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Saturday, August 3, 2013

WINGS (1927)

As all good cineasts know, WINGS won the first Academy Award for Best Picture. Or rather, it won ‘Best Production’ while F. W. Murnau’s SUNRISE/’27 won in a category labeled ‘Best Artistic Production.’ Retroactively, the Academy chose commerce over art, and designated WINGS as its official Best Pic winner. And why not? If it isn’t exactly on an artistic par with the Murnau, it’s still a dandy piece of pop entertainment, a far sight better than many a winner to come. Clara Bow was the film’s big draw, but her crush on flyboy Charles ‘Buddy’ Rogers is really a sideshow to the big airborne battle scenes which ‘made’ the pic then, and make it now. The story gimmick is that the two small town rivals, boyish Rogers & gravely handsome Richard Arlen, are each vying for the affections of yet another girl, Jobyna Ralston, back at home, yet quickly become best pals in the sky. (It's all very bromantic.) Ralston only has eyes for Arlen, but he’s too much the gentleman to let on. Leaving Clara . . . ? Leaving her to go proactive, joining the ambulance corp to follow her guy to France. All well and good, in fact, neatly put together. But it’s the flying that’s the thing. Still pretty thrilling too, thanks to some truly innovative work by lenser Harry Perry who later topped this on Howard Hughes HELL’S ANGELS/’30. Here, when you see the boys in their cockpits, they’re really in the air, really spinning around, really flying the plane, even running the camera for their close-ups. It creates a sense of danger you can feel. Tough-guy helmer William Wellman steps up to his task, showing off his best early form, and not only in the sky. Look fast for a bit from a devastating Gary Cooper who needs but a minute of screen time to demolish the film’s two young leads with a blast of star wattage.*

DOUBLE-BILL:* There’s no good DVD at the moment, but keep on the lookout for Coop’s very own WWI aero-drama, LILAC TIME/’28 with Colleen Moore as the French girl who loves him.

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