Wings is the story of two rivals, David (Richard Arlen) and Jack (Charles "Buddy" Rogers) who grew up in the same small town. They are rivals over the hand of a girl, Sylvia (Jobyna Ralston). The problem is, she really loves David, and she's just too nice to let Jack down hard, so she doesn't dissuade him in his beliefs. Meanwhile, Mary (played by the famous "It" girl, Clara Bow) is in love with Jack but he doesn't notice. The entry of America into World War I is imminent, and the two boys join up to be pilots in the fledgling air corps (remember, it had only been 15 years since the first flight of the Wright brothers when the war broke out).
We get the typical Rocky-like training segments as the rivals go through boot camp and flight training. Along the way, like all movie men do, they realize that they really like each other, and become inseperable. There's a notable early role by the great Gary Cooper as a fellow pilot who scoffs at the good luck charms they carry. He boasts that he doesn't need one, then crashes his plane and dies. Exit, stage left.
The two go off to France, where the most interesting and exciting scenes of the overlong film take place. The film uses actual footage of WWI dogfights blended seamlessly with staged shots of the two pilots and their German foes. This results in a truly awesome hour of film, where they go on mission after mission and cope with the hardships of war life on the ground. They are both awarded for valor by several different governments, and Jack (but not David for some reason) is sent off to Paris on leave. He gets drunk, runs into Mary, who has joined up as an ambulance driver, but is too drunk to realize it, and she saves him from court martial without his knowledge. Then, it's off to battle for the last big push into German lines.
The strengths of the film are the great battle sequences, the enthusiastic performances of the two leads, and the shining moments when the beautiful Clara Bow is onscreen. This is the first time I have seen her in anything, and I can see what the fuss was about. The weaknesses of the film are the flimsy plot, the punishing lenght (it was about 40 minutes too long), and the almost schizophrenic blend of gung-ho American righteousness and anti-war stances. I can't really figure out where the movie stood on the whole war question. All Quiet on the Western Front, released three years later, is the definitive anti-war film of the pre-WWII era, while this movie, like so many Hollywood films to come out up to the present day, wants it both ways.
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