The Golden Age of Hollywood

Academy Award Winners : Wings (1927) Carl Davis scored version

First of a series of articles on Best Picture winners as the countdown to the Oscars begins. Spoilers ahead if you haven't seen the movie.

Aviation epic Wings (1927) was the first winner of the Best Picture Oscar. It was directed by William Wellman (Wild Bill as he was often known) who had been a flier himself and went to great lengths to make the flying sequences authentic consuming lots of time and film in the process.

It worried Paramount executives who went to the set. Otto Kahn the main backer got a flea in his ear from the abrasive Wellman who was determined to get the battle scenes photographed in the best possible conditions. Eventually the executives pretty much gave the director a free hand in the production and it was worth it. The flying scenes in Wings are probably as exciting and impressive as those in any movie.

Out of the cockpit though the movie for me isn't as strong. Its greatest asset from an acting point of view is the irrepressible Clara Bow who lights up the screen like a light bulb. Charles "Buddy" Rogers is a bit of an idiot not to see that Clara is the gal for him if you ask me. Most of the time he's pining for Jobyna Ralston here beautiful as ever but a fairly colourless mannequin compared with Bow. Richard Arlen of course is her real beau and keeps it from Rogers when they become buddies. I've never really been moved by this love story and feel the film would work better without it.

The other problem for me with Wings (1927) is it lacks the extra dimension of anti-war feeling you get in say other silent war films like What Price Glory ? (1926) and The Big Parade (1925). It feels rather gung ho and tries to rather add this in a contrived way by having Rogers kill Arlen by accident : that all seems rather convenient and against the odds. Arlen's survival to go back through the lines after his plane is shot down is a minor miracle in itself never mind having him killed by his best friend. I think his demise (if he has to die) could have been achieved much more effectively and movingly. Its just an excuse for Arlen's mother to say to Rogers that "I wanted to hate you but you didn't kill my son - it was the war." Well yes.

The version of Wings (1927) I viewed was the Photoplay (Kevin Brownlow company which restore silent films) Carl Davis one from the early 90s. This was shown on UK TV in the days when old films got in the mainstream schedules more than occasionally. I had seen the movie in an inferior print with an organ score.

The impact of silent films is so often down to the quality of the score and this is a good example. Davis' score and the print certainly made Wings a much better experience than before. Davis I feel has particularly nailed the flying sequences and the Folies Bergere sequence in Paris where Rogers gets drunk. He later recalled that it was Wellman that got him drunk and made him believe he saw bubbles which were later animated.

Wings wasn't the only best picture in 1927 though technically the winner F.W. Murnau's Sunrise (1927) got an award as Best Artistic Production a category abandoned the next year. Wings does have brilliant battle scenes and flying sequences but in terms of characters apart from Clara Bow it doesn't do a lot for me. Sunrise (1927) probably deserved the Best Picture Oscar more.

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Comment by The Giant on January 24, 2009 at 2:56pm

If you read the long thread from Nitrateville, there have been reports of Paramount finally making up a new high-definition transfer of WINGS. There have also been reports that some of the major Paramount Silents such as the Josef' Von Sternberg titles could be leased to Criterion for DVD releae. But how soon, or if any of that will actually happen, still remains to be seen.

As for other companies, I am hoping to the long promised DVD release of the fully restored THE BIG PARADE (1925) from Warner's this year. If no DVD set, at least get this fabulous film back on TCM. It hasn't aired in any form since May of 2004. That is way to long for MGM's greatest success prior to GONE WITH THE WIND in 1939. There really should be a DVD in 2009, because this year marks the 85th Anniversary of MGM. So it is the perfect time for the film to be released at long last.
Comment by The Giant on January 23, 2009 at 4:27pm


The Photoplay Productions WINGS is much better than the older Paramount Laser-disc. However, the copy I sent you on DVD-R is from VHS, and transfered from PAL to NTSC. And Region2 to region one. So unfortunately, it's not like we have a new broadcast master from TCM of this version. Maybe TCM will eventually with Paramount's consent be able to run this version? Let's hope so anyway. I find it beyond ubsurd that this edition was produced, and few people have gotten to see it since the early 90's, and never run in America! If Paramount isn't going to release a DVD, they should at least allow TCM to air the movie in this form. And as I said a new broadcast master would be nice too.

From what I understand, most of the original tints were re-instated by Photoplay, but not all of them. Here is an interesting quote from "Deverett" on Nitrateville:

"I wish I would have seen this thread when it was active, since Wings is kind of an obsession of mine. It has been "preserved" 3 different times all from the same source material which was a nitrate release print, but has yet to be completed.

The photoplay version has come the closest since they took the time to tint throughout but it does not have all of the proper colors used to match the original continuity (It is pretty darn close, but there were one or two scenes that did not change to the brief lavender if i remember), and they did not restore the original special colored sections which can be spotted by what looks almost like animated flames coming out of the guns on the airplanes, and when the planes are crashing.

The LOC version is also tinted blue in the night scenes only if I remember, but my guess is this was the version that was screened, in New York last year? Those who saw it would know better than me.

The AMPAS version is B/W only

If Paramount is doing a high def transfer I would be delighted but also not completely sold that it is for release, since they have "restored" a number of Clara Bow films and have yet to release any of them.

Someday this film will be restored properly and completely, and when it is I'll be first in line to buy a ticket."

You can read much more about this at the following link:

In addition, here are links for the up-coming screening next month of WINGS in Wisconsin. A restored print, presented with a live performance of Carl Davis score and a Full-Orchestra!


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