Wednesday, June 7, 2017

#599: The Wings of Eagles

Directed by: JOHN FORD
1957, TSPDT Rank #831

Like many of John Ford's non-western films, The Wings of Eagles often flies under the radar in discussions of Ford's work. Released by MGM one year after The Searchers, this biopic about Frank "Spig" Wead, a naval aviation pioneer, screenwriter, and personal friend of Ford's, was also one of the handful of films which Ford could be said to have made primarily for himself. Although he initially had misgivings about directing a biopic on Wead's life, Ford made a tribute to his friend that only he could have achieved. He chose his two favorite actors, John Wayne and Maureen O'Hara, to play the lead roles in the film, just as they had in The Quiet Man, which paid homage to Ford's Irish heritage in a similar fashion. Wayne and O'Hara play much different roles here, but the effect is largely the same, as Ford's affection for these actors resonates on the screen. Other Ford regulars such as Dan Dailey and Ward Bond deliver memorable performances as well - with Bond portraying a thinly-veiled version of the temperamental director himself, named "John Dodge" to prevent clever viewers from drawing any parallels. Ford's trademark sentimentality and humor are also here in spades, serving less as components of a realistic dramatization of Wead's life than as an expression of love for a departed friend. As the film's conclusion makes overwhelmingly clear, while another director might have crafted a film more faithful to the actual details of Wead's life, no other director would have made a film which feels as deeply personal as this one does.