Best Picture Winners #1 – Wings (1927)

It started as a diversion for my husband and I as we stood in line at Christmas Town at Busch Gardens. The line was incredible long at Le Catapult, a scrambler-type ride that was one of the few rides open to the public that day. We are both cinephiles, so we were bouncing ideas off each other about movie projects we could do for the future.

That was when it came to my mind. Why not watch all of the movies that have ever won Best Picture?

It would certainly take up a lot of our time and most of all, it would be fun! Not only would we get to see classic movies we’ve never seen (All Quiet on the Western FrontCasablancaAn American in Paris), but it would be intriguing to see how films have evolved over the last seventy-plus years.

So it was that we began this project with the very first Best Picture winner. All the way from 1927 came this movie Wings, a World War I drama that holds the distinction of being the first silent movie to ever win the top prize. And until The Artist a few years ago, it was the only silent movie to win.

Pretty cool, huh? 😀

I think so!

Fortunate for us, Wings was available on Netflix streaming, so we started immediately. Well, OK, after we watched Singin’ in the Rain, since that movie is about the time period, the transition between silent and talking movies, when Wings was made. (That and SITR is just an awesome movie, no matter what!)

I had never seen a silent movie before. Sure I’d seen clips of Charlie Chaplin films but I’d never sat down and watched a silent movie all the way through. I wasn’t sure what I’d expect. In fact, I thought I was going to be bored, if I’m being perfectly honest.

However, I was anything but.

I was immediately drawn into the story. It’s a simple one, a love triangle between two men, Jack Powell and David Armstrong, who are both in love with the same woman, Sylvia Lewis. However, another girl in their town, Mary, is in love with Jack, but she never gets to show her feelings. While the boys go off to become pilots in WWI, Mary joins the army as an ambulance nurse. Then a chance meeting in Paris brings her back to Jack’s attention. Will she capture his attention after all? What about the other girl back home?

The only WWI movie I’ve ever seen was A Very Long Engagement. Since I haven’t seen many WWI movies, I was intrigued by the story and the background. It’s a time period that doesn’t get a lot of attention in American cinema, so it stood out for me. I also got such a kick out of seeing Paris in the 20s, with all the old cars driving around the Arc de Triomphe and down the Champs-Elysées, since I’ve been there! Something else I loved about this movie were the combat scenes. The scenes of the boys flying in the air and engaging in combat were hands down some of the best aerial combat scenes I’ve ever seen. And this was all done before Steadicam! Perhaps part of what was so engaging about those scenes were that there were real air pilots who’d been in WWI in those planes.

The one downside to this movie is that….. WOW is it LOOOOOOONG. I have no problem with long movies (the extended editions of the Lord of the Rings movies? 🙂 ). It’s that at almost 2 and a half hours, I felt like a half hour or more could’ve been cut and it still would’ve told a coherent story. When the boys were flying in the air fighting the Germans, scenes dragged that could’ve been made shorter. Of course, when you find out that the lead actress Clara Bow insisted on having more scenes with her in them, then it’s no wonder that the movie was elongated as it was, especially those scenes of her in Paris looking for Jack.

In the end, though, it turned out better than expected, despite the length. And thus a great start to our big movie project! 😀

3.5 stars out of 5

Next time: The first talking movie to win Best Picture, The Broadway Melody, from 1928.