skip navigation


Remind Me

TCMDb Archive MaterialsView all archives (1)


powered by AFI

After the opening credits, the following written prologue appears: "On June 12, 1927, in Washington, Colonel Charles A. Lindbergh paid simple tribute to those who fell in War. `In that time,' he said, `feats were performed and deeds accomplished which were far greater than any peace accomplishments of aviation.' For those young warriors of the sky, whose wings are folded about them forever, this picture is dedicated." Wings would become the first of many aviation films directed by William A. Wellman, who was himself a pilot and a veteran of the renowned Lafayette Flying Corp of World War I. Although Wings had its premiere in 1927 and continued in roadshow engagements throughout 1928, it was not registered for copyright until January 5, 1929, at which time a musical score and sound effects were added for its national release.
       Aerial sequences were projected in Magnascope and, according to the Variety review, were in color, "not natural but with sky and clouds deftly tinted plus spouts of flame shooting from planes.'' The review stated that the film was fourteen reels in length when it was shown to a San Antonio preview audience, but was cut before the general release. The review listed the running time as 139 minutes, which was divided by an intermission after sixty-five minutes. A horizontally split screen effect is used during one of the air battle scenes.
       Although opening credits and intertitles list Charles Rogers' character name as "Jack Powell" and Richard Arlen's character as "David Armstrong," several contemporary reviews identify the characters as "John Powell" and "Bruce Armstrong," respectively. The comic actor El Brendel played a German-American soldier with an American flag tattooed on his arm, who is identified in intertitle cards as "Herman Schwimpf" in the viewed print. However, some contempory and modern sources list his character's name as "August Schmidt" and a contemporary souvenir listed Brendel's character as "Patrick O'Brien." Although actor Roscoe Karns, who appears as "Lt. Walter Cameron," was listed in the opening credits of the viewed print, his name does not appear in any of the contemporary reviews found. Margery Chapin Wellman and Gloria Wellman, wife and daughter of director Wellman, appeared in the film as a French peasant woman and child, respectively.
       According to the studio's production file found at AMPAS, the shooting of several scenes was rescheduled to accommodate Clara Bow's completion of the film Rough House Rosie (see AFI Catalog of Feature Films, 1921-30). Modern sources add the following information about the production: According to a 1987 New York Times article, actor Charles Rogers, who became more commonly known known as "Buddy" Rogers, stated that one of the film's assistant directors, Charlie Barton, played the soldier hit by "Mary Preston's" automobile. Other sources state that Frank Clarke played "Capt. Kellerman." Richard Arlen, who was a World War I Royal Air Force veteran, and Rogers did their own flying in some of the sequences. Other military and civilian stunt pilots who performed in the film were Hoyt Vandenberg, Earl Partridge, Frank Tomick, Frank Andrews, Clarence Irvine, Sterling R. Stribling, Denis Kavanagh, E. J. "Rod" Rogers and E. H. Robinson. According to several modern sources, stunt aviator Dick Grace broke his neck while performing an aerial stunt, and later recovered. Grace has also been identified by a modern source as the American flier who flinches when he is kissed by a Frenchman while being decorated. Although actress Louise Closser Hale was included in an American Cinematographer article on the film, she was not in the viewed print. Cast members added by modern sources include the following: James Pierce, Tommy Carr, Margery Chapin, Thomas Carrigan, Andy Clark, James Hall, Hal George, Ormer Locklear, Leo Nomis, Harry Reynolds, Zalla Zarana and William Hickey.
       The AMPAS library file for the film contains correspondence between writer Byron Morgan and the Famous Players-Lasky Corporation. That correspondence indicate that Morgan had, in 1925 and 1926, submitted original ideas for a story about air service in World War I. According to a copy of a signed agreement in the file, in 1927 Morgan was paid $3750 for all material created by him, for which he waived claims to be mentioned in connection with the film. According to modern sources, Richard Johnston served as assistant director, Frank Blount as production manager, Edith Head as costume designer and Otto Dyar as still photographer. Additional photographers working on the film were E. Burton Steene, L. B. "Bill" Abbott, George Stevens and Sergeant Ward. The following people supervised the flying sequences, according to modern sources: S. C. Campbell, Ted Parson, Carl von Hartmann and James A. Healy. Brig. Gen. F. P. Lahm and Maj. F. M. Andrews commanded the military pilots. Brig. Gen. Paul B. Malone was in charge of the construction at Camp Stanley, and Capt. E. P. Ketchum, a military engineer, supervised the technical and historical reproduction of the trench systems depicted in the film. Lt. Hap Arnold, who would later become a general, served as a technical consultant, Maj. A. M. Jones supervised ground troop maneuvers, Capt. Robert Mortimer served as ordnance supervisor and the communications officer was Capt. Walter Ellis. Lt. Cmdr. Harry Reynolds and Capt. Bill Taylor assisted in preparing the planes for filming. Various modern sources state that either one or three persons died during filming.
       According to modern sources, the production of the film was made with major contributions from the United States War Department. The recreation of the battle of St. Mihiel was shot on location at Camp Stanley near San Antonio, TX, and aerial sequences were shot above Kelly Field. Wellman's crew spent a year in production at the ground school at Brooks Field to insure authenticity. Besides location sites, the War Department provided airplanes and air pilots from all over the country. Servicemen performed as extra ground soldiers, and also assisted the production crew by building trenches and producing explosives.
       A preview of the film was held in San Antonio, in the spring of 1927, and the picture opened in New York City and Los Angeles in August 1927 and January 1928, respectively. Wings was not widely released until January 5, 1929. Wings received the first Academy Award for Best Picture of 1927-28 and Roy Pomeroy's contribution was given a special Academy Award for Engineering Effects. Modern sources state that Gary Cooper's brief scene in Wings helped launch his career to stardom and was the beginning of his romantic relationship with Clara Bow. In 1987, technicians at the Library of Congress completed a restored print of the film. Rogers, one of the few veterans of the film still living at that time, attended the premiere of the print held at the Library's Mary Pickford Theater, named for his late wife. Wings is considered by film critics to be the first important movie about World War I aerial combat, and many film historians still rank its photography among the best on film. Stock footage of aerial combat from the film has been used in several other productions.