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  • Howard Hawks is one of our finest and most underrated directors. I believe it was Leonard Maltin who stated that Hawks is "the best director you've never heard of". Meaning that Hawks is commonly not mentioned with the likes of Ford, Hitchcock and Welles. This is probably because Hawks usually made "popular" films that focused on dialogue, character development, and speed (whether action or comedy) to set himself apart. Hawks had complete confidence that the audience liked what he liked.....and most of the time he was right! Beginning in 1939 Hawks began a streak of hits that would continue into the early 50's. After making Bringing Up Baby (something of a flop...now a classic) Hawks departed RKO after being replaced as director of Gunga Din (whose story he had a big hand in developing) and made this film at Columbia. Hawks intention was to make a film about the daredevil attitudes and experiences of pilots flying the mail in South America. The safety conditions for these pilots are non-existent and as a result they live each day as though it was their last.

    More than most movies this film is often pointed to as a summation of the "Hawksian" style. A group of men working closely to accomplish a common goal who are united by the dangers involved. These men are not "family men" or people with long term aspirations. They live in the moment and find their meaning through their comraderie and understated support of each other. As with most Hawksian dialogue (Jules Furthman would become a regular Hawksian writer after this one) it is understated and never overly emotional. The fun begins in Hawks films when a woman arrives who is often more than a match for the man she's in love with! (this pattern prevailed in the comedies as well).

    In this film Cary Grant, who is one of the greatest "Hawksian" actors, plays Geoff the head of the air mail airline who has sworn off women because they just don't seem to deal with his dangerous lifestyle. Therefore Geoff deals with women in a very cavalier way. Jean Arthur is American woman who arrives and turns his world upside down. But this film is not just a romance. There are multiple relationships between the characters that keep the viewer engrossed. Thomas Mitchell is most intriguing as the "buddy" who has been with Geoff for a long time and is quite subtle in his dedication toward his friend. Richard Barthlemess is outstanding in a late career role as the pilot with a checkered past who has to win over the trust of the other flyer's. (he's already won over the trust of Rita Hayworth, which is nothing to sneeze at!)

    Only Angels Have Wings is one of Hawks best, and perhaps most personal stories. Hawks claimed that it was one of his most "true" films in that he had been a flyer in World War I and was very interested in the dynamics between the early daredevils of aviation. The film moves along at a crisp pace and contains many tense, gripping scenes that keep the viewer entertained despite the Hawksian emphasis of character/dialogue over plot.

    Angels was a huge hit for Hawks and was the beginning of his most successful decade in Hollywood. In terms of influence Hawks would give ANY golden age director a run for his money. Directors such as Quentin Tarantino, John Carpenter, and Martin Scorcese would agree! Hawks films are worth studying and "Only Angels have Wings" is a textbook sample. I highly recommend it! 10 Stars!!!!!!!!
  • To quote to the movie cliché on the back of the VHS cover, this is old-time adventure, "the kind they don't make anymore."

    Well, they've always made good adventure stories through the years but you get the message: it's simply a good, solid story done well on film .

    What puts this a notch above other adventure tales of its day are: 1 - excellent cinematography; 2 - interesting aerial scenes with neat-looking planes flying in the fog and around and above the treacherous Andes Mountains; 3 - a top- notch cast featuring Cary Grant, Jean Arthur, Rita Hayworth, Richard Barthelmess, Thomas Mitchell, Allyn Joslyn, Sig Ruman, John Carroll and Noah Beery Jr., and 4 - a story that is generally interesting.

    I say "generally" because there are a few dry spots, mainly Arthur's continued pining over Grant, but most of it fun to watch and it gets you involved in the story. Ruman and Barthelmess were especially good in their supporting roles. Hayworth's role, one of her first, was not that much.

    In all, a solid adventure-romance tale, and I'm shocked it gets so little attention on this website, with under 20 reviews as of my writing.
  • If you ever wondered what all the fuss about Howard Hawks was all about, this is the film to catch. It is a first-hand lesson in what the Hawks universe was all about, and it is unsurpassed entertainment from the word go. Two hours of undiminished tension, action-wise, sexually, whatnot.

    New York showgirl Bonnie (Jean Arthur) is on a stop-over in small-town Barrance somewhere in South America. Here she meets Geoff (Cary Grant), the leader of a small band of mail pilots having to cross a perilous mountain pass on a daily basis, and casualties are to be expected. Within little more than ten minutes of screen-time the young man, who had asked Bonnie out to dinner, is dead in a spectacular crash scene, and from there on the plot and the action pick up space. Bonnie is dismayed by the way the dead pilot's colleagues seem not to care about his death, they just go about their business and pretend he was never there in the first place, so as not to be reminded of their own mortality. "Joe died flying", says Geoff. "That was his job. He just wasn't good enough. That's why he got it". Dismayed as she may be, though, Bonnie cannot leave, since she is falling in love with Geoff but fast.

    In this confined space, made even more confined by the dense fog and pouring rain that characterize the local climate, the scene is set for one of Hawks' perceptive gatherings of a group of people to have us observe the dynamics of people interacting, different ethos at work in a seemingly laconic male environment, the love, the rivalry, the camaraderie. The fear. Further upsetting the close-knit community is the arrival of a new fryer (Richard Barthelmess in the best performance of his mature years) who has to prove himself doubly because once in his life he turned yellow. With him he has Rita Hayworth, Geoff's old girl-friend ...

