The first film to win the Oscar for Best Picture, 1927’s Wings is the only silent film to win the coveted award. Directed by William Wellman (A Star Is Born, The Ox-Bow Incident, Beau Geste) Wings took over a year to complete because of the technically demanding aerial sequences. The first collaboration between Hollywood and the Air Force, the film was granted the latter’s assistance with the understanding that the Air Force be portrayed in a positive light.
In 1917 small town America, young car fan Jack Powell (Charles “Buddy” Rogers) is in love with visiting city girl Sylvia Lewis (Jobyna Ralston), who doesn’t have the courage to tell him that she in love with David Armstrong (Richard Arlen), one of the town’s wealthiest young men. Meanwhile, Jack is utterly unaware that his sweet next door neighbor Mary Preston (Clara Bow) has a crush on him.
When World War I beckons, Jack and David join the armed forces to become pilots. Although initially antagonistic toward one another because of their shared love for Sylvia, they gradually become friends. Before long, they’re flying missions together and looking out for each other both in the air and on the ground. Meanwhile, Mary is contributing to the war effort as an ambulance driver; one memorable sequence has her “saving” an intoxicated Jack from the romantic advances of a woman in France. As the war reaches its culmination, Jack and David find themselves in t, he air support for the Battle of Saint-Mihiel.
In 1927, the idea of flying was still fairly new. The first transatlantic flight didn’t occur until 1919 and Lindbergh’s historic trip from New York to Paris didn’t occur until a few months before Wings hit theaters. This movie was an epic if there ever was one in 1927, with hundreds of extras in the battle scenes and aerial footage that is often stunning. While there’s no denying that the acting is a bit clunky, that was often par for the course in the silent era. Given the lack of sound, actors had to exaggerate there gestures.
Watch for a small, yet important cameo from future superstar Gary Cooper as Cadet White; a veteran flyer who’s about to run out of luck. As for which man gets the girl, you’ll have to watch Wings to find out.
In a studio press release, Paramount writes “because the original negative was lost decades ago, contemporary audiences have only seen Wings in a compromised form. The restoration process utilized a duplicate negative housed in the Paramount archive, but despite this being the best element available, the negative was beset by damage, including entire reels that were strafed with scratches and printed-in nitrate deterioration that was literally eating into the edges of the frames. Using state-of-the-art digital tools normally used to create special effects, the film was meticulously restored frame-by-frame. Original tints and effects, such as colors that were embossed onto the film strip to give flames and explosions a fiery look, were also digitally recreated based on a detailed continuity script that still existed and tinting/toning guides from the period.”
Presented in 1.33:1, the film utilizes sepia tones for daytime scenes and black-and-white for the nighttime’s shots, with the solid blacks showing up surprisingly well. Things are particularly vivid whenever the intertitle cards appear. The image here is very clean, showing no marks of age. Object delineation is a bit soft, but that could have been related to issues with the original print.
Obviously, there’s no dialogue here. However, the Blu-ray disc presents a re-recorded score by J.S. Zamecink (orchestrated and arranged by Dominik Hauser with featured pianist Frederick Hodges and sound effects by Ben Burtt) in lossless DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 and a pipe-organ score composed and played by Gaylord Carter in Dolby Digital 2.0. In 5.1 the orchestral sound is spread nicely across the soundfield, offering a nice musical bloom in the rears. The sound effects are quite strong.
French, Spanish, and Portuguese subtitles are available.
Wings contain the following special features:
- Wings: Grandeur in the Sky (1080p, 25:56): A retrospective that looks at the film landscape of the 1920s, the early history of the project, the difficulties in making an aerial combat picture on a large scale, U.S. military support of the picture, shooting in San Antonio, the work of Director William Wellman, casting the major roles, the challenges of the shoot, creating authentic war sequences, the picture’s budget, its success, and much more.
- Restoring the Power and Beauty of Wings (1080p, 14:21): A thorough look at resorting the film’s visuals, recreating and re-recording its score, and adding authentic sound effects.
- Dogfight! (1080p, 12:54): A brief piece that looks at the evolution of the airplanes and aerial combat during World War I.