Winging It

Paramount Pictures is marking its 100th anniversary with a magnificent presentation of William Wellman’s 1927 “Wings” on Blu-ray, featuring a digitally restored image and a thundering DTS soundtrack that includes a re-recording of the original score by J.S. Zamecnik and sound effects supervised by Ben Burtt, of “Star Wars” and “WALL-E” fame. The new sound effects may seem a little obtrusive to silent film aficionados, inasmuch as they clearly point to a future technology and take the viewer out of the moment of the movie. But it’s the overdetermined sound that will probably put the film over for a modern audience whose only familiarity with the silent aesthetic comes from the even more aggressively anachronistic “The Artist.” My New York Times review is here.

On an alternate track, Paramount has included the pipe organ score recorded by Gaylord Carter when Paramount reissued the film on VHS in 1987 (as part of a package of a dozen silent films restored for the studio’s 75th anniversary — yes, times have changed). As near as I can determine (and I’d appreciate hearing from anyone with better information on this), “Wings” opened in its first run engagements in 1927 as a silent film, but by the time it went into general release in 1929/30, it had been outfitted with a Movietone track, now apparently lost, which would naturally have included sound effects. Wisely, Paramount chose not to “goat-gland” the movie by grafting on dialogue scenes, though the film was such a success — far outgrossing “The Jazz Singer,” as Donald Crafton has demonstrated — that it hardly needed any extra help at the box office.

Another mystery: the AFI Catalog lists the gifted Harry d’Abbadie d’Arrast (“Laughter”) as an uncredited co-director, though without suggesting what scenes he was responsible for. As a certified Frenchman (imported by Chaplin to work as a technical adviser on “A Woman of Paris”) was D’Abbadie perhaps put to work on the Parisian night club sequence? With its dazzling establishing shot — an extended dolly/crane shot that passes between couples (including a forthrightly lesbian pair) seated at tiny tables before arriving at a drunken Buddy Rogers — the sequence seems outside the norm for Wellman, but who knows? Can any of the Wellmaniacs in the gang offer enlightenment?

142 comments to Winging It

  • Robert Regan

    Gregg, et al., One of the most fascinating things about history is that we never really know what really happened. In film history, what we have are the films. But the research and the speculation are also fascinating.

  • Rich Deming

    “Back to the “Vendetta” mystery–it’s worth noting that by 1946, when Ophuls started working on “Vendetta,” Sturges was well into his semi-washed-up-and-drunk phase. His great run was from 1940 to 1944, so by 1946 he probably did want to direct another film, and he’d had a while to think about it. He hadn’t worked in two years. I imagine his power in Hollywood had diminished quite a bit by then too. ”
    ________________________________________________________________________________

    So … Sturges in a “semi-washed-up and drunk phase” successfully pitches Howard Hughes his script and is hired to produced and pitches Ophuls, a guy that hasn’t directed in years as director yet … can’t successfully pitch himself as a director from the get-go because why? Makes no sense.

  • Rich Deming

    Overlap of posts, shame about our editing ability as I did not want to ‘pile on.’ Can’t even delete it. The one thing from the newspaper article that does ring true is that as Hughes did fire both of them, it doesn’t matter much in the grand scheme of things.

  • Robert Garrick

    This has been interesting and there’s no doubt some truth in what each of us has written. Rashomon.

    We have to remember that Sturges was let go from Paramount in 1944 after a battle over the ending to “The Great Moment.” That gave Sturges a lot of time to sit in his Beverly Hills restaurant, “The Players,” hatching ideas and drinking. (Sturges’s father was a major alcoholic, and there is little dispute that Sturges was himself a huge drinker, though it might not have been as debilitating at this stage of his life as it became later. Then again, maybe it had been debilitating all along.)

    Anyway, it was at The Players that Sturges met Howard Hughes and talked him into an alliance, and into a deal that led to the film “The Sin of Harold Diddlebock,” which was filmed in 1945 and 1946 (and released in 1947 and later, re-cut, in 1950). Charles Higham writes that the film was “a dud” and “$600,000 over budget” in large part because of Sturges’s “decline from alcohol.”

