Published on February 26th, 2013 | by Chris1
The Wings of Eagles (1957)
The inimitable combination of John Wayne and John Ford team up once again for 1957's The Wings of Eagles. The story of Frank "Spig" Wead, a pioneer of Naval avation who overcame many hardships and challenges to become a Hollywood screenwriter and Navy strategist...
The movie starts early in the dawn of aviation and in Wead's career. I'm not sure what Ford was thinking in these early scenes, though. They almost put me right off this entire movie, which would have been a disaster. The mad-cap wacky humor of Wead taking Army pilot Shorty up for a ride, ultimately crashing into the Admiral's swimming pool... followed directly (and I mean directly) by a rather crushing scene of Wead and his wife Min (Maureen O'Hara) losing their child suddenly to illness. I couldn't believe that Ford would go from one extreme to the other so abruptly. It didn't seem right at all.
Then things really take a strange and tragic turn, as he suffers a fall in his home, and breaks his neck, effectively paralyzing him with little hope of recovery. Through the perseverance of his friends and doctors, most notably "Jughead" (Dan Dailey), Spig finally gets back on his feet, and falls into a screenwriting gig or two or three, writing a few war movies with John Dodge (Ward Bond) in a strange crossover experience I couldn't help but marvel at.
There is a small problem, too, with how the timeline progresses. Its not really clear at any given moment when we are supposed to be. From one scene to the next, you realize that OH! this is some further point in the future, like years down the road.... It's a bit confusing at times.
When WWII arrives, he's called upon due to his experience and ingenuity, and comes up with the idea of "Jeep Carriers", essentially floating carrier supply ships designed to provide resupply of aircraft and other bits....
But, his achievements are overshadowed in this film (I thought) by his failures on the home front. According to this movie, he barely saw his children, and his marriage to the Navy far outweighed his marriage to Min. I was hoping for maybe a bit more of this, but the film ends with Spig being transferred back to the world, I guess that's all anyone thought to do.
It probably goes without saying that John Wayne and Maureen O'Hara delivered as always. Wayne especially surprised me in being able to pull off a slightly less than stereotypical role for him. He actually showed some depth of character and was able to portray the difficulties and stubbornness of a man trying to overcome a disability.
And I also learned that alcohol can cure paralysis. There should be more research into this subject. Should I become paralyzed, I'd like to volunteer. And the "I'm gonna move that toe" business gets a little played out... but it works.
The Wings of Eagles begins on shaky footing, but eventually gels into a solid biopic of a Navy legend.... with a few caveats of course. I have to give it a 3.8/5. Because of the strange gear changing that occurs at the beginning, and the rather abrupt ending...
It's unfortunate that this trailer elects to illustrate mainly the comic elements of the film, which isn't what it was about at all. But I guess that's how you get them in the door.
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Summary: A classic if odd Ford/Wayne combo about one "Spig" Wead...