Cast & Crew
William A. Wellman
Charles [buddy] Rogers
In 1917, in a small American town, Jack Powell tinkers on a car, while daydreaming about airplanes. When the car is roadworthy, Jack names it "Shooting Star" and Mary Preston, the girl next door who helped him, paints a star on the side of the vehicle. Oblivious to the infatuated Mary's feelings for him, Jack invites a more sophisticated city girl, Sylvia Lewis, to accompany him on the first drive. Sylvia rides with Jack, but she is in love with David Armstrong, the son of the town's wealthiest family. Later, when the United States enters World War I, Jack and David enlist and apply to aviation school. Before they leave, Sylvia signs a picture of herself and puts it in a locket for David, but when Jack sees it and thinks it is meant for him, she does not have the heart to contradict him. David, who returns Sylvia's affection, is hurt, but she takes him aside and explains that, although Jack has her picture, David has her heart. Jack almost forgets to say goodbye to Mary, but then runs back to shake her hand and give her permission to use the car. While saying his farewells to his mother and wheelchair-bound father, David finds a favorite old toy, a tiny bear, which he decides to take with him for good luck. During basic training, an antagonism develops between Jack and David, which is finally resolved in boxing class when they are paired off in a heated practice bout of boxing and become fast friends. After Jack and David complete ground school, they are bunked with Cadet White, an affable and experienced young flier. Upon seeing David's bear, White comments that many fliers have mascots, although he does not, as he believes, "when your time comes, you're going to get it." He then leaves for flight practice during which he dies in a plane crash. Later, when Jack and David are sent to France, Jack paints a star-shaped logo on his plane like the one on his car. During their first patrol, the fliers encounter Capt. Kellermann, a famous German ace and leader of the "Flying Circus." At 10,000 feet in the air, a dogfight ensues, during which both German and Allied planes are lost. David's machine gun jams as he is singled out for an attack, but his opponent chivalrously spares his life. Jack becomes separated from his formation and is attacked by two German Fokkers, forcing him to crash-land and abandon his plane. He survives, and takes refuge with entrenched British ground soldiers. Meanwhile, Mary, who has learned to drive the Shooting Star and has joined the Women's Motor Corps of America, is sent overseas to transport medical supplies. She is driving toward flu-stricken Mervale, where billeted regiments crowd the little village, when a Gotha, the mightiest of German bomber planes, attacks. Jack, David and their colleagues come to the rescue during an aerial battle, and shoot down the Gotha and its two escort planes, thereby saving the village. As they fly away, someone points out to Mary the shooting star on the side of one of the planes and Mary realizes that Jack had been there. For their accomplishments, the pilots are decorated as heroes and given a furlough in Paris. To escape the horrors of war, Jack carouses with a Folies Bergère performer. Mary, who is also in Paris, finds Jack at the Folies too drunk to comprehend when all leave is cancelled in preparation for the Allies' "big push" against the Germans. Mary tries to tell him about the change in his orders, but in his inebriated state, Jack sees only her uniform and sends her away. While the rejected Mary is in the ladies' room crying, a sympathetic attendant advises her to "catch the fly" with "sugar, not vinegar," then takes her backstage. Later, provocatively attired in a show girl's costume, Mary seduces Jack away from his female companion and takes him to his hotel room, where he falls asleep on the bed before she can get him sober. While she is changing back into her uniform, military police rounding up the men walk in and conclude that she has been moonlighting as a prostitute. Jack is returned to his unit with little memory of his night of revelry, and Mary is arrested and sent home in disgrace. Back at the base, while waiting for orders, David has a premonition that he will not return home. Upon reading in the newspaper that Mary has resigned from the corps, Jack expresses surprise that Mary would quit. When fellow pilot Lt. Walter Cameron suggests that she was fired for sexual misconduct, Jack takes offense and David watches as Jack hotly defends her reputation. Having received numerous love letters from Sylvia, David hopes that Jack's affection has turned to Mary until Jack shows him Sylvia's locket. Believing that Sylvia shares his feelings, Jack says that her picture is his good luck charm. When the picture falls from the locket, David reads the inscription on the back dedicated to him, which Jack has never seen. Unable to put it back without Jack seeing it, David is ready to fight his friend for the photo, rather than let him be hurt by the truth, but they are interrupted by orders to board their planes. They take off without resolving their quarrel and without their respective good luck charms, as David's bear has also fallen from his pocket. The pilots are sent to protect ground troops who are under attack from German fliers. David hurls himself into danger to protect Jack from attack and later crashes near the Mad River in German-occupied territory. After successfully evading the Germans that night, near dawn Jack steals a Fokker from an airfield, hoping he can fly it back to his base. Meanwhile, presuming that David is dead, Jack vows to avenge him. After daybreak, he and his comrades fly out to assist the advancing Allied ground soldiers as the war is waged both in the air and on the ground. When David flies to the scene, Jack spots his plane, but sees only the German cross on the fusilage and does not recognize his friend. Although David tries to call out to Jack and evade his single-minded assaults, Jack shoots down his plane, which crashes into a church. Feeling victorious, Jack lands, but discovers to his great shame and grief that he has fatally wounded David, who forgives him before dying. After the war, Jack is welcomed home as a hero with parades and other festivities, but must carry out one more war-related task. Ashamed and grieving, he returns David's medal and little bear to the Armstrongs and receives forgiveness. Later, Mary comes to sit with Jack near his car and they talk for hours. By evening, when they see a shooting star in the sky, Jack realizes that he loves Mary.