    It was after this that Sturges moved on to “Vendetta,” with Hughes’s (initial) blessing. By now I have read several different accounts of how it all blew up. The Wikipedia page on the film is fascinating, and the film’s production history rivals “Duel in the Sun” and “It’s All True” as one of Hollywood’s great convoluted messes. One thing we know for sure is that Faith Domergue’s breasts had a lot to do with how it all went down.

    It sounds like there might have been three different almost-complete versions of the film: the first shot by Sturges (and Ophuls); the second shot by Heisler; and the third shot by Mel Ferrer and Howard Hughes himself.

    I have not seen the film, but I won’t miss it the next time it turns up.

  • Tom Brueggemann

    Sorry, I don’t question that Sturges might have had drinking problems at that time, but Charles Higham as far as I am concerned should never be cited as a reliable authority after his smears on Orson Welles, his contention that Errol Flynn was a Nazi spy and other nonsense and gossip that he wallowed in.

  • Robert Garrick

    Tom–we could have a lot of fun talking about Higham, but I don’t want to do it on a public forum.

    I think there’s some good history in his early books. I’ll leave it there. When reading any popular Hollywood biography, it’s important to remember the first rule of defamation law: you can’t be sued by a dead person for libel.

    Also I apologize for misspelling your name a while back. I saw the error immediately once the post went up, but the blankety-blank editing function (on which we’ve grown dependent) was down.

  • Tom Brueggemann

    No problem Robert – I didn’t notice, it’s very common. I for years when people had secretaries shortened the spelling just to make it easier.

    (Pedantic note – the first E replaces the umlaut in the original German. It’s the reason I add the E to Ophuls, since he also had an umlaut over the U).

    Andrew Sullivan, a much-read read political and social blogger, and leading voice on gay issues, just posted this on Wings (he otherwise certainly has never heard or thought of Wellman):

    http://andrewsullivan.thedailybeast.com/2012/01/the-original-brokeback.html

  • Rick K.

    I had pre-ordered WINGS on blu-ray some time ago, but it didn’t arrive until yesterday, which is after I read Dave’s column. There was absolutely no reason for me to be skeptical of the raves Dave bestowed on this restoration, but I actually had to see it for myself to be so thoroughly convinced that it is indeed the most perfect presentation of a silent film on video thus far. While piecing together METROPOLIS was obviously the restoration miracle of the century, it could not escape being just that, a restoration where one is unavoidably conscious of the efforts involved in patching together the film from a variety of surviving elements. WINGS, on the other hand, allows 85 years to melt away, delivering a moviegoing experience from the silent era at an absolute optimal level. There’s a brief doc among the special features on the disc which covers some of the challenges in getting this film back into shape, with examples of the existing film elements which were the best available on this subject. The results achieved are simply astounding, complimented by outstanding work from the musicians at recreating a score which COMPLIMENTS the imagery (rather than draw attention to itself) so that appreciation for sound and image are totally in sync. I’ve always liked WINGS, now I love it, and the blu-ray disc is one of the treasures of my entire video collection.

  • Gregg Rickman

    “We have to remember that Sturges was let go from Paramount in 1944 after a battle over the ending to ‘The Great Moment.’” Sturges lost the battle over GREAT MOMENT and went on to do HAIL THE CONQUERING HERO, and went back to do reshoots in 1945 when Paramount’s edit of the film did poorly in previews. His decision to leave Paramount was voluntary; he indicated to his friends that it was (after his fights over the editing of GREAT MOMENT and HERO) a matter of honor. He was at the height of his powers, and much in demand; unfortunately he chose to go into his unequal partnership with Hughes in pursuit of that chimera “independence.”

    Reading Eyman’s biography of DeMille reminds us that he was a “pictures man” with a bad ear for dialogue (as Eyman allows). Sturges was a word man who learned how to be a good visual director: there are graceful long takes in his late Paramount films. Sturges loved the script he’d written for VENDETTA and if he interfered with Ophuls’ direction of it I suppose it’s understandable (if regrettable!).

  • Blake Lucas

    I had wanted to get back to this for several days but needed to wait for a work break and meantime have enjoyed following the discussion, learning more about VENDETTA (very keen to see it one day) and finding out that just about everyone here who has mentioned THE EXILE also loves it.

    This is mainly to clarify something about the last paragraph of my post in my claim for the four American Ophuls. Barry was actually half right about my intention there. My main interest was to make the point that Ophuls waited around for six or seven years to get a job in Hollywood and then in three years turned out four masterpieces in a row that are to me unassailable.