    This is quintessential Hawks, just in the way that Barthelmess' character has to strive to earn any ounce of respect from his peers. But in every frame it is a deserved classic, and great performances abound.

    8/10
  • This may be an overlooked Howard Hawks film. It's really a thoughtful film with substance under the guise of Hollywood famous stars and lively screenplay banters. Subject touches on death just 20 minutes into the film. Certainly no dull pacing. It has golden segments, like the exchanges between Grant and Barthelmess, Grant and Mitchell, Mitchell and Arthur, Arthur and Grant, and 10 minutes later, we see people gathered round by the piano singing songs and cajoling - not without sorrow beneath. Be not fooled, sentiments are there for friends passed away. It's not, but it is, a way of handling grief.

    It's life, matter of fact and not hung up or lingering, simply moving on, devil may care, with boldness, dare, and risk-woe-begotten (or forgotten, for that matter). Men - one track-minded, to fly to deliver no-matter-what. Women - worry, or why worry. To love the man, much of letting go and let him be comes with the territory, even if it's Jean Arthur or Rita Hayworth. The story revolves around not just Cary Grant's Geoff leading the pack in the Andes, but also Thomas Mitchell's brother gone, Richard Barthelmess' past recur, Rita Hayworth's nostalgic fear, and the spunky, sentimental Jean Arthur's Bonnie wraps it all up. The supporting cast aptly contributes from the restaurant-hotel-mailing service owner, the lively South American accents and melody, to the pilots who are green and know not what peril is, and the lone fog-watcher and his donkey. Secrets revealed, conflicts challenged, and there's a growing promotion of trust through it all. Between business partners, colleagues, friendship or marriage - that unquestionable trust, without asking out loud but understood within - is what life and dare all about.

    This film grew on me. I first saw it on cable TCM the latter half and couldn't wait to catch it again for the full story. Screenplay by Jules Furthman, music score by Dimitri Tiomkin, directed and produced by Howard Hawks, "Only Angels Have Wings" 1939 (available on DVD) is full of life, humor, drama, adventurous spirits, and non-stop exchange of word deliveries - entertaining, enjoyable, and heart-warming.
  • The best film that Howard Hawks's Only Angels Have Wings can be compared to is Hawks's own Ceiling Zero. The former was adapted from the stage play by Spig Wead and for whatever reason Warner Brothers did not put in the kind of production values the A list cast from that film should have warranted. In my review for IMDb I said it was a photographed stage play.

    Hawks seems to have made the corrections for the deficiencies of Ceiling Zero in this film. First of all he wrote the story for Only Angels Have Wings and made sure to put in enough action and he took the action away from the control room of that small airline in an unnamed South American country. He also cast the leads against type, Cary Grant as a cynical, existential Bogart like hero and Jean Arthur as the wise cracking show girl stranded in the tropics. A part that Rita Hayworth would play to perfection later on.

    Rita's in this one as well, in the first substantial part in an A picture. She plays the wife of disgraced flier Richard Barthelmess and one of Cary Grant's old flames. According to a recent biography of Jean Arthur, she and Rita did not get along so well. Both of them are retiring types and each thought the other was being snooty to her. Arthur found that out later on and was far more cordial as was Rita. Arthur was also upset that the future glamor queen of America would get all the notice. Rita sure got enough of it.

    But there were plaudits all around. Howard Hawks got great performances out of Grant and Arthur, expanding the range of both these talented people. Only Angels Have Wings is both a good character study and has a lot of drama as well.

    And Cary Grant was far more successful at a Bogart type role than Bogey was in doing Sabrina.
  • antcol819 August 2006
    This film is relentlessly male and relentlessly American. It functions brilliantly within the Hawksian "system" where male bonding is key, and where Woman is an outsider. Where romance is a minor part of life and where love is expressed through symbols and not through language. The group of professionals and their easy, jocular interaction is the beating heart of this film and all the group scenes are brilliantly directed. I also like the element of screwball comedy (a genre in which Hawks is one of the few masters) which presents itself in Grant and Arthur's "coffee" scene. It shows how much Hawks trusts his actors and his material in that he knows that such changes of tone can strengthen, rather than weaken, the key drama. I love this film even though its presentation of the world is not the one I'm the most sympathetic to. The film is not incredibly strong in psychological nuances - not when compared to directors like Sirk, Fuller, Welles, N. Ray, etc...and the basic tone is that of a stoicism which occasionally cracks (slightly) under pressure, but which almost immediately reestablishes itself. It's an attractive world view, but not one I'm incredibly comfortable with. There is no place here for ambiguity - not on any deep, non - localized level. I've been reading some Hawks interviews, and I now understand why Hawks was uncomfortable with being labeled an "artist". His attitude towards films and film-making is clearly the same as the attitude of the men in this film towards their work and their lives (and deaths). It's simple: you're either good enough or you're not, and you're only as good as your last flight. This identification between the man (Hawks) and his production (Only Angels Have Wings) helps to illuminate the greatness of the film, but it also explains its emotional and aesthetic limitations.
  • Warning: Spoilers
    Everything comes together perfectly in Howard Hawks' masterful drama, packed with action, suspense, romance and comedy. Jean Arthur, Cary Grant and Thomas Mitchell all hit peak form here and deliver stunning performances, putting across Jules Furthman's punchy dialogue with astonishing vitality. The rest of the cast is great too: Rita Hayworth dazzles in a star-making turn, whilst noted silent actor Richard Barthelmess provides a complex, superb characterisation - his best since the silent-era.

