The protagonist she chased, however, did fall a bit flat as ultimately he was just a boring middle-class white guy with no real backstory or characteristics, and really his “antagonist,” David, was basically the same as him 

The strength of this film in reality comes from the skill of the camera usage. The apex is certainly the flight scenes as there arefirst-person shots, shots from above, action shots, shots of shadow etc…. Essentially if you think of a way different flight scenes could be shot in 1927, this film is going to have it. But it’s not just the action and flight sequences that were shot well. It’s the entire film. Some of the establishing shots are amongst some of the best I’ve seen in my viewing of early cinema. There are a lot more cuts and movement of the camera as it films from different angles and points of view, and a lot of the shots are filmed in an aesthetically pleasing way. I’m comfortable saying that this film just looks better than even a lot of modern-dayfilms. The special effects when different bombs are exploding,and gunshots are hitting the dirt are fascinating, and visually there’s a realism and grittiness to the action that tells a story of the war.

I think the film’s shortcomings all come down to the flat main characters. David and Jack are both pretty dull to the point where I care very little about their personal stakes in the war. The film features multiple side characters who are way more interesting and entertaining, but it just fails to develop them further than any shorter scene. I also think because the main characters are flat at times they do feel somewhat detached from the action, and it does make the film drag along. On top of this, while, again, the action feels very real most of the characters don’t and because of this there’s a slight propaganda vibe to the film, which is somewhat frustrating seeing as the visuals never really match the tone of the characters. 

This film is definitely worth watching, however, just for the visuals and flight scenes alone. When really put into context of the technical limitations of nearly 100 years ago, I really started to become mesmerized by what I was watching. As an aside as well, this was the first ever film to win best picture at the Academy Awards.


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