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Only Angels Have Wings (1939)

Approved  |   |  Adventure, Drama, Film-Noir  |  15 May 1939 (USA)
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Ratings: 7.7/10 from 8,175 users  
Reviews: 64 user | 68 critic

At a remote South American trading port, the manager of an air freight company is forced to risk his pilots' lives in order to win an important contract.



(screen play)
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Nominated for 2 Oscars. See more awards »



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Cast overview, first billed only:
Bat Mac Pherson
Judy MacPherson
Allyn Joslyn ...
Sig Ruman ...
Dutchy (as Sig Rumann)
Victor Kilian ...
Gent Shelton
Tex (as Donald Barry)
Joe Souther
Manuel Álvarez Maciste ...
The Singer (as Maciste)
Milisa Sierra ...
Lily (as Milissa Sierra)
Lucio Villegas ...


When the ship San Luis makes a stop at the port of Barranca, to deliver mailbags and load bananas, cabaret singer Bonnie Lee leaves the boat for some hours to look around. She meets a gang of American flyers, who works for a warm-hearted Dutchman. He is the owner of a scrubby hotel, but also of the shaky Barranca Airways, lead by the tough flyer Geoff Carter. The only way to fly out of Barranca is through a deep pass at 14.000 feet above the ground. As the weather is often stormy and foggy, the flights are extremely difficult, and several flyers have already lost their lives. Bonnie falls in love with Geoff, who reminds her of her father, a trapeze artist who worked without safety net. She decides to leave the boat and stay at the hotel. But Geoff is scared of being detained by a woman. He wants to continue his risky lifestyle uninterrupted. The situation is aggravated when a new flyer, Bat MacPherson, turns up with his wife Judy. He once caused the death of a young flyer, by leaving ... Written by Maths Jesperson {}

Plot Summary | Add Synopsis


Thundering DRAMA! See more »


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Parents Guide:






Release Date:

15 May 1939 (USA)  »

Also Known As:

Howard Hawks' Only Angels Have Wings  »

Company Credits

Show detailed on  »

Technical Specs


Sound Mix:

(Western Electric Mirrophonic Recording)

Aspect Ratio:

1.37 : 1
See  »

Did You Know?


Cary Grant is often incorrectly quoted as saying "Judy, Judy, Judy" to Rita Hayworth in this movie. The misquote is attributed to impressionist Larry Storch who, when in the middle of one of his nightclub acts, saw Judy Garland walk in as he was impersonating Grant. Apparently this is how he addressed her. See more »


In the immediate aftermath of Joe's crash, distant shots show Bonnie with her left arm cocked at a right angle, but close shots show it limp at her side. See more »


Bonnie Lee: So you're still carrying a torch for her?
Geoff Carter: Gotta light?
See more »


Referenced in The Silver Screen: Color Me Lavender (1997) See more »


The Peanut Vendor
Music by Moïse Simons
Lyrics by L. Wolfe Gilbert and Marion Sunshine
Played on piano by Jean Arthur and accompanied by the restaurant band
Partially sung by Cary Grant
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User Reviews

Start of the winning streak!
23 January 2007 | by See all my reviews

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 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!!!!!!!!

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