Wings is primarily famous today as the first-ever Best Picture Oscar-winner, which sounds a bit more impressive than it is, since the awards for 1927-28 seem to have been pitched to give everybody something. Wings may have won Best Picture for overall production, but it sat side-by-side with F.W. Murnau’s far better Sunrise, which won the title of Best Picture for “most unique, artistic, worthy and original production.”
Still, Wings is a good movie, if hardly the best of its year. Often derided today for its trite and occasionally preposterous plot, it’s certainly no worse than such modern war films as Pearl Harbor. As a type of film, it ranks pretty highly. Looked at freshly, it’s surprising that a lot of its best moments aren’t the much-celebrated airborne ones (quickly superceded by Howard Hughes’ Hell’s Angels in 1930), but the ones on the ground.
Director William A. Wellman does several remarkable things with the camera — especially an elaborate tracking shot in a Parisian nightspot — and the film is rife with surprisingly adult themes. True, the gay subtext between Arlen and Rogers was probably accidental (though they undeniably generate more heat together than in their scenes with Clara Bow or Jobyna Ralston), but the inclusion of an obvious lesbian couple in the aforementioned tracking shot is obviously deliberate. Never great, but remarkably good and still effective, Wings is a minor cinematic essential.
– reviewed by Ken Hanke