Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Wings of the Navy (1939)

Wings Of The Navy from Warner Bros.


Wings of the Navy (1939) shines a spotlight on U.S. naval aviation. This Warner Bros. film was directed by Lloyd Bacon and produced by Cosmopolitan Productions (a Hearst company). It stars George Brent as Cass Harrington. Cass and his younger brother Jerry (John Payne) have followed in their father's footsteps by pursuing careers in the Navy. Their rear admiral father, who recently passed away, has left them with the responsibility of carrying on the Harrington name in the Navy so that his legacy would continue. Pride, self-sacrifice and honor are all major themes in the story and the driving forces behind the actions of the various characters.

John Payne and George Brent in Wings of the Navy (1939)

Cass is an esteemed naval aviator with a reputation that has earned him respect and admiration among many of his colleagues. The younger Jerry is jealous of his older brother and seeks to surpass him. He abandoning his work with submarines and signs up to be a new naval aviation recruit, much to Cass' dismay.  Olivia de Havilland plays Irene Dale. With a father and a boyfriend (Cass) in the Navy, she's no stranger to the lifestyle. Jerry and Irene fall in love heightening Jerry's competitiveness towards his brother. What follows is a love triangle complicated by the dangers of aviation and the intricacies of a brotherly bond.

Olivia de Havilland and John Payne in Wings of the Navy (1939)

Providing some comic relief to this naval drama is Frank McHugh who plays Scat Allen. He's a farmer-turned-new-recruit who is blundering his way through the recruitment process. However, his character has the most personality and displays the most personal growth of all the characters. All of the other characterizations ultimately fall flat.

Frank McHugh in Wings of the Navy (1939)
The plot of Wings of the Navy (1939) is really secondary to the film's real purpose; to showcase the advancements in naval aviation and to entertain audiences with flying sequences both real and fake. Think of this film as a sandwich. You don't eat the sandwich for the bread, you eat it for the fillings. But without the bread it's not a sandwich. Without a plot Wings of the Navy wouldn't be a film. You need the plot to hold things together but really what you're after is the depiction of naval aviation.



As a story this film isn't very good. It's difficult not to compare Olivia de Havilland's very weak role as Irene Dale to her strong role as Melanie in Gone With the Wind which released the same year. Wings of the Navy was shot before Gone With the Wind but it's still a good example of how Warner Bros. didn't see de Havilland's true potential as an actress.

This film is worth watching especially if you are interested in military history. The planes and the aviation footage are the real stars of the movie. A New York Times review of the film reads:
"As a documentary study of the Pensacola Naval Air Training station, and its methods of turning raw recruits into seasoned pilots of combat and bombing planes, "Wings of the Navy" gets off the ground very nimbly, and has a good deal of value, interest and even excitement, of the purely mechanical sort, to offer to the curious."
Wings of the Navy was shot on location at the Pensacola and San Diego Naval Air Stations. The quality footage adds an authenticity to the film and gives it a lot of value as a historical piece.


The incredibly good looking cast of Wings of the Navy (1939). Olivia de Havilland, George Brent and John Payne.

Two of the characters head to Honolulu, Hawaii at the end of the film. I won't tell you which ones otherwise I'd spoil the ending. While Wings of the Navy is a WWII-era film, as of 1939 the United States was not yet involved with the war. However, in two years it would be when Japanese troops launched an attack on Pearl Harbor, Honolulu in 1941. After the film was over, I couldn't help wondering whether the two characters would have been victims or heroes of the Pearl Harbor attack or if they would have moved on to another base by then.

Wings of the Navy (1939) is available on DVD-MOD through Warner Archive . I usually feature Warner Archive movie reviews as part of my Warner Archive Wednesday feature. However, in honor of Veterans Day I'm posting this review early. Thank you to Warner Archive for sending me a copy of Wings of the Navy (1939) to review.




Wings of the Navy marquee on the Hemet Theater in Hemet, CA circa 1939. Source

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