By Alexandra Wells
ArtsPost Staff Writer
Monday, March 1, 2010
“Only Angels Have Wings”, directed in 1939 by Howard Hawks, is a romantic drama that was nominated for two Academy Awards. The film was released during a landmark year, as “Gone with the Wind”, “The Wizard of Oz” and “Mr. Smith Goes to Washington”, also date to 1939, creating an astonishing number of classic films that audiences still watch today.
“Only Angels Have Wings” begins when Bonnie Lee (played by Jean Arthur) waits for her boat to set sail again from a port in South America. While she peruses the fictional port of Barranca, she attracts the attention of two American pilots and the trio head to a bar together.
At the bar, Lee soon becomes enamored of their boss, Geoff Carter, (played by Cary Grant). He is the lead pilot of a small airline company that delivers mail over a foggy mountain pass. When a new pilot arrives, he and his wife, Judy MacPherson, (played by Rita Hayworth), affects Geoff and the other pilots in a surprising way. Two key attributes distinguish this major motion picture from the others of its day. First, the superb cinematography includes aerial and action scenes in the fog above the unpredictable Andes Mountains. Secondly, director Hawks recruits a first-rate cast featuring Cary Grant, Jean Arthur, Rita Hayworth and others.
Although the basic story is one that will resonate in people’s hearts for generations to come, to a viewer watching this movie in the 21st century, much of it feels out-dated. Terms like “he’s a queer duck” or exclamations such as “golly gee willikers” are somewhat off-putting to anyone who grew up during the digital age.
Late in the movie, instead of the pilots using oxygen masks when they are at high elevation, they instead bite onto oxygen tubes. Also, cigarette smoking is a constant element throughout the entire movie by everyone in the cast, 1930’s dreamy music plays in the background and women’s role in society is very differently defined than in the present day.
Easily Hawks’ best film, “Only Angels Have Wings”, is a compelling classic that has something for every movie-goer: action, suspense, romance and comedy, all rolled into one black-and-white, two-hour adventure. There are love quarrels, fights, deceit, death, shootings, total humiliation, romance and intrigue. The advertising posters proclaimed the film was: “Thrilling As Love Born Amid A Thousand Fabulous Adventures!” Seventy years after the film was first released in theaters, it still manages to hold the attention of modern audiences.