    (any flaws in the four? Yes, the very end of CAUGHT as others have said–but its compromised, cursory feeling seems so obvious that it doesn’t seem to really hurt the experience of the whole film at all. As for THE EXILE, though I was taken by Ophuls’ original ending watching it the other day, and would say it’s even better, the edited studio ending is still all his work, basically ends the story the same way, and I always found it satisfying).

    A second point to the “a long wait and then four masterpieces in a row” is that I really can’t think of other directors in the American cinema who had that “four for four”
    perfect record in it, with one possible exception–the same might be said of Murnau but we will never know without being able to see FOUR DEVILS.

    But that’s really the extent of what I had originally meant to claim for Ophuls. What happened was that I had recorded all six films Tuesday night to watch later, took a look at the lovely transfers of the the four American ones and so saw a few beautiful bits and pieces while doing this, and then watched those EXILE endings. When I came up here to post it was on a wave of enthusiasm thinking about his accomplishment and my great love and regard for that group of films and I wasn’t thinking about the possible sequences of other directors’ masterpieces at all, so somehow that got away from me and I claimed he was the only one with four in a row. Within an hour after posting it, I already thought of several others with four (in one case more than that). Won’t go over those names now except that several contenders have been mentioned and I was in sympathy with most, if not all, the names mentioned. Though I would say that sometimes one might make a distinction among films one loves (of Ford’s postwar work that would describe all but three or four for me) between those that are unequivocal masterpieces and those that have the mark of a master or something great about them.

    That said, the four Ophuls fall on the unequivocal side and the quartet of French films that follows almost makes it eight in a row for his whole body of work except that I must confess over time I’ve found my admiration of LOLA MONTES is more reserved than for the others, for all its beauties. Still, among many world class directors who could claim impressive sequences of masterpieces, he was always one of the most consistent.

    Anyway, hope that explains it and I guess I could apologize for misspeaking except that I believe everyone will understand and sympathize with how it happened and it did encourage everyone to come out with lists for their favorite directors and those are always fun.

    ***
    “The foundation film is LIEBELEI, which Ophuls reworked in LETTER FROM AN UNKNOWN WOMAN and in MADAME DE…”

    I strongly agree, and it’s interesting to me that these are my three favorite Ophuls movies, made in three different countries in three different periods of his career and yet they have deep affinities. And here I have to say I truly cannot choose between these three–for me, they are equally great. For those interested in LIEBELEI, I too hope for the DVD release of this one–given the chance to propose an Ophuls entry for DEFINING MOMENTS IN MOVIES I chose this for my entry “A Sleigh Ride in Eternity.” It is one of the most precious of all movies–for anyone coming to cinema who wanted to see what the medium could do with a tragic love story, it is the first film I’d name.

    The Ophuls retrospective that traveled around 10 or 12 years ago (whenever this was) came to Los Angeles too. Alas, it was not complete–for reasons I still don’t understand they left out four of the rarest films–DIVINE, YOSHIWARA, WERTHER, and SANS LENDEMAIN–so when it was over I was convinced then I’d never see these films. But thanks to the subbed copies available now and to a caring friend, I have all four and am spacing them out on the principle of delayed pleasure but have watched DIVINE, which was characteristically beautiful and Ophulsian. More and more it looks like movies one has dreamed of seeing will be there after all.

  • “I must confess over time I’ve found my admiration of LOLA MONTES is more reserved than for the others”

    Blake, I assume that you’ve seen at least one of the two recent restorations. While the French one had a limited art house release the German one has only been screened on special occasions in the US (for example, a free screening at UCLA in the Los Angeles area a year or two ago.)

    There were several slight differences between the two versions, and the color was a little darker in the German restoration. But the interesting difference was that the German version was bleaker for me.

    I saw a dupey 16mm print of “Vendetta” in the 1970s and I had trouble telling what was left of Ophuls in the movie. The material seemed right for him though.

  • Robert Garrick

    I think it’s fair to say that “The Great Moment” had much to do with Sturges’s departure from Paramount after his contract terminated. The problems with “Morgan’s Creek” had something to do with it too. So, no doubt, did Sturges’s temperament.

    Sturges’s contract expired, and it was not renewed. From what I’ve read, it was (at best) a mutual decision.

