John and the Duke

The Wings of Eagles

I’ve blogged about it before, but one of the best movies you’ve probably never seen is on TCM right now, and I love watching it: “The Wings Of Eagles,” from 1957. I’ll repeat myself and blog about it again, especially now that it’s been released on DVD. (It hadn’t been the first time I blogged about it.)

It’s directed by John Ford and stars John Wayne, but it’s not like any of their other collaborations — Wayne spends the middle third of the movie in a hospital bed, and the last third on crutches. It’s criticized, not without cause, for being all over the map in terms of atmosphere — slapstick one moment, maudlin the next. But I think it works, and it was obviously a labor of love for Ford, who was telling the true story of one of his closest friends, naval hero-turned-scriptwriter Frank “Spig” Wead.

Maureen O’Hara is particularly good, and — as I wrote in my earlier post — she’s playing a surprisingly complex and independent character for old Hollywood, where the women were either supposed to be saints or tramps. Yes, I know this was 1957, and things were starting to change, but I still think of John Ford and John Wayne as old Hollywood.

And the reason any John Ford fan needs to see the movie is that in the last third of it, John Ford stock company regular Ward Bond gets to play the part of … John Ford. (He’s called “John Dodge” in the script.) It’s an appropriately over-the-top performance, and a lot of fun.