“Wings” Remembered

Winner of the Oscar for Best Picture in 1929, William Wellman’s Wings is a classic of the American silent film era. Upon the centennial of America entering the First World War, the film will be shown in New York, Chicago, Washington, St. Louis and Minneapolis from April 6 to 16.

An epic tale with an air of tragedy, Wings is a story about the love triangle between two American soldiers, Jack (Charles Rogers) and David (Richard Arlen), and a nurse, Mary (Clara Bow), who are taken by surprise at America’s decision to enter the Great War. While Jack and David join the Air Force, taking part in air battles over French territory, Mary signs up as a nurse in the ambulance corps.

The film brought the American William Wellman his first success (he later went on to direct A Star Is Born in 1937 and The Ox-Bow Incident in 1943). The film portrays the Battle of Saint-Mihiel in the Meuse département, where American troops played a significant role in 1918. Wings also recalls the critical role in the war of the Lafayette Escadrille, a French squadron of American volunteer pilots formed in 1916.


Charles Rogers, Clara Bow, and David in William Wellman’s Wings.

Wings was a great success when it first came out in 1927. At the first Academy Awards ceremony, the feature film was awarded Best Picture — the only silent film to have received the award, before The Artist in 2011. The film also won the award for Best Engineering Effects. Successively a volunteer ambulance driver, a Lafayette Escadrille pilot, and a recipient of the Croix de Guerre, William Wellman drew from his own experiences in the war to deliver such a realist, almost documentary-like film.

With the advent of talking movies, this silent movie had disappeared from circulation and was considered a lost film. However, in 1992, a print was found in the archives of the Cinémathèque française in Paris, which was then copied and restored. To commemorate the centennial of American troops entering World War I, Wings will be shown in its original format as a movie-concert. The French Prima Vista quartet will be playing live, bringing to life this “war from above.”


April 6: Florence Gould Hall, FIAF, New York, NY
April 9: Music Box Theater, Chicago, IL
April 11: Maison Française, Washington, DC
April 14: Winifred Moore Auditorium, St Louis, MO
April 16: Landmark’s Uptown Theatre, Minneapolis, MN