Institute History

  • 1996 Sundance Film Festival


Although far from his first film, Wings brought Wellman national recognition and launched his reputation as a director by winning the very first Academy Award for best picture. Wellman proved a natural choice to diect the epic adventure about American flyers in the Lafayette Flying Corps during World War I since the story strikingly parallels his own life and his comaraderie with war buddies Tommy Hitchcock and Dave Putnam.

Wings centers around the close relationship between Jack Powell (Buddy Rogers) and David Armstrong (Richard Arlen), two young Americans from the same small town who go to France to fly and fight. Although they love the same woman (Jobyna Ralston), their friendship transcends this early tension and becomes the most important bond in their lives. Clara Bow plays the spirited Mary Dexter, the young woman who loves Jack and proves her own mettle by becoming an ambulance driver.

The most impressive thing about Wings is the realism and attention to detail of its aerial dog fights. Wellman insisted that the planes be outfitted with cameras to give audiences a flyer’s eye view of the battles, and most of the sequences were staged instead of simulated. Even today, they are exciting to watch. In a move he repeated throughout his career, Wellman cast his wife and daughter as the French family who witness David’s climactic crash.

— Barbara Bannon

Screening Details

  • Section: William Wellman: American Storyteller
  • Film Type: Dramatic Feature
  • Country: U.S.A.
  • Run Time: 139 min.
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