    "Thrilling As Love Born Amid A Thousand Fabulous Adventures!" screamed the posters, and that's just what you get: pulsating encounters before a backdrop of plane crashes, deception, confrontation, scandal and danger. There are dozens of classic sequences, but one in particular stands-out. After the death of Noah Beery, Jr.'s character, Arthur mentions him by name. "Who's dead?" spits Grant, bitterly, "who's Joe?" This tough, fatalistic line forms the centre of Grant's brilliant characterisation, which in turns forms the backbone of this brutal, compelling, wildly entertaining film.

    Only Angels Have Wings is both Hawks' best movie and one of the key pictures of the decade. Studio magic emanates from every joyous scene.
  • Geoff Carter is the head of a small run down air freight company in Barranca, one of his best pilots (and friend) is killed, but this is merely only one of the problems he has to deal with as ex flames, potential new sweethearts, and dissension in the camp, all fuse together to test him to the limit.

    Howard Hawks was the perfect man for this film because of his aviation background, the result is a very well crafted character study set in a very small locale. Looking at it from the outside you would think that the film was lining up to be a soft soap romantic fable, but here the emotion is channelled into a sort of character bravado that is flawed - yet something that makes for a viewing experience that draws you in deep with the finely etched characters.

    The cast are on fine form. Cary Grant gets to flex his non comedic muscles with great results as Carter, the film relies on Grant to glue the story together which he does with great aplomb. Jean Arthur & Rita Hayworth are the girls in amongst this strongly male orientated story, and it's a testament to both of the ladies ability that they don't get bogged down by all the macho heroism pouring out in the plot. Smart camera work and exciting aerial sequences further up the quality that is dotted within the piece, and were it not for some terribly twee dialogue, Only Angels Have Wings would surely be ranked as a classic of the 1930s. As it is, it's a wonderfully involving film that shows Hawks at his most humane. 8/10
  • This movie makes much more sense when you put it in the context of early talkie World War I flying movies like Hawks' Today We Live or The Dawn Patrol or

    Dieterle's The Last Flight (starring, not coincidentally, Richard Barthelmess). By 1939, with another war looming, audiences were long since sick of such tales, but by resetting the tale at a South American airport (where Cary Grant runs a mail service which is in danger of losing its contract), it was just barely possible to come up with a credible situation where Grant could again order his flyers to their deaths, and where death would be greeted with the callousness that

    comes from knowing you're probably next and your best friend will eat your

    steak for you. The reviewers who say Grant doesn't play it serious enough here are exactly missing the point-- his seemingly breezy, actually brittle facade IS the Lost Generation attitude, straight out of The Sun Also Rises.

    This is one of the great tough romances, whose real romance is with death itself, which needless to say makes it several steps darker than Hawks' superficially similar To Have and Have Not, let alone Rio Bravo (which reproduces its main

    characters almost exactly-- Grant as John Wayne, Arthur/Angie Dickinson as the woman trying to get into the boy's club, Barthelmess/Dean Martin as the guy

    with a guilty past of failure, and Mitchell as the guy who age is catching up with/ Walter Brennan, old age fully caught up). In gleaming black and white on the DVD, the foggy, fake studio set and the silver skies might be the dreams of a pilot in the instant before his crash. Too grim a bite of caviar for the general, perhaps, but a testament for a generation that saw more than it could put on film, and one of the greatest works of art to sneak out of the studio system under

    disguise of glamorous entertainment.
  • Great flying sequences, some marvelous special effects, and a great cast are the highlights of "Only Angels Have Wings," directed by Howard Hawks and starring Cary Grant, Jean Arthur, Thomas Mitchell, Richard Barthelmess, and Rita Hayworth. You will also see a youthful Noah Berry, Jr., as well as Allyn Joslyn, Victor Kilian, and Sig Ruman.

    "Only Angels Have Wings" is the story of mail carriers who fly often in bad conditions through a perilous mountain pass. They thrive on the excitement and danger. Their boss is Geoff Carter (Cary Grant). Jean Arthur is Bonnie Lee, a chorus girl passing through who decides she can't leave - like a lot of women in the past, she's falling for Carter. One woman who fell for him turns up as the wife (Hayworth) of a new pilot (Barthelmess) who once parachuted out of a plane and left Kid Dabb's (Thomas Mitchell) brother to die. With fliers out of commission or dead, Carter has to use him, but warns him he's only getting the most dangerous missions.

