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DVD: Only Angels Have Wings | reviews, news & interviews

DVD: Only Angels Have Wings

DVD: Only Angels Have Wings

Death-defying aerial stunts with a twist of Hawksian romance

Howard's angels: Jean Arthur, Cary Grant, and company.Criterion

Beautifully restored and transferred by Criterion, this is a magnificent edition of Howard Hawks’ ripping yarn. Cary Grant plays Geoff Carter, a former WWI pilot (like Hawks himself) running a daredevil outfit flying mail planes across the Andes.

So dangerous were these rackety machines that their pilots were often dubbed “the suicide club“ in real life. Set in the fictional port of Barranca (nearly always filmed at night, it’s teeming with exotic South American locals and rowdy bars), Grant and his gang of flying leather jackets engage in intense male bonding, interspersed with romantic tension when Jean Arthur (slightly too prim as a wandering show girl) and luscious Rita Hayworth appear.

Aviation obsessives will find the account of stunt pilot Paul Mantz fascinating

There’s an awful lot of dialogue for an action film – but Only Angels... was not based on a play, rather it’s the result of Hawks describing his own experiences to scriptwriter Jules Furthman. This is their second collaboration after the neglected Come and Get It (another tale of frontier men with women problems), and while Grant and Arthur don’t create the same sparks as Bogart and Bacall made in later Hawks-Furthman ventures, there’s at least one excellent piano-set flirtatious competition between the two. Grant's costume choices are distinctly camp, which gives the male bonding milieu a certain edge. This is a film about loyalty, bravery and men not letting women or death come between them – it's an ensemble piece despite its stars, with wonderful performances by veteran actors including Richard Barthelmess, Thomas Mitchell and Noah Beery Jr.

This edition comes with a new mini-documentary featuring practitioners Craig Barron and Ben Burtt who expertly analyse the movie's breathtaking aerial work, its pioneering sound design, camera innovations and matte effects. Aviation obsessives, techies and movie fans alike will find the account of stunt pilot Paul Mantz (almost as glamorous as Grant himself) and the ingenious model and cinematography effects fascinating.

Another invaluable extra is film historian David Thomson giving a scholarly account of Hawks’ nimble blending of genres – adventure, romance, comedy, musical, thriller – while musing on the unspoken homoerotic tension in Grant’s performance. Extracts from the gravelly interview Hawks gave Peter Bogdanovich back in 1972 are also included, along with the radio version of the film recorded in '39 with the original cast. Chocks away!

Overleaf: watch an extract from Behind the Scenes: Only Angels Have Wings




A film about men not letting women or death come between them


Editor Rating: 
Average: 5 (1 vote)

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