An amazing adventure film in which the adventure is primarily confined to a shabby saloon, this Grant-Arthur vehicle clearly bears the mark of director Howard Hawks. Grant, the head of a broken-down air freight company, sends courageous pilots over the treacherous Andes Mountains in Peru.
Arthur becomes involved with one such pilot, Noah Beery, Jr., then quickly switches her attention to the hardboiled Grant. Several other pilots (Joslyn, Carroll, and Barry) are much taken with Arthur, but she only has eyes for the all-business Grant, who fails to return her affection. Enter
Barthelmess, a pilot who tarnished his reputation in an accident years earlier in which another flier was killed. The guilt-ridden Barthelmess is washed up as a pilot, but Grant gives him a job anyway. Hayworth, Barthelmess's sexy, cuckolding wife, tries to seduce Grant and almost succeeds before
Grant realizes he really loves the smart-talking Arthur. Although the other pilots have made a pariah of Barthelmess, he proves that he's made of courageous stuff by volunteering to take on the most hazardous missions. Meanwhile, Mitchell--an elderly pilot who acts as surrogate father to Grant and
whose brother was killed in the accident that ruined Barthelmess's reputation--is losing his sight but won't admit it. Grant keeps him on the ground to protect him. But when Grant prepares to undertake a dangerous flight himself, Mitchell goes in his place.
ONLY ANGELS HAVE WINGS is a powerful character study, and director Hawks and his fine, predominantly male cast carefully develop the personalities of an interesting collection of characters. Though much of the dialogue is predictable, the story is strong, the acting is outstanding, and Hawks's
cameras move with fluid grace through the confining sets.
Rita Hayworth gives a notable performance as a vamp, and supporting players Allyn Joslyn and John Carroll are jaded, sardonic live wires. Richard Barthelmess, as the film's most complex character, plays his role stoically, failing to invest his washed-up flier with the necessary emotional depth.
This was an important comeback attempt for Barthelmess, who had experienced lean years since his days as a silent screen star. Regrettably, the meaty part he was given was left on the kitchen table, half-eaten, and Barthelmess never again appeared in a major film as a lead. The special effects,
particularly the fine aerial sequences, earned Roy Davidson and Edwin C. Hahn an Oscar nomination in a category recognized for the first time by the Academy. The film was also nominated for Best Black-and-White Cinematography.
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- Rating: NR
- Review: An amazing adventure film in which the adventure is primarily confined to a shabby saloon, this Grant-Arthur vehicle clearly bears the mark of director Howard Hawks. Grant, the head of a broken-down air freight company, sends courageous pilots over the tre… (more)