The Wings of Eagles

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The Wings of Eagles
Wings of Eagles 1957.jpg
Directed by John Ford
Produced by Charles Schnee
Screenplay by Frank Fenton and
William Wister Haines
Based on the life and writings of Commander Frank W. "Spig" Wead
Music by Jeff Alexander
Cinematography Paul C. Vogel. A.S.C.
Edited by Gene Ruggiero, A.C.E.
Distributed by Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer
Release dates
February 22, 1957
Running time
110 minutes
Country United States
Language English
Budget $2,644,000[1]
Box office $3,650,00[1][2]

The Wings of Eagles is a 1957 American Metrocolor film starring John Wayne, Dan Dailey and Maureen O'Hara, based on the life of Frank "Spig" Wead and the history of U.S. Naval aviation from its inception through World War II.[3] The film is a tribute to Wead (who died ten years earlier, in 1947, at the age of 52) from his friend, director John Ford, and was based on Wead's "We Plaster the Japs", published in a 1944 issue of American Magazine.[4]

John Wayne plays naval aviator-turned-screenwriter Wead, who wrote the story or screenplay for such films as Hell Divers with Wallace Beery and Clark Gable, Ceiling Zero with James Cagney, and the Oscar-nominated World War II drama They Were Expendable in which Wayne co-starred with Robert Montgomery.[5]

The supporting cast features Ward Bond, Ken Curtis, Edmund Lowe and Kenneth Tobey. This film was the third of five in which Wayne and O'Hara appeared together; others were Rio Grande (1950), The Quiet Man (1952), McLintock! (1963) and Big Jake (1971).


Soon after World War I is over, "Spig" Wead (John Wayne), along with John Dale Price (Ken Curtis), tries to prove to the Navy the value of aviation in combat. To do this, Wead pushes the Navy to compete in racing and endurance competitions. Several races are against the US Army aviation team led by Captain Herbert Allen Hazard (based on Jimmy Doolittle – played by Kenneth Tobey).

Wead spends most of his time either flying or horsing around with his teammates, meaning that his wife Minnie, or "Min" (Maureen O'Hara), and children are ignored.

The night Wead is promoted to fighter squadron commander, he falls down a flight of stairs at home, breaks his neck and is paralyzed. When "Min" tries to console him he rejects her and the family. He will only let his Navy mates like "Jughead" Carson (Dan Dailey) and Price near him. "Jughead" visits the hospital almost daily to encourage Frank's rehabilitation ("I'm gonna move that toe"). Carson also pushes "Spig" to get over his depression, try to walk, and start writing. Wead achieves some success in all three goals.[6]

After great success in Hollywood, Wead returns to active sea duty with the Navy in World War II, developing the idea of smaller escort, or "jeep," carriers to augment the main aircraft carrier force. A heart attack sends Wead home before the war's end.

Director John Ford is himself represented in the film, in the humorously-named character of film director John Dodge, played by another Ford favorite, Ward Bond.



Historical inaccuracies[edit]

Dramatic license allows for some historical inaccuracies in the film. One scene shows first the US Army around-the-world flight and then the US Navy winning the Schneider Cup. In fact the US Navy won the Schneider Cup in 1923 and the US Army embarked on the first aerial circumnavigation from March to September 1924.

Another scene shows a newsreel related to the sinking of the aircraft carrier USS Hornet (CV-8), suggesting that she had been doomed by the hit of three kamikaze suicide planes. Although two aircraft did crash into her, she also received substantial damage by bombs and torpedoes before finally being sunk by Japanese destroyers. Additionally, the term "kamikaze" was not in use to describe suicide pilots at the time of Hornet's sinking.

Box office[edit]

MGM reported that the film earned $2.3 million in the U.S. and Canada, and $1,350,000 elsewhere, resulting in a loss of $804,000.[1]

Turner Classic Movies showing[edit]

Turner Classic Movies presented The Wings of Eagles on November 20, 2015 as part of its 24-hour "TCM Memorial Tribute to Maureen O'Hara" [who died on October 24], with commentary by host Robert Osborne. Shown earlier were 1939's Jamaica Inn, 1961's The Deadly Companions, 1963's Spencer's Mountain and McLintock!, 1965's The Battle of the Villa Fiorita and 1971's Big Jake. Following The Wings of Eagles the tribute continued with 1939's The Hunchback of Notre Dame, 1952's The Quiet Man and At Sword's Point, 1947's Sinbad the Sailor and 1945's The Spanish Main.[7]

Introduction for the majority of the films in the Maureen O'Hara tribute

"Hi, I'm Robert Osborne. Right now, we're setting aside our previously scheduled programming in order to pay tribute to one of the legendary stars from the so-called "Golden Era of Hollywood"… beautiful Maureen O'Hara, who died last month at her home in Boise, Idaho at the age of ninety-five. Over the course of her six decades as an actress, Maureen divided her time between living in her native Ireland, also a home in Hollywood and, later, a residence in the Virgin Islands where she ran a commuter seaplane service with her third husband, a former Air Force brigadier general. In all, Maureen O'Hara appeared in some sixty-five films and television projects with a wide range of co-stars that includes everybody from John Wayne and Henry Fonda, to James Stewart, John Candy and Macaulay Culkin. Her final acting role was in a made-for-TV movie in the year two thousand, after which she retired from acting, was rarely seen or written about for several years… not until the spring of two thousand and fourteen when she agreed to make an appearance at the TCM Classic Film Festival in Hollywood. Her appearance at the festival caused a really big to-do. Film fans were thrilled to see her again and everybody was reminded of what this spirited and talented Irish lady with the flaming red hair had contributed to so many classic films. Among those who were also paying attention were members of Hollywood's Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. The result of that was that Maureen was presented, later in two thousand and fourteen, an Honorary Oscar for being, and I quote, "one of Hollywood's brightest stars whose inspiring performances flowed with passion, warmth and strength". Well, in her honor, we now bring you another example of her beauty… and her talent."

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