The Wings of Eagles (1957)

109-111 mins | Drama | 22 February 1957

Director:

John Ford

Producer:

Charles Schnee

Cinematographer:

Paul C. Vogel

Editor:

Gene Ruggiero

Production Designers:

William A. Horning, Malcolm Brown

Production Company:

Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Corp.
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HISTORY

The working title for this film was The Eagle Has Wings . In the opening credits, M-G-M acknowledged the support of the United States Department of Defense and Navy. This was followed by a written prologue: "This motion picture is dedicated to the men who brought Air Power to the United States Navy. One such man was Commander Frank "Spig" Wead. The flying records he smashed helped win him the lasting respect of his fellow Navy men. The screenplays he wrote helped win him the lasting respect of his fellow writers in Hollywood." Actor Ken Curtis, who portrayed "John Price," provided voice-over narration throughout the film.
       Cmdr. Frank "Spig" Wead was one of the Navy's first pilots and a pioneer in air defense. When his military career abruptly ended as a result of being paralyzed in an accident, Wead turned to writing and completed several screenplays for M-G-M and other studios. John Ford directed several films that were based on Wead's writings, including Air Mail in 1932 and They Were Expendable in 1945 (see AFI Catalog of Feature Films, 1931-40 and 1941-50 ). A strong friendship developed during their collaborations. Wead wrote many other screenplays and/or stories that were adapted for the screen, including Dirigible directed by Frank Capra in 1931 and Ceiling Zero directed by Howard Hawks in 1936 (see AFI Catalog of Feature Films, 1941-50 ). In 1943, Wead returned to the Navy to serve in the South Pacific, where his battle plan won the Navy a victory in the Battle of the Marianas. According to modern sources, Wead returned from his duty in the Pacific ... More Less