    This is a testosterone-heavy movie, very much the kind of thing John Wayne would do. The romantic part of the story, between Carter and Bonnie Lee is lethargic, with fine actress Jean Arthur left standing around worrying. Hayworth, with a decidedly different hairline, has a small but showy role. The meaty roles belong to the men. Grant is terrific as a devil-may-care boss who hides his emotions, and Barthelmess, who would retire after World War II and end his long career, is very good as the disgraced pilot in a role that suited him perfectly. Underplayed, one sees the pain of his past decision on his face. Thomas Mitchell played so many great roles - this time, he's a pilot who has to face his anger as well as a physical problem. Very poignant.

    Though a little disjointed and a little too long, "Only Angels Have Wings" has great atmosphere and some spectacular flying sequences and effects. Released in that golden year of 1939, it's another example of Hollywood at its apex.
  • Warning: Spoilers
    Copyright 11 May 1939 by Columbia Pictures of California, Ltd. New York opening at the Radio City Music Hall: 11 May 1939 (ran two weeks). U.S. release: 25 May 1939. Australian release: 14 September 1939. 121 minutes.

    SYNOPSIS: Jeff Carter is a hard-headed character, owner of an airplane firm, who drives his fliers to almost suicidal trips in decrepit planes. Bonnie Lee, a show girl, falls in love with Jeff Carter, but he ignores Bonnie. Then his former wife, Judy arrives, with her new husband, McPherson, an ace flyer.

    NOTES: For the first time, in 1939, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences realized the special importance to film art of special effects and added that category to others they considered worthy of their citations. Thus Roy Davidson and Edward C. Hahn were nominated by the Academy for their special-effects work. The Awards, however, were won by E. H. Hansen and Fred Sersen for their marvelous achievements with The Rains Came.

    COMMENT: "One thing I can tell you about Jeff, he's a good guy for girls to stay away from." "Thank you, I'll remember that."

    She doesn't of course. Nonetheless, this is still a very entertaining movie, its seedy Banana Republic atmosphere searing the memory. If events follow a somewhat predictable course, the players give their dialogue plenty of bite and the action is sufficiently well-staged to overcome any feelings of familiarity. Produced on an expansive budget too, with marvellous sets, moody photography and appropriately tense direction. Grant has an untypical tough-guy role (the sort of part patented by Jimmy Cagney) which he handles with breezy efficiency. Miss Arthur is capable too, but the players who get all the attention from today's audiences are Rita Hayworth, Thomas Mitchell and Richard Barthelmess.
  • For a remarkably compelling story about a fly-by-the-seat-of-their-pants airmail service in South America, director Howard Hawks has assembled a cast that includes Cary Grant as the airline's owner and Jean Arthur as a tourist stranded between boats who catches his eye. While the performances are all superb (especially Thomas Mitchell as the veteran pilot Kid), it is Hawks who turns a rather ordinary plot into an extraordinary film. Watch this movie for its visual style and atmospheric mood (note especially how Hawks fills the frame with actors while Arthur and Grant are sitting at the barroom piano), and be prepared for the ride of your life!
  • Warning: Spoilers
    I guess I'm the dissenter here. I don't say this is a bad film, but to me it's a little illogical...although perhaps that's a different time perspective of the 1930s compared to today. The crux of the film is quite simple -- repeatedly, fliers are crashing and dying flying the mail up over a particular foggy mountain pass in South America. In fact, later in the film, you get to see the mountains, and you KNOW they wouldn't fly into them in the fog...well, actually they would fly into them -- literally -- in the fog. But, the mail must go through!!!!! Why not delay until the fog lifts? But of course, at least often when they crash, the mail is destroyed. So let's see -- the way they're operating, much of the mail never goes through, rather than sometimes just being delayed. Hmmmmmmmmmm. And they are destroying expensive planes in the process. Hmmmmmmmmm. Is this anyway to run an airline??? And of course, Cary Grant and others are very stoic about the repeated deaths, while only Jean Arthur has a lick of sense and sees the tragedy for those who die. Nevertheless, Jean Arthur begins falling in love with Cary Grant, who runs the flying operation...despite the fact that he repeatedly insults her.

    Many see this as one of Howard Hawks' best directorial efforts, and perhaps it is, once you accept the rather boneheaded premise. Cary Grant's role here is not one you're likely to like him in, and I'm not so sure he even performs it well. There were times I felt he was over-acting (and just for the record, Grant is my favorite actor). Jean Arthur, whom we usually savor in comedies, shows her diversity here in a straight dramatic role. In terms of supporting actor Richard Barthelmess, I can only assume he did his best work in silent films...he certainly wasn't very interesting here. This was one of Rita Hayworth's first important screen roles, and she's quite good here, although the best role in the film may very well belong to Thomas Mitchell. This is one of his better roles, though he had many.

