Only Angels Have Wings (1939)

Approved  |   |  Adventure, Drama, Romance  |  15 May 1939 (USA)
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Ratings: 7.7/10 from 8,273 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
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


BIG As The Fog-Shrouded Andes! 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?


In this film, Richard Barthelmess plays a pilot who is shunned because he jumped out of a plane and left his mechanic to die. In The Last Flight (1931), he played a pilot who goes down with his plane to NOT leave his friend behind. See more »


Toward the beginning of the movie, when Tex the lookout radio guy says, "OK, it's open," you can see the whole mountain range in the background slightly shift to the right. (Apparently, somebody was moving the set backdrop or bumped into it while the scene was being filmed.) See more »


Geoff Carter: You got the job.
Bat Kilgallen - MacPherson: Maybe I ought you pat you on the back.
Geoff Carter: You don't have to. Just do what I tell you to do.
Bat Kilgallen - MacPherson: You mean anything that's a little too tough for somebody else, huh?
Geoff Carter: Yeah, that's about it. Look, fella, I'm knee-deep in friends around here, but you're one guy I can send out in any kind of weather on any kind of job, and only worry about the ship getting back.
Bat Kilgallen - MacPherson: I see.
Geoff Carter: On those terms, you still want the job?
Bat Kilgallen - MacPherson: I don't know any other way I'd want it.
See more »


Featured in The Men Who Made the Movies: Howard Hawks (1973) See more »


Some of These Days
Written by Shelton Brooks
Partially played on piano by Cary Grant and hummed and partially sung by John Carroll
Played on piano by Jean Arthur and accompanied by the restaurant band
See more »

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User Reviews

The last great World War I film
4 November 2002 | by (Chicago) – See all my reviews

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.

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