DVD review: Wings
The flight sequences in William Wellman’s World War I-set silent classic still impress
From Bobby De Niro’s weight gain in Raging Bull to Oscar Isaac learning a few folk tunes for Inside Llewyn Davis, much can sometimes be made of an actor’s obsessive commitment to a particular role. Yet, surely nothing can quite match the feat of Buddy Rogers and Richard Arlen whose many scenes in the cockpit for William Wellman’s World War I-set silent classic Wings are the result of bypassing the stuntmen and literally learning how to fly a plane. This fact certainly adds an extra frisson to a movie that already has much about it to admire. In 1929, it won the inaugural Best Picture Oscar and helped make an international star out of Clara Bow, who plays the gutsy girl-next-door holding a candle for one of the men sent to bomb the Germans out of the skies above France. The flight sequences are still highly impressive today and when tragedy strikes our heroes, it is genuinely moving. Of course, some of it is a bit over-wrought and the elongated drunk-hallucination scene could have happily been chopped down to about 20 seconds, but Wings is testament to a bygone age’s ability to make powerful art.