One of legendary filmmaker Howard Hawks’ earlier classics, and arguably the most impressive of his many air-based features, Only Angels Have Wings – his second of five collaborations with Cary Grant – is a late '30s gem.Featuring some spectacular aerial cinematography, the story – which basically centres on a failing business running airmail across the Andes Mountains – plays out as far more compelling than you’d assume, with Cary Grant’s assured manager, and fearless pilot, struggling to keep the company afloat by any means necessary, including taking treacherous side-jobs running doctors into impossible-to-land locations, and unstable explosives across the mountain pass.
Further confusion is added to the mix by the arrival of Jean Arthur’s forthright barroom pianist/entertainer who gets drawn to Grant’s daredevil but abhors his near-suicidal aerial antics, as well as an old flame played by Rita Hayworth, whose new husband wants to join the flying crew but is universally loathed for having previously bailed out of a plane only to leave his mechanic and co-pilot to crash and burn.
Hawks – who had a significant hand in the final script for this production – weaves a number of different strands and interesting character backstories into the mix here for a surprisingly potent cocktail which transcends the simple ‘postal service’ premise to deliver action, suspense, drama, romance and even some effective comedy.
A strong cast and still-stunning stunts, as well as a surprisingly compelling story leave this another Hawks gem.
A young, pre-Hitchcock Grant still commands the piece with the assuredness that made him a captivating, convincing hero well into his late Fifties, whilst the interplay between both Jean Arthur and the arguably more striking Rita Hayworth (making her film debut) makes for an interestingly inverted romantic triangle. Of course, both the locations used and the real-life, and miniature, aerial effects define the piece, with air racing stunt pilots hired to perform some particularly dangerous manoeuvres; all the more impressive because they would never have been agreed to these days.
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