Combustible Celluloid
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With: John Wayne, Dan Dailey, Maureen O'Hara, Ward Bond, Ken Curtis, Edmund Lowe, Kenneth Tobey, James Todd, Barry Kelley, Sig Ruman, Henry O'Neill, Willis Bouchey, Dorothy Jordan
Written by: Frank Fenton, William Wister Haines, based on the life and writings of Commander Frank W. 'Spig' Wead
Directed by: John Ford
MPAA Rating: NR
Running Time: 110
Date: 02/22/1957

The Wings of Eagles (1957)

3 Stars (out of 4)

Moving That Toe

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

Immediately following his masterpiece The Searchers, John Ford made this bizarre, but touching, comical biopic of Frank "Spig" Wead, the former pilot-turned-screenwriter who had worked with Ford twice, on Air Mail (1932) and They Were Expendable (1945), as well as Howard Hawks on Ceiling Zero (1936).

Played by John Wayne, Wead is a hothead and a troublemaker, so desperate to become a Navy pilot that he takes an Army man for a joyride. He does become a pilot, and is responsible for the Navy using more air power during WWII. But an accident costs him his legs, and during his long recovery, he turns to writing stories about planes and pilots as a means to support himself, his wife (Maureen O'Hara), and their two girls. Ward Bond plays a very Ford-like filmmaker, "John Dodge," in a couple of scenes.

Ford the director plays a great deal of this stuff as broad comedy -- perhaps afraid of showing too much affection for his friend? -- and when the hard stuff seeps in it feels abrupt and forced. Still, the overall tone is one of love and respect, and Ford eventually crafts a very entertaining and touching film.

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