The working title for this film was The Eagle Has Wings . In the opening credits, M-G-M acknowledged the support of the United States Department of Defense and Navy. This was followed by a written prologue: "This motion picture is dedicated to the men who brought Air Power to the United States Navy. One such man was Commander Frank "Spig" Wead. The flying records he smashed helped win him the lasting respect of his fellow Navy men. The screenplays he wrote helped win him the lasting respect of his fellow writers in Hollywood." Actor Ken Curtis, who portrayed "John Price," provided voice-over narration throughout the film.
       Cmdr. Frank "Spig" Wead was one of the Navy's first pilots and a pioneer in air defense. When his military career abruptly ended as a result of being paralyzed in an accident, Wead turned to writing and completed several screenplays for M-G-M and other studios. John Ford directed several films that were based on Wead's writings, including Air Mail in 1932 and They Were Expendable in 1945 (see AFI Catalog of Feature Films, 1931-40 and 1941-50 ). A strong friendship developed during their collaborations. Wead wrote many other screenplays and/or stories that were adapted for the screen, including Dirigible directed by Frank Capra in 1931 and Ceiling Zero directed by Howard Hawks in 1936 (see AFI Catalog of Feature Films, 1941-50 ). In 1943, Wead returned to the Navy to serve in the South Pacific, where his battle plan won the Navy a victory in the Battle of the Marianas. According to modern sources, Wead returned from his duty in the Pacific to find that his wife had left him. A 9 Sep 1956 NYT article states that Wead died in 1946 in Ford's arms, although he actually died in 1947.
       The Wings of Eagles was based on a number of Wead's writings, including the short story "We Plaster the Japs." According to information found in M-G-M Collection at the USC Cinema-Television Library, the short story outlined Wead's return to military duty during World War II and was the basis for the film's portrayal of that period.
       According to a 16 Aug 1955 DV article, Robert Taylor was originally considered for the lead, while Richard Thorpe was to direct. By Oct 1955 HR reported that Dwight Brooks was being tested for a lead role; however, John Wayne was finally chosen to portray Wead under Ford's direction. According to Dan Ford, John Ford's grandson and biographer, M-G-M, wishing to fulfill an obligation to the Navy, agreed to make a dramatic film that would promote naval aviation. After M-G-M commissioned Frank Fenton and William Wister Haines to write the screenplay based on Wead's writings, they approached Ford to direct it. Ford was reluctant to make a film portraying a close friend; however, according to his grandson, he could not bear having anyone else directing it and finally accepted the job.
       The Wings of Eagles marked the tenth time Ford and Wayne worked together. Ford, who rose to the rank of rear admiral in the Navy, was the basis for the character "John Dodge." According to the pressbook found in the production file on the film at the AMPAS library, Dr. John Keye, portrayed by Louis Jean Heydt, was a technical advisor on the film, as was John Dale Price. Both Keye and Price had served with Wead in the Navy and were among Wead's close friends. The film was shot on location at the Naval Air Station in Pensacola, FL and aboard the U.S.S. Philippine Sea off the coast of southern CA. The film was previewed aboard the U.S.S. Lexington on 24 Jan 1957. As noted in the DV review, scenes from the 1931 M-G-M film Hell Divers (see AFI Catalog of Feature Films, 1931-40 ), which was written by Wead, were used in the viewing of dailies scene in The Wings of Eagles . Modern sources note that actor Ward Bond, as the character "John Dodge," used Ford's own pipe, hat, cane and Academy Awards during the Hollywood scenes. Bond was another close friend and frequent actor in Ford's films.
       According to a 6 May 1957 LAT article, producer Charles Schnee received a special citation from the Southern California Motion Picture Council for his production of the film. Several modern sources claim that the film celebrates alcohol consumption and failed marital relationships; however, Dan Ford suggests in his biography of Ford that The Wings of Eagles was the most autobiographical of his grandfather’s films, stating, "a compulsive worker, a man of great obsessions, fanatically devoted to naval aviation at the expense of everything else . . .Wead was incapable of any real home life."
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BIBLIOGRAPHIC SOURCES
SOURCE
DATE
PAGE
Box Office
2 Feb 1957.
---
Daily Variety
16 Aug 1955.
---
Daily Variety
29 Jan 1957
p. 3.
Film Daily
30 Jan 1957
p. 6.
Hollywood Reporter
16 Aug 1955
p. 3.
Hollywood Reporter
17 Oct 1955
p. 2.
Hollywood Reporter
24 Oct 1955
p. 3.
Hollywood Reporter
13 Jun 1956
p. 3.
Hollywood Reporter
16 Jul 1956
p. 8.
Hollywood Reporter
27 Jul 1956
p. 9, 12.
Hollywood Reporter
28 Sep 1956
p. 12.
Hollywood Reporter
29 Jan 1957
p. 3.
Los Angeles Times
10 Feb 1957.
---
Los Angeles Times
6 May 1957.
---
Motion Picture Daily
29 Jan 1957.
---
Motion Picture Herald Product Digest
2 Feb 1957
p. 249.
New York Herald Tribune
1 Feb 1957.
---
New York Times
9 Sep 1956.
---
New York Times
1 Feb 1957
p. 28.
Newsweek
11 Feb 1957.
---
Saturday Review
9 Feb 1957.
---
Time
11 Mar 1957.
---
Variety
30 Jul 1957
p. 6.
CAST
PRODUCTION CREDITS
NAME
PARENT COMPANY
DISTRIBUTION COMPANY
NAME
CREDITED AS
CREDIT
DIRECTORS
Dir
Asst dir
PRODUCERS
Assoc prod
PHOTOGRAPHY
Dir of photog
ART DIRECTORS
Art dir
FILM EDITOR
Film ed
SET DECORATORS
Set dec
Set dec
COSTUMES
Ward for Miss O'Hara
MUSIC
Mus score
SOUND
VISUAL EFFECTS
Spec eff
MAKEUP
PRODUCTION MISC
Tech adv
Unit mgr
COLOR PERSONNEL
Col consultant
SOURCES
LITERARY
Based on the short story "We Plaster the Japs" in American Magazine (Sep 1944) and other stories and writings by Commander Frank W. "Spig" Wead.
DETAILS
Alternate Title:
The Eagle Has Wings
Release Date:
22 February 1957
Premiere Information:
New York opening: 31 January 1957
Production Date:
late July--late September 1956
Copyright Claimant:
Loew's Inc.
Copyright Date:
14 January 1957
Copyright Number:
LP7434
Physical Properties:
Sound
Westrex Recording System; Perspecta Sound
Color
Metrocolor
Widescreen/ratio
1.85:1
Duration(in mins):
109-111
Length(in feet):
9,900
Length(in reels):
14
Country:
United States
Language:
English
SYNOPSIS

