At the first Academy Awards ceremony, William A. Wellman's Wings won the Oscar for the Most Outstanding Production of 1927/1928, which makes it all the more surprising that the film became lost for years until the 1960s when a nitrate print was found at the Cinematheque Francaise in Paris. Paramount better understands how to care for their legacy and have created an impressive high-definition transfer of the film
Wings opens in 1917 as World War I rages. Two young men, Jack Powell (Charles "Buddy" Rogers) and David Armstrong (Richard Arlen), both from the same unnamed small town and rivals for the affections of Sylvia Lewis (Jobyna Ralston), join the Air Service to become fighter pilots. Jack is unaware Sylvia prefers David, though she doesn't make her feelings clear since he's off to war, and he doesn't grasp how much Mary Preston (Clara Bow) desires him. In fact, Mary is so in love with Jack she too enlists and becomes an ambulance driver.
The pilot training Jack and David endure is intense and not everyone survives, like Cadet White (Gary Cooper), but it brings them closer together. They respect each other's abilities and become friends. While on leave in Paris, Mary finds Jack celebrating but he is so drunk he doesn't recognize her. The film's last major fight is the Battle of Saint-Mihiel and during this sequence a great plot twist occurs that has great ramification on the two men.
Although the films suffers at times due to its age, from its story and acting being melodramatic to the pacing over its 144-minute runtime not always being engaging, "Wings is thoroughly captivating during the action sequences. The pilots and actors do the most amazing plane stunts that to this day have not been topped and likely never will be. It's stunning to see what is taking place less than 25 after the Wright Brothers made history in Kitty Hawk, North Carolina, and there's no surprise to learn from one of the Special features that stuntman Dick Grace broke his neck during a crash that went wrong. There are also great bits of destruction on display as bombs are dropped and buildings blown up.