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A Notch Above The Rest In Its Era
ccthemovieman-117 March 2006
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.
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Start of the winning streak!
jargonaut7323 January 2007
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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It is all about respect
mik-1929 April 2005
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.

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Not just another Hawks and Grant film - it's a lot more than meets the eye
ruby_fff14 October 2005
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.
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Airplane Wings Are More Brittle Than Angel's
bkoganbing22 January 2007
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.
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A man's gotta do...
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.
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The greatest action-adventure ever made
rick_71 November 2004
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.
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The last great World War I film
mgmax4 November 2002
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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A dissenting review...after wading through it a second time
vincentlynch-moonoi10 August 2012
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 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 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.
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This film flies on Hawks' wings
dabrams-222 February 1999
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!
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High flying, adored
blanche-25 June 2006
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.
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And You Thought FedEx Delivery Men Had It Rough
evanston_dad7 February 2006
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-
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Howard Hawks on familiar territory with this aeroplane adventure/drama.
Spikeopath4 March 2008
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 riveting watch 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 seaming thru the plot. Smart camera work and cracking 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
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A glorious drama, underrated by the general audience
robb_77220 April 2006
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.
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You Can't Send a Kid up in a Crate Like That
rmax3048237 March 2002
This is prototypical Hawks. No need to describe the isolated solidary male group who kid around with each other when they're not working or fighting each other. Nor any need to deal at length with the tough but tender babe who has to earn her way into the group. "You'd better be good," Cary Grant tells her when she first sits down to play the piano. The cast is fine. Jean Arthur was always a kind of goofy and appealing actress, along the lines of, say, Jill Clayburgh or Glenne Headly or Blythe Danner. She's the one who works herself into the group. Cary Grant is simply Cary Grant. He doesn't adopt a character the way he did in Hawks' earlier "Bringing Up Baby" or his later "Monkey Business." He has no outstanding moments either, although he does cry at one point -- unconvincingly. His wardrobe throughout is a riot. He wears the sort of wide-brimmed panama hat that Desi Arnaz used to wear in his nightclub act. The waist of his pants are pulled up around his floating ribs and the pleated trousers seem to balloon outward. Rita Hayworth is the girl who is married to a newly arrived pilot. She's a loser because she's very emotional, carries a torch, gets unruly when drunk, and is altogether too feminine. Her husband's career is tainted with cowardice, although she doesn't know about it. She is less glamorous here than she would be in subsequent pictures because her widow's peak is not yet electrolocyzed or electrolyiticized or depilitated or decapitated or whatever they do to your hair. As her husband, Richard Barthelmess is receding and somewhat goggle eyed, but he eventually wins his spurs. The other pilots are suitably terse and masculine. I found myself wondering about the lone radio operator in his shack on a snowy mountain top, whose sole job is to report on the weather in "the pass." What did he take up there with him to read between weather reports? My guess: two or three Russian novels. That should be enough to last him for a year. His nickname is "Tex," the same as the radio operator in Hawks' "The Thing From Another World." The film is a bit weak in the usual Hawksian kind of funny wordplay. The only memorable exchange, between Grant and the Thomas Mitchell, goes like this: Grant: "Why isn't the boat stopping in the village?" Mitchell: "Because they have no bananas." Grant: "They have no bananas?" Mitchell: "Yes, they have no bananas." All played with a straight face. The characters are familiar enough types to make us feel comfortable with them, and the flying scenes are exciting. Well worth watching, and a must-see for Hawks enthusiasts.
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Silver screen classic
Painbow30 May 2009
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)
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"It's like being in love with a buzz saw!"
pyrocitor4 July 2016
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.

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Great stars
SnoopyStyle9 July 2014
In the South American banana port of Barranca, Bonnie Lee (Jean Arthur) arrives to be befriended by a couple of hound dogs local pilots Les Peters and Joe Souther. It's a dangerous job and Joe dies in a crash. Geoff Carter (Cary Grant) runs the mail delivery outfit. He's a cold hard man and then his ex Judy MacPherson (Rita Hayworth) shows up with her husband Bat (Richard Barthelmess) who has a checkered past as a pilot.

There is no doubt that these are great stars. Director Howard Hawks brings a bit of humor but this suffers from the rambling romance. Jean Arthur starts as a funny bombshell and she's completely overshadowed as soon as Rita Hayworth walks in. All of a sudden, Jean is the frumpy second thought. It breaks up a nice rom-com and the movie struggles to recover the story. It also has too many things going on. There's an action thriller. There's a backstory of conflicts with the second in command. There is just too much going on.
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Awfully Silly and Overrated
claudio_carvalho16 August 2009
In the hypothetical port of Barranca in South America, the American showgirl Bonnie Lee (Jean Arthur) befriends two American pilots while waiting for the departure of her ship. They go to a bar and she meets their boss Geoff Carter (Cary Grant) that runs a small airline company that delivers mail and other cargo through the dangerous chain of mountains. Bonnie feels attracted by the cynical Geoff, and decides to stay. When the new hired pilot Bat Mac Pherson (Richard Batherlmess) arrives with his wife Judy MacPherson (Rita Hayworth) to replace a diseased pilot in the airline, their pasts affect Geoff and the other pilots.

