Only Angels Have Wings is a Howard Hawks directed picture from Hollywood’s Golden Year of 1939, starring Cary Grant and Jean Arthur. Grant stars as the grizzled veteran pilot and manager of a postal airway carrying mail to and from a South American port town, while Arthur arrives on the scene as the ingenue tourist dame who ends up falling for Grant’s character type. The film contains some truly spectacular aerial footage of the planes, not from a Wings or Hell’s Angels standpoint, but it fits in extraordinarily well with the setting and the mood of the film.
The film comes with a great atmosphere; the town of Barranca really feels like a real place, at least from a fictionalized standpoint, and the film does an excellent job carrying its principal storyline through the running time. Cary Grant gives one of his best performances, very direct and very mellow, as his character should be given the circumstances. Jean Arthur matches him in feisty fun and caring, which seems a bit atypical of women characters of the era, but if it works don’t break it, right? The cinematography is very moody and dark, almost as if the town is in a perpetual state of nighttime, which only enhances the seriousness of the story when it does get serious.
While this wasn’t one of the Best Picture nominees of that year, it is widely regarded as one of Howard Hawks’ best works, and it is indeed a fine film with a fine atmosphere not seen often in films of the era. I don’t know if I’d call it a must see, but it certainly won’t disappoint a good viewing. If you have the chance to catch this one, I’d give it a sporting chance.
Arbitrary Rating: 8/10