In 1928, the first Academy Awards ceremony gave the best picture Oscar to the black and white silent movie "Wings."Produced by Paramount Pictures, it featured and was written to highlight Clara Bow.
Bow was known as the It girl--It being sex appeal. The film also won an Oscar for Engineering Effects.
While even now, WWI is considered a good war, "Wings" is jingoistic and even a sugar-coated version of the glory of war. This best picture captures motion pictures at the cusp of change.
The beginning subtitles clearly state the reasons for the name. According to them, on June 12, 1927 in Washington, Colonel
Charles Lindbergh declared that the "feats were performed and deeds accomplished which were far greater than any peace accomplishments of aviation."
The movie then states, that to those "young warriors of the sky, whose wings are folded about them forever, this picture is reverently dedicated."
This is a very straight-forward tale written by John Monk Saunders and directed by William A. Willman, and is about World War I pilots who begin as small-town rivals, Jack (Charles "Buddy" Rogers) and David (Richard Arlen) for one girl's affection, Sylvia (Jobyna Raulston). Jack is adored by his neighbor, Mary (Bow). Jack is misled into believing that Sylvia returns his affection although David knows this to be false. The men train together and become good friends. Jack meets Mary in Paris where she is an ambulance driver. Soon after, the men engage in a battle that ends with one's death.
Historically, the segments showing the training equipment for the pilots are intriguing and there's a quaintness in the innocence and purity of the pilots which contrasts starkly with the braggadocio of "Top Gun." The men's motives are pure. The sexual titillation is a brief glimpse of Bow's breasts. The rest of the movie is squeaky clean, even the death scene is devoid of dirt, grime or gore.
As for Clara Bow's It-ness, it escapes me and by today's standards, she'd be considered fat. Her career was at its peak. In October of 1927, Al Jolson's "The Jazz Singer"debuted, signaling the end of silent movies. Bow's Brooklyn accent didn't mesh well with the audience's image of It-ness.
Yet you can't fault the movie for a certain air of authenticity. Rogers would later serve in World War II as a Navy flight instructor. Arlen would be an Army flight instructor. He had served as a Royal Canadian Air Force pilot during World War I. Arlen and Raulston were married, divorcing in 1945. The talkies also ended Raulston's career as she had a lisp.
Yet there were actors who would move up and onward into talkies. "Wings" also features Gary Cooper in a small role.
In 1997, "Wings" was designated as culturally and historically significant and selected for preservation in the US National Film Registry of the Library of Congress.