Synopsis: Two men, Jack (Charles Rogers) and David (Richard Arlen), join the air force in WWI. They’re both in love with the same woman, Sylvia (Jobyna Ralston), and despite initially hating each other, grow to be close friends. But can their friendship survive the war?
And so begins my best picture journey.
I’ll be honest – I expected to hate Wings, or at least fall asleep. Although I love old movies, a silent two-and-a-half-hour WWI movie didn’t sound like something that would keep me terribly riveted. Perhaps these low expectations are the reason I enjoyed it so much.
While there were lags in my attention (it took me over three hours to watch it, what with all the bathroom/snack/martini breaks), it still had me bawling at the end.
There are three distinct storylines here: the war, the unrequited romance between Mary (Clara Bow) and Jack, and the friendship between Jack and David.
The war, while an exciting and necessary plot element, is something we’ve all become quite jaded by – we have explosions and derring-do coming out of our ears. Also, the mechanics of storytelling in film are growing ever more refined, so while the action in this film is exciting, it’s not what we’ve come to expect.
Speaking of action, it did surprise me in its technical prowess. An early scene of Sylvia and David on a swing is interesting, if vertigo-inducing, and the shot of each man in a plane was done by strapping a camera to the engine and making the guy do it himself.
The romance is cute, but Clara Bow’s Mary, despite her go-getter attitude (she’s not a passive character, she gets right into the thick of the war as a driver), is little more than a ditzy dame who’s only in the film to give us the warm fuzzies when Jack realises he’s in love with her.
It’s the third story, the one between Jack and David, that leaves the lasting impression. Its beginnings are rote (Jack gains respect for David after he stands up smiling after a helluva beating) but the trajectory and climax are as tragically beautiful as anything you’d watch today.
Despite David’s character spending a great deal of the film vacantly brooding with the dead eyes of a psychopath, and despite him being stinking rich and dating the most popular girl in town, his character is incredibly likable. In fact, Jack, the scrappy country boy, is the one it takes a while to root for.
Although it was over two hours long, this film never felt like it dragged. Some sequences could have been cut, though, such as the scene where the boys get comically drunk (fun fact: Charles Rogers got drunk for real in this scene, and it was his first time).
In my opinion, the whole Mary storyline could have been cut out, actually. Which, I guess, would have been immensely stupid to do in 1927 since Clara Bow was the most famous cast member. She was, after all, the world’s first “it” girl.
The well-developed storyline about friendship made me wonder about the universality of those emotions. We seem to be getting increasingly shocking or cynical in our portrayal of romantic relationships but the fact that this beautifully told story can still be so touching and complete almost 90 years later goes to show that while the conventions of romance, sex and dating have changed over the years, friendships stay the same.
I’d recommend this one to anyone interested in film. I’ve watched a few of the old classics (Nosferatu, Metropolis), and while they’re quite an adjustment for modern sensibilities, silent movies are an interesting lesson in the economy of dialogue. Without constant talking and with limited action and technical resources, this movie has to rely on the emotions to tell its story – which it certainly does.
If you want to watch it, there appears to be a full-length version available on YouTube.