Prior to the Production Code (1930), LGBT characters were somewhat prevalent, if heavily stereotyped and exploited, in a number of major films. The 1920s especially were a time of shifting societal norms and expanding artistic experimentation. As women rode the first wave of feminism and prohibition was increasingly challenged, filmmakers began to expand their boundaries and feature more controversial plotlines. This set the stage for Wings which was directed by William A. Wellman in 1927 and featured what is considered the first gay kiss in an American film.

Wings follows two Air Force pilots in World War I, Jack and Dave, who compete for the affections of a beautiful girl before discovering the true love they feel for each other. While the relationship is referred to repeatedly as a friendship, the acting and directing of the film make it obvious that the men’s feelings were romantic. The storyline ends when one of the men is fatally injured. He dies in his lover’s arms after a passionate kiss. Despite the condemnation of gay men in society as a whole at this time period, the film is surprisingly respectful of love between the two characters (Denesi). The camera remains mostly still in a tight shot of Jack and Dave embracing as they share a final goodbye. Jack assures Dave as he nears death that nothing meant more to him than their relationship. A swell of romantic string instruments plays in the background as Jack mourns over Dave’s still body. The directing choices made by Wellman humanized both characters and allowed the audience to experience the tragedy without exploiting the perceived exoticness of a relationship between two men. This film is exemplary of many films featuring gay characters in the 1920s. Wellman escaped criticism over his inclusion of gay characters by very carefully walking the line between friends and lovers. To anyone not paying close attention, Jack and Dave could easily pass as close friends. The movie was incredibly well-received and was chosen as Best Picture for the 1927–1928 cycle. However, not all films featuring LGBT characters handled the issue as sensitively as Wings.

Wings is a 1927 American silent war film set during the First World War produced by Lucien Hubbard, directed by William A. Wellman and released by Paramount Pictures. It stars Clara Bow, Charles “Buddy” Rogers, and Richard Arlen. Gary Cooper appears in a small role which helped launch his career in Hollywood.

The film, a romantic action-war picture, was rewritten by scriptwriters Hope Loring and Louis D. Lighton from a story by John Monk Saunders to accommodate Bow, Paramount’s biggest star at the time. Wellman was hired as he was the only director in Hollywood at the time who had World War I combat pilot experience, although Richard Arlen and John Monk Saunders had also served in the war as military aviators. The film was shot on location on a budget of $2 million (equivalent to $28.3 million in 2018) at Kelly Field in San Antonio, Texas between September 7, 1926 and April 7, 1927. Hundreds of extras and some 300 pilots were involved in the filming, including pilots and planes of the United States Army Air Corps which were brought in for the filming and to provide assistance and supervision. Wellman extensively rehearsed the scenes for the Battle of Saint-Mihiel over ten days with some 3500 infantrymen on a battlefield made for the production on location. Although the cast and crew had much spare time during the filming because of weather delays, shooting conditions were intense, and Wellman frequently conflicted with the military officers brought in to supervise the picture.

Acclaimed for its technical prowess and realism upon release, the film became the yardstick against which future aviation films were measured, mainly because of its realistic air-combat sequences. It went on to win the first Academy Award for Best Picture at the first annual Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences award ceremony in 1929,[5] the only silent film to do so.[b] It also won the Academy Award for Best Engineering Effects (Roy Pomeroy). Wings was one of the first to show two men kissing, and also one of the first widely released films to show nudity. In 1997, Wings was selected for preservation in the United States National Film Registry by the Library of Congress as being “culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant”, and the film was re-released to Cinemark theaters to coincide with the 85th Anniversary for a limited run in May 2012. The film was re-released again for its 90th anniversary in 2017. The Academy Film Archive preserved Wings in 2002.[6]

43 COMMENTS

  1. This was the first ever Best Picture winner. Imagine being homossexual in the late 1920s and seeing a film with gay characters winning the biggest prize in Cinema. Too bad the Hayes Code came and destroyed this marvelous possibility to happen again for so many decades.

  2. I’m unsure if this piece of cinema is actually inspiration but this scene almost ressembles the scene of Klaus caring for Dave after he got injured in the Umbrella Academy? Same name and all. The fine line of friend and lover was also orchestrated in the dialogue Klaus ever had with the other characters, when talking about Dave. Without the cuts to their obvious romance, their relationship would’ve easily been up for interpretation just like it is here!

  3. I despise the internet and how everything that was or could be respectable becomes a joke.
    Tumblr women don't understand shit about friendship.

  4. People need to stop saying this is straight. It is clearly showing the love of two men. When he said friendship he meant it in a different way back then when they talked about gay relationships they would say friendships because people were not as open to the idea as they are today.

  5. This was not a gay kiss. Men in those times were allowed to show affection like women do today. But with the invent of the macho man it has become taboo to hold hands, hug, etc. Now men show affection by hitting each other. The rough handshakes rituals, slapping on the back, hitting by fist on the shoulder.

  6. For all the "not gay" comments, when's the last time you saw 2 male stars kiss in a Hollywood movie? This film was a triangle, which coincidentally supporting player Gary Cooper would also star in a few years later with Fredric March & Miriam Hopkins in the film version of Noel Coward's Design For Living. The actor doing the kissing was married twice, adopted 2 children & was reportedly found in bed with Jeanette MacDonald's gay beard of a husband on her honeymoon. As happens in life, it's possible for a gay man to be in love with his straight friend, this is 2 dudes declaring their love for 1 another, no matter how you want to label it.♥️

  7. This scene really broke my heart in2 tears!😢
    The way they embraced each other,the touch of the hands & above that,the eyes!No need 4 dialogues!Their eyes says it all!
    Wow,awesome,very touching!
    I like the part where the dying man tells the other 2 stay w/him.It's like even the few mins stay w/him is just s gd s spending the rest of their lives
    until their last breath!
    Really wish I had a friend like that 2 Love,Care & Share!
    This scene really affects me & yet,I love it!!!👈👌👍✌👋😔

  8. these comments…. straight people will see two men stare into each other's eyes lovingly and stroke each other's hair and kiss on the lips and say they're the most important thing in each other's lives, and still be like "the word used was FRIENDSHIP! it's not gay!!"

    like, in steamy love letters to each other, talking about eternal devotion and alluding to sex, gay people in history have often called their relationship with each other a "friendship". there used to be a whole term "romantic friendship" referring to what would these days be called lesbian relationships. times change and the ways language is used changes

  9. Guys expressing caring and love for each other is not homosexual. Lots of "straight" men have good friends they would kiss on the cheek and hug if they could and weren't so repressed and could speak and show their true feelings. Get over it!

  10. Gay kiss? Dude, there are plenty of hugs in Soviet movies, but none of them were gay. Back in the days kissing a man by another man on the cheek wasn't seen as gay. It was seen as a friendly act. Today, we don't see it this way with out perverted minds.

  11. I fail to see how a scene of two men who loved each like brothers is gay. In fact, the man kissed him on the cheek. Believe it or not, men can really love each other like brothers, especially military comrades, without being gay!

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