    Was Sturges really “much in demand” in 1945? Maybe, but that’s not the inference I’ve drawn from what I’ve read. There’s a fair amount of information on the post-”Great Moment” Sturges in this essay:

    http://www.sensesofcinema.com/2004/great-directors/sturges/

  • Johan Andreasson

    Since both Sturges ad Ophuls were to be found in France some years later, and hopefully were able to put an end to their quarrel:

    “If you live in France, for instance, and you have written one good book, or painted one good picture, or directed one outstanding film fifty years ago and nothing else since, you are still recognized and honored accordingly. People take their hats off to you and call you ‘maître.’ They do not forget. In Hollywood—in Hollywood, you’re as good as your last picture.”

    Erich von Stroheim said this about D W Griffith (like Sturges a brilliant director with a drinking problem), but he could just as well have said it about himself or Ophuls or Sturges.

  • Blake Lucas

    God bless Erich von Stroheim for those articulate words. He was and is so right.

    What’s fascinating about this in the case of D.W. Griffith is that his “last picture” (literally) was a great picture,
    arguably one of his greatest. It was regarded as a failure then, of course, but not in the fullness of time–it now has many admirers and I remember Dave giving it strong support in one of his pieces. I’m referring to THE STRUGGLE.

  • Robert Regan

    Johan, This popular quotation from Stroheim gives me a royal pain! What did France do for him? Okay, they gave him a medal, but how many films was he able to make in France? Zero!

  • Johan Andreasson

    Well, hopefully at least they took their hats off for him and called him ‘maître.’

    As I would have done, had I ever met the Great Man and had I ever worn a hat. It wasn’t my intention to romanticize France. There’s a von Stroheim retrospective in Stockholm right now, that’s why he was on my mind.

  • Robert Regan

    Right you are, Johan. I did not intend my little rant to be directed towards you. There are many people, even many Americans, and even Stroheim himself, who seem to blame the US for everything and exalt every other country, especially France. I am well aware of my country’s flaws, but I have yet to find one that is perfect. Until I do, I will stay here where I was born and have lived all my life so far.

    P.S., I love France.

  • Johan Andreasson

    And cheers to Preston Sturges, to this European the film maker with the sharpest ear for what makes spoken American English unique.

  • Robert Regan

    Right again, Johan!

  • Tom Brueggemann

    Off topic note

    Seems to be a new TCM policy

    They are showing Jack Cardiff’s Intent to Kill (1958), a scope film they are showing pan & scan.

    A card in front of the movie notes that it has been formatted for TV, and despite their efforts, they could find no correct aspect ratio print.

    It’s better than nothing I guess.

  • jbryant

    I’m just speculating, but Stroheim probably would have bankrupted the French film industry if they had agreed to finance one of his epics. So he had to settle for their respect. :)

  • Gregg Rickman

    The “Senses of Cinema” essay is correct in stating that Sturges lost his audience after leaving Paramount; however, he was indeed in demand both in 1945, and even after his ill-fated alliance with Hughes: “Certainly, the major studio executives, remembering MIRACLE OF MORGAN’S CREEK and THE LADY EVE, were all eager to have Sturges working for them. Sturges’ most spectacular job offer in the fall of 1946 came from his old nemesis, Samuel Goldwyn, who wanted to give Sturges his own building.” (Jacobs, 358)

  • Walter Lewis

    Sturges was certainly not washed up after the failures of “The Great Moment” and “The Sins of Harold Diddlebock”/”Mad Wednesday”. (The original version is superior, but I have a strange fondness for the bizarre talking horse at the end of “Mad Wednesday”) It wasn’t until after his very lucrative contract with Zanuck at 20th Century Fox ended with 2 more flops (“Beautiful Blonde” and “Unfaithfully Yours”) that he became persona non grata in Hollywood.
    I’m not sure if “Unfaithfully Yours” would have been a hit anyway, but the film coming out at the same time as Rex Harrison’s scandal with Carol Landis, certainly killed it.

  • Gregg Rickman

    Walter, I’ve never seen the talking horse ending of MAD WEDNESDAY (I’ve always read that it was something Hughes came up with, when he edited the film for its 1951 release under that name. I’ve only seen Sturges’ DIDDLEBOCK version, which apparently had some minimal release in 1947). What does the horse say? It could be Hughes’ “Rosebud,” a deeply revelatory comment which Welles, Demme or Scorsese could have used for their Hughes films. Or maybe that was Martin Landau’s enigmatic comment, in his Hughes cameo in TUCKER. Or Warren Beatty could still use it, for his long contemplated Hughes biopic.

