-- By Brett Stillo
Only Angels Have Wings once again takes to the skies this week in a comprehensive new video restoration-release from the Criterion Collection (available on Blu-ray & DVD). This is a classic Hollywood romantic drama of the 1930's, accented with bold swaths of adventure and humor, orchestrated by one of the true masters of the craft, director Howard Hawks.
Only Angels Have Wings is the robust tale of a band of bush pilots based in the fictional South American town of Barranca, who risk their necks flying treacherous airmail routes through the Andes. The heat in this Tropic Zone is turned up with the arrival of Bonnie Lee, a down-on-her-luck cabaret singer played by quintessential 1930's heroine Jean Arthur. Bonnie soon encounters the tough, no-nonsense leader of pilots, Geoff “Papa” Carter (Cary Grant). The inevitable sparks begin to fly as these two characters from two very different worlds push and pull at each other's emotions.
The 1930s were the glory days of early aviation, and Hawks subtly isolates the mystique of this era with terse, low-key magnificence. Hawks’ pilots are the new cowboys (Geoff and his fellow pilots all wear gun belts though it’s never explained why, other than it just looks cool), laconic daredevils in leather jackets and wide-brimmed hats (stylistic ancestors of Indiana Jones), who walk and talk with the casual aplomb of men who make a living by risking their lives.