Only Angels Have Wings (1939)

Only Angels Have Wings
Cary Grant and Jean Arthur

'Only Angels Have Wings' is a dramatic aviation film made in 1939, directed by Howard Hawks, and starring Cary Grant, Jean Arthur, Thomas Mitchell and Rita Hayworth. It is based on a story written originally by Hawks. As well as a top class cast, the film offers an exciting storyline with many twists and turns and some genuinely hair-raising flying sequences which keep the audience on the edge of their seats.

The movie was nominated for two Academy Awards: Best Black-and-White Cinematography (Joseph Walker) and, in a new category, Best Special Effects (Roy Davidson and Edwin C. Hahn). 1939 was the blockbuster year of 'Gone with the Wind', 'Stagecoach', 'Mr. Smith Goes to Washington' and numerous other classic films, and, unsurprisingly 'Only Angels Have Wings' won no Awards. Nevertheless it was a box office success and has proved to be a consistently popular movie to this day.

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Cary Grant plays Geoff Carter, the manager of a small air service owned by "Dutchy" Van Ruyter played by Sig Ruman. The company's business is carrying mail and cargo through a high pass in the Andes Mountains. Showgirl Bonnie Lee, played by Jean Arthur, arrives and falls for the misogynistic Geoff and further complications occur when Bat MacPherson, a new pilot, played by Richard Barthelmess and his wife Judy, played by Rita Hayworth, turn up at the airfield. Geoff's friend, "Kid" Dabb, played by Thomas Mitchell has an old score to settle with MacPherson and the situation reaches a critical point when the two have to share a plane to go over the mountain pass in bad weather.


The movie was originally titled 'Plane Number 4 and is based on the story "Plane Four from Barranca", written by Howard Hawks in 1938. When two major stars, Cary Grant and Jean Arthur, became available at Columbia in 1939, Hawks seized the chance to make the film and he used screenwriter, Jules Furthman to create the screenplay. Hawks had flown planes in the U.S. Army Air Corps in World War I and he had previously used his experience to make a number of films with an aviation theme, such as 'The Dawn Patrol' in 1930 and 'Ceiling Zero' in 1926.

The whole film was shot in and around Los Angeles. Paul Mantz, a famous early stunt pilot and air racer, was technical advisor on the film and also acted as chief pilot and airborne cameraman.

Main Cast

Cary Grant ... Geoff Carter
Jean Arthur ... Bonnie Lee
Richard Barthelmess ... Bat MacPherson
Rita Hayworth ... Judy MacPherson
Thomas Mitchell ... "Kid" Dabb
Allyn Joslyn ... Les Peters
Sig Ruman ... John "Dutchy" Van Ruyter
Victor Kilian ... "Sparks" Reynolds
John Carroll ... "Gent" Shelton
Don Barry ... "Tex" Gordon
Noah Beery, Jr. ... Joe Souther
Pat Flaherty ... Mike
Pedro Regas ... Pancho

Cary Grant (1904-1986)
Grant is one of the great legends from Hollywood's Golden Age. His filmography charts a long and very successful career in which he starred in more than 70 movies, many of them classics such as 'The Philadelphia Story', 'Charade', and 'Notorious', and he was twice nominated for Oscars. He was placed second in The AFI's list of Greatest Male Stars of all Time.
His acting style was natural and uniquely his own. His screen persona was that of a a suave, self-assured, debonair man about town, and was immensely appealing to both men and women. His good looks were an asset of course but he had great talent and had no need to depend on his looks alone. In 1970 he was presented with a special Oscar to commemorate his career, and when he died in 1986 there had been no decline in his popularity. He was still one of the most popular and most loved movie stars in Hollywood.
Jean Arthur (1900-91)
She was a beautiful and talented actress who appeared in a total of 89 films, and who made her name with some memorable performances in classic Hollywood movies of the Golden Age including 'Mr. Smith Goes to Washington' in 1939 and 'Shane' in 1953.
Her distinctive asset, apart from her great beauty, was her husky, sexy and instantly identifiable voice. Director George Stevens called her "one of the greatest comediennes the screen has ever seen" while Frank Capra for whom she made two classic movies, described her as "my favorite actress".
She received one Academy Award nomination, for Best Actress in 1944 for her performance in 'The More the Merrier'.
Thomas Mitchell(1892-1962)
Mitchell was a brilliant character actor who became one of the most instantly recognisable faces in Hollywood without ever achieving leading man status. He appeared in many of the greatest Hollywood movies of the 20th century. In 1939 alone he had key roles in five classic films: 'Mr. Smith Goes to Washington', 'Only Angels Have Wings', 'The Hunchback of Notre Dame', 'Gone with the Wind' and 'Stagecoach'. He also appeared in the classics 'It's a Wonderful Life' in 1946 and 'High Noon' in 1952. He won the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor for his performance as the drunken doctor in 'Stagecoach' in 1939.
Rita Hayworth(1918-87)
Rita rose to fame during the 1940's not only as a top movie star, but also as one of the great sex symbols of Hollywood's Golden Age, becoming known as "The Love Goddess".
As well as possessing great beauty, she also had great dancing talent with enviable technique, as well as natural stamina and rhythm. Many felt that she was the best on-screen partner of Fred Astaire.
Over her 37 year career Rita Hayworth appeared in 61 movies and is listed at number 19 in the American Film Institute's List of Greatest Stars of All Time.
Richard Barthelmess (1895-1963
After making his film debut in 1916 Barthelmess became famous as a Silent movie actor and at one time he was one of the highest paid performers in Hollywood. He was nominated for the very first Academy Award for Best Actor in 1928. He appeared in a number of early sound films including 'The Dawn Patrol' in 1930 and 'The Cabin in the Cotton' in 1932, but with less success. After serving in the US forces during WWII he left the entertainment business.


Director ... Howard Hawks
Producer ... Howard Hawks
Screenplay ... Jules Furthman
Original Story ... Howard Hawks
Music ... Dimitri Tiomkin
Cinematography ... Joseph Walker, Paul Mantz (aerial scenes)
Distribution Company ... Columbia Pictures
Release date ... May 15, 1939
Running time ... 121 minutes

Academy Awards

No Wins:
Two Unsuccessful Nominations:
Best Black-and-White Cinematography ... Joseph Walker
Best Special Effects ... Roy Davidson and Edwin C. Hahn