Only Angels Have Wings (1939)

Baranca, a small stop in South America where Dutchman owns an airmail service, is where Bonnie (Jean Arthur) makes a stop. She encounters a group of mail pilots in a social shack.

The head of these mail comrades is Geoff Carter (Cary Grant), who has ample confidence yet retains the charm and sophistication.

It isn’t surprising Bonnie is falling for him. These mail pilots’ work is quite a tricky one, as the natural mountain slides coupled with tropical weather are always a recipe for an aviation disaster, the main being the plane crash—Geoff ventures to flying only under challenging circumstances.

Bonnie, amazed by Geoff, is repeatedly shut off whenever she tried getting to know Geoff better. It is evident, Geoff is cynical towards women and vows not to take any favours from them.

Each of his choices has a history behind it. His daring lifestyle didn’t go well with his ex, and as a result, she left him. It had a profound effect on his way of thinking. He became tougher, a touch more than what he was.

In the sub-plot, a couple comes down to Baranca. They both have a connection to Geoff and the group of mail pilots. Bat Macpherson (Richard Barthelmess) is seen as a villain in the eyes of all the pilots.

He once jumped out of the plane leaving behind the mechanic moments before the plane crash. This didn’t go well with the team and more so with Kid, who lost his brother in that crash. The agency was on the lookout for more pilots, and Bat was looking for a new challenge.

Bat’s wife Judy (Rita Hayworth) was Geoff’s ex. Her presence made Geoff a bit tougher on Bat and made it difficult to forget the past. One of the best scenes is when Judy gets drunk and has a word with Geoff; in some ways, clarity is provided as to why things happened and how it unfolded in the past.

Not a man to live in his emotions, Geoff is in serious need of workforce to get the Government’s contract. He offers the job to Bat, as he realises there is none better than him to weather the storm.

In a mission to deliver the cylinders, Bat is accompanied by Kid. Not in good terms, while flying, they encounter the storm as they try to deliver the goods.

Flying across Andes Mountains during a storm isn’t an easy task, and while Bat is trying his best to reach the destination, a bird hits the plane, and it catches fire. Bat battles it out and lands the aircraft amidst the fire on it. Kid is badly injured, and he dies not before he tells Geoff about Bat’s bravery.

Bonnie, unable to get the attention from Geoff, decides to leave Baranca. – “I am hard to get Geoff; all you have to do is ask me”. Geoff offers her a coin. Heads – she stays and Tails – she leaves.

Before he starts to toss the coin, the clouds clear and Geoff runs down to the flight for his next mission. Bonnie waits as she decides not to leave hurriedly and hopes to toss the coin with heads being on both sides.

I was amazed by Jean Arthur’s characterisation in this movie. This was my first movie of hers, and I was fascinated by her charm, and no wonder she remains one of my favorites. Beauty, brains, and a wonderful actor, that’s Jean Arthur to sum it up.

On the other hand, it was another scintillating performance by Cary Grant, who puts his coat of sophistication to perfection.

Rita Hayworth was provided with the acting platform to play prominent stream roles and achieve fame in the years to come. Directed by Howard Hawks, this 1939 classic was nominated for two Oscars under Best Cinematography (B/W) and Best Special effects (Audio and Visual).

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