Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Wings (1927) at the Belcourt

Good morning!

Well, did you make it through Monday? I was just thinking about this past weekend's events, and realized I forgot to tell you all about one of the highlights! For shame. I mentioned that I've been on a massive silent movie binge lately, so it was enough to set my already goggly-eyes even MORE a-goggle to see a listing for Wings at the Belcourt last week. That's right, the Best Picture Academy Award winner of 1928 was playing in my very town! On the big screen! I met up with Emma from The Fiercest Lilliputian on Saturday and we both settled in for two hours and twenty minutes of high-speed action and aerial drama. The movie wasn't what I expected, but honestly, it was better in a lot of ways.

Notice how she's topped billed, AND in the center of both posters. Also,
how gorgeous are these posters?
If you've heard of the movie before, it's probably through the Trivial Pursuit knowledge of its first-Oscar-ever win and Clara Bow's being in it. Look at these posters, and try and get away from those exclamation point eyes! As hot a jazz baby as ever appeared on the screen, Bow was at the peak of her career at the time this movie was released; however, she's not the center of the story. Clara said herself of the film, "Wings is...a man's picture and I'm just the whipped cream on top of the pie"...and she's dead right! From the way it's always been marketed, I assumed the movie followed a romance between her and the two aviators, Buddy Rogers and Richard Arlen (kind of like Test Pilot, with Myrna Loy as the bone of contention between friends Clark Gable and Spencer Tracy). Instead, Clara clocks maybe twenty minutes of screen time, never really becoming "part" of the narrative in what is essentially a brothers-in-arms war picture. She's not even the girl the two men fall out over! Take out Clara Bow's scenes, and, while you would miss her, you would still have a complete film. I'm glad she's there because she's cute as a button, but it's strange how studios would just plunk actors down into a picture for the sake of having them in the picture sometimes.

In the movie, it's just before WWI, and Jack (Rogers) is in love with Sylvia (Jobyna Ralston). Sylvia is in love with David (Arlen), and Mary (Clara Bow) is in love with Jack, who doesn't know she's alive. Ah, the twisted path of romance! Jack and David, both prospective pilots, end up assigned to the same ground school where their figurative sparring turns into actual sparring during boxing instruction in the physical training part of their boot camp. David wins Jack's respect and they become best friends, tag teaming in some aerial dogfights against German aces, becoming decorated war heroes, and generally being inseparable. When a misunderstanding over Sylvia's love token (a locket with her photo that was meant for David, but accidentally given to Jack) causes a rift between the two, they become enemies again just long enough for David's plane to be shot down over German lines and Jack to become suicidally despondent over his best friend's death. But he's not dead yet, folks! David evades capture by the Heinies, slugs through a swamp for two days, finds the German air base, steals a German plane, shoots up said air base with their own munitions, and heads back for the American front in the purloined Fokker! AAAH! I was almost cheering in my seat throughout this sequence! GO DAVID!

It's in the last reel of the picture that the tragedy-war-is-hell message of the movie is hammered home in a particularly heart-rending way...I won't spoil it for you, but imagine I spent a good part of the last twenty minutes stage whispering "He might not be dead though!" to Emma as my poor little nerves were frayed to breaking point by a series of climactic dog fights. It wasn't that that ruined the movie for me, but the kind-of-sweet ending did not make up for the tragedy just before, and I left the theater not feeling "Yay! Clara Bow!" so much as "WHY! WHY IS [xxx] DEAD?!" You can tell it was a good movie, though, when you're still wringing your hands later in the day while recounting it to other. "AND THEN [xxx] JUST DIED, WTH!"

Talking points, People magazine style:

  • Gary Cooper shows up for about two minutes, but it's two minutes of searing, blue-eyed handsomeness from that tall drink of water...isn't he all the more winning for being in full aviator gear! He comes in, says something about how everyone's gotta go sometimes, eats a candy bar, and immediately gets blown up in an in-air plane crackup. NOOOO....GAAAARRREEEEEEY.....it's hard for me to imagine Clara Bow and Gary Cooper as an item, but they were! He also has a small scene in It, that same year, grace à his twenties' screen queen girlfriend.

