The 1st ever Best Picture winner!
Wings is a 1927 silent war film directed by William A. Wellman, and stars Clara Bow, Charles "Buddy" Rogers, and Richard Arlen. It is the 1st film to ever win the Academy Award for Best Picture, and to this day, is the only fully silent film to win the Oscar. The Artist, which won in 2011, was the only other silent film to win, although it had a few lines of spoken dialogue at the very end.
The story of Wings revolves around two men who are conflicting rivals: Jack Powell and David Armstrong. Both try to win the affection of a girl named Sylvia, but Jack is oblivious to the fact that the girl living next door, Mary Preston, is in love with him. Jack and David later enlist as combat pilots in the Air Service, where their bitter rivalry turns into an affirmative friendship.
There is a lot to take in while watching this film; the rivalry (and later friendship) between Jack and David, Mary's attempts at getting Jack to return her affections, and the gaudy aerial combat sequences. Wings hops and skips back and forth between these intermingled story points. Jack and Mary interact for a while, then following next is a scene of David saying goodbye to his parents. Afterwards, we have a lengthy sequence of combat training and then aerial action. Then we have a long scene of Mary trying to win over Jack. Then we're back to aerial action. There appears to be no rhyme or reason with the plot.
- The aerial combat scenes. The cinematography and adrenaline would be able to hold their own if compared to modern-day effects. As an added bonus, the title cards keep you informed about where our heroes are located and if danger is lurking right behind them. Whoever said the Academy detests films with action sequences?
- Clara Bow as Mary Preston. Though she has no spoken dialogue, Bow has an aura of flamboyance that makes her appearances a joyful presence. Whether she is giving a big smile or sulking when she suspects that Jack does not love her in return, Bow dominates the screen with her body language and facial expressions, constantly giving wide-eyed looks or waving her arms, whether in distress or attempting to get attention.
- Clara Bow's lack of screen time. While Bow is a pleasing sight while on screen, the problem is she isn't on screen enough. The aerial scenes and war-battle sequences, while undeniably impressive, gobble up too much time and keep poor Mary Preston on the periphery, particularly when she is sent home after serving in the war effort for some time.
- The film's interest begins to wane in its second act. I found myself having a harder time resisting the temptation of checking my phone to see how much longer I had. The first major scene after the intermission is Mary Preston trying to reconnect with Jack, who is drunk enough that he imagines various objects emitting bubbles. After that, the rest of the movie is almost nothing but planes buzzing and bullets firing, which shapes up to be a little too much of a good thing. How long can you bare watching planes fly around trying to shoot each other down, with very small breaks in between?
The length is a little excessive and the plot is noticeably inconsistent, but with its impressive flying combat scenes, along with a stellar performance from Clara Bow and a nice dose of humor, Wings is an enjoyable, silent war piece that was a worthy winner of the very 1st Best Picture Oscar.
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