"Only Angels Have Wings" is awfully silly and overrated movie. Jean Arthur performs Bonnie Lee, who is the perfect stereotype of the dumb blonde, with the most stupid attitudes, patronized by the men and culminating with a shot in the shoulder of Geoff Carter. Cary Grant performs a cynical and arrogant character, totally unpleasant and without any chemistry with Jean Arthur. The best moments are offered by Richard Batherlmess, a man marked by his past that has to prove that is a skilled and brave pilot, and Rita Hayworth. The Hollywood poor vision of South America is ridiculous. My vote is three.

Title (Brazil): "O Paraíso Infernal" ("The Hellish Paradise")
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Exciting flying
delboy-612 February 2000
For people interested in aviation this movie is well worth watching. The real life air to air shots are short but some of the best of their time. Cary Grant wasn't at his best but Jean Arthur was the star of the film along with Thomas Mitchell. Rita Hayworth was decorative but achieves little else. Does anybody know where the aerial shoot was taken with the French registered aeroplane?
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Only Angels Have Wings- A Devil of A Film **
edwagreen5 April 2007
Cary Grant is terribly miscast as Jeff Carter, who heads a mail flying outfit out in an area filled with bad weather.

Jean Arthur comes off the boat and falls for Grant. What else is new?

Grant looks ridiculous in a sombrero like hat and is always asking for a light. Even a bigger joke is his sidekick Thomas Mitchell. The latter is called The Kid. Some kid. This is the same year that Mitchell starred as Gerald O'Hara in the true classic "Gone With the Wind." He also copped a supporting Oscar that year for "Stagecoach."

After Noah Beery Jr. is killed in bad weather, the group goes around a piano and Grant and Miss Arthur lead them in an absolutely awful rendition of "Some of these Days." Where was Sophie Tucker when she was badly needed?

Arthur loves Grant so much that she points a gun at him and when she places it down on the table, the gun offs off popping Cary in the arm. The writer of this nonsense needed some popping as well.

Of course, the characters become resolute at the end. Cary flies off and Jean will be waiting for him. The other thing they needed to wait for was much better projects than this which thankfully they got in the years ahead.
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One of the BEST FILMS ever made in Hollywood
fwmurnau7 March 2009
1939 is often called the best year in Hollywood history, but this superb, and superbly-original, movie gets overshadowed by THE WIZARD OF OZ, GONE WITH THE WIND, DARK VICTORY and other classics from that year.

ONLY ANGELS HAVE WINGS can be enjoyed as a terrific, fast-paced action/adventure movie, but beneath the surface there's much more going on.

The story deals with big themes -- honor, character, love, guilt, redemption -- in profound ways worthy of Tolstoy or Shakespeare. Jules Furthman, the greatest dialog writer in Hollywood history, outdoes himself here with laconic exchanges where what's said is only the tip of the iceberg. A world of meaning and emotion churn BETWEEN the lines.

One example: How many viewers even notice that Rita Hayworth, when she's first alone with Grant, produces a match to light his cigarette without him asking? In the context of the story, this tiny detail is a key to their relationship, past and present. The whole film is like this, stuffed with small details that illuminate the backstories, thoughts, and feelings of the characters.

ONLY ANGELS is a high watermark of intelligent, grown-up writing for the screen. It's a smart film written for a smart, observant audience.

Cary Grant should have won an Oscar for his intense, deeply-felt performance -- this from a star we usually associate with comedy. Many in Hollywood were jealous of Grant, of his good looks, skill, talent, versatility, and success. So they wouldn't give him awards.

The film is perfectly cast, written, directed -- even photographed. The opening scenes of the exotic port dazzle in a rich B&W chiaroscuro worthy of Von Sternberg. Above all, this film -- if you open yourself to it -- delivers a hell of an emotional punch. The flying scenes are as exciting as the personal scenes are sensitive and affecting. The nail-biting drama and suspense are leavened with just the right amount of comedy.

Here you see Rita Hayworth's star quality emerging for the first time, while D.W. Griffith's early-silent film leading man Richard Barthelmess underacts brilliantly as a man haunted by a guilty secret.

The first time I saw OAHW, I remember thinking the scene with the condor was far-fetched, but after the bird-caused plane crash in the Hudson River recently, I realize I was just ignorant about aviation. Hawks, a pilot and friend of pilots all his life, knew exactly what he was doing.