    There are some things wrong with this film. Some of the scenes of airplanes landing and taking off are so primitive in terms of fake set that it's almost childish. And let's see -- there's all that fog in the jungle, but just a few minutes flying time away it's virtual desert. Hmmmmmmmm. But worst of all is when Jean Arthur doesn't want Cary Grant to fly because he might be killed...so she shoots him. Oh brother! There are more Cary Grant films in my DVD collection than of any other actor. And there are some I've watched a dozen times. This was a struggle to wade through the second time around...in fact, it took me 3 days to finish watching it. Considering the positive reviews others give it, there must be something I'm missing. But it's "okay"...once.
  • This is a great old movie, back in a time when men were men and women were all former showgirls or something. Men flying airplanes, men flying airplanes through obscured mountain passes during violent rainstorms, men dropping nitroglycerin on condors (but just wait, they will get their revenge), men dying, their friends dealing with death the way men should -- with denial and booze. Set in one of those remote, out-of-the-way jungle locales where miraculously everyone crosses paths, kind of like Casablanca but with a lot more rain. The pilot who bailed out and left his mechanic behind to die meets up with the brother of said mechanic, and the brother ain't too happy about it. But through an inevitable turn of events they end up together in a burning plane and have to bail, but one of them can't. What would you do? The pilot's wife is a real looker, Rita something, but our hero is shocked to realize she is the old flame who crushed his heart. Is that really you Judy, Judy, Judy? (yes, this is the movie where Cary Grant never actually says this). There are so many situations that make no sense. The girl from Kansas or Maine or golly geewillikers I'm not sure where spends about 10 minutes getting the cold shoulder from our hero, and then goes on to confide her worries about whether it is right to tie him down. Well, he is Cary Grant, so I guess it is these leaps of sudden commitment aren't too fanciful. When the "Kid" fails his eye test, Cary tells him he is through flying. That's right, there is not a single optician in all of South America.

    In short, I loved this movie. Made me want to become a pilot and learn how to smoke. It will have the same effect on you too.
  • If this film was made today, it would no doubt involve a great deal more sex and a great deal more CGI - it would be a terrible film

    Fortunately, this film was made in 1939 and is a superb example of the era - I won't go into the details of the plot (its not that important) but rather i will describe the people involved (more important) - Grant is cynical, distant and seemingly unemotional, he doesn't want to be tied down, he simply wants to get the job done -

    Arthur is sassy, talented and independent, she knows what she wants or at least she thinks she does - one kiss from Grant changes her mind (as it would)

    Then there's the pilot carrying the guilt of another mans death (we never find out how responsible he was) no one likes him and he's given the hardest flying jobs that no one else will take - on the up-side, he's married to Rita Hayworth but she doesn't know what his secret is (oh....and she used to have a thing with Grant)

    The new pilot finds redemption, his wife finds happiness, Grant finds a woman that can handle him, Arthur finds a man that deserves her and some people die along the way

    Fabulous stuff - i recommend watching it late at night (preferably when it's raining)
  • Warning: Spoilers
    "Things happen awful fast around here!" exclaims Jean Arthur, after an unceremonious smooch from curmudgeonly wooer Cary Grant. It's a great moment - not only for being one of the few pieces of Hawksian snappy patter in a largely more serious film, but equally a piece of dialogue that serves not only microcosmic for Only Angels Have Wings, but Hawks' machine-gun-bantering career as a whole. Here, the breakneck pace bypasses the zippy frivolity of Bringing Up Baby and the Machiavellian mania of His Girl Friday, and lends itself to something altogether more grim. Only Angels Have Wings may not be a war movie, but it's undeniably coloured by the political climate and distant rumblings from Germany of its time. It's a film driven by acrid fatalism, yet seasoned with peppy resilience, both stagnantly stationary yet driven by furious momentum. And the drama and energy generated by its duelling influences are both infectious and superb.

    In the aviation outpost of Barranca, cheating death is always only a phone call away, as the ominously omnipresent drone of background planes reminds us. Then, enter the players. We start with innocent enough flirty repartee, as Arthur is intoxicated with the fumes of adventure and derring-do of her pilot pursuers. Then, as suddenly as it is matter-of-fact, one of our cheery protagonists is killed - a bad crop of weather turned botched landing. And the comrades of the departed sing a raucously mocking song as they pick up and send his replacement out before his crash fumes have dissipated. And we wait for a punchline to come, to defuse and save the situation, and code it as safe and all in good fun. And it never comes.

    Are these men, formerly charming and debonair, secretly sadistic and cruel? No - they've simply been ground down by too much death to react any differently. And this heady realism, and the grim humour it spawns, is what helps Hawks' drama soar above (ha) the heads of its fellow flyboy films. Hawks doesn't valourize his pilots with cloying heroism: he drags them through the muck - literal and emotional - and paints them with such a belligerently unwavering code of honour (as their peer bullying dynamics when introduced to one whose self-preservation cost the life of his mechanic demonstrates) that they're not heroic so much as simply standing. But, courtesy of his characteristic overlapping dialogue (employed with more restraint here) and flair for vivid, colourful ensemble characterizations, we see the cracks and misty eyes behind their devil-may-care gregariousness. And it's hard to imagine a more magnetically compelling human drama for it.

