Sunday, 20 November 2011

For The Boys Blogathon: Only Angels Have Wings (1939)

"Yes that's right he's dead. He's been dead about twenty minutes. And all the weeping and wailing in the world won't make him any deader twenty years from now."
~ Geoff Carter, Only Angels Have Wings

I've chosen the film, Only Angels Have Wings starring Cary Grant and Jean Arthur for my contribution to The Scarlett Olive's "For The Boys" blogathon. I chose it because while I was watching it, it did occur to me that I was watching what is essentially a man's adventure movie. Sure there are some bits of romance in there, but you have to admit it is mainly a film driven by men. I really enjoyed watching this. I'd heard about it before and seen pictures in my awesome Taschen Cary Grant picture book (I have a Kate Hepburn one too, they're awesome). I'd also heard that it was one of Howard Hawks celebrated movies - the Howard Hawks of Bringing Up Baby and His Girl Friday fame - so I decided to get it and see what I thought.

Only Angels Have Wings is a film set in the South American town of Barranca about a mail service flying planes out into the high Andes mountains to deliver mail to remote places. Leader of a group of fearless and dedicated flyers, Geoff Carter (Cary Grant) is a strict and determined man who has been an experienced flyer for years. He's doing perfectly well heading the operation, until gusty blonde showgirl, Bonnie Lee (Jean Arthur) turns up and accidentally turns the place upside-down. She arrives on a boat and only intends to stay for the night until she goes back down to the port to pick up her next boat. Two pilots with Carter's organisation meet her, invite her for dinner to the flying headquarters and fall head-over-heels for her, all in quick succession. However one is called out for duty and is so anxious to go to dinner with her that he crashes into a tree and dies when coming back. Bonnie is shocked by the nonchalant attitude the flyers take to this man's death.

But Bonnie starts to fall for Geoff and she decides to stay, even though Geoff has told her about his non-committed attitude to relationships. Her presence throws everyone and everything out of whack, but they are all very endeared to her and she grows many a happy relationship with the workers at headquarters. But then everything is tilted on it's axis yet again when the new flyer, Bat MacPhereson (Richard Barthelmess) comes to replace the one who has just been killed. Said flyer had been in a crash with the brother of the favourite member of the team, Kid (Thomas Mitchell), but jumped from the plane and left him to die. No-one in the flying team will talk to him, and his wife, Judy (Rita Hayworth) - an old flame of Geoff's - wants to know more...

As you can probably see by the cast, this film couldn't have been that bad. That being said, I've seen plenty of films that have had amazing casts and directors but have still flopped (maybe not at box-office, but in my head). You need that extra bit of magic to pull the movie through. There has to be some sort of spark, atmosphere or cleverness of the cast or crew. Despite it's model airplane special effects and minimal sets, Only Angels Have Wings has that special "thing". From the moment you start watching you know you're in for a really good film.

The performances from both of the leads are great. Cary Grant is fantastic as the tough, manly Geoff Carter  (but then again, have I ever disliked Cary Grant in anything? NO!), and Jean Arthur is great as Bonnie. Both possess the perfect skills and talents to play these pretty hard roles.

Though you may see them as playing against-type (well, Cary Grant this early in his career anyhow), that's often what makes a performance so wonderful. There have been many fantastic performances from people playing totally against-type. I think that this can be what brings out the totally unexpected in an actor. Plus, the chemistry between the two of them is electric.

Now - why did I chose this as a "Boy's Movie" and what's so cool about that? Well, for a while I was thinking of doing something like Cool Hand Luke (1967) or The Great Escape (1963) which are completely undoubtedly boys movies, but I started thinking about how similar they are and that they come from the same era, and how they were probably two of the more obvious choices. I didn't want to do the same as anyone else. So with that in mind, I went about looking for a different movie and my Mum suggested Only Angels Have Wings. Great!

Only Angels Have Wings is fueled by the power of the male actor's prowess. Since there are only two real female parts (those went to Jean Arthur and Rita Hayworth) weight of the responsibility naturally rested on the men's shoulders. The entire supporting cast is male. And the two supporting actors are amazing in my opinion: Thomas Mitchell

 and Richard Barthelmess.

The scene that they do in the airplane was very moving (despite the fact that I found it a little comical for them to be fatally injured by a few stubborn geese who couldn't be bothered enough to see a plane coming towards them).

I would probably say that this is the template upon which many great adventure films were made. I actually haven't seen that many adventure movies (my favourites are The Great Escape, classic war movies and The African Queen - my very favouritest :-D), as actresses in them are often there only for decoration or so the lead actor can have some romantic conquest by the end of the film. That really isn't what I usually like about classic film. One of the many reasons I adore classic film so is because there are so many wonderful films where women actually take the lead and (excuse my hipster slang, innit bruv!) "own" the picture. This is practically unheard of now, and I should know. I've played boys in productions quite a few times for want of a less wimpy part. Where have all the good girls parts gone? *Weeps to self*

But obviously there are some exceptions, and I'd certainly class this as one. Part of the reason I love this film is that the female lead, Bonnie (Jean Arthur) is a strong person. She isn't afraid to speak her mind or do what she thinks is best. Plus I just love this scene where she totally pushes Cary Grant off the piano and shows him how to really play!

Plus, Howard Hawks is a really talented director. He was famed for his screwball comedies but I think that this one was just as good a movie as any of those.

So that's why I love this "Boy's Movie" probably just about as much as some "Woman's Pictures" that I would have usually picked over an adventure movie any day. If you haven't taken a look at this great flick already, then do! It's on YouTube right now but you better watch quick, as you probably know, they often take down movies!



classyfilmlover said...

I'm glad you chose to blog on this film instead of the others you considered, because I've never seen "Only Angels Have Wings." I have heard of it before though. And it sounds like a really great film from what you write! I especially enjoyed the clip you put up of Jean Arthur taking charge of the piano. Haha. I'm looking forward to checking this film out. Thanks for the heads up on how good it is.

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