Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Tuesday's Overlooked Movies: Only Angels Have Wings

I used to hear a lot about this film being one of Howard Hawks' best. For that matter, I used to hear a lot about Howard Hawks. These days, not so much on either of those things. So recently I watched ONLY ANGELS HAVE WINGS for the first time in about forty years to see if it holds up.

Boy, does it.

This is the story of a small flying service in South America that's trying to get a contract flying the mail over the Andes Mountains. Cary Grant plays the chief pilot, and he's ably supported by the great Thomas Mitchell, John Carroll, Noah Beery Jr., Don "Red" Barry, and several more fine character actors. Grant's life is complicated by the arrival of down-on-her-luck showgirl Jean Arthur, then another pilot who has a checkered past (Richard Barthelmess) shows up with his wife, who just happens to be the ex-fiancee of Grant's character, in tow. (The wife is played by a young and beautiful Rita Hayworth.)

In other words, what you've got here is a great cast, working with a good script by Jules Furthman, and directed by one of my all-time favorite directors, Howard Hawks. The result is maybe one notch below a classic film, but it's not far from that status. For a movie with no real crime in it, this is one of the most hardboiled films you'll ever see, with plenty of tight-lipped, unsentimental dialogue and a number of flying sequences that are very suspenseful. The miniature work is outstanding, too.

Hawks is famous for his films centered around the interaction of small groups, and that's in full force here. The claustrophobic setting, a small town hemmed in by mountains, just adds to the effect. The plot is maybe a little thin, but other than that, ONLY ANGELS HAVE WINGS is a great movie and one that I'm glad I watched again after all these years. If you haven't seen it before, you should give it a try. And if it's been a long time, I bet you'd enjoy it all over again.


Anonymous said...

And you can never go wrong with Jean Arthur.

Jeff M.

James Reasoner said...

You're certainly right about that.

pattinase (abbott) said...

This is a great movie. Anything with Jean Arthur would be.

Yvette said...

Enjoyed your take on ONLY ANGELS HAVE WINGS. I don't know if you saw Jacqueline's detailed post on this film over at Another Old Movie Blog, but that's where I first read about this film. I know I've seen it, because a lot of it just sounds so familiar - but maybe it's time to see it again. I do love Jean Arthur and Cary Grant.

Cap'n Bob said...

I saw it last year and really enjoyed it. You could really appreciate how daring those pilots were in the early years of aviation.

Prashant C. Trikannad said...

Familiar title, great cast...I'm certain I've seen this film. Either way I'm going to have to see it...again.

Sergio (Tipping My Fedora) said...

You really made a great choice here - Definitely a superior movie which is also surprisingly intimate given its spectacular set-pieces, almost theatrical in its artificial ambience - right up there with the likes of CHINA SEAS and RED DUST (I wish that would come out on DVD).

Rittster said...

Thanks for recommending GUNGA DIN,a somewhat similar adventure movie with Cary Grant. It's a classic!

Richard Moore said...

A great movie. Hawks was a pilot himself, serving in the Army Air Corps in WW I and. He always had a nice touch with aviation movies. He did the original Dawn Patrol in 1930.

His brother Kenneth (who also served as a pilot in WWI) was well on his way as a director in Hollywood when he died in a plane crash on January 2, 1931. It was a terrible blow to Howard. But he continued to fly himself and made several fine movies about flying including this one. I would imagine that one of the bonds Hawks had with William Faulkner was that both men had lost brothers to flying accidents.

Angels has a nice feeling for the bravery, comradeship, pride, fear and sadness of living on the edge. The movie was something of a last hurrah for Richard Barthelmess, who had starred in The Dawn Patrol.

Barthelmess had undergone plastic surgery that led to an infection and a badly scarred face. But for this role, the scars helped in the portrayal of a damaged man desperately trying to regain what he had lost.

I highly recommend Todd McCarthy's 1997 biography Howard Hawks, The Gray Fox of Hollywood.