- by Zoë
Jeff owns an airplane
company, and drives his pilots to make near suicidal trips in decaying
planes. Bonnie falls in love with him, but Jeff is devoted to his work, and
mostly ignores her. Then Judy, his ex-wife, turns up with her new hubby,
MacPherson, who is an ace flier.
- by Eric
Jeff Carter is a "man's man", strong, handsome,
and supremely confident; he is a dream for women and a curse for men. As the boss of a
South American air-mail carrier Jeff is hard on his men and harder on himself, doing those
jobs that no one else will dare. When showgirl Bonnie Lee shows up on a cruise ship
stop-over, the boys vie for her attention. So much so, that her "dinner-date for
steak" gambles recklessly on a landing and comes up short; paying with his life. This
is how Bonnie learns that there is no room for sentiment in this line of work, and, where
she begins to love/hate Jeff. Burned by an ex-wife who couldn't handle his lifestyle and
ran-out on him, Jeff "wouldn't ask any woman" to do anything for him. This is
too bad for Bonnie who finds she is hopelessly in love with Jeff and can't seem to leave
him even when he tells her to. Crashing into all this is Bat MacPherson and his wife,
Judy, who just happens to be Jeff's ex. Bat comes with a lot of baggage and immediately stirs
things up when Jeff's best friend, Kid Dabb, recognizes him as the coward who ditched
Kid's brother in a fiery plane crash. So, Kid wants to kill Bat, Bonnie wonders about Judy
and Jeff, and Jeff is desperately trying not to care about anything. How this tense
situation is resolved will have you alternating between tears of laughter and dread.
IMHO, this is the toughest character that CG plays. Like
the stoic hero from a Hemingway novel, Jeff Carter lives on his own terms. I found this
character to be powerfully electric, even inspiring. This man GETS THINGS DONE! It is
small wonder that Bonnie instantly falls for this man, and in the initial meeting you can
feel the immense attraction that Bonnie feels for Jeff even though she is being actively
pursued by the boys. CG looks handsome (as always) and almost dangerous; like a glorious,
sun-drenched diamond that you know is too hot, but you can't help wanting to grab. Jeff is
played to perfection with just enough charisma tempered with a detached coolness. Jean
Arthur portrays Bonnie wonderfully, instilling a sense of worldly showbiz experience and,
at the same time, showing her indecision about Jeff. In the dialogue, CG and Arthur work
well off each other, and the scene at the piano with CG singing "PEANUTS!!"
while Arthur is playing is a classic. Flying in with additional good performances are, Sig
Rumen, the kind-hearted proprietor, Thomas Mitchell who steals many a scene as Kid Dabb,
and, in her big-screen debut, Rita Hayworth as Judy MacPherson, Jeff's ex. It is CG's
rapid-fire speech to Judy that is thought to be the origins of his trademark,
"Jud-ay, Jud-ay, Jud-ay". Personally, I like to watch this movie as a contrast
to CG's lighter comedies. Enjoy!
VARIETY Film Review - May 17, 1939
- by "Abel"
- submitted by Barry Martin
Columbia has a winner in 'Only Angels Have Wings.' With
a good name cast, including Cary Grant, Jean Arthur, Thomas
Mitchell, Rita Hayworth and Richard Barthelmess, it's certain for
big returns. Story has substance, movement, romance and a
somewhat different aviation background.
Not that flying the South American
Andes hasn't been done on the screen before. In fact, a 1937
RKO release, 'Flight from Glory,' even incorporated the situation
of scapegrace aviators who turn up in the South American tropics
due to some breach of proper flying decorum in their native
U.S. But the similarity ends there.
Here Cary Grant is boss of the
kindly Dutchman's decrepit airline. The crates are almost
suicidal and Grant is No. 1 guy with the other tough boys because
he'll take up the planes only when it's too hazardous for the
others. If the Dutchman can fly the mails regularly he's set
for a juicy contract.
Jean Arthur is introduced as an
American showgirl en route to a Panama nitery engagement.
She's excellent for the assignment and segues into the hot-piano
stuff plausibly when she is pleased to learn that the on-the-make
boys, Joslyn and Beery, Jr., are Americans and not nondescript
natives as they appear to be.
Romance basis between Grant and
Miss Arthur is predicated on an unyielding independence that he
will never ask anybody or any girl to do anything for him.
Frankly telegraphing her romantic acquiescence if he'd relax a
bit, Grant is adamant. His ultimate capitulation is deftly
Sub-plot has Barthelmess coming on
the scene with Rita Hayworth (one of the dancing Casinos family)
as his wife. Latter is the girl who made Grant dour.