In 1919 at the Pensacola, Florida naval base, spirited young officer Frank W. “Spig” Wead, one of pilots in the first Navy flying class, has been repeatedly denied permission to fly solo by his instructor Lt. Charles Dexter. A national rivalry between Army and Navy aeronautics divisions prompts Spig to accept Army pilot Capt. Herbert Allen Hazard’s challenge to fly solo one day. Although Spig’s daredevil flight in a seaplane with Hazard ends in a crash-landing at Admiral Moffett’s tea party, Spig is cleared of all charges when he defends his actions as necessary to furthering Naval flight experimentation and bringing the ‘sea eagles’ to the public’s attention. When a drunk Spig returns home from celebrating the victory, his wife Minnie informs him that their son is ill. After the toddler dies that evening, the alienated parents are unable to comfort each other, despite their shared grief. As time goes by, the couple happily rear two more children; however, Minnie is unable to cope with the frequent transfers necessary to Spig’s career success. Their daughters are in elementary school when the Navy decides to compete with the Army in an aircraft race round the world and choose Spig to head their team. Although the race necessitates another move, Spig accepts the challenge, causing the couple to separate when Minnie refuses to move. Weeks later in Washington, Hazard and his Army team are celebrating the upcoming race at a nearby inn, when Spig and his crew interrupt the party, precipitating a fistfight. Unable to control the men, the manager shouts “police” and then directs the panicked servicemen toward the swimming pool, causing them to tumble into the water. Soon after, ... +