  • .
  • Richard Arlen is a very likable, capable leading man! He has those same leonine good looks as a young Franco Nero, and you know I don't say that lightly. He's also in Beggars of Life with Louise Brooks (which I haven't seen plan on seeing sometime today-- yippee, it's on Youtube!), and had a successful career in the talkies era as a stalwart of B-movie. Jobyna Ralston, the pretty-as-a-picture girl whose attention both men are vying for in the movie, actually married Arlen in 1927! Secret: I liked him about a hundred times better than actual-star Buddy Rogers, no offence

  • Speaking of, Buddy Rogers, who costarred with Mary Pickford in My Best Girl the same year Wings was released, married America's Sweetheart ten years later. They were together until her death in 1979, after which Rogers sold the legendary Pickfair, his home for almost forty years, and remarried, living to the ripe old age of 94. The stories he could tell, I'm sure!!
While a second's glimpse of a naked-to-the-waist Clara Bow was definitely the most shocking moment of the movie (I'm serious! This is pre-code, people!), there were scenes where men were bleeding down their faces as their planes went into a tailspin, a man was crushed by some rubble as a French tank bore down over the battlement he was under, and handtinted "color fire effects" to some of the explosions in the picture that made the action sequences much more intense than I'd expected, even having seen plenty of pictures from this period. I guess I haven't seen a lot of "men's movies" from the time, is the problem. Paramount's reissue included a full score and some synchronized sound, which was a popular device used in the thirties' and forties' when films were lent out in repertory engagements in the talkie-era...champagne bubbles pop, propellers whir, machine guns rattle, and ah-ooga horns really sound. Honestly, the foley sound of this poor Danish guy getting comedically punched in the nose a few dozen times might have been the most effective dubbing of all...it reminds you how much sound can sometimes enhance even a beautifully pantomime acted movie.

This blog now officially has more Clara Bow in it than Wings....I'm kidding, but seriously.
Last but not least, Emma snapped this picture of us after the movie, which I've shamelessly yanked from her instagram (yes, we look this glamorous in real life...at least she does!!). I had such a good time getting out of the house and seeing a movie with a friend! I'd like to try and be less of a hermit in 2014, so this is a step in the right direction. Plus, again, it was a whale of picture! All in all, good use of a Saturday.

Not pictured: tears over last reel of  Wings...WHY. WHY.
So! What movies have you seen thus far this year that really clicked in your imagination? Had any pictures pleasantly surprise you? Are you a silent movie or Clara Bow fan? Seen Wings? Let's talk!

That's all for today, but I'll be back tomorrow with more vintage tips and quips. Have a great Tuesday, and I'll see you then!


  1. When me and Rae went and saw Inside Llewyn Davis last week we saw the ads for the cavalcade of Best Picture winners. I have never seen Wings and aside from knowing it won the first oscar, that's pretty much where my knowledge of the film ends...so this was actually really educational.

    1. I want to see "Inside Llewlyn Davis", it looks great! Was it? Sixties' folk plus Coen Bros= SIGN ME UP.

      "Wings" was really good, you should check it out if you get a chance on DVD! Again, I was so upset about the tense parts of it I was STILL talking about them days later.

  2. I was working in a mental hospital a few years back. There were some pretty sketchy patients there! Anyway, I was on a Clara Bow kick, and I had a notebook in my possession that had a fantastic, soulful, sexy picture of her slipped into the plastic cover. One of the spookier patients slipped behind the nurses' station and stole my picture! I was so mad, I made him give it back. He was really big, bad and aggressive, but surprisingly contrite about ripping me off. He was in love. WHO IS SHE?
    I told him all about her, and the sad fact that she was dead...long dead. He stared at her pic, breathing through his mouth. "She's so beautiful!" Yep, and you show me the right frame of mind, and I might be willing to part with her. After that, he was pretty docile towards me and my belongings.

    1. I love that you were like, "Look, I know you love her, but I'm going to have to have my CB picture back." At least he learned to mind his manners around your stuff!

      Watching Clara Bow in the movies, she has to be the most vibrant, "alive" silent screen movie star of them all. That "We didn't need words, we had faces back then" thing from "Sunset Boulevard" is really true! Those old pantomime actors could PROJECT vitality and youth more full force than even the stars I love from the talkies.



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