Movies do not get better, or richer, than ONLY ANGELS HAVE WINGS. It's one of my top-five favorite films of all time. You can see it over and over and get more out of it each time.
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High Flier
writers_reign17 April 2006
Warning: Spoilers
Probably more so than any other director Howard Hawks had a knack of coming in at the tail-end of a genre, reinventing it and more often than not turning in the definitive movie in that genre. He did it with screwball comedy with Bringing Up Baby, with Westerns in successive decades via Red River and Rio Bravo, thrillers with The Big Sleep and here, literally at the tail-end of both a decade (30s) and the genre that helped define the decade he does it with the 'flying' picture. No less than eleven leading players and supporting and/or 'character' actors keep the pot boiling in a multi-faceted storyline that embodies Hawks respect for the 'professional' summed up succinctly in Grant's terse advice to Arthur when she asks/offers to play the piano 'You better be good'. In Hawk's world you're either a pro i.e. good at what you do or you're a waste of space a la Noah Beery Jnr' Joe Souther, who crashes fatally in the first ten minutes because, as Grant says 'he wasn't good enough'. For the record this is one - if not THE - movie where Grant says 'Judy' several times throughout but never more than once on each occasion when he addresses the gal who done him wrong Judy McPherson (Rita Hayworth) now married to another flier, Bat Kilgallan (McPherson), Richard Barthelmess, who changed his name in an attempt to avoid the stigma of baling out of a plane and leaving his navigator to die in it. For trivia buffs it's possible to see a connection between the short sequence where Barthelmess - who gets all the lousy jobs because of his reputation - flies a cargo of nitro glycerin through a pass in rough weather as the genesis for George H Clouzot's The Wages Of Fear in which four men drive a similar cargo in two trucks over bumpy terrain in the same part of the world, South America, but for everyone it's first rate entertainment from a vintage era and if I mention ALL the players by name - Allyn Joslyn, Victor Kilian, Sig Ruman, John Carroll, Thomas Mitchell, Don 'Red' Barry, Noah Beery Jnr - and throw in the leads - Cary Grant, Jean Arthur, Rita Hayworth, Richard Barthelmess - it's because they ARE that good, pros to a man. See, Enjoy.
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My brief review of the film
sol-13 February 2006
By the end of his career, Gary Grant was well known as an actor who did comedies and lighthearted dramas, where he played characters that were very different to his tough guy pilot in this film. Some viewers may have trouble accepting his acting in this film for that reason, but Grant does a superb job, bringing out both the toughness and underneath charm of his character. Jean Arthur also does quite a good job, and the film has a lot of intense solid drama in it too, despite some points in which the story lags. The characters may be a bit too prototyped for their only good, and the story may be on the predictable side, but it works quite well overall. The in the sky aviation special effects are very good for the time, and so are the accompanying sound effects. There may be a few aspects that could be considered weak here, but ultimately the film does the job proving a couple of hours of solid entertainment.
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a tough, masculine, and at times romantic picture from Hawks and company
MisterWhiplash4 August 2008
If it could be said what a Howard Hawks film is about, it wouldn't be easy to pinpoint because, frankly, there's so many examples. He put his outlook into so many of his films that otherwise would've, or could've, been standard dramas or comedies or westerns. But if one had to make an educated guess, Rio Bravo and Only Angels Have Wings would be good contenders as the quintessential Hawks films that are *not* flat-out comedies (even as one can see amusing elements throughout). In the case of this film, Hawks crafted an entertaining aviation picture that actually spoke loud and clear to the stubbornness and courage- sometimes both at the same time- in men in peril. It features a top-shelf cast of stars and character actors, has some surprisingly well constructed special effects and flying sequences, and the action and drama and romance fit altogether with barely a hitch.

If there's maybe one minor criticism, and it's so minor I feel nitpicky mentioning it, the real 'adventure' plot is a little more engrossing than the romance, with Cary Grant's chief flier Carter leading the missions for this group of pilots on missions delivering mail through dangerous terrain, and having to deal with a bitterness at hand with the pilots as an old wound is opened with the re-emergence of Killian aka Mac Pherson (well cast in underplayed Richard Barthelmess performance) and his new wife played by Rita Hayworth. This goes without saying I don't see why Hawks and Arthur had a problem working together, as she seemed to be cast spot-on as a strong-but-tender female presence in the midst of all these men (and, you know, Rita Hayworth who needs no explanation), who is the only one aside from Kid to get emotionally close to Carter. While Grant and Arthur's scenes are good, even very good at their best (loved the transition from tenseness with the coffee and then to the admission of love), they're nearly overshadowed by the power and effectiveness of those surrounding the missions and the pilots.

And those scenes involve the kind of male camaraderie that Hawks is known and admired and even loved for, in expressing the story so well that these characters and personalities come through clean and clear. We've got Kid, played by Thomas Mitchell, who's a wonderful old lug who can't give in about losing his sight as a pilot; we've got Kilgallen as the conflicted but dedicated pilot, who did something terrible once and is seen with a scornful eye by all except, oddly enough, for Carter who sees him for what he can provide for the job. And then all the other minor pilot characters, even those who don't stay on screen too long (one of which, sadly, dies in the first fifteen minutes), who all make up this tense but tight-knit group. And somehow it all works on film; if it were real life, I could see some things being stretched for credulity. But with Cary Grant, Jean Arthur, Rita Hayworth, and this cast and rousing story, it's believable and excellent work. If only for the ending, where one sees moments that are so true to the characters, and how the actors play them in the situation, that it's just about a perfect classic Hollywood moment.
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