I was excited to see Sunrise: A Song of Two Humans by director F.W. Murnau on the Sight & Sound top 10 Greatest Films list. The film is about a Man and his Wife. The Man is having an affair with the Woman and she wants him to kill his wife and make it look like an accident. It’s a beautifully shot movie with very little titles, the camera and the action on screen tell the story. The film won Best Unique and Artistic Production at the first Academy Awards. The first year didn’t really have a Best Picture category. Instead it had two categories, Best Unique and Artistic Production and Most Outstanding Production which the 1927 filmWings won. The academy changed the category the next year and decided retroactively that the award won by Wings was the same award and ever since Wings has been declared as the winner of the first Academy Award for Best Picture.
Wings was set during WWI and directed by William A. Wellman. It starred Charles “Buddy” Rogers and Richard Arlen as two men who are rivals for the same woman’s affections. The woman, played by Jobyna Ralston is in love with Richard Arlen but humours Rogers because she feels sorry for him. Meanwhile top billed Clara Bow is in love with Rogers but he is oblivious to the fact so she enlists as an ambulance driver for the war. Both men also enlist in the war to become pilots. They eventually become best friends despite their rivalry. Clara Bow felt like she was forced into the film, the only reason she was in it was that she was Paramount’s highest grossing star at the time. She said “(Wings is)..a man’s picture and I’m just the whipped cream on top of the pie”.
The film comes off as a bit of a soap opera for most of the drama but the aerial dogfight scenes make up for it. They are pretty good but they animated the flames, actually hand drew flames into the film whenever a plane gets shot and it takes some getting used to. The film had also won best Best Effects, Engineering Effects award.
Paramount Pictures released a restored version of Wings on DVD and Blu-ray in January of this year and it looks fantastic. The film is pretty good but it’s no Sunrise. It wouldn’t the first or last time that the Academy Awards picked the wrong best picture.