In 1919 at the Pensacola, Florida naval base, spirited young officer Frank W. “Spig” Wead, one of pilots in the first Navy flying class, has been repeatedly denied permission to fly solo by his instructor Lt. Charles Dexter. A national rivalry between Army and Navy aeronautics divisions prompts Spig to accept Army pilot Capt. Herbert Allen Hazard’s challenge to fly solo one day. Although Spig’s daredevil flight in a seaplane with Hazard ends in a crash-landing at Admiral Moffett’s tea party, Spig is cleared of all charges when he defends his actions as necessary to furthering Naval flight experimentation and bringing the ‘sea eagles’ to the public’s attention. When a drunk Spig returns home from celebrating the victory, his wife Minnie informs him that their son is ill. After the toddler dies that evening, the alienated parents are unable to comfort each other, despite their shared grief. As time goes by, the couple happily rear two more children; however, Minnie is unable to cope with the frequent transfers necessary to Spig’s career success. Their daughters are in elementary school when the Navy decides to compete with the Army in an aircraft race round the world and choose Spig to head their team. Although the race necessitates another move, Spig accepts the challenge, causing the couple to separate when Minnie refuses to move. Weeks later in Washington, Hazard and his Army team are celebrating the upcoming race at a nearby inn, when Spig and his crew interrupt the party, precipitating a fistfight. Unable to control the men, the manager shouts “police” and then directs the panicked servicemen toward the swimming pool, causing them to tumble into the water. Soon after, Spig learns that Congress, concerned that the nation might disapprove of funding military competition, denies the Navy permission to enter the race. Needing to prove the team’s abilities, Spig decides to enter the Schneider Cup international seaplane races, which he and teammate John Price win by shattering the seaplane endurance record. As he is about to accept a post as the youngest squadron commander in Navy history, Spig decides to reunite with Minnie and the children, who are living in Coronado. When he returns to the family home unannounced, he finds house littered with empty liquor bottles and his daughters unsupervised. The children, having only known him through naval newsreels, hardly recognize their father. When Minnie arrives home later in the evening, Spig expresses his regret about leaving the family. Minnie accepts his apologies and agrees to let him live with them again. After the couple spend a romantic evening together, a sleeping Spig awakens when one of the girls cries. Bolting out the bedroom door, Spig trips and falls down the stairs, cracking several cervical vertebrae. Paralyzed from the neck down, Spig is hospitalized at the San Diego Naval Hospital. Held face down in traction with little hope of recovery, Spig breaks up with Minnie, hoping that she can make a new life for herself if she is not held responsible for his care. Minnie is heartbroken, but accepts Spig’s wishes. The next morning, Navy mechanic "Jughead" Carson, who has been dispatched on special duty to aid in Spig’s recovery, explains the invalid’s physical limitations in terms of mechanics and then begins a daily routine of coaching Spig to send signals from his brain through his body despite the break in his spine. After several grueling months of repeating the phrase “I’m going to move that toe,” the ebullient and devoted Carson places a mirror under Spig’s down-turned face so that he can see his toes and then accompanies him on ukulele. By plying his reluctant body with alcohol and jokes, Spig is finally able to sit upright in his bed. One day he spots Minnie pacing outside the hospital and realizes that the roses Price regularly delivers are actually from his wife, who is still devoted to him. Months later, Spig recovers the mobility of his hands enough to take up Carson’s suggestion that he write down his tall tales. Finally Spig recovers his ability to walk, though haltingly and with the help of leg braces and two canes. Soon after his release from the hospital, the Navy, needing publicity to secure funding for new carriers, asks Spig to write military-related scripts for Hollywood and gives him an office with director John Dodge. After several years of collaborating on many military dramas, the two become close friends. Although the now-wealthy Spig is still officially married to Minnie, he resides alone in Hollywood. Years later, while in New York for the opening of his play Ceiling Zero on Broadway, Spig accidentally encounters Carson, who snubs Spig because he had not contacted since his recovery. Carson then suggests he make amends with Minnie and drives him to airport. Spig arrives at Minnie’s San Francisco apartment unannounced and proposes that they form a family again. Minnie argues that she has a new life, but accepts his invitation to move to Hollywood. After Spig returns home to prepare for Minnie’s arrival, he hears the news that the Japanese have bombed Pearl Harbor. Driven by his patriotic duty, Spig reenters the service despite his disabilities. Unable to recognize and appreciate that Minnie loves him more than his comrades, Spig abandons his family one more time. Minnie accepts his decision as inevitable and encourages her “star spangled Spig.” Spig is reunited with Carson and Price and throws himself tirelessly into strategizing for the Navy air carriers. He develops the idea of “jeep” carriers, small carriers which will furnish the big carriers with replacement planes when U.S. planes are downed by Kamikaze pilots. Given command of his own carrier near Kwajalein Island in the South Pacific, Spig witnesses the jeep carriers provide new planes to his ship within minutes of a Japanese attack. During one attack, Carson, realizing Spig is unable to move quickly enough to avoid the gunfire, protects his friend with his own body. Later when Spig visits the wounded Carson, Carson tactfully rejects Spig’s apology for his previous behavior and his offer of help. As Spig walks away from his friend, he suffers a heart attack and is consequently forced to retire from his post. With plans to return to Minnie and his girls, Spig is officially released from duty during a formal ceremony. Price and other soldiers aboard stand at attention in a tearful tribute, as Spig is transported in a chair lift off the carrier to an uncertain future. +

Legend
Viewed by AFI
Partially Viewed
Offscreen Credit
Name Occurs Before Title
AFI Life Achievement Award

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