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I Wanted Wings

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Title: I Wanted Wings  
Author: World Heritage Encyclopedia
Language: English
Subject: Ray Milland, Academy Award for Best Visual Effects, William Holden, 1941 in film, Alan Hale, Jr., Richard Maibaum, This Gun for Hire, Oleg Cassini, List of Academy Award-winning films, Beirne Lay, Jr.
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I Wanted Wings

I Wanted Wings
Theatrical poster
Directed by Mitchell Leisen
Produced by Arthur Hornblow Jr.
Written by Sig Herzig
Beirne Lay, Jr.
Richard Maibaum
Story by Eleanore Griffin
Frank Wead
Based on book I Wanted Wings 
by Lt. Beirne Lay, Jr.
Starring Ray Milland
William Holden
Veronica Lake
Music by Victor Young
Cinematography Leo Tover
Edited by Hugh Bennett
Distributed by Paramount Pictures
Release dates
  • March 26, 1941 (1941-03-26)
Running time 135 minutes
Country United States
Language English
Budget $1,262,454.87[1]

I Wanted Wings is a 1941 American drama film directed by Mitchell Leisen and based on a book by Lieutenant Beirne Lay, Jr. The film stars Ray Milland and William Holden. The supporting cast includes Wayne Morris, Brian Donlevy, Constance Moore and Veronica Lake. I Wanted Wings features Lake's first major film role. Her career took off shortly thereafter; the same year, she starred in Sullivan's Travels.[2] Lake would become one of the most popular and successful actresses of the early 1940s.[N 1]


After an air raid exercise in Los Angeles involving 18 Boeing B-17 Flying Fortress bombers, one of them goes down in the desert on its way back to base. Mysteriously, the dead body of a woman is found in the wreck. The pilot, Jefferson Young III (Ray Milland), is accused of having an unauthorized passenger on board and charged accordingly for disobeying orders. Before the court martial decides on a ruling, they review Jeff's military background and history.

The son of a wealthy Long Island businessman, Jeff joins the U.S. Army Air Corps. At basic training in Texas, he meets former football hero Tom Cassidy (Wayne Morris) and Al Ludlow (William Holden), a garage mechanic. Jeff and Al become close friends and support each other through training. Jeff meets a girl named Sally Vaughn (Veronica Lake), unaware that she used to be Al's sweetheart. Although Jeff is already in love with photographer Carolyn Bartlett (Constance Moore), Sally sees her chance when Jeff gets drunk in the aftermath of a crash in which one of his buddies perished and Carolyn is out of town. Fortunately, Al comes between them and pulls Jeff away. After this, Jeff continues to court Carolyn. During training at another airfield, Tom dies in an aircraft crash while performing a daredevil stunt. Al, a senior cadet captain, takes the blame for what happened and is discharged from the Corps, losing his chance to become a pilot.

Jeff secretly continues to see Sally because she has threatened to destroy his reputation, claiming to be pregnant with his child. Al again steps in and marries Sally, partly because he loves her and partly to save Jeff's career. However, Carolyn finds out about Jeff's deceit and leaves him. He graduates from flight school some time after. After six months of marriage, Sally tells Al that she lied about being pregnant, and he tells her he knew all along. Upset and believing that he never loved her, Sally leaves Al.

One day, when Jeff is about to go up in the air to participate in war game training, he meets Al, who has reapplied and qualified as crew chief on his B-17 bomber. When their old mentor, Captain Mercer (Brian Donlevy), finds out about Al, he starts working to get him reinstated as a pilot.

Suddenly, Sally turns up, begging Al for help, claiming to be wanted for murder. Al gives her money to go to Los Angeles. Before she can leave the hangar, other flight officers enter the building. Sally hides inside the bomb bay of a bomber. She is still there when the aircraft takes off. When the games are completed, Mercer asks Jeff to test a new set of emergency flares. Al goes to fetch them and discovers Sally. As they argue, a flare is ignited by accident. Before they can drop it out the bomb bay, Mercer is badly burnt and falls out of the aircraft. Using a parachute, Al jumps after him and rescues him. Jeff manages to land the bomber in the dark desert to pick up his crew members. When he tries to take off again, he crashes and Sally dies in the crash.

When Al appears at the witness stand in the court martial, he reveals the full story and Jeff is cleared of all charges who reunites with Carolyn. Al is reinstated as a bomber pilot in training. Mercer eventually fully recovers.



Production on I Wanted Wings began in the summer of 1940 at Randolph Field near San Antonio, Texas. Principal photography took place from August 26 to December 19, 1940.[4] The United States Army Air Corps provided 1,160 aircraft, 1,050 cadets, 450 officers and instructors and 2,543 enlisted men for the film. One of the film's premieres was subsequently held at Randolph Field.[5]

Paramount's production company relied heavily on location shooting, bringing 130 actors and technicians to Texas. The cast and crew blended in with over 200 student pilots in primary training. Aerial coordinator Paul Mantz was able to utilize massed formations of North American BT-9 and BT-14 trainers. He was backed up by Elmer Dyer, Hollywood's best aerial cinematographer, filming from Mantz's Lockheed Orion camera ship, equipped with six different camera positions.[6] The early series Boeing B-17B bombers from the 19th Bomb Group, March Field, were also prominently utilized in the final aerial sequence. Additional footage was shot at Paramount Studios in Hollywood, where a B-17 mock-up, built for $40,000, was used for the climactic interior aircraft scenes.[7]


I Wanted Wings was well received as another of the morale-boosting films of the period that focused on the contributions of the military. Bosley Crowther of The New York Times noted that "... in spite of a thread of Class-B story which gets snarled in its whirling propellers before the end, this cinematic salute to the Army Air Corps and to the young men who are entering it today is a vastly exciting motion picture and a dependable inspiration to the youth of the land."[8]


Farciot Edouart, Gordon Jennings and Louis Mesenkop won the Academy Award for Best Visual Effects at the 14th Academy Awards.[9]



  1. ^ During rehearsal, Veronica Lake's hair fell over her eye, leading to the famous hairstyle that helped make her a star.[3]


  1. ^ "Notes: I Wanted Wings." Turner Classic Movies. Retrieved: September 11, 2014.
  2. ^ Lenburg 2001, p. 33.
  3. ^ Weil, Martin. "Veronica Lake, Ex-Actress, Dies." Washington Post, July 8, 1973, p. C8.
  4. ^ "Original print information: I Wanted Wings." Turner Classic Movies. Retrieved: September 11, 2014.
  5. ^ Thompson 2002, p. 36.
  6. ^ Orriss 1984, p. 22.
  7. ^ Orriss 1984, p. 24.
  8. ^ Crowther, Bosley. "Movie Review: I Wanted Wings (1941); 'I Wanted Wings,' a stirring drama of the Army Air Corps, at the Astor." The New York Times, March 27, 1941.
  9. ^ "The 14th Academy Awards (1942), Nominees and Winners." Retrieved: September 11, 2014.


  • Lenburg, Jeff. Peekaboo: The Story of Veronica Lake. New York:, 2001. ISBN 978-0-59519-239-7.
  • Orriss, Bruce. When Hollywood Ruled the Skies: The Aviation Film Classics of World War II. Hawthorn, California: Aero Associates Inc., 1984. ISBN 0-9613088-0-X.
  • Thompson, Frank. Texas Hollywood: Filmmaking in San Antonio Since 1910. San Antonio: Maverick Publishing Company, 2002. ISBN 978-1-89327-121-0.

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