Men with Wings

Men With Wings is a 1938 American Technicolor war film, directed by William A. Wellman and starring Fred MacMurray, Ray Milland, and Louise Campbell. Donald O'Connor also has a small part as the younger version of MacMurray's character. The two would soon star in the film Sing You Sinners together along with Bing Crosby.

Men with Wings
Photobook image derived from theatrical poster
Directed byWilliam A. Wellman
Produced byWilliam A. Wellman
William LeBaron
(Executive Producer)
Written byRobert Carson
StarringFred MacMurray
Ray Milland
Louise Campbell
Music byBoris Morros
CinematographyW. Howard Greene
Charles A. Marshall
Edited byThomas Scott
Distributed byParamount Pictures
Release date
  • July 16, 1938 (1938-07-16) (New York City)
  • October 28, 1938 (1938-10-28) (United States)
Running time
105 minutes
CountryUnited States
Budget$2 million[1][2]


In 1903, the Wright brothers set the scene for aviation's advances and influence barnstormer, Pat Falconer (Fred MacMurray) and his friend, engineer Scott Barnes (Ray Milland). Falconer marries childhood sweetheart Peggy Ransom (Louise Campbell) although Barnes also loves her, but is unwilling to jeopardize his relationship with his friend.

During World War I, Falconer becomes a fighter pilot and after the war continues to fly by "the seat-of-his-pants" rather than do the methodical work of flight research like Barnes. As the 1930s come to a close, restless Falconer leaves his family and friend behind, taking off for China to fight Japanese invaders.



For Men with Wings, Wellman was able to utilize a vast amount of talent and resources to stage the epic.[3] Besides the impressive array of movie talent, the film was one of the first Hollywood productions to utilize the Technicolor three-strip camera process pioneered by the Technicolor Motion Picture Corporation.[N 1] [4]

Wellman had a special affinity to both the story and aviation in general.[5] In World War I, earning himself the nickname "Wild Bill", Wellman was first an ambulance driver in the Norton-Harjes Ambulance Corps, then joined the French Foreign Legion.[6] On December 3, 1917, assigned as the first American fighter pilot to join N.87 escadrille in the Lafayette Flying Corps, Wellman went on to score three recorded "kills", along with five probables and to receive the Croix de Guerre with two palms.[7]

The use of mocked-up Nieuport 28 and Thomas-Morse Scout fighters along with other period aircraft such as one real Fokker D.VII and the ubiquitous Travelair "Wichita Fokkers" were featured in the aerial sequences.[8] [N 2] Principal photography took place primarily at California airport locales. Hollywood stunt pilot Paul Mantz was involved in both flying and directing the aerial filming.[9]

Aircraft used in the film

Men with Wings chronicles the "Golden Era" of aviation (1903–1938), featuring a number of significant aircraft in the production, including:[9]


Men with Wings received good reviews from critics and audience alike. Variety noted the film "is a giant bomber from the Paramount hangar, designed on a lavish scale by the skilled air picture mechanic, William A. Wellman, and polished off beautifully in Technicolor. The action scenes, including a dog fight in the air, are exceptionally impressive.[10] Men with Wings was considered an aviation classic, "one of the best pre-war flight films, true to life, and done without replicas ... A buff's dream."[9] The juxtaposing of a love interest, however, was jarring, with critics commenting on that plotline being forced.[11]


  1. The Technicolor three-strip process was advertised as "Glorious Technicolor".[4]
  2. Lafayette Escadrille used footage from Men with Wings with the color removed. The later 1958 feature was also directed by Wellman and is far inferior in every respect to Men with Wings.[3]


  1. Charles Tranberg, Fred MacMurray: A Biography, Bear Manor Media, 2014
  2. NEWS OF THE SCREEN: Three Stunt Fliers Signed for Parts in Paramount's 'Men With Wings'--New Films Open Here Today Special to THE NEW YORK TIMES.. New York Times (1923-Current file) [New York, N.Y] 12 Oct 1937: 31.
  3. "Notes: Men with Wings (1938)." Turner Classic Movies. Retrieved: March 14, 2012.
  4. Bruce, Elyse. "In Glorious Technicolor." Historically Speaking, November 25, 2010. Retrieved: March 15, 2012.
  5. Wellman 1918, p. 1.
  6. Curtiss, Thomas Quinn. "The Film Career of William Wellman." International Herald Tribune (, February 9, 1994. Retrieved: March 12, 2012.
  7. Silke 1980, p. 57.
  8. Parish 1990, p. 245.
  9. Hardwick and Schnepf 1989, p. 59.
  10. "Men with Wings." Variety, 1938. Retrieved: March 15, 2012.
  11. Thompson 1983, p. 176.


  • Hardwick, Jack and Ed Schnepf. "A Viewer's Guide to Aviation Movies". The Making of the Great Aviation Films, General Aviation Series, Volume 2, 1989.
  • Parish, James Robert. The Great Combat Pictures: Twentieth-Century Warfare on the Screen. Metuchen, New Jersey: The Scarecrow Press, 1990. ISBN 978-0810823150.
  • Silke, James R. "Fists, Dames & Wings." Air Progress Aviation Review, Volume 4, No. 4, October 1980.
  • Thompson, Frank T. William A. Wellman (Filmmakers Series). Metuchen, New Jersey: Scarecrow Press, 1983. ISBN 0-8108-1594-X.
  • Wellman, William A. Go, Get 'em! The True Adventures of an American Aviator of the Lafayette Flying Corps. Boston: The Page Company, 1918.
  • Wellman, William A. A Short Time for Insanity: An Autobiography. New York: Hawthorn Books, 1974. ISBN 0-8015-6804-8.
  • Wellman, William Jr. The Man And His Wings: William A. Wellman and the Making of the First Best Picture. New York: Praeger Publishers, 2006. ISBN 0-275-98541-5.
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