Masters Of Cinema #77 - Wings - Blu-ray Review

Already guaranteed its place in history by way of being the first ever winner of the Best Picture Oscar (then the 'Academy Award for Outstanding Picture'), Wings proves to be a film worthy of its new Masters Of Cinema release, a film occasionally so joyous and well produced that it needs to be seen regularly and by many, not merely etched onto history's honours board.

For modern viewers, there should be a lot to notice here in terms of how familiar the plotting, if not the style, of William A. Wellman's film appears to be. Two home town rivals for the affections of Sylvia (Jobyna Ralston) - Jack (Charles 'Buddy' Rogers) and David (Richard Arlen) - are drafted in to the air force to fight for the US during World War One. Initially enemies, Jack and David bond during training and on the battlefield and are eventually joined in war time France by another presence from home: Mary (Clara Bow), who secretly has eyes for Jack.

If that feels like plotting you might expect from a Summer blockbuster - a Michael Bay Second World War film... perhaps - then be prepared for something similar: 1920s style. Wings has a lightness of touch which speaks to its mass market appeal, but beneath that retains its desire to talk about growing up whilst at war in an adult way and to produce something epic in scale and scope. Jack and David go on a definite journey here, the former taking the focus as a daredevil maverick of the air, achieving Captain America-alike cult status on the back of his achievements.

Whilst the plot is never boring, it's impossible not to watch Wings and spot the interesting technical features of Wellman's film. Subtle creations, such as an early camera angle that pivots as Sylvia and David swing on a swing and Jack enters into the background give way to more grandiose camerawork. The crowning moment comes during the film's Paris-set segment, as enlistees, enjoying leave at tables full of champagne and 'bubbles' are zoomed through by Wellman's camera, on its direct route to Jack. It's virtuoso, even by today's standards.

If those are subtle moments of fantastic photography then the real set pieces come around the planes of Wings. Overhead shots of aircraft taking off feel original and look beautiful, whilst the dog fights see the flimsy-looking crafts wheeling around like leaves in a breeze. It's dynamic and exciting stuff, cut expertly with footage of the leads in the cockpits, looking suitably battle-hardened.

If there's a complaint here it's that the whole thing, and especially Rogers and Bow, feels a little bit earnest. Where Arlen has a moody depth, Rogers only has one setting: play acting to the gallery and, though Bow is much less obvious, she too can stray into it.

For the most part though, this retains its sense of fun - the presence of the Herman Schwimpf (El Brendel) character confirms as much - and knows when to play its significant cards. The end is a fantastic mix of unsaid kindnesses and grandstanding goodbyes and a section halfway through which sees a very Pete O'Toole-looking Gary Cooper show up briefly tells you exactly what Wings feels the war did to the US' high flyers.

Founded in 2004, The Masters of Cinema Series is an independent, carefully curated, UK-based Blu-ray and DVD label, now consisting of over 150 films. Films are presented in their original aspect ratio (OAR), in meticulous transfers created from recent restorations and / or the most pristine film elements available.

Wings is released in the UK on Monday 27th January 2014

By Sam Turner. Sam is editor of Film Intel, and can usually be found behind a keyboard with a cup of tea. He likes entertaining films and dislikes the other kind. He's on , Twitter and several places even he doesn't yet know about.

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