    It helps that the film is gorgeously shot, melding classical grandeur with a noir murkiness, as valiant pilots, striding towards their aerial steeds, are besieged by shadowy torrential rain, mud, and blood. The impressively textured sets add to the film's rustic grandeur, as do the spectacular aviation sequences and aerial scenery shots (again, had the U.S. entered the War at this junction, it's impossible not to imagine such sequences being twisted into enlistment propaganda, a-la Top Gun). At two hours in length, the film isn't as lean and concise as it could be, though this length does allow for considerable immersion into the world of the pilots, as if rapt attention will help them cling to life. Similarly, the intertwining love subplots, particularly Arthur's lovesick pining amidst this world of fast-living, toe the line of being Classical Hollywood plot devices of convenience (the accidental gunshot is really pushing it), though this slightest breach of realism is only a mite bothersome.

    Still, Arthur's careful performance sells it all beautifully, undercutting her playful banter with an undercurrent of acidic self-loathing. She may not act like the quintessentially spunky, take-charge, sexually aggressive 'Hawksian woman' (as was legendarily to his chagrin), but she's certainly kicking herself for it, and enjoys her nimble wordplay too mirthfully not to enormously take to. Similarly, Cary Grant at his surliest is still infinitely charismatic (albeit somewhat wolfish), and he's on top form here. Guarding himself against the hardships and horrors of his profession with an armour of sarcasm, like a fast-talking Rick Blaine from Casablanca, he metaphorizes the pilot experience by refusing to carry a match, but plays it as a surprisingly tender trope, which makes his rakish commander a lot easier to warm to. Richard Barthelmess gives a tremendously nuanced performance as the ashamed pilot who left his mechanic to die, his craggy gruffness perfectly etching out self-loathing yet self-preservation on his face, while Rita Hayworth is impressive indeed for holding her own sparring with Cary Grant in her first major cinematic role. It's a Wonderful Life's Thomas Mitchell is nearly unrecognizable here as aging but still twinkling pilot 'Kid', while Sig Ruman demonstrates consistently pitch-perfect comedic timing as the beleaguered yet lovable owner of the aviation company.

    Only Angels Have Wings is a top-notch, classy affair, as Hawks' airtight, bravado directorial work and the cast's stellar performances help keep grim emotional realism aloft with spirited, thrilling storytelling. Exhibiting taut, magnetically thrilling storytelling far ahead of its time, the film is a prime example of Classical Hollywood with which to charm the acquainted and lure in the uninitiated. Those on the fence should be sure to call heads with Kid's lucky coin when deciding whether or not to check it out. In so many ways, this film has wings.

    -9.5/10
  • A very strange movie in its own way, "Only Angels Have Wings" is about a group of mail carriers living, working and carousing somewhere in South America. Supposedly it's very dangerous to fly mail back and forth from this particular frontier town, and the life expectancy of a flier isn't long. Therefore, when sexy Jean Arthur shows up on a stop-over and gets a hankering for boss Cary Grant, the sexual tension rests in whether or not Grant will be alive long enough to make forming a romantic attachment worthwhile.

    With a second world war looming on the horizon, one can see how this story was both relevant and irrelevant at the same time: relevant as a parallel for the many American men who would soon be in the position of not knowing whether or not they would be alive from day to day; but sort of irrelvant too, since we're talking about delivering mail here, not going to war!! I can't imagine a movie made today about the dangers of being a FedEx delivery man (unless you count "Cast Away").

    Anyway, Cary Grant is horribly miscast as the crusty man in charge, who puts up a callous front and tries to convince everyone that he doesn't care when one of his men dies. I can only take Grant seriously when he's in a tuxedo and being dapper; here they outfit him in ridiculous parachute pants pulled up to his nipples---I kept expecting him to drop to the floor and start break dancing.

    As for the female lead, Jean Arthur could do no wrong, as far as I'm concerned. Rita Hayworth shows up in an early role as another love interest for Grant, and one-time silent film star Richard Barthelmess struts in playing Grant's mail carrier arch rival (!), looking for all the world like he's still acting in silent films.

    Director Howard Hawks creates an authentically foggy and sweaty South American atmosphere, and for all the surface silliness of the plot, he fashions a pretty compelling movie about the instinct to challenge death that dominates these characters' lives. I don't hear this movie mentioned along with the other classics released in the golden year of 1939, but it more than holds its own against the more popular films of that year.

    Grade: A-
  • A Howard Hawks/Cary Grant collaboration with which I was unfamiliar. I found it engrossing and entertaining. For its time, the aircraft special effects were very good. Grant's character was largely unlikeable, a bit of a departure for him. I wasn't very familiar with Jean Arthur, but she looked great, and came off very well. I might not have recognized the young Rita Hayworth. It had a good story, and told it well.
  • Introduction: I split my reviews into 3 categories and each can get a maximum of 10 points (In 0,5 steps). The combination of all categories results in the X/10 stars rating. If a movie ends up with for example 6,5/10 stars I will decide whether it is worth the 7 Stars or not based on personal opinion.

    1. Music, Sound Design

    The music does fit and enhance the story good enough and is really not used too much but then well timed. The sound effects are what made this movie really interesting to me. The rain, thunder and planes create a truly unique atmosphere that make the movie feel very adventureous and actually advance the story.

    The weather felt a little overused after a while and the music is not very memorable but I will give this category 8/10 points.

