Only Angels Have Wings (1939)

Only Angels Have Wings (1939) movie poster

director Howard Hawks
viewed: 05/20/2016

One of Howard Hawks’s most well-regarded films, Only Angels Have Wings is quite a picture.  It stars Cary Grant, one of Hawks’s favorite leading men, stepping out from screwball comedies and into an action-adventure drama about daring pilots in a dangerous Central or South American outpost, delivering mail over mountains and taking their lives in their hands on every flight.

It’s not at all bereft of comedy.  There are some wonderful comic moments throughout, but this is a gritty adventure featuring some really great stunt flying footage (as well as some less compelling miniatures for special effects.)

It also features the wonderful Jean Arthur (for whom I’ve developed quite an appreciation) as Grant’s love interest, a musician who dropped into the camp and never leaves.  Also terrific is Thomas Mitchell, who plays Grant’s best friend and fellow pilot.  And knock-out Rita Hayworth in one of her first significant roles as Grant’s ex.

It’s been written about a ton by better writers than me, but this is pure Hawks, the director around whom the auteur theory was largely conceived.  His rough and ready he-men, measured by their bonhomie and strengths of both character and body.  Bright, tough and witty women.  A concentrated and evocative world view.

It’s a great movie.

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