Thursday, October 11, 2012

"Only Angels Have Wings" with Cary Grant, Thomas Mitchell and Jean Arthur (1939)

“Only Angels have Wings” is almost a blueprint for Howard Hawks’ later classic adaptation of Ernest Hemingway’s “To Have, and to Have Not”. Even some of the most noteworthy lines are almost identical. The real difference in the two films is not so much the location of the story; a mountain pass in South America versus an island in the Caribbean; but the actors themselves.

In this film, Cary Grant plays cynical Geoff Carter, the leader of a group of cargo planes located in the jungles of South America, where they fly mail, as well as any cargo, anywhere, at any time.
Brooklyn born Bonnie Lee, played by Jean Arthur, puts in by boat to a small airstrip somewhere in South America. To fly out, the pilots must risk great danger as they go through the mountain passage, which is always clouded by fog, and even; at that altitude; sometimes snow.

It is in this environment that Bonnie meets, and falls for Geoff, who is distant and cold towards her. He has seen too much of life to get attached to anyone, or anything; yet there is something between the two that threatens to grow into more. This only makes her more hopeful, even as it repels him further away.

When another pilot, Bat Mac Pherson, played by Richard Barthelmess, shows up with his wife Judy, played by sultry Rita Hayworth, things get complicated. It seems that, at some point in the past, Bat bailed out of a plane ahead of his crew, which included the brother of Geoff’s right hand man, fellow pilot Kid Dabb, played by Thomas Mitchell, causing his death. Bad blood is boiling, and it seems as if only bad can come of it.
Written by Paul Donahue, and directed by the incomparable Howard Hawks, this film sizzles as events unfold and lives are altered. Sig Ruman plays the Dutchman, which is to say that he basically plays himself. You get the same feeling as you watch Noah Beery Jr. play pilot Joe Souther. Though the story takes place in the fictional port of Barranca, I can tell you from experience, that as late as the 1980’s, ports like these still existed. And, films like this one put me on the path to finding them.

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