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early film poster
Directed by William A. Wellman
Produced by Lucien Hubbard
Written by Story:
John Monk Saunders
Hope Loring
Louis D. Lighton
Julian Johnson
Starring Clara Bow
Charles "Buddy" Rogers
Richard Arlen
Gary Cooper
Music by Uncredited:
J.S. Zamecnik
Cinematography Harry Perry
Editing by E. Lloyd Sheldon
Lucien Hubard
Distributed by Paramount Pictures
Release date(s) August 12, 1927 (1927-08-12)
Running time 141 minutes
Country United States
Language Silent film
English intertitles
Budget US$2,000,000 (est.)

Wings (1927) is a silent movie about World War I fighter pilots, directed by William A. Wellman and released by Paramount Pictures. It was the first film to win the Academy Award for Best Picture (production)[1] and the only silent film ever to win Best Picture. Wings stars Clara Bow, Charles "Buddy" Rogers and Richard Arlen. Gary Cooper appears in a scene which helped launch his career in Hollywood and also marked the beginning of his affair with Clara Bow.[2]



Clara Bow as Mary Preston

Jack Powell (Charles "Buddy" Rogers) and David Armstrong (Richard Arlen) are rivals in the same small American town, both vying for the attentions of pretty Sylvia Lewis (Jobyna Ralston). Jack fails to realize that "the girl next door", Mary Preston (Clara Bow), is desperately in love with him. The two young men both enlist to become combat pilots in the Air Service. When they leave for training camp, Jack mistakenly believes Sylvia prefers him; she is too kindhearted to disillusion him, but lets David know that she loves him.

Jack and David are billeted together. Their tent mate is Cadet White (Gary Cooper), but their acquaintance is all too brief; White is killed in an air crash the same day. Undaunted, the two men endure a rigorous training period, where they go from being enemies to best friends. Upon graduating, they are shipped off to France to fight the Germans.

Mary joins the war effort by becoming an ambulance driver. When she is in Paris, she learns that Jack is on leave there. She finds him, but he is too drunk to recognize her. She puts him to bed, but when two Military Police barge in while she is innocently changing out of a borrowed dress back into her uniform in the same room, she is forced to resign and return to America.

The climax of the story comes with the epic Battle of Saint-Mihiel. David is shot down and presumed dead. However, he survives the crash landing, steals a German biplane, and heads for the Allied lines. By a tragic stroke of bad luck, he is spotted by Jack, who is bent on avenging his friend. Jack shoots David down. When Jack lands to pick up a souvenir, he becomes distraught when he learns what he has done, but before David dies, he forgives his comrade.

With the end of the war, Jack returns home to a hero's welcome. When he returns David's effects to his grieving parents, David's mother blames the war, not Jack, for her son's death. Then, Jack is reunited with Mary and realizes he loves her.



The film, completed with a budget of $2 million, was the first film to win the Academy Award for Best Picture (then called "Best Picture, Production") for the film year 1927/28 (and was the only silent film to win), and won a second Academy Award for Engineering Effects.

The film was written by John Monk Saunders (story), Louis D. Lighton and Hope Loring, and was directed by William A. Wellman, with an original orchestral score by John Stepan Zamecnik (J. S. Zamecnik), which was uncredited. The movie was shot in San Antonio, Texas and Camp Stanley (Texas). A sneak preview was shown on May 19, 1927 at the Texas Theater on Houston Street in San Antonio. The Premier was held at the Criterion theater, in New York City, on August 12, 1927.[3]

It is one of the first films to feature a male-on-male kiss – a fraternal one – in the death scene near the end. It is also one of the first widely released films to show nudity. Clara Bow's breasts can be seen for a quick second during the Paris bedroom scene when army men barge in as she is changing her clothes. In the Enlistment Office, nude men undergoing physical exams, can be seen from behind, though an open door, which is opened and closed.