  • Walter Lewis

    Actually Gregg, “Mad Wednesday” was just the start of Hughes’ talking animal obsession. It’s a little known fact that he was also behind the Francis the Talking Mule Pictures and the Mr. Ed TV show. The only reason he watched Ice Station Zebra so many times was because he kept thinking there would be a talking zebra in it at some point! (I think Warren Beatty’s version was going to include this.)

    There’s still controversy over Hughes’ involvement in Green Acres and Arnold the Pig.

  • jbryant

    Pretty sure Arnold the Pig didn’t talk, so Hughes probably wouldn’t have been interested.

    Arnold did go to school though. I recall an episode in which Arnold was missing, and Mr. Ziffel considered it suspicious because Arnold had mid-terms coming up.

  • Alex

    For masterpieces and arguable masterpiece in a compact period of time Preston Struges’` 1940-1944 run of The Great McGinty, Christmas in July, The Lady Eve, Sullivan’s Travels, The Palm Beach Story, The Miracle of Morgan’s Creek andHail the Conquering Hero IS hard to beat (and most might have started with The Great McGinty.

    Renoir’s run from Partie de campagne through The Rules of the Game vies with Sturges’ and has higher peaks.

    Hitchcock’s run of films from The Lady Vanished to Marnie is probably impossible to beat if one allows for an arguable laps every six films or so – though Paradine Case is probably the only film that would get consensual rejection as a sure or near masterpiece in the whole sequence – unless you think Ford has a surer hand than I think he does.

    Godard from Breathless to Masculin Fémin is a hell of a run (and I tire of Godard early), but Bresson and Rohmer don’t seem to me to ever falter.

    B&W Fellini seems high and steady to me. (But I can’t stand any of the color stuff but Amarcord)

    For like 30 years of films all as good as the least of those in that earlier posted Capra list, there’s Howard Hawks.

  • Barry Putterman

    Poor Arthur Lubin. First he is all but written out of the Clint Eastwood story. And now Howard Hughes gets credit for his talking animals. As the camel said in THE ROAD TO MOROCCO, “This is the screwiest picture I’ve ever been in!”

  • I’ve kept my promise, made here two years ago, of writing an article on Arthur Lubin:
    http://mikegrost.com/lubin.htm

    It needs much expansion. But it does begin to offer some ideas.
    *
    Have really enjoyed reading everyone’s posts on the great Max Ophuls.

  • Robert Garrick

    As I recall (relying on nearly forty-year-old memory), there’s a piece on Arthur Lubin in “Kings of the Bs,” and it’s fronted with a quote from Lubin: “I’m now known as an animal director. Unfortunately.”

    Personally, my favorite movie horse is the one in “Son of Paleface.” Roy Rogers seemed to like that horse a lot too.

  • In regard to Gregg Rickman’s query about the talking horse in Mad Wednesday: The jovial critter sings a few lines of “Roll Me Over in the Clover” — this by way of commentary on what Harold had been doing on Wednesday.

  • Yes, Lubin is interviewed in Kings of the Bs, pages 363-376, by by Todd McCarthy and Charles Flynn. There is also a nice photo of Lubin leading off the interview. It is one of the most entertaining in the book, because he is angry at everyone, from Clint Eastwood, whom he says he discovered and then betrayed him, and all the young directors making movies about “fucking and sucking.”

  • Alex

    x359594,

    Should I assume there were any problems of cut or visual quality in the version of “Lola Montes” that showed in New York in 1969?.

    I’ve seen all the Ophuls films from “Meyerling” thorough “The Earrings of Madame de…,” plus “Leibelei,” consider none — including “The Exile”– as less than terrific, half masterpieces and “Earrings” one of the gre of Madame de… one of the very greatest films ever made. However, I didn’t like Lola Montes” one bit then, nor on some ’70s viewings, and usually walked out. I suppose it’s gorgeous, but the look always seemed confectionary to me. I suppose Lola’s saga is intriguing but it’s not a film that ever had any emotional resonance for me.