    2. Visual Style/Animation, Cinematography, Editing, Special Effects/Choreography/Action/Weather Effects

    The visual style was consistent, made sense and had a good share of various locations. The Cinematography is great. I did not always enjoy the camera, but light, shadows and costumes were all well done and really advanced the story I dont have too much to say about the editing. It was fine but nothing spectacular When it comes to the last point of this category I have to say its the best of all. As I said before the weather effects really make this a unique movie. We got everything from fog to rain and thunder and even some snowy mountains. The effects are part of the story and not just a background effects for visual appeal and that is awesome.

    The Visuals are nothing I can complain about. Not everything is perfect but a whole lot is, resulting in a 9/10 for this category

    3. Story, Characters

    The dialog is good enough but I have expected a little more. The drama is believable, the romance not that much. Its just not very interesting even when I liked both actors. The pacing is good. The Storytelling surely is not bad, its believable and is thought provoking, but also is not too complex which is fine for me. It says what it wants to say. One downside of this movie is for me that it can surely build suspense by visual and audio effects but it feels like the same scene repeats itself several times making me less interested each time. I felt like the characters were just ok. The introduction is fine but the characters dont really develop and I could not buy the romance between the two leads. All actors did their job well, I just think they were not given enough depth.

    I am a bit split on this category as you can see. Its certainly not that bad. I will give this one 5/10 points.

    The end result is 7,3/10 points resulting in 7 stars. I can recommend this one. Its a unique experience you will not regret watching.
  • mmallon425 September 2017
    Only Angels Have Wings is the culmination of the 1930's aviation pictures (and boy there were a lot of them), helmed by director Howard Hawks who previously directed The Dawn Patrol and Ceiling Zero and even features the casting of Richard Barthelmess, star of such flying pictures The Dawn Patrol, The Last Flight and Central Airport. With World War II on the horizon this genre would never be the same again. Like in The Dawn Patrol, the pilots in Only Angels Have Wings have methods of dealing with reality as the film really examines the psychology of early aviators and the danger they went through to get the job done; Hawks called Only Angels Have Wings the truest film he ever made. Why do flyers do what they do? As Kid (Thomas Mitchell) puts it, "I couldn't give you an answer that'd make sense".

    The first 30 minutes of the movie takes place in real time in what is my favourite section of the film in which a whole host of emotions are presented with a short period of time; a real piece of film magic. As we are introduced to the cast and become attached to pilot Joe Souther (Noah Beery Jr.) as he and his buddy become friends with an American tourist Bonnie Lee (Jean Arthur) only for him to be killed in a flying accidents moments later when he's called on short notice to deliver mail. Death is such a normal occurrence that the squadron leader Geoff (Cary Grant) has no problem eating the steak ordered by Joe prior to his death only moments ago while the pilots even sarcastically ask each other "who's Joe?" when Bonnie questions them on their ability to carry on like nothing happened; a denial of reality in order to deal with reality. Just how healthy is that? Well as Bonnie puts it, "All my life I've hated funerals, the fuss and bother never brings anyone back, just spoils remembering them as they really are". This 30-minute section of the film successfully goes from one emotion to the polar opposite from joy to tragedy and back to joy again. I still, however, can't find myself fully engaging in the joy of Jean Arthur and Cary Grant playing the piano knowing one of their flying comrades just died a horrible death. Likewise, at the beginning of the film, we also see an interesting method of getting free drinks from a bar if you're friendly with the owner; I must try that one out sometime.

    Jean Arthur's role of Bonnie Lee, a lone adventuress from Brooklyn is a change of pace for the actress as she leaves her usual urban dwellings. Arthur differs from other Hawksain women due to her absence of sex appeal, she's simply not that kind of an actress but rather more inherently innocent and sweet hearted. Hawks wanted Arthur to play Bonnie subtly sexy way with Arthur stating, "I can't do that kind of stuff". The scene in which she invades Geoff's room in order to take a bath was never going to be Clark Gable or Jean Harlow in Red Dust with Arthur playing the role, resulting in a scene which is playful without being flirty of sexual. Just listen to her as speaks of how "It's so cold and rainy outside and nice and warm and cosy in here" - it couldn't be delivered in a more innocent manner. I feel Jean Arthur represents the way young boys will innocently feel about women before hitting puberty. I feel the rest of the film doesn't reach the emotional heights which the first forty minutes accomplished partially due to the lack of the Jean Arthur touch with her being absent for lengthy portions of the film but it is still blessed with a great cast of players. Cary Grant plays a Clark Gable type role, a no-nonsense leader under extraneous pressure in the part of Geoff Carter while silent era star Richard Barthelmess uses his greatly expressive face which carries the baggage of his character. Plus what's a Hollywood movie from the 30's without a central to east European comic relief character in the form of Sig Ruman. The one cast member who doesn't do anything for me is Rita Hayworth whom I've never particularly been a big fan off but there is still the bizarre amusement of Grant pouring water over her hair.

