The Wings of Eagles (1957)

Frank ‘Spig’ Wead was a pioneering navy pilot whose determination to advance the cause of U.S. Naval aviation through race victories and record setting made him oblivious to the needs of his family. After an accident at home left him paralysed, he took up writing, giving him the chance to once more promote naval aviation through screenplays. This biopic is typical John Wayne fare, complete with knockabout humour, bar-room brawls and depiction of camaraderie among men. But it shows signs that it could have been so much more.

 

These are scenes in The Wings of Eagles which feature some of the Duke’s finest acting, and his on-screen chemistry with Maureen O’Hara enhances their domestic scenes. Yet it is here that director John Ford’s friendship with Wead inhibits the movie. There is a suggestion that alcohol abuse played a significant part in the disintegration of the couple’s marriage. Children are left to fend for themselves while their mother goes out for the night, and Spig confides to director John Dodge (read Ford) that he too used to make excuses for drinking in the afternoon. But before any of this can be really explored, we’re off to more familiar John Wayne territory.

 

This is still an entertaining yarn, but Ford’s struggle between honestly depicting his friend’s life while also paying homage to him is evident in the movie’s uneven pace.

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Due to the character of John Dodge being seen as a representation of director John Ford, the movie contains the following anachronisms -

  • John Ford was not the director of Hell Divers, though the two did collaborate on Air Mail and the classic They Were Expendable (also starring John Wayne)

  • infers Hell Divers was Wead's first film, whereas The Flying Fleet and Dirigible were made beforehand.

Film depicts the US Army’s around-the-world flight occurring before the US Navy won the Schneider Cup. In fact the US Navy won the Schneider Cup in 1923 and the US Army embarked on the first aerial circumnavigation from March to September 1924.

Biopic focuses on Wead's naval career and as such, there are no scene recreations. The three scenes featuring Ward Bond's representation of director John Ford all follow one another, the second of which has director John Dodge and Frank Wead previewing Hell Divers.

John Ford directs Ward Bond on how to portray John Ford aka John Dodge

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