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Only Angels Have Wings Details


Virtually a textbook example of Howard Hawks' "macho" mode, Only Angels Have Wings takes place high in the Peruvian Andes. Cary Grant heads a ramshackle airmail and freight service, forced to fly in the most perilous of weather conditions to the most treacherous of destinations. Facing death on a near-hourly basis, Grant and his flyers have adopted a casual, all-in-day's-work attitude towards mortality. If a pilot cracks up and dies, it's simply because he didn't have what it took, and that's that. Stranded showgirl Jean Arthur can't stand this cavalier attitude at first, but before long she becomes, in true Hawksian fashion, "one of the guys". Complicating the story is the presence of Richard Barthelmess, who has been persona non grata with the other pilots ever since his carelessness cost the life of one of their number. In addition to a surfeit of guilt, Barthelmess is saddled with a faithless wife, played by Rita Hayworth in her first important A-picture role. Hayworth makes a play for Grant, but he spurns her, finally realizing that, in spite of himself, he's in love with Arthur. Grant himself is riddled with guilt when near-blind pilot Thomas Mitchell insists upon taking on one final flight. Having lost his best friend, Grant drops his hard-bitten shell, and for the first time opens himself up emotionally to Arthur-which of course leads to a nail-biting climax wherein Arthur suffers mightily as Grant faces certain death. Scripted by Jules Furthman from a story by Hawks, Only Angels Have Wings is a treasure trove of terse, pithy dialogue: our favorite scene occurs when, upon discovering that he's about to die, Thomas Mitchell says he's often wondered how he'd react to imminent death-and, now that death is but a few moments away, he'd rather that no one else be around to witness his reaction. Though sometimes laid low by obvious miniatures, the aerial scenes in Only Angels Have Wings are by and large first-rate, earning a first-ever "best special effects" Oscar nomination for Roy Davidson and Edwin C. Hahn. ~ Hal Erickson, Rovi

  • Release date:May 12, 1939


Awarded by
Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences Roy Davidson Best Special Effects 1939 Nominee
Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences Joseph Walker Best Black and White Cinematography 1939 Nominee


Cary Grant
as Geoff Carter
Jean Arthur
as Bonnie Lee
Richard Barthelmess
as Bat McPherson
Rita Hayworth
as Judith McPherson
Thomas Mitchell
as Kid Dabb
Sig Rumann
as The Dutchman
John Carroll
as Gent Shelton
Allyn Joslyn
as Les Peters
Noah Beery, Jr.
as Joe Souther
Melissa Sierra
as Lily
Lucio Villegas
as Dr. Logario
Forbes Murray
as Hartwood
Pat Flaherty
as Mike
Pedro Regas
as Pancho
Pat West
as Baldy
Rafael Corio
as Purser
Enrique Acosta
as Tourist
Lou Davis
Inez Palange
as Lily's Aunt
Ky Robinson
as Mechanic
Wilson Benge
as Assistant Purser
Sammee Tong
as Native Cook
Candy Candido
as Musician
Ed Randolph
as Mechanic
Charles Moore
as Servant
Don "Red" Barry
as Tex Gordon
Vernon Dent
as Ship Captain
Victor Kilian
as Sparks
Bud Wolfe
James Millican
as Mechanic


Howard Hawks
Howard Hawks
Jules Furthman
Elmer Dyer
Joseph Walker
Dimitri Tiomkin
Composer (Music Score)
Morris W. Stoloff
Composer (Music Score)
Morris W. Stoloff
Musical Direction/Supervision
Viola Lawrence
Robert Kalloch
Costume Designer
Roy Davidson
Special Effects
Paul Mantz
Paul Mantz
Edward Bernds
Sound Recordist