Friday, December 4, 2009

Only Angels Have Wings

Only Angels Have Wings, 1939
Dir: Howard Hawks
December 2, 2009

This seems to me, and absolutely feels like, after having now watched a couple of his film, what should be the perfect Howard Hawks film. His greatness may come from "not wanting to annoy the audience," but in doing so he doesn't judge any of the characters in his films, and his cinema instincts and tight scenes drive this to greatness. Looking back at it, it might be hard to be thoroughly impressed with the material for some, but I definitely was. I don't think I've seen a better film about how men try to relate to women and work in a film filled with dark fatalism. The Columbia atmosphere of music, drinking, smoking (most cigs smoked in a film I've ever seen) and rolling fog in the Andes mixed with his personal love of aviation seems to find Hawks working on a film that he truly wants to sink his teeth into. Cary Grant, after being number one dork in Bringing Up Baby (1938), is absolutely awesome as Jeff Carter, the cock-sure boss of a airmail and freight business and leader of a band of pilots that occasionally have to risk their lives in bad weather to do their job. He has no qualms about telling a woman how he really feels ("And all the weeping and wailing in the world won't make him any deader 20 years from now. If you feel like bawling, how do you think we feel?") or dumping a pitcher of water over some drunk bitch's head and telling her act right and not so selfish. But he is also riddled with guilt about how he treats his pilots and what he has to make them do. The ladies in this are also really great, though leading lady Jean Arthur, who probably acts better, is blown away by bombshell Rita Hayworth in her first Hollywood A picture, who plays the ex-girlfriend of Jeff and is now the "no-good" wife of a pilot that is not in good graces of the rest of the group, simply by her presence (and being a total babe, which Arthur really isn't. Sorry.) The naturalistic acting and clutter that fill Hawks' frame always have interesting things, the dialogue is crisp and the mix of the romance/adventure aviation flick with the set-up of a woman (well, white woman) invading a small all-male community who are thrown for a loop by her simply being there, again, kind of make this a perfect little film.


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