Published on August 3rd, 2007 | by Chris0
Wings of the Navy (1939)
Pre-World War II war movies like 1939's Wings of the Navy are, at least to me, interesting to watch. Why? They offer an insight to a world untouched by the events of that war, and have a certain optimism and quality that can never be reclaimed.
So it is with Wings of the Navy. Here we find a group of cadets heading off to Pensacola to start training as naval aviators, including an Iowa farm boy and a Brazilian officer on loan. They're up against a Lt. Cass Harrington (George Brent), who's family has been at the forefront of naval aviation. Then there's his younger brother, one Jerry Harrington (John Payne), currently in the submarine fleet.
Of course when Jerry learns that Cass will be training this group of men, he decides to get a transfer, against the advice of his brother. During this time, Jerry meets Cass's current significant other, Irene (Olivia de Havilland), and they fall in love behind Cass's back.
That plotline really pales in comparison to the main story, which is of the training the men receive. It's hard to believe that wood and canvas bi-planes were once the cutting edge of aviation, and some of the methods taught, and executed are just incredible to behold. What are considered dangerous acrobatics today were par for the course then in dogfighting school.
Unfortunately not all the cadets take to their training so well as Jerry. Its one of these cadets which Cass takes on a second check flight, which ultimately ends Cass's aviation career in a horrible crash that leaves him disabled.
All is not lost for Cass, though, who has designs for a new airplane that he tries to get pushed through channels. During one of the final test flights, his trusted test pilot takes a nosedive, further pushing Cass into despair.
Jerry comes to the rescue though, resigning his commission and reflying the test, coming through with flying colors. Oh, and he wins the girl in the end, too.
Wings of the Navy is a fun, innocent, light hearted love story slash drama that provides a glimpse into pre-war aviation at its best. The cast performs brilliantly, without too much of the overdramatizing that sometimes plagues early films. You'll actually find yourself in suspenseful anticipation during parts of it, and laughing at some of the antics. (Jerry's instrument training flight is particularly good.)
A side note: When I was finished watching Wings of the Navy off my DVR, I happened to flip over to The Military Channel, where "Anatomy of an F/A-18" was on. Talk about a lesson in progress. Its hard to believe when you see it like that, the difference between then and now.... And it looks like copies of this are non-existent, so yet again, a big thanks to Turner Classics for bringing this to us!
Summary: Wings of the Navy is a fun, innocent, light hearted love story slash drama that provides a glimpse into pre-war aviation at its best.