Except for Clara Bow, I did not recognize the main actors in Wings, but that is not unusual for a silent film. So when I saw Gary Cooper, I was stunned, especially when it turned out that he only had a bit part. It is hard to believe that the producer of this movie did not immediately see his star quality and make more of it.
In any event, the story is about a couple of fighter pilots during World War I, plus a complicated side story of unrequited love involving a couple of women, one of which is played by the above-mentioned Clara Bow. The pilot named Dave (Richard Arlen) is obviously doomed. The sad farewell to his parents is the first clue. Then he tells his friend Jack (Charles Rogers) that he thinks the next flying mission will be his last, and asks him to see that his parents get his medal. Finally, he forgets the teddy bear that is his good luck charm. I’d call them clichés, but for all I know, this may be the first movie in which they occurred.
The only serious flaw is a scene in Paris where Jack starts seeing bubbles. It goes on way too long, almost as if the director, William Wellman, was so excited by this gimmick that he just could not get enough. There are plenty of action sequences to make up for this, however, much of it quite graphic, including a pilot spitting up blood, and another with blood spurting from his chest, something normally not seen in movies until the 1960s.
And, of course, no World War I movie would be complete without men climbing out of their trenches, charging the German lines, and being slaughtered by machine-gun fire. Has there ever been a movie in which the Germans get out of their trenches, charge the Allied lines, and get slaughtered in that fashion? If you went by the movies, you’d probably think the Germans never made that mistake, in which case you have to wonder why they didn’t win the war. In one scene, a soldier who has been blinded carries another soldier who cannot walk. Together, they continue to move toward the Germans along with the others. I don’t know what they thought they would do when they got there, except die, which is what they did. I guess we are supposed to admire their dedication.