Drama, Romance, Silent Film, War

Wings (1927)

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It’s been a while since I did a Silent film review. I’d like to talk about one of my favourites from this era. It is set during World War One, and it is one of the all time great war films. It is also one of the best big screen epics. The film is Wings.

I think it is pretty remarkable just how well Wings stands up when it is viewed today. 90 years after its original release, this film still remains a gripping and realistic depiction of war and of aerial combat. The film also manages to be a touching portrayal of friendship, and takes a look at the heartbreak of unrequited love.

The performances in this film really come across to me as being very natural. Arlen and Rogers are both excellent. I think they both do a very good job of conveying their characters transitions from wide eyed, eager, and very apprehensive newbies in the corps, to seasoned and traumatised veterans (and still at such a young age).

Bow delivers the real standout performance for me; she is effervescent and lumious one moment and broken hearted and vulnerable the next. This is one of her best performances from the Silent era.

Henry B. Walthall and Julia Swayne Gordon are both moving as David’s mum and dad. The scene where they say goodbye to him as he leaves for the war has me welling up. Henry plays the dad doing that stiff upper lip thing, he won’t allow himself to break down or hug his son because if he did he’d never let him go. Julia makes the mother more emotional, but she still restrains her full emotions from showing.

This film was the first ever Best Picture Oscar winner (and until The Artist won in 2011, it was the only Silent film to win the award) and it’s not difficult to see why there was so much love for this one. WW1 would have been fresh in the minds of audiences watching this for the first time. They no doubt would have been able to really connect with the experiences of the lead trio, and have been able to relate to their characters wartime experiences. The film does a good job of capturing the horror of war, and also of the fact that death will come and claim anyone at any time.

The performances and characters keep my interest throughout, but it is hard to deny the real stars of this one are the aerial sequences. Real planes and hundreds of pilots feature in the film. The aerial sequences were shot on location at Kelly Field Air Force Annex, in San Antonio, Texas.

The aerial scenes really keep you on the edge of your seat and add a great deal of realism to the film. I think these sequences drawer you deeper into the story and that they have a documentary look about them.

One of my reasons for loving Silent films so much is that I love how visually beautiful and unique so many of them look. I also have a real fondness for tinting in Silent films. Many Silent films were tinted in various different colours and there is some glorious screen tinting to be enjoyed in this one. I especially love the golden tint which features heavily throughout. I also think that the intertitle cards look very nice too.

Wings is a film that is an intimate human drama, set against a backdrop of global warfare.

In a small town in America, life is idyllic, and the youth are out enjoying life to the full. Best friends Jack (Charles “Buddy” Rogers)and David (Richard Arlen)compete for the affections of the beautiful and wealthy Sylvia (Jobyna Ralston). Jack is pretty slow (seriously, how on earth could he miss her signals!)to see that his neighbour, Mary (Clara Bow) is in love with him. She shares his adventurous nature and is clearly the gal for him.  

America soon becomes embroiled in the First World War and Jack and David sign up to join the Air Corps. Headed overseas they are soon fighting against the Germans.  Mary also joins the fight, by signing up as a nurse/ambulance driver. Heartbreak, joy and a tragic twist of fate lie in store for our trio.

The film is notable for several reasons. Firstly of course there are all those spectacular aerial sequences. I like how we also see the pilots in the cockpit and that really makes us a part of the scene as we see the personal effect of these impressive air battles.

The film also features some very striking photography and camerawork. The way the camera zooms across the tables of a nightclub until we find Jack is very memorable. There is also the scene where Jack drinks champagne and we see the bubbles float up out of his glass. When he later gets quite drunk he sees giant bubbles everywhere.

The film also features a very young Gary Cooper in a small role. Coop makes quite an impression as Cadet White, an ill fated fellow pilot who meets Jack and David.

It Happened One Night fans should also keep an eye out for Roscoe Karns in a small role.

The film also features a famous kiss between Jack and David, many people see it as a gay moment. I can see why they might think that, but is not supposed to be seen as a romantic kiss though, it is simply deep affection and love between best friends. Remember the reason why the kiss is taking place also and see it in that context. I can see why this moment made quite an impact though, and nothing like that would be seen on screen again for decades after this. 

The film also contains a few scenes of nudity. There’s the scene in the examination room when the lads go to sign up with the airforce. Clara is also shown nude in the scene where Mary is caught getting undressed in the hotel.

My only issue with the film is its treatment of Mary. I wish we had been given a few scenes showing her experiences during the war in more detail. It wasn’t only David and Jack who were taking part in the war, she was too. I also hate the double standard of how she is punished when she is found in Jack’s hotel room.

My favourite scenes are the following. Mary helping Jack with his car. The plane crashing into the house which has rows of freshly dug war graves right next door to it. David and Jack meeting Cadet White, sharing his chocolate, getting to know him and then hearing tragic news about him. All the scenes featuring the patriotic Herman Schwimpf. David saying goodbye to his family. David and Jack looking through Cadet White’s personal belongings. Mary thinking she has hurt a soldier whe she crashes her ambulance. Jack visting David’s parents. The older woman helping Mary choose a dress to wear when she is with Jack. Mary finding Jack in the nightclub, the look she gives the other woman he is with is priceless(if looks could kill, then that gal would be flat on the floor). All the scenes featuring the planes. I also love the intertitle saying the film is dedicated to the dead airman”To those young warriors of the sky, whose wings are folded about them forever, this picture is reverently dedicated.”

