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Wings of the Navy

Wings of the Navy

Released as Europe was on the verge of war, Wings of the Navy (1939) was a call to arms and a boast about America's military might. The tagline of the film's advertising campaign was "For All The World to Witness That America Will Not Be Unprepared!" The story about two flyer brothers - the veteran George Brent and the rookie John Payne - who are rivals for the same woman Olivia de Havilland was just an excuse to show off the Navy's training program and equipment. The film was made with the cooperation of the Navy, and shot on location at Naval air facilities in Pensacola, Florida and Coronado, California. Wings of the Navy had a million-dollar budget, and was among the first of what would be a series of war and military films for the duration of World War II.

Director Lloyd Bacon made 73 films of all kinds during his long career at Warner Bros. - comedies, melodramas, musicals, westerns - but his favorites were action pictures. He loved the Navy, and made several films about it. Bacon often said, "You can't get too much action in a motion picture," and when he was making Wings of the Navy, he added, "And you can't get too much Navy in a picture either, particularly one demanding excitement."

So incidental was the love story in Wings of the Navy that Olivia de Havilland was having serious doubts about her career at Warner Bros. She had gotten off to a great start in 1935, with her debut film, A Midsummer Night's Dream, and an inspired pairing with Errol Flynn in Captain Blood, which led to more films with him, including The Adventures of Robin Hood (1938). But too often, she was cast as the generic love interest in movies where the men had all the fun, and she considered her role in Wings of the Navy as another of those. While working on her next picture, Dodge City (1939) she was close to a nervous breakdown. Deciding to take matters into her own hands, de Havilland aggressively went after the role of Melanie in Gone With the Wind (1939), and convinced Jack Warner to loan her out for it. In spite of the acclaim she earned for her performance, it was back to business as usual when she returned to Warner Bros., and she eventually took the studio to court, winning a landmark decision that freed her from her contract.

A song written for Wings of the Navy, "Wings Over the Navy," by Harry Warren and Johnny Mercer, became a popular hit in England, which would soon be at war. Warren had written songs for some of Warner Bros.' greatest early 1930s musicals, including 42nd Street (1933, also directed by Bacon), and Gold Diggers of 1933. Wings of the Navy would be Warren's last film for Warner Bros.

Reviewers praised the aviation sequences in Wings of the Navy, and were generally bored by the romance. The New York Times critic wrote, "The story is the least conspicuous part of the picture. 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...the educational part is so interesting that we return to the romantic part...with a feeling akin to pain." Time Magazine was more succint: "Loud buzz of airplane motors, interrupted occasionally by George Brent, John Payne, and Olivia de Havilland."

Producer: Louis Edelman
Director: Lloyd Bacon
Screenplay: Michael Fessier
Cinematography: Arthur Edeson
Film Editing: George Amy
Art Direction: Esdras Hartley
Music: Heinz Roemheld, Harry Warren
Cast: George Brent (Lt. Cmdr. Cass Harrington), Olivia de Havilland (Irene Dale), John Payne (Lt. Jerry Harrington), Frank McHugh (Scat. Allen), John Litel (Cmdr. Clark), Victor Jory (Lt. Parsons).
BW-90m.

by Margarita Landazuri

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