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WINGS OF THE MORNING was the first film shot in that newfangled technicolor outside the United States. The Technicolor Corporation was so protective of the process that they sent an American crew over to handle the shoot. A twenty-three year old Jack Cardiff was the only British member of the crew, a cinematographer who went on to film some of the great technicolor films of the next decades.

The film starred Henry Ford, the lovely French actress Annabella, and Leslie Banks. Annabella played two roles in the film, the gypsy girl, Marie, in 1890 who fell in love with a member of nobility and the great-granddaughter, Maria, fifty years later. Fonda was Kerry Gillfallen, a Canadian horse trainer, and the nephew of Lord Clontarf(Banks).

In the 1890 segment Maria marries her Lord, much to the displeasure of the rest of the family, “a gypsy, the very idea!” When he’s killed in a riding accident five years later, the family tosses her out with only the things she brought into the marriage. The only one who seems to care about her is the twelve year old cousin of the late Lord, who grew up to be Lord Clontarf.

Then it jumps fifty years, which is strange. That would put it in 1945, the future in the time line established. But in the midst of the Spanish Civil war, the young Maria is smuggled out and to the British Isles disguised as a boy(the eyesight of every man involved must have have been bad because one can’t see how she could be mistaken for a boy). Her grandmother wanted her back in Ireland where she had a horse, Wings, that she’d entered in the Derby at the Epsom track. She intended the winnings as a dowry for her great-granddaughter to marry the penniless Don Diego(Teddy Underdown), an arranged marriage.

In this segment, Maria is still disguised as the boy, having just arrived, and comes off like a petulant, spoiled brat. She jumps on Wings and takes off for a ride where she encounters Kerry(Fonda) working with a couple of horses. She gets thrown and angrily offers a trade with Kerry, working a deal for six average horses. Kerry sees potential in the black stallion and agrees, which sets off a storm with great-grandmother(Irene Vanbrugh) and she has to return begging for Wings to be returned.

It’s a bit funny here as Kerry is taking a bath and Maria is still wearing her boy’s clothes.

Wings breaks out and runs, it’s a foggy night, and Kerry and the “boy” go looking, careful because there’s a cliff down to the ocean nearby. They skirt along the edge, find Wings and decide to stay the night in an old barn. It’s the next morning when he learns the truth on the way back when he wants to go for a swim and doesn’t understand why the boy won’t disrobe and jump in. He finds out when he wrestles her out of her shirt.

The old Lord goes looking for them the next morning at the gypsy encampment, reunites with Marie, recognizing her after fifty years, and gets the whole story of the old woman’s plans. He offers to let Maria stay at his home and for Kerry to train Wings. He’s already training a Derby entry anyway. Kerry agrees, but only if you keep that brat out of my way. he soon changes his tune when he sees her dressed as a woman. As the old saying goes, if Fonda hadn’t been thirty-two at the time, his teeth would have fell out.

We then get a montage of scenes shwoing the pair get close:

At the party mentioned in the clip, renowned Irish tenor John McCormack sings several tunes:

Unknown to Kerry and Maria, a surprise awaits them at the party. Unknown to them, Don Diego, her fiance has arrived. Maria had tried to tell Kerry several times, but could never manage. It’s a blow to Kerry who’d just pronounced his love for Maria before the party started.

Then it’s time for the Derby. Problems arise when the jockey for Wings is judged “not properly certified” and Kerry, in a moment, switches his jockey to Wings and uses the training rider for his horse. Naturally, Wings wins the race and then more problems crop up. Marie is dying, finally exhausted after a long life. there’s an old rule that the owner of the winning horse must be alive or the horse is disqualified. That sounds dumb on the surface, maybe a plot device, maybe true, and the finish is challenged. Maria had stayed with old Marie, listening to the race on the radio, and drives the wagon to the track to show that old Marie is still alive. Se gets more ‘news” when Don Diego says he can’t marry her if Wings is disqualified, “It wouldn’t be fair to you.” His true motives show with his next statement. “I can’t live without money.”

All’s well that ends well.

The screenplay was by Thomas J. Geraghty, John Meehan, and Gilbert Wakefield, the latter two uncredited, and was based on stories by the Irish novelist Donn Byrne(born Brian Oswald Donn-Byrne). Direction was by Harold D.Schuster who replaced the fired Glenn Tryon.

For more overlooked movies, check out Todd Mason over at Sweet Freedom.

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