Two rivals (Charles Rogers, Richard Arlen) for the same girl (Jobyna Ralston) end up bonding whilst serving in WWI as pilots. Meanwhile, Clara Bow plays a girl who has a thing for Rogers, who is oblivious. Bow ends up joining the war effort driving an ambulance. That’s a young (but not young-looking) Gary Cooper as a fellow soldier in a mere cameo.
This 1927 William A. Wellman (“The Story of G.I. Joe”, “The High and the Mighty”, “The Ox-Bow Incident”) silent picture is remembered today for one thing: The trivia titbit that it was the first film to be awarded Best Picture at the Academy Awards. Well I’m here to tell you that it’s also better than just being a piece of trivia. It doesn’t seem to get a lot of good reviews, but I actually rather enjoyed this one. In fact, it’s really only gross length that holds me back from liking it even more. Scripted by Hope Loring and Louis D. Lighton (a husband and wife screenwriting team), it’s the kind of sweeping romantic war epic that Hollywood (and admittedly British cinema, too) would rip-off time and time again over the years, as “Pearl Harbour” in particular owes a lot to this one, I reckon.
Although some of the silent movie acting is pretty poor in places, the three lead performances by Charles Rogers, Richard Arlen, and Clara Bow are pretty good. Bow in particular excels in a role that isn’t just a mere prop or weak woman, she’s quite pro-active for the period of both the film and the subject within the film. Meanwhile, late in the film we get a scene between the two male leads that is more tender ad dare I say ‘romantic’ than a lot of movies with similar themes involving a man and a woman. The film starts in fairly typical silent era romantic comedy style with some silliness involving a car. That’s cute, and we also get a funny bit where a Dutchman proves he’s as American as anyone by his American flag tattoo on his flabby arm. Yeah, this is borderline propaganda flick at times, but it’s too innocuous really, to take offence at the blatant rah-rah patriotism. The fact that it’s so funny (especially the first half) also helps.
I said that some of the acting has dated, but I must say plot-wise this really is an indication of things to come, you really can see film narrative in a state of evolution here. The flying footage is excellent for its time and even rather graphic, too.
Is this a great film? Nope, it’s far too long for that. However, it is indeed an important and influential film, and I rather liked it. A solid film for its time that is still worth a look today. It’s a bit underrated, actually.