Charles [buddy] Rogers
Henry B. Walthall
Julia Swayne Gordon
Nigel De Brulier
Margery Chapin Wellman
E. F. Adams
William H. Clothier
Faxon M. Dean
Jesse L. Lasky
Louis D. Lighton
Norman Z. Mcleod
E. K. Merritt
C. W. Riley
John Monk Saunders
B. P. Schulberg
E. Lloyd Sheldon
L. Guy Wilky
J. S. Zamecnik
J. S. Zamecnik
Best Special Effects
There are aerial sequences in Wings that still dazzle audiences today, and that wouldn't be the case if Wellman had taken the easy way out. Sure, the people who made this movie had to be a bit reckless, if not crazy - the stunt pilots are truly death-defying - but that's why Wings is still a thrilling experience. Even with an accent on melodrama in the narrative and the acting, which was an ever-present aspect of commercial pictures at the time, it's like a bottle of soda that never loses its fizz.
The script follows Jack Powell (Charles "Buddy" Rogers), a small-town auto fanatic who doesn't know that the girl next-door, Mary Preston (Clara Bow), is in love with him. Jack has actually fallen for Sylvia Lewis (Jobyna Ralston), although Sylvia is in love with Jack's best friend, David Armstrong (Richard Arlen). Soon enough, the characters are drawn into the sweeping drama of World War I, with Jack and David becoming fighter pilots. The combat footage, as you might expect, is the real star of Wings. Rogers, by the way, actually learned how to fly a plane during production. There were sequences in which the actors had to not only fly the planes, but operate the cameras while they did it!
In his autobiography, Wellman wrote at some length about the biggest air-raid scenes in Wings. To hear him tell it, he was quite literally orchestrating a military maneuver for the cameras: "We had been rehearsing with 3,500 army personnel, and 65-odd pilots for 10 days. Camera positions on one-hundred-foot parallels erected at the apex of a triangle, and at various distances down one side. Seventeen first cameramen and crews plus positions for twenty-eight Imoes electrically controlled. It was a gigantic undertaking, and the only element we couldn't control was the weather. That is what I thought."
The wild card that Wellman didn't consider was the human element. At this point in the shoot, there had already been a few plane crashes. The pilots weren't badly injured, but the planes were demolished, and the air corps was prepared to pull its participation if another aircraft was lost...and that would doom the entire production. Sure enough, after cueing wave after wave of soldiers on the ground and biplanes in the air - this was the 1920s equivalent of the helicopter attack in Apocalypse Now (1979) - a daredevil flier's plane went down. Fortunately, everyone from the producers to the generals was so thrilled with what they had seen, the wrecked plane was immediately forgotten.
Movie buffs will note that Wings was a pivotal step in launching Gary Cooper to big-screen prominence. Cooper - who plays a heroic, not-long-for-this-world pilot - only appears in one rather brief scene. But his piercing eyes and broad-shoulder bearing burn a hole in the screen. Wellman was mesmerized by what he saw through his camera, not that Cooper himself was convinced that he'd done a worthy job.
