Dramatic images from I WANTED WINGS, photographed by Leo Tover.
This drama about three air force recruits in training, pre-war, was not Mitchell Leisen’s usual material at all, but he took over at short notice to replace a floundering director. Leisen did know a lot about aviation, and threw himself into the technical aspects of the film. A full-size plane was mounted on a ball-and-socket joint in front of a rear projection screen so it could be moved around in any way, including a 180º rotation. The model shots are good, and the POVs taken from low-flying fighters are spectacular. You’re always aware of the artifice when it’s all cut together, but it’s impressive nonetheless.
Veronica Lake has a relatively small role in the film, but it made her a star. She hated making it (she hated making all her films) and gave Leisen a hard time, which he repaid in full. At the film’s complicated and suspenseful climax, Lake’s character smuggles herself into a bomber and has a panic attack when it takes off. Lake was in a fraught state, having broken her leg a couple of days before (in a car crash, racing to catch a plane back to the shoot after going AWOL to visit her husband). Leisen duly reduced her to tears, and considered the resulting scene “perfect”.
Despite the difficulties, Lake is the most interesting thing in the film, creating sparks from a very fresh-faced Ray Milland and William Holden (everyone else is so nice). Oddly, the film has a pre-war setting, so it lacks the urgency that real conflict would bring, and most of the emotional conflicts are sort of trumped up. But Lake is an authentic bad girl, and during the short spells when she’s around, stuff happens. Despite the presence of Constance Moore as a wholly positive character, there’s something strange that results from Lake’s presence as disruptive female in a male environment: however nasty and destructive her behaviour, a perverse sympathy lingers. Maybe because she’s the lovely Veronica Lake? Maybe because the gung-ho, technological world of warcraft is a wee bit sterile? And those guys are so damned nice… how is the Air Force ever going to make killers out of them? Veronica may be essential to the training programme.
Gown borrowed from Carole Lombard, pinned all the way up the back because Veronica was a tiny pixie.