Richard Arlen, William A. Wellman and John Monk Saunders had all served in World War I as military aviators. Arlen was able to do his own flying in the film and Charles "Buddy" Rogers, a non-pilot, underwent flight training during the course of the production and like Arlen, was also able to be filmed in closeup in the air. Despite the number of aircraft in the air, only two incidents occurred, one involving Dick Grace, a stunt pilot and the other was a fatal crash of a United States Army Air Corps pilot.[4]

The original Paramount release was color tinted and had some sequences in an early widescreen process known as Magnascope. Some prints had synchronized sound effects and music, using the General Electric Kinegraphone (later RCA Photophone) sound-on-film process.[5]


Wings was an immediate success, premiering on August 12, 1927 at the Critereo Theatre in New York and playing 63 weeks before being moved to second-run theaters. One of the reasons for its resounding popularity was the public infatuation with aviation in the wake of Charles Lindbergh's transatlantic flight.[6] The critical response was equally enthusiastic as the critic of the New York times noted that the realism of the flying scenes was impressive.[7]

Academy Awards

On May 19, 1929, the first ever Academy Award ceremony was held at the Hotel Roosevelt in Hollywood to honor outstanding film achievements of 1927 and 1928. Wings was entered in a number of categories but in contrast with later awards, there was no Best Picture award. Instead, there were two separate awards for production, the Most Artistic Quality of Production, won by Sunrise: A Song of Two Humans (1927) and the Most Outstanding Production, won by Wings as well as Best Effects, Engineering Effects for Roy Pomeroy.

The following year, the Academy instituted a single award called Best Production, and decided retroactively that the award won by Wings had been the equivalent of that award, with the result that Wings is often listed as the winner of a sole Best Picture award for the first year. The title of the award was eventually changed to Best Picture for the 1931 awards.


For many years, Wings was considered a lost film until a surviving print was found in the Cinémathèque Française film archive in Paris and quickly copied from nitrate film to safety film stock.[5] It was again shown in theaters, including some theaters where the film was accompanied by Wurlitzer pipe organs.[8]

In 1997, Wings was selected for preservation in the United States National Film Registry by the Library of Congress as being "culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant".

In 2006, director William A. Wellman's son, William Wellman Jr., authored a book about the film and his father's participation in the making of it, titled The Man and His Wings: William A. Wellman and the Making of the First Best Picture.


Along with Cavalcade, Wings is one of only two Best Picture winners that is not officially available on DVD in Region 1. There is a NTSC Korean release, subtitled both in English and Korean.


  1. ^ "Dorothy Wellman dies at 95." Variety Magazine, September 17, 2009. Retrieved: September 20, 2009.
  2. ^ "Notes for Wings (1927)." Turner Classic Movies, 2009. Retrieved: September 20, 2009.
  3. ^ Thompson 2002, p. 25.
  4. ^ Lusier, Tim. "Daredevils in the Air: Three of the Greats, Wilson, Locklear and Grace.", 2004. Retrieved: September 20, 2009.
  5. ^ a b "Wings (1927)." Progressive Silent Film List, July 18, 2008. Retrieved: September 20, 2009.
  6. ^ Farmer 2006, p. 14.
  7. ^ Hall, Mourdant. "Wings (1927), The Screen: The Flying Fighters." New York Times, August 13, 1927. Retrieved: September 20, 2009.
  8. ^ "Datebook" magazine, San Francisco Chronicle
  • Dolan, Edward F. Jr. Hollywood Goes to War. London: Bison Books, 1985. ISBN 0-86124-229-7.
  • Farmer, Jim. "The Making of Flyboys." Air Classics, Vol. 42, No. 11, November 2006.
  • Hardwick, Jack and Ed Schnepf. "A Viewer's Guide to Aviation Movies". The Making of the Great Aviation Films, General Aviation Series, Volume 2, 1989.
  • Orriss, Bruce. When Hollywood Ruled the Skies: The Aviation Film Classics of World War II. Hawthorne, California: Aero Associates Inc., 1984. ISBN 0-9613088-0-X.
  • Silke, James R. "Fists, Dames & Wings." Air Progress Aviation Review, Volume 4, No. 4, October 1980.
  • Thompson, Frank. Texas Hollywood: Filmmaking in San Antonio Since 1910. San Antonio: Maverick Publishing Company, 2002. ISBN 978-1893271203.
  • Wellman, William Jr. The Man And His Wings: William A. Wellman and the Making of the First Best Picture. Westport CT: Praeger Publishers, 2006. ISBN 0-275-98541-5.

External links

Awards and achievements
Preceded by
New Award
Academy Award for Best Picture
Succeeded by
The Broadway Melody


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