  • Robert Garrick

    D.K. Holm, yours is my favorite post in this thread. That quote by Arthur Lubin was borrowed by Gilbert Gottfried for his famous “Aristocrats” bit at the Hugh Hefner roast in 2001, which inspired a documentary film.

    Let me go way off-topic for a moment–I know, that rarely happens here–and post this, which relates to a rare Jerry Lewis item and also includes a great deal of fascinating show business history. I’ll bet even Barry Putterman hasn’t seen this yet:

    http://www.examiner.com/classic-movie-in-new-york/jerry-s-jolie-grail-review

  • Barry Putterman

    Robert, Mel Neuhaus worked with me at The Everett Collection for many years. It is good to see that he remains gainfully employed.

  • Shawn Stone

    On occasion, GREEN ACRES included subtitles so we could understand Arnold Ziffel’s conversation–crucially, in the multi-episode Arnold goes to Hollywood story, when, on the set, a horse begs Arnold not to take over his acting gig.

  • Re Vendetta –

    I’ve seen a bad copy of it. The climax, with the characters stalking each other through foggy woods, is quite brilliant, filmed in a series of tracking shots that looks quite Ophulsian. It MIGHT be the work of Heisler, who wasn’t without some visual panache, or even Sturges, or somebody else.

    Several accounts say Mel Ferrer shot the ending, but I’m positive what they mean is the rather flat, static coda which follows the action climax.

    I’ve read and heard that Ophuls was fired for falling behind schedule — the elaborate nature of the tracking shots in that one scene might account for that.

  • jbryant

    Caught up with THE EXILE; just wonderful. The camerawork, obviously, but I also enjoyed the dash and intelligence of Fairbanks’ performance and script (the latter apparently with uncredited help from others). And Paule Croset/Rita Corday is so natural and charming that she needs to be added to that list of underused, undersung actresses we put together recently in another thread.

    Mike Grost: I’ve seen very few Arthur Lubin films, but I can say that his BLACK FRIDAY (1940) is a good fit for some of your categories, including “deceptive identities” and “mild-mannered, sympathetic men,” with Stanley Ridges as a mild-mannered professor who takes on the persona of a ruthless gangster — though in this case the deceptive aspect is due to a brain transplant rather than pretense.

  • “Should I assume there were any problems of cut or visual quality in the version of “Lola Montes” that showed in New York in 1969?”

    That version you saw in 1969 was the Pierre Braunberger restoration, still incomplete (missing about 4 minutes)and with an ellipsis in the final tracking shot.

    In 2006 his daughter Laurence produced the French restoration with the missing 4 minutes and the uninterrupted final tracking shot. This version had a limited commercial release in the US in 2008.

    The German restoration is of the German language version that Ophuls shot simultaneously with the French version. Around the same time that the French version was restored, Stefan Drossler supervised the restoration of this version, but it never received a commercial release, at least not in Los Angeles. I saw it at UCLA two years ago.

  • Alex

    Has there been no mention at this thread of of Goulding’s 1939 DAWN PATROL, to me the most affecting for the Bi-Plane, WWI Bromances. Of course, the 1939 DAWN PATROL rather derivative on WINGS, Hughes’ HELLS ANGELS and Hawks’ DAWN PATROL (on the latter for all or most a its footage), but it’s always seemed to me better dthat it predecessors –perhaps Goulding’s best film among quite a few very good ones.

    x359594, Thanks.

    Might LOLA seem less like it was sculpted from cotton candy with one more lovely track and its dialoque barked out in German?

  • Gregg Rickman

    Richard, thanks for clearing up that MAD WEDNESDAY mystery. The horse sings “Roll Me Over in the Clover.” Per my comment on Jan. 27 at 1:20 pm, I think THE AVIATOR would only have been improved if Leo DiCaprio had worked that into his closing scene. And of course it would be very appropriate for any future Warren Beatty version.

  • patrick henry

    Seeing Paula Croset/Rita Corday in THE EXILE, I could hardly believe she was the same actress who was in THE FALCON’S ALIBI (Ray McCarey, 1946). To Ray M. she was just a pretty gal with an accent. Still THE FALCON’S ALIBI is a charming B with Elisha Cook Jr. as a frenzied late-night disc jockey improbably married to Jane Greer—cute and bouncy, very unlike her Kathy Moffett in OUT OF THE PAST.