Only Angels Have Wings (1939) starring Cary Grant, Jean Arthur, Richard Barthelmess, Rita Hayworth, Thomas Mitchell, Allyn Joslyn, Sig Ruman directed by Howard Hawks Movie Review

Only Angels Have Wings (1939)   3/53/53/53/53/5

Rita Hayworth and Cary Grant in Only Angels Have Wings

Hayworth and Arthur's Cary On

While waiting for her boat to head out of the port of Baranca, ex show girl Bonnie Lee (Jean Arthur - Mr. Deeds Goes to Town) decides to take in a few local sights where she meets the daredevil pilots who fly the mail out of the port lead by Geoff Carter (Cary Grant - Holiday). Taken with the handsome Carter but equally put off by his blasé and emotionless attitude Lee finds herself staying in Baranca in the hope that she will discover Carter's softer side. But things hot up when a notorious pilot shows up to work for Carter, causing unrest amongst his work force including his best friend Kid Dabb (Thomas Mitchell - Destry) who has reason not to like the new pilot.

The storyline to "Only Angels Have Wings" has 3 main elements you have the Dutchman who runs a postal service deep in Baranca where he is struggling for money and so requires Geoff Carter to run the air mail service which risks the life of the pilots through the mountains and treacherous weather. Which leads to the next element which is the stoicism of the pilots who risk their lives on the daily flights and don't shed much emotion when someone dies. And all this is wrapped up in a romantic blanket about Bonnie an ex showgirl who rolls up in Baranca and falls for Geoff Carter which is sort of complicated when his ex turns up as well.

Cary Grant and Jean Arthur in Only Angels Have Wings

It has to be said the storyline is at times rather weak; the romance floats in every now and then to stop the old fashioned testosterone going over board with all the aeronautic stunts which fill much of the rest of the movie and the bravado of the mail pilots. Plus the addition of a new pilot who the existing pilots don't like adds a further dimension but not much else. But despite this it all works reasonably well, there is some fun, slightly humorous romantic moments, a slightly out of place musical scene and plenty of aerobatic drama which does deliver some gripping moments. It is a movie which seems to take time to get going but delivers a nice bravo ending which makes it all worth while.

What is very clear is that "Only Angels Have Wings" is a movie which revels in special effects which by the standards of the 1930's were impressive. The shots of planes flying, landing and crashing are all wonderfully done and although understandably look weak by today's high end CGI standards still pack a surprising impact especially when the planes fly straight towards the camera.

At the centre of "Only Angels Have Wings" is Cary Grant who whilst still has that slightly charmer aspect to his performance it is by no means the suave, debonair Cary Grant that most would be use to. His character Geoff Carter is raw, almost emotionless making it quite tough to relate to at the start but you still manage to warm to him despite his blasé attitude to the risks that he and his pilots take. Alongside Grant is a wonderful Jean Arthur who plays the strong yet seriously likeable Bonnie Lee, the ex show girl on her way to Panama who falls head over heals for Carter. Plus Rita Hayworth shows up in a smaller role but oozes sex appeal in every second of her sultry performance.

But for me all these big name stars are outshone by Thomas Mitchell as Kid Dabb, Carter's right hand man and in effect best friend. Mitchell is one of those actors who are so good in supporting roles, creating interesting characters that he wins you over with his humour and charm, which he does so well as Kid. Even when the storyline leads for Mitchell to show a sort of darker side you still like him. Plus he manages to make even the corniest of lines, such as the too and forth between Kid and Geoff about the bananas on the boat which culminates with "yes, they have no bananas", sound good.

What this all boils down to is that there is much to "Only Angels Have Wings" which is stereotypical of 1930's movies but yet it still has something genuinely good about it which still makes it entertaining today. The performances are for most solid, if a little over dramatic, but with Cary Grant, Jean Arthur, Rita Hayworth and Thomas Mitchell all working well together they are most definitely watch able. But it is the flying stunts and special effects which really stand out and still achieve the desired effect of having you gripped to the edge of your seat as to whether a plane will crash or not.