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Tuesday, May 27, 2008

ONLY ANGELS HAVE WINGS (1939)


Dismissed from RKO and the direction of GUNGA DIN, Howard Hawks turned in this far more personal work, a fabulist’s tale of professional flyers who cover their manly sentimentality with comradery, sexual bravado and fatalism, the usual Hawksian themes he’d play with for the rest of his career. But never again with a cast of this depth. Jules Furthman ’s script fakes you out since 90% of the scenes could play on stage (he breaks every rule of action cinema), but with what flavorful dialogue!, what delicious characterizations!, what cunning structure and memorable business he hangs on the tale. Yet what truly sets this apart from other Hawks’ adolescent male-bonding yarns comes by way of Jean Arthur. Hawks wasn’t happy having her in the pic, she hardly fell into the boyish, one-of-the-guys category he preferred on film (and in his personal life). She’s a real grown-up woman and she makes everyone else (Cary Grant, Richard Barthelmess, Thomas Mitchell, Sig Rumann, Allan Joslyn, Noah Berry, Jr, even Rita Hayworth before they ‘lifted’ her hairline) vibrate to a broader wavelength than Hawks dared handle before or after. Hawks never forgave her for it.

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