Barthelmess is another disgraced aviator, but he more than
vindicates himself with some very dangerous flying to a rescue
job, and in another sequence when he's transporting
Baranca, the locale, is presumably
in Ecuador. This is the basic setting of this sub-tropical
aviation romance where treacherous mountain crags, capricious
rainstorms and the like do their utmost to worst the mail plane
service. The contrast of aeronautical speed against the
sleep background has been effectively captured by
director-author-producer Howard Hawks for fullest values.
His original story has been crisply
screenplayed by Jules Furthman, whose terse, staccato dialog is a
major feature of the behind-the-lens artistry. Hawks had a
story to tell, and he has done it inspiringly well.
Every facet of 'Only Angels Have
Wings' is big league. The Grant-Arthur cynicism and
unyielding romantics are kept at a high standard. Thomas
Mitchell's devoted aide is never permitted to become banal, and
there are opportunities in plenty where it might so have
been. Rita Hayworth as Barthelmess' wife is likewise
impressive. She's a good-looking gal with an ah-voom
chassis. Barthelmess is perhaps a bit too deadpan in his
performance, but the bitterness is made plausible by his past, due
to an unheroic episode when he baled out of a crashing plane and
permitted his pilot to crack up. Barthelmess' new mechanic
physiognomy fits the plot situation well. Incidentally, here
at the Music Hall, he was greeted with an individual salvo of
All the performances are fine right
down the line. Melissa Sierra as Lily, the native girl stuck
on Noah Beery, Jr., is vivid, as is Manuel Maciste, Mexican
exponent of native music, who arranged some of the special Latin
background music and who is an interesting screen face. He's
shown doing his guitar specialty in the bistro scenes. Sig
Rumann as the Dutchman, Victor Kilian, Allyn Joslyn, Lucio
Villegas and Donald Barry are other histrionic standouts.
NEW YORK TIMES
Film Review - May 12, 1939
- by Frank
- submitted by Barry Martin
Howard Hawks, whose
aviation melodramas must, we suspect, drive airline stock down
from two to three points per showing, has produced another
fatality littered thriller in "Only Angels Have Wings"
(even the title is ominous) which opened yesterday at the Music
Hall. This once, however, Mr. Hawks has charitably transferred
his operations base to Ecuador, presumably having exhausted his
local sources, not to mention the patience of the commercial
In Ecuador, in the banana port of
Barranca, he has indulged himself and the vicarious adventures
in the audience in a delightful series of crack-ups,
close-shaves and studiously dramatic speeches. It is all very
exciting and juvenile.
Barranca, says Mr. Hawks, is a
sultry little spot boasting a general store and bar, a swampy
landing field and Cary Grant as operations manager for a junky
air line which must maintain a regular schedule for six months
to obtain the mail subsidy. Flying conditions are rarely better
than impossible. There are the Andes, there is a narrow pass
with clawing crags and a group of pilots who seem to be proud
targets for all the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune,
chiefly of feminine origin.
We particularly marveled at one
sequence in which a flyer, grounded by failing eyesight, breaks
another's arm in a fight and soon is helping probe a bullet from
the commander's shoulder. That is known as piling it on.
Not content with this fell
set-up, Mr. Hawks, as author, has chosen to add a few dramatic
and romantic complications. Miss Arthur enters the scene as a
stranded showgirl, and a less convincing showgirl than Miss
Arthur would be hard to find. Enter, too, Richard Barthelmess as
a pilot with a black blot on his record and a wife, who, by some
strange coincidence, used to be Mr. Grant's fiancée.
The brew stirs slowly, as is the
way with two-hour shows, tending toward silly romanticism in its
dialogue, but moving splendidly whenever the plot's wheels leave
the ground and take off over the Andes.
Few things, after all, are as
exciting as a plane in flames, or the metallic voices of a pilot
in a fog-shrouded plane and the chap in the radio room, or a
screaming power dive, or the wild downward swoop of a plane
taking off from a canyon's rim.
Mr. Hawks has staged his flying
sequences brilliantly. He has caught the drama in the meeting of
a flier and the brother of the man he killed. He has made proper
use of the amiable performing talents of Mr. Grant, Miss Arthur,
Thomas Mitchell, Mr. Barthelmess, Sig Rugmann and the rest. But
when you add it all up, "Only Angels Have Wings" comes
to an overly familiar total. It's a fairly good melodrama,
DAILY TRIBUNE Film Review - June 11, 1939
- by Mae Tinée
- submitted by Renee Klish
Brings Praise from Critic
Columbia should be mighty proud of
"Only Angels Have Wings"!
