“Every character was taken from life. The bird coming through the windshield was a fact, and the place was real - a little Grace Line port in South America." - Howard Hawks on Only Angels Have Wings
Only Angels Have Wings (1939) Movie Trailer
Only Angels Have Wings - 1939 (Original Poster)
From 1938 to 1940, Howard Hawks and Cary Grant joined forces to create three films that have become classics. Two of them, “Bringing Up Baby” and “His Girl Friday” were comedies.
In between the two manic comedies, they shot the air adventure “Only Angels Have Wings.” This would be the only time Howard Hawks would direct Cary Grant in a dramatic role. It was a very successful collaboration.
Many film historians rate Grant’s portrayal of hard-nosed team leader Geoff Carter as one of the best performances of his distinguished career.
“Only Angels Have Wings” brings together many of the elements that define the work of Howard Hawks.
Released: May 15, 1939 Running time 121 minutes
His appreciation of the bond formed by men who risk their lives flying through fog shrouded mountain passes echoes the close knit male groups seen in many of his films. The concepts of honor, dedication, and doing your job right under strenuous circumstances are themes that Hawks would return to time and time again. By bringing an independent, strong-willed woman into this small community, the master story teller stirs the broth and brings it to a boil.
While many of his films are centered on a group of men battling against incredible odds or use the often strained relationship between men and women their focus, “Only Angels Have Wings” effectively explores both of these subjects. Brilliant pacing, intense cinematography and a finely tuned script help keep the movie from sagging under the added weight.
What truly raises this film a notch or two above similar aviation adventures that were released in the same decade is the collection of actors Howard Hawks assembled in his mythical village of Barranca. The cantankerous Kid Dabb is played by Thomas Mitchell who had a grand slam year in 1939, appearing in “Gone With the Wind,” “Stagecoach,” “The Hunchback of Notre Dame,” and “Mr. Smith Goes to Washington,” in addition to his brilliant work in this Hawks classic.
Featuring Rita Hayworth’s first significant film role, “Only Angels Have Wings” also contains solid performances from Jean Arthur as the strong willed performer Bonnie Lee, Sig Rumann as the often addled owner Dutchy, and a short but memorable turn by Noah Berry, Jr. as the ill-fated pilot Joe Souther.
Outside of casting Cary Grant as Geoff Carter, Hawks’s next best personnel decision was choosing the star of his first talking picture, 1930’s “Dawn Patrol,” to play the part of the ostracized and disgraced pilot Kilgallen.
Despite his success in silent movies and in “Dawn Patrol,” the career of Richard Bathelmess had been crumbling during the decade. Much of his original appeal had been based on his boyish good looks. As he approached 40, he no longer looked “boyish.” To make matters worse, a plastic surgery procedure to remove the bags under his eyes had gone horribly wrong when infection set in. This disaster had left him with deep crisscrossed marks on his face which could only be hidden under heavy makeup.
Bathelmess was horrified when the director told him he wanted him to appear in the picture without wearing his protective makeup. As Hawks explained, “those scars tell the story and are important to your character.” This decision helped give Kilgallen the look of a man who has experienced inner torture and perpetual scorn from the fraternity of fliers he had disgraced. This combines with Bathelmess’s skills to make a lasting impression on viewers of this complex and powerful work.A good movie is the result of a great number of good choices. In making “Only Angels Have Wings,” Howard Hawks mastered the art of making the right choices.
Director: Howard Hawks Producer: Howard Hawks
Screenplay: Jules Furthman William Rankin and Eleanore Griffin (contributor to treatment) uncredited Howard Hawks (story "Plane From Barranca") uncredited
By following the life and art of Howard Hawks one can capture the true essence of the Golden Age of Hollywood, as if slipping on special lenses that suddenly pull away the grain and glare to reveal an unforgettable time of Movie Magic.