This is a film that I never get tired of watching. It moves and impresses in equal measure. It is one of the very best films to be made during the Silent era. Any other fans of this one? If you’ve never seen it I highly recommend you buy the Masters Of Cinema Blu-Ray disc, the film looks stunning on that and there are some good extras too.

 

 

 

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Musicals, Romance, Silent Film

Maddy’s Pick For The Weekend 1: Singin’ In The Rain (1952)

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Happy Friday, everyone! I picked this for two reasons: firstly given the endless rain we’re having here in my part of the UK, I think the title is very apt; secondly because this is one of the best films from Hollywood’s classic era. It is filled with endless fun, loveable characters and stunning costumes.

Hollywood, in the 1920’s,handsome screen legend Don Lockwood(Gene Kelly)is paired with the beautiful Lina Lamont(an Oscar robbed Jean Hagen). The pair are the film couple, and rumours are rife that they may be in love off screen. Don can’t stand Lina, but she encourages the rumours because she actually does have feelings for him.

When the studio heads decide to make a sound film following the success of Al Jolson’s The Jazz Singer, Lockwood and Lamont are once again paired together. There is one snag though, Lina has a very unpleasant voice and there is worry about how that will be received by audiences. Enter Kathy Seldon(the late Debbie Reynolds), a dancer and singer who catches the eye, and captures the heart of Don(much to Lina’s displeasure.) Kathy will dub Lina’s voice on screen, but when she does will never get credited for it, Kathy is happy to go along but Don doesn’t like her being used. The stage is set for arguments, tears, heartbreak and laughter.

This is a film to cheer you up and has a real sense of fun about it.Catchy songs, plenty of humour courtesy of Donald O’Connor, as Don’s best friend Cosmo and an unforgettable appearance by legendary dancer Cyd Charisse(she gets one of the best film entrances ever in a sexy dance with Kelly.) A young Rita Moreno can be spotted in a small supporting role.

Jean Hagen is superb as Lina. Although she is the films villain, I actually do feel sorry for her as she represents so many Silent stars whose careers ended when sound came into the movie business.  I think it is a real shame that Jean didn’t win an award for her performance here.

The Technicolor use is gorgeous and the costumes are beautiful. This will put a smile on your face, get you tapping your toes and singing along.

My favourite scenes are the following. The harassed director trying to get the perfect shot, but Lina’s microphone keeps cutting out. The Good Morning dance. The screening where the dialogue gets messed up and the actors voices switch. The finale and that unforgettable dance scene between Kelly and Charisse(what happened to that beautiful green outfit she has on?)

Makes you want to grab your brolly,find the nearest puddles and dance and sing.

Please leave your thoughts on this film below.

 

 

Silent Film

Shooting Stars (1928)

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For my first ever blog post(so excited), I’d like to discuss this British Silent. I saw this for the first time last year, and I was only sorry that I had never seen it sooner. One of the best ‘behind the scenes’ films ever made in my opinion. Funny, touching, dramatic and suspenseful.

This is one of the best films about making films that I’ve ever seen. There is a sense of realism about it and an almost documentary feel. You really feel like you are backstage with these people. I also find it fascinating watching how a silent film studio operated, and seeing what went on behind and off the camera.

It must have been interesting and maybe even difficult viewing for Silent era audiences watching this one, as they were shown how the magic of film is achieved, and that co-stars may hate one another, yet seem the best of friends on screen. This film reveals to us that film is all about illusion and yet despite knowing it’s all illusion audiences still believe and enjoy what they see anyway. I would have loved to have been in the audience when this premiered.

The opening romantic scene focusing on a woman in a blossom tree kissing a cowboy, highlights perfectly films ability to make us believe what we see on screen. What begins as a beautiful romantic scene descends into chaos when a dove bites the woman, she screams and the camera pulls back revealing she is actually an actress, the tree is a set, and that the scene we’ve just witnessed was for a film. We then pull back and are shown the soundstages of the studio, we see other actors, crewmembers walking around and other films being shot on adjacent stages.

The film starts off being very funny, and then it turns very dark and suspenseful. The ending is realistic and depressing, it shows that fame is fleeting and that once great stars can become yesterdays news.

Mae Feather(Annette Benson)and Julian Gordon(Brian Aherne)are married, and are two of the most famous British stars. Mae is a beautiful and self centred woman. Julian loves her despite her flaws. Mae begins an affair with comedy actor Andy Wilkes(Donald Calthrop). When Julian discovers the affair Mae becomes so enraged that she decides to kill Julian, her plan has unexpected and disastrous results.

Benson is superb as the actress who destroys her only chance of happiness for a moment of passion. Calthrop is marvellous playing two different characters, the Chaplin like comic character Wilkes is famous for, and as the elegant man ladies man who Wilkes is off screen. Brian Aherne has the hardest role I think, he has to play Julian as being slightly dull, but also has to ensure he has our sympathy throughout the film I think he more than succeeds. An actress called Chili Bouchier (who I’m unfamiliar with) makes quite an impression as a glamorous co-star of Wilkes.

I would love to see all three of the films featured within the film, Wilkes comedy in particular looks great fun.

Altman’s bouncy music fits so well with the film and is also very catchy.

The films title is later cleverly revealed to have two meanings.

My favourite scenes are the following. May and Julian walking onto Wilkes comedy film set and watching him perform. The beach sequence. The opening in the blossom tree. The ending. Julian watching the film at the cinema, and seeing the reaction of the boys behind him.

This has immense rewatch value, and is a must see for Silent fans. If you have never seen a Silent flick before, I think this would be a good one to start with. This film has something for everyone, and does such a good job of showing us how the magic of the big screen is achieved.