It's an impressive piece of
craftsmanship, chock full of all that makes for popular appeal and
withal honest and informative. Its warmly human side is
given edge by the thrilling spectacle of dangers encountered while
flying "crates" over the Andes mountains, through storm
and stress of varied sorts . . . For the movie is, primarily an
aviation film, back-grounded by a little banana port in South
America, which serves as a base for a projected mail transport
Here you meet Geoff Carter, boss of
the flyers. A hard, just man, fondly called "Papa"
by his pilots . . . Then arrives Bonnie Lee, a chorine, who, on a
stopover in Barranca en route to Panama where she homes to find a
job, meets and loses her heart to Geoff . . . The stopover becomes
permanent . . .
"Kid" Dabb, Carter's
right hand man, figures largely in the action, as does Richard
Barthelmess. The latter, returning to the screen after a
long, long absence, contributes a moving bit of work as Bat
McPherson - a fine pilot trying to make a comeback. One
cowardly act has caused him to be blacklisted by his fellows . . .
With Bat is his young wife - who turns out to be the girl who had
made a woman hater out of Carter.
proprietor of hotel, bar, and general store, is Carter's partner
and the two are endeavoring to establish a mail route inland over
the Andes . . .
Pretty good set up for drama, what?
I never knew Cary Grant had it in
him! His Carter is one of the most intelligent
characterizations I have ever seen.
Thomas Mitchell rings the bell as
the Kid. Strange role for them to hand him, but he knew what
to do with it. Mr. Mitchell is usually one of those dynamic
district attorneys or something of the sort . . .
Jean Arthur plays Bonnie with her
customary charm and pep. A trifle too much repetition and
sameness to her scenes with Geoff seemed to me the picture's only
Howard Hawks' direction of his own
story was masterly. Dialog and photography are aces.
"Only Angels Have Wings"
is one of those long photoplays that you wouldn't mind having a
little longer. [They're rare.]
Film Review - June 3, 1939
- by Nelson B Bell
- submitted by Renee Klish
There are so many elements of
appeal in "Only Angels Have Wings" that it should engage
the interest of every type of theatergoer. There are
adventure, comedy, romance, thrills and tragedy woven into the
unique design of the story which Howard Hawks wrote, produced and
directed for Columbia Pictures.
The scene of the play is the small
tropical banana port of Barranca, in South America where "Dutchy"
is postmaster, hotel-keeper, restaurateur, bar man and proprietor
of a flying field adjacent to his hostelry. All manner of
rickety crates take off and come down at this antiquated and
ill-equipped contribution to the art of aviation. The boss
man of the field is a hard-boiled woman-hater, embittered by an
earlier experience with a girl who found it impossible to adjust
her personal selfishness to the life of an aviator.
Wide Range of Characters
So there comes to Barranca one
foggy night a show girl, bound north from Valparaiso, for
"shore leave" of only a few hours before her boat sails
again. This Bonnie Lee develops an infinite capacity for
getting in everybody's hair, but proves, finally, to be the
pivotal character around which an engrossing plot revolves.
There is double love interest in the story of "Only Angels
Have Wings" - Geoff Carter, airport manager, and Bonnie fight
their way to a peculiar sort of belligerent love and when Bat
MacPherson, a renegade flier, comes to the field as a supply man,
his wife proves to have been the girl with whom Carter originally
was in love. Further complications are projected by the fact
that Kid Dabb, Carter's right-hand man, is the brother of the lad
MacPherson abandoned to crash alone. A fine clash of
characters and personalities might be expected from all
this. That expectation is completely fulfilled.
Chief interest to many, however,
will lie in the flying sequences and the grim business of keeping
that little flying field in operation in the face of heavy
weather, violent storms and depleted manpower. This portion
of the film has been handled with such skill as Howard Hawks alone
seems to possess in the screen visualization of action that goes
into the air. There is never a moment during the long length
of the picture - it consumes a full two hours - when interest of
the tensest sort is permitted to subside. There are causalities,
catastrophes and tragic death scattered through the progress of
events, but the film is in no sense depressing. Excitement
is its keynote.
Is Superlatively Acted
"Only Angels Have Wings"
is acted with consummate skill. Cary Grant and the
husky-voiced Jean Arthur, in the costellar roles, are perfect
foils each for the other in asperity, crisp speech and, at times,
tumultuous action. Thomas Mitchell, in the role of Kid Dabb,
the grounded flier, who finally comes to disaster in an emergency
flight in a blinding storm and wants to be alone when he dies,
proves again that he is one of the most reliable character actors
on the screen.
