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Warner Home Video presents
"I'm gonna move that toe. I've got to."
DVD ReviewJohn Ford and John Wayne joined together to make some of the most impressive motion pictures ever seen, which has rightly earned the two men a permanent place in cinematic history. However, there are failures to accompany the successes. The Wings of Eagles belongs in the latter category, I'm afraid. At no point does either man's skillselevate this biopic out of the confused mess it crashes into repeatedly during its 110-minute runtime.
U.S. Navy Commander Frank "Spig" Wead (Wayne) is itching to be one of the Navy's first pilots. His free-flowing attitude makes numerous waves with not only his superior officers, but also his wife Min (Maureen O'Hara). Whether he's unlawfully flying an aircraft destined to crash into a major banquet or brawling with the Army's Captain Hazard (Kenneth Tobey), Spig always seems to be finding himself in trouble. He's not without his charm, since his pigheaded ways seem to inspire Congress to allocate funds to the Navy in an effort to compete against the Army Air Corps. Yet, just as Spig is at an all-time career high, he suffers a severe spinal injury while at home that results in early retirement.
The movie is loosely based on Wead's real life, who also made a name for himself as a screenwriter. Just looking at Spig's life synopsis whets my appetite for a big screen telling of it, but Ford and screenwriters Frank Fenton and William Wister Haines fail to establish a consistent tone. Scenes of outrageous physical comedy collide with moments of tragedy and the result is like a car wreck. There are some nice moments, such as when Spig begins to walk as his best friend, "Jughead" Carson (Dan Daily), cheers him on, but the movie comes across as superficial. Spig's tumultuous marriage to Min plays like a poor soap opera episode, despite the two talented actors. There's no depth to the characters, so it is difficult for me to actually root for Spig to get his life back in order. Ford's direction here is an example of all his flaws, with him clumsily transitioning from comedy to drama.
The Wings of Eagles is meant to be a tribute by Ford and Wayne to their friend (Wead wrote They Were Expendable), but it simply never comes together. I enjoyed Spig's first trip into the sky, but after that it all goes down hill. None of the technical genius of Ford can be seen outside of that sequence. Major events come and go, but all we see are a few people sitting in rooms talking. Where's the adventure of the pair's earlier work? Wayne's performance seems to be on autopilot, as he moves through the motions without a trace of thought. A better script seems essential here, because the dialogue is flat and the pacing doesn't allow in room for character development. I don't doubt that Ford and Wayne enjoyed making this movie, they clearly seem to have an affinity for the subject, but it left me numb.
Rating for Style: C-
Rating for Substance: C-
Image Transfer Review: The 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen image is pretty by the numbers. Mosquito noise, grain, and print defects are mainstays here. Colors are muted and detail is only adequate. Contrast and depth are simply average, which makes this a rather mundane catalogue title.
Image Transfer Grade: C-
Audio Transfer Review: The English mono track is nothing to write home about, but it does the job. Dialogue is always audible and the sound effects come across cleanly. However, even for a mono mix, there doesn't seem to be any oomph.
Audio Transfer Grade: B-
Disc ExtrasStatic menu with music
Scene Access with 27 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in English, French, Spanish with remote access
1 Original Trailer(s)
Packaging: generic plastic keepcase
Extras Review: The only supplemental material provided here is the movie's original theatrical trailer, presented in nonanamorphic 1.85:1 widescreen and Dolby Stereo sound.
Extras Grade: D-
Final CommentsA clumsy disappointment, The Wings of Eagles is not the ideal Wayne/Ford collaboration. This lackluster DVD release reflects my opinions of the movie.
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