After filming Cooper's scene, Wellman retired to his room and took a shower in preparation for dinner. Suddenly there was a knock at the door, and Wellman called for the person to come in. Entering the living room dripping wet, with a towel wrapped around his waist, Wellman was shocked to find Cooper standing nervously. Cooper hemmed and hawed, but it soon became apparent that he wanted to re-shoot his scene, even though he was hardly in a powerful enough position to demand such a thing. When Wellman asked him why, Cooper explained that, right in the middle of the scene, he picked his nose! "Just a minute, Coop," Wellman told the young actor. "You keep right on picking your nose, and you will pick yourself into a fortune."
Producer: Lucien Hubbard
Director: William A. Wellman
Screenplay: Hope Loring and Louis D. Lighton, John Monk Saunders (story)
Cinematography: Harry Perry
Art Direction: Hans Dreier (uncredited)
Music: J.S. Zamecnik (original music uncredited)
Film Editing: E. Lloyd Sheldon and Lucien Hubbard (uncredited)
Cast: Mary Preston (Clara Bow), Jack Powell (Charles 'Buddy' Rogers), David Armstrong (Richard Arlen), Sylvia Lewis (Jobyna Ralston), Herman Schwimpf (El Brendel), Air commander (Richard Tucker), Cadet White (Gary Cooper).
by Paul Tatara
D'you know what you can do when you see a shooting star?- Mary Preston
No, what?- John 'Jack' Powell
You can kiss the girl you love.- Mary Preston
A scene of an aerial raid on a German troop train was filmed but not used. It later turned up as part of Legion of the Condemned, The (1928).
The first movie, and the only silent movie (in the 20th century), to win the Academy Award for Best Picture.
The entire score was composed on a Wurlitzer pipe organ.
Richard Arlen, who's character is a fighter pilot, had actually been a pilot in World War I (though he never saw combat).
After the opening credits, the following written prologue appears: "On June 12, 1927, in Washington, Colonel Charles A. Lindbergh paid simple tribute to those who fell in War. `In that time,' he said, `feats were performed and deeds accomplished which were far greater than any peace accomplishments of aviation.' For those young warriors of the sky, whose wings are folded about them forever, this picture is dedicated." Wings would become the first of many aviation films directed by William A. Wellman, who was himself a pilot and a veteran of the renowned Lafayette Flying Corp of World War I. Although Wings had its premiere in 1927 and continued in roadshow engagements throughout 1928, it was not registered for copyright until January 5, 1929, at which time a musical score and sound effects were added for its national release.
Aerial sequences were projected in Magnascope and, according to the Variety review, were in color, "not natural but with sky and clouds deftly tinted plus spouts of flame shooting from planes.'' The review stated that the film was fourteen reels in length when it was shown to a San Antonio preview audience, but was cut before the general release. The review listed the running time as 139 minutes, which was divided by an intermission after sixty-five minutes. A horizontally split screen effect is used during one of the air battle scenes.
Although opening credits and intertitles list Charles Rogers' character name as "Jack Powell" and Richard Arlen's character as "David Armstrong," several contemporary reviews identify the characters as "John Powell" and "Bruce Armstrong," respectively. The comic actor El Brendel played a German-American soldier with an American flag tattooed on his arm, who is identified in intertitle cards as "Herman Schwimpf" in the viewed print. However, some contempory and modern sources list his character's name as "August Schmidt" and a contemporary souvenir listed Brendel's character as "Patrick O'Brien." Although actor Roscoe Karns, who appears as "Lt. Walter Cameron," was listed in the opening credits of the viewed print, his name does not appear in any of the contemporary reviews found. Margery Chapin Wellman and Gloria Wellman, wife and daughter of director Wellman, appeared in the film as a French peasant woman and child, respectively.
