Howard Hawks made a lot of action adventure movies but one of his best is 1939’s Only Angels Have Wings which Criterion will be releasing on Blu-ray on Tuesday April 12.
Only Angels Have Wings stars Cary Grant as pilot named Geoff. Geoff is also the manager of a flying mail service in the fictional South American port town of Barranca. The mail service is owned by “Dutchy” (Sig Ruman) and employs several pilots. The route through the mountain pass is extremely dangerous but if Geoff and Dutchy can make a trial period of several consecutive deliveries without fail, they will be awarded a lucrative government contract.
Enter Bonnie Lee (Jean Arthur) a singer who starts a relationship with Geoff. Geoff has a set of rules including that he would never ask a woman for anything. A new pilot shows up named MacPherson (Richard Barthelmess) who turns out to be a notorious pilot who bailed out of a plane leaving his co-pilot to die. The co-pilot happened to be the brother of Geoff’s best friend Kid (Thomas Mitchell). But Kid has been grounded because of failing eyesight and the company loses another pilot to a crash so Geoff makes deal with MacPherson, they’ll hire him but he gets all the dangerous missions. Nobody is going to care if he crashes except MacPherson’s lovely wife Judy (Rita Hayworth) who happens to be an ex-girlfriend of Geoff’s.
There is only one last day left for Geoff and company to complete the trial delivery period but bad weather has closed the mountain pass. Geoff plans to fly a new plane that is supposed to be able to fly above the mountains but that’s when trouble strikes.
Howard Hawks directed a lot of great movies and he was never confined to just one genre. He made the excellent 1932 gangster film Scarface, the year before this movie he made the brilliant screwball comedy Bringing Up Baby. No matter what he tackled he made damn sure it was his best effort. I love Only Angels Have Wings. It’s intense, suspenseful, funny and extremely entertaining. The first copy of the movie I ever saw was a scratchy fuzzy looking print. My DVD from a few years ago was a significant improvement but now it’s been restored for Blu-ray and it looks magnificent. An excellent two-fisted adventure film.