Richard Barthelmess, as the
renegade, makes a splendid "comeback" and enacts a
difficult role without flaw. Rita Hayworth, as his wife, is
almost equally effective. Sig Rumann, in the role of
"Dutch," Allyn Josly, Noah Beery, Jr, and Victor Kilian
are among others who do much for the picture's success.
Film Review - June 17, 1939
- by Mary Harrisl
- submitted by Renee Klish
Thrilling Film of
the Air is Back at Met
Grant and Arthur Star in Romantic Adventure Story
Though "Only Angels Have
Wings," many of the players in this high-flying cinema show
the pin-feathers of stars. They're no cherubs nor
seraphs. They're the gallant generation of flying humans,
inexorably devoted to the "bright face of danger,"
loving peril as a mistress, meeting gaily the Last Big Guess in
sunshine or moonshine (latter preferred).
This latest contribution to the
hard-boiled gaiety of aviating is definitely descriptive of
reality. The fliers are not decked out in fancy raiment, nor
is the airport a place of futuristic luxury as envisioned by a
Our heroes (many) and our heroines
(two) are placed in the murky atmosphere of a South American
banana port (and, often, there are no bananas), with the
overhanging dangers of sudden death and too-long hangovers
figuring as exemplary antidotes.
Stars Really Shine
Jean Arthur shines with table-cut
brilliance in this one. The little Arthur is a bit on the
mental side, naturally, but she is mighty human and sweet as the
little roving vaudevillian who suddenly goes nuts about Cary Grant
and "can't do anything about it."
There's something almost
Hemingwayish about the plot development of "Only Angels Have
Wings." Something honest and cold and warm-hearted, at
the same time; something modern and primeval, giving the blush to
Victorianism and Coolidgeism.
Return of the fabulous Dick
Barthelmess to the screen is the big news of "Only Angels
Have Wings." Not that stars Cary Grant and Jean Arthur
don't do a swell job. They are splendid all the way.
But Barthelmess brings in the quality of imagination in his role
of the flier who has been a rotter and then goes over the deep end
to redeem himself. His portrayal is infinitely
touching. He is like a dead man who strives to come to life
in his pathetic endeavor to appear like a man, in the face of
Mitchell Scores Again
But to Thomas Mitchell go other
great laurels in addition to those he has already garnered this
year. Ol' Tom, as in "Stagecoach," gives you a
characterization that will twist your heartstrings into sailors'
knots. He rates the biggest "Oscar" of Hollywood's
year, and one studded with star sapphires.
Film Review - May 11, 1939
- by Edwin Schallert
- submitted by Renee Klish
Most fascinating and engrossing of
air pictures since "Test Pilot" is brought to the screen
in "Only Angels Have Wings," story of aviation
pioneering in South America. Howard Hawks production for
Columbia, it rates top tributes and superlatives. It carries
interest every foot of the way, is human in its drama and romance,
and nicely touched up with comedy. Unusual besides in
atmosphere and setting, which is nothing lightly to be passed
Cast headed by Cary Grant and Jean
Arthur, who are starred, plus Richard Barthelmess, perform
excellently, and in the case of Grant and Barthelmess differently
from heretofore. Miss Arthur's role is a type she has made
familiar, and rings manifestly true from that standpoint. It
is good casting.
One can pick out various other
players of interest, notably Thomas Mitchell as the friend of
Geoff Carter (Grant), SIg Rumann, John Carroll, Noah Beery Jr. and
Allyn Joslyn, while Rita Hayworth adds a glamour note besides a
very good portrayal.
Grim menace of fog, bad weather and
dangerous passages through the mountains pervade the story from
the early scenes which witness the death of an aviator who
attempts to land through the mists against orders.
Miss Arthur as the heroine, an
entertainer, who more or less happens on the scene, stays on
fascinated by the life, and by the cynical Grant.
Attitude of the men over the death
of one of their group, their effort to forget the whole terrible
business are vividly brought out in episodes well marked in their
Barthelmess enters the picture,
only to be made an outcast because of an act of cowardice while
flying. He is given the most dangerous flights.
WELL CHOSEN ELEMENTS
Ingredients are well put together and the picture has quality due
to personnel and production values.
The catastrophe ensuing when an
attempt is made to go through the pass in the mountains in bad
weather is a spectacular technical achievement, and the death of
Mitchell following is moving. Even the musical
embellishments are well chosen.
In fact, "Only Angels Have
Wings" comes pretty near to being a perfect film of the type,
rich in romance, realism and thrills, all very convincingly dealt
Click here to read
Susanna's review of "Only
Angels Have Wings"
Click here to read Jenny's Crackpot
Reviews at the Cary Grant Shrine
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