    Only Angels Have Wings even opens up the potential to be The Wages of Fear of the air when Barthelmess is required to transport nitroglycerine by plane but the movie doesn't take this far creating a missed opportunity. Regardless the aerial footage of the plans is an impressive sight with long uncut shots as the camera moves along with the aircraft. The film doesn't identify what country the story takes place, however, I like when classic films leave details like that ambiguous; let your imagination fill in the blanks.
  • I'm confused. In 1937, RKO released "Flight from Glory." Two years later, Columbia put out "Only Angels Have Wings" with virtually the same plot. Both films dealt with a small struggling airline ferrying mail across the Andes. In "Flight," Chester Morris was their hard-boiled leader. In "Only Angels," it was Cary Grant. "In Flight," Van Heflin turned up as a disgraced pilot with a pretty wife. In "Angels," it was Richard Barthemless. Only big difference between the two, in terms of storyline, was Jean Arthur's presence in "Angels" as a chorus girl who hung around the airfield after falling for Grant. Okay, another difference -- "Angels" was a better movie with considerably better production values. Then again, Howard Hawks had a heftier budget than Lew Landers. But can anyone explain how "Angels" got away with cribbing its plot and characters from the less-glorious "Flight..."?
  • Howard Hawks directed this entertaining drama that stars Cary Grant as Geoff Carter, manager of an air freight service stationed in a remote trading post in South America, where his pilots routinely deliver the mail in dangerous and often foggy conditions between the mountains. Jean Arthur plays Bonnie Lee, a woman who finds herself stranded at his airport, and strangely attracted to the brash and aloof Geoff, whose life is further complicated by the arrival of an old flame(played by Rita Hayworth) and her unpopular flier husband. Thomas Mitchell plays Kid Dabb, an old friend who tries his best to keep Geoff happy and sober. Good film has exciting aerial scenes and amusing dialogue, even if the script has too many complications. Good cast and direction make it work well.
  • Howard Hawks' surprisingly dark film about mail pilots in the Banana Republic and their often dangerous lives is one of the great "lost" classics of Hollywood's golden era. Although the film was financially successful and well received by critics and audiences when originally released, it has since become a distant memory to many of even the most avid classic film fans. This is unfortunate, for the film is a flawless combination of thrilling drama, light comedy, and special effects that are still very effective today. The film is uncommonly unsentimental and realistic when compared to other films from the same era, and is all the better for it.

    Cary Grant and Jean Arthur, both of whom are cast somewhat against type and in complex roles, deliver sensational performances that should have won them both Academy Awards (the fact that neither actor was even nominated is inexplicable). The rest of the cast is also terrific, with each and every actor in the impressive ensemble providing strong and believable characterizations. This is particular true of Rita Hayworth, who became an overnight superstar after her appearance in this film was met with a tremendous response from both audiences and critics. An absolute masterpiece, ONLY ANGELS HAVE WINGS deserves to be as highly regarded as GONE WITH THE WIND, THE WIZARD OF OZ, and any of the other classics from the golden year of 1939.
  • Cary Grant's second of five films with director Howard Hawks is the story of pilots in South America risking their lives flying in hazardous conditions. Cary's the boss of an air freight company. Jean Arthur plays a showgirl who stops over and falls for him. Also throw into the mix Richard Barthelmess as a pilot with a bad reputation and Rita Hayworth as his new wife, who just so happens to be Cary's ex. This movie is pure Hawks but an atypical role for Cary Grant. It seems much more suited to Clark Gable, who played many similar roles throughout the '30s. Grant does a fine job, don't get me wrong, but it clearly wasn't a part written with him in mind. Also somewhat miscast is Jean Arthur. I adore Jean but can't see her as a showgirl or nightclub singer and she does little here to dissuade me of that. Really I just forgot that was part of her character because she basically plays your standard Jean Arthur heroine here with less comedy than usual. Despite what may sound like criticisms from me, they're both wonderful to watch. Richard Barthelmess is good in his last big movie role. The rest of the cast is full of great character actors like Thomas Mitchell, Allyn Joslyn, and Sig Ruman. Rita Hayworth has her first major part here. She does fine and is, of course, stunning. This is really a terrific film with quality acting, writing, and directing. A classic that any fan of the director or stars has to see.
  • Of all the now acknowledged master directors who came out of the Hollywood studio system surely there are few who were as downright versatile as Howard Hawks. In a short three year period from 1938 to 1941 he directed the screwball romantic comedy "Bringing Up Baby," followed by this adventure film "Only Angels Have Wings," followed by the zany comedy mystery movie "His Girl Friday," and ending with the war drama "Sergeant York." Few of his contemporaries –Ford, Capra, Hitchcock, DeMille— could handle each and every one of these genres with such great invention and high style.

    "Only Angels Have Wings" combines elements of all these and more. Cary Grant is often said to be miscast, but isn't the combination of his great good-looks and charm tempered by a genuine amusement at and indifference to the wiles of the female the very quality that gives his portrayal of "Geoff Carter" its special Hemingwayesque character? A man's man, Hawks was never misogynistic. Quite the opposite is true; his best films are full of beautiful vital women and comic/romantic encounters. But in this film as in almost all of Hawks' studio films, women, attractive as they might be, are always secondary. What really counts is the story of a band of brothers ---the rules and values of a macho world.

    Lovers of big studio cinematography will delight in the atmospheric lighting of the master Joe Walker, Capra's cameraman and one of the very best that ever was. The great character actor Sig Rumann is given more to do than his usual comic German roles.
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