Released 12 August 1927 and starring Clara Bow, Charles “Buddy” Rogers, and Richard Arlen, Wings was long thought to be a lost film. In 1992, a copy was found in the Cinémathèque Française archive in Paris, and the process of restoration began.
In 1917, Jack Powell (Rogers) and David Armstrong (Arlen) are rivals for the attention of Sylvia Lewis (Jobyna Ralston, Harold Lloyd’s longtime leading lady), a visitor from the city. This would-be love triangle is complicated by the fact that Mary Preston (Clara), the girl next door, is in love with Jack.
As it so often goes in these kinds of stories, Jack is most woefully unaware of this. After Mary helps him build a car, which they name The Shooting Star, she tells him someone who sees a shooting star can kiss the girl he loves. Jack thinks that’s a splendid idea, and drives off to visit Sylvia.
When the U.S. joins the war, Jack and David enlist in the Air Service. Jack, due to a misunderstanding, takes the signed picture in a locket Sylvia intended to give David. Sylvia later reassures David he has her heart, whereas Jack only has her picture.
Mary too gives Jack a picture in parting. She doesn’t get a goodbye kiss or declaration of love, but Jack does promise she can use The Shooting Star while he’s gone.
While David (who’s from the richest family in town) is saying goodbye to his parents, his mother gives him his old, tiny teddybear as a good luck charm.
Though Jack has always dreamt of flying, all the pre-combat training takes place on the ground. During basic training, he grows to hate David more and more, but they eventually become best friends.
Meanwhile, Mary responds to a call for Women’s Motor Corps volunteers.
Jack’s romantic dream of flying soon turns into ugly, stark reality when he gets into combat. Both he and David have their limits put to the test against Count von Kellermann’s enemy squadron.
The battle scenes, which go from the air to the trenches on the ground, are very well-done. In 1927, WWI was only nine years in the past, and still vivid and raw in everyone’s memories.
During all this intense fighting, Mary arrives on the front lines with her ambulance.
The influenza pandemic strikes while Jack and David are stationed in Mervale, and Mary’s ambulance becomes a regular presence, tending to both the wounded and ill.
War continues in spite of the flu pandemic, and Mary has to take cover under her ambulance during a bombing raid. After Jack and David help to rescue Mervale, someone points out Jack’s plane to Mary. Like his car, it’s also named The Shooting Star.
In recognition of their bravery, Jack and David (now lieutenants) are honoured by France as aces.
Following the Intermission, we see Jack and David on leave in Paris, having a merry time carousing. Mary is also in Paris, and thrilled to learn Jack is there. However, she quickly learns all furloughs have been cancelled to get ready for “The Big Push,” and goes to find Jack.
Jack, who’s gotten rip-roaring drunk, doesn’t recognise her. He just continues pouring more alcohol down his throat, leaving Mary feeling very defeated.
A Frenchwoman in a powder room comes to Mary’s rescue, helping to give her a makeover meant to catch Jack’s eye.
Mary’s sexy new look finally gains Jack’s attention, but he’s still drunk off his gourd. When they’re alone, he keeps hallucinating bubbles and finally passes out. Even worse, she discovers the locket with Sylvia’s picture.
Worst of all, two military cops walk in as Mary’s changing back into her uniform and order her sent home.
Jack defends Mary’s reputation when one of their fellow flyers insinuates she has loose morals, like all hometown girls who go to the big city. David asks if he’s in love with her, but Jack says he loves Sylvia. Jack didn’t confess earlier because he didn’t want to wreck their friendship.
Jack proves it by showing David the locket with her picture, but when the picture falls out upside-down, David rips it up so Jack won’t see the inscription. Of course, Jack goes ballistic.
The fight is broken up by an order to get back into combat. I won’t spoil what happens after this.
I highly recommend this film. It’s definitely 5 stars.