According to the studio's production file found at AMPAS, the shooting of several scenes was rescheduled to accommodate Clara Bow's completion of the film Rough House Rosie (see AFI Catalog of Feature Films, 1921-30). Modern sources add the following information about the production: According to a 1987 New York Times article, actor Charles Rogers, who became more commonly known known as "Buddy" Rogers, stated that one of the film's assistant directors, Charlie Barton, played the soldier hit by "Mary Preston's" automobile. Other sources state that Frank Clarke played "Capt. Kellerman." Richard Arlen, who was a World War I Royal Air Force veteran, and Rogers did their own flying in some of the sequences. Other military and civilian stunt pilots who performed in the film were Hoyt Vandenberg, Earl Partridge, Frank Tomick, Frank Andrews, Clarence Irvine, Sterling R. Stribling, Denis Kavanagh, E. J. "Rod" Rogers and E. H. Robinson. According to several modern sources, stunt aviator Dick Grace broke his neck while performing an aerial stunt, and later recovered. Grace has also been identified by a modern source as the American flier who flinches when he is kissed by a Frenchman while being decorated. Although actress Louise Closser Hale was included in an American Cinematographer article on the film, she was not in the viewed print. Cast members added by modern sources include the following: James Pierce, Tommy Carr, Margery Chapin, Thomas Carrigan, Andy Clark, James Hall, Hal George, Ormer Locklear, Leo Nomis, Harry Reynolds, Zalla Zarana and William Hickey.
The AMPAS library file for the film contains correspondence between writer Byron Morgan and the Famous Players-Lasky Corporation. That correspondence indicate that Morgan had, in 1925 and 1926, submitted original ideas for a story about air service in World War I. According to a copy of a signed agreement in the file, in 1927 Morgan was paid $3750 for all material created by him, for which he waived claims to be mentioned in connection with the film. According to modern sources, Richard Johnston served as assistant director, Frank Blount as production manager, Edith Head as costume designer and Otto Dyar as still photographer. Additional photographers working on the film were E. Burton Steene, L. B. "Bill" Abbott, George Stevens and Sergeant Ward. The following people supervised the flying sequences, according to modern sources: S. C. Campbell, Ted Parson, Carl von Hartmann and James A. Healy. Brig. Gen. F. P. Lahm and Maj. F. M. Andrews commanded the military pilots. Brig. Gen. Paul B. Malone was in charge of the construction at Camp Stanley, and Capt. E. P. Ketchum, a military engineer, supervised the technical and historical reproduction of the trench systems depicted in the film. Lt. Hap Arnold, who would later become a general, served as a technical consultant, Maj. A. M. Jones supervised ground troop maneuvers, Capt. Robert Mortimer served as ordnance supervisor and the communications officer was Capt. Walter Ellis. Lt. Cmdr. Harry Reynolds and Capt. Bill Taylor assisted in preparing the planes for filming. Various modern sources state that either one or three persons died during filming.
According to modern sources, the production of the film was made with major contributions from the United States War Department. The recreation of the battle of St. Mihiel was shot on location at Camp Stanley near San Antonio, TX, and aerial sequences were shot above Kelly Field. Wellman's crew spent a year in production at the ground school at Brooks Field to insure authenticity. Besides location sites, the War Department provided airplanes and air pilots from all over the country. Servicemen performed as extra ground soldiers, and also assisted the production crew by building trenches and producing explosives.
A preview of the film was held in San Antonio, in the spring of 1927, and the picture opened in New York City and Los Angeles in August 1927 and January 1928, respectively. Wings was not widely released until January 5, 1929. Wings received the first Academy Award for Best Picture of 1927-28 and Roy Pomeroy's contribution was given a special Academy Award for Engineering Effects. Modern sources state that Gary Cooper's brief scene in Wings helped launch his career to stardom and was the beginning of his romantic relationship with Clara Bow. In 1987, technicians at the Library of Congress completed a restored print of the film. Rogers, one of the few veterans of the film still living at that time, attended the premiere of the print held at the Library's Mary Pickford Theater, named for his late wife. Wings is considered by film critics to be the first important movie about World War I aerial combat, and many film historians still rank its photography among the best on film. Stock footage of aerial combat from the film has been used in several other productions.
Released in United States Summer August 12, 1927
Released in United States January 1996
Released in United States May 2, 2012
Selected in 1997 for inclusion in the Library of Congress' National Film Registry.
Released in United States Summer August 12, 1927
Released in United States January 1996 (Shown at Sundance Film Festival (William Wellman: American Storyteller) in Park City, Utah January 18-28, 1996.)
Released in United States May 2, 2012 (Restored print will screen exclusively at locations featuring Cinemark XD Extreme Digital Cinema auditoriums)