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Howard Hawks
Cary Grant, Jean Arthur, Thomas Mitchell, Rita Hayworth, Richard Barthelmess
Writing Credits:
Jules Furthman

At a remote South American trading port, the manager of an air freight company is forced to risk his pilots' lives in order to win an important contract.

Rated NR

Aspect Ratio: 1.37:1
English PCM Monaural
Supplements Subtitles:

Runtime: 121 min.
Price: $39.95
Release Date: 4/12/2016

• “Hawks and Bogdanovich” Audio Excerpts
• “David Thomson on Only Angels Have Wings
• “Howard Hawks and His Aviation Movies” Featurette
• “Lux Radio Theatre” Broadcast
• Trailer

• Booklet


Panasonic TC-P60VT60 60-Inch 1080p 600Hz 3D Smart Plasma HDTV; Sony STR-DG1200 7.1 Channel Receiver; Panasonic DMP-BD60K Blu-Ray Player using HDMI outputs; Michael Green Revolution Cinema 6i Speakers (all five); Kenwood 1050SW 150-watt Subwoofer.


Only Angels Have Wings: Criterion Collection [Blu-Ray] (1939)

Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (April 4, 2016)

For the second of five collaborations between director Howard Hawks and actor Cary Grant, we head to 1939’s Only Angels Have Wings. Set in the fictional South American port of Barranca, American entertainer Bonnie Lee (Jean Arthur) makes a quick stop there during her boat voyage back to the States.

At least Bonnie intends the layover to be brief, but she stays longer after she meets local mail pilot Geoff Carter (Grant). She finds herself both attracted to and repelled by his devil-may-care attitude and decides to remain in Barranca to get to know him better.

Wings comes smack between two better-known Grant/Hawks films: 1938’s Bringing Up Baby and 1940’s His Girl Friday. Though Grant remained a constant across all three, Hawks hired different leading ladies for each one. Here we found Arthur, of course, while Baby featured Katharine Hepburn and Friday went with Rosalind Russell.

While the other two provide wild screwball comedies, Angels opts for a much more dramatic tone. I admit that surprised me, as I figured Angels would act as part of a comedy “trilogy”, but of course I don’t object to the change in genre. Hawks could handle dramas as well as comedies, so I figured Angels would provide another winner.

Alas, the film disappoints – and disappoints badly, largely for a reason I didn’t anticipate: Grant. As much as I enjoy a lot of the actor’s work, he seems horribly miscast as daredevil tough guy Geoff. When I think of Grant, I conjure an image of a suave, debonair charmer, not some rugged, emotionally repressed semi-cowboy, and the actor simply can’t handle the change in tone.

I won’t blame the film’s mediocrity solely on Grant’s performance, but he acts as its greatest flaw. Cary Grant equals a movie’s major drawback? There’s a sentence I never thought I’d write, but it’s true, as the actor just can’t embody the role. Geoff feels more appropriate for Clark Gable or John Wayne, whereas Grant looks lost.

We also find little connection between Grant and Arthur, though I’ll partly blame the undercooked script for that. Angels does little to develop its characters, and that seems especially true for the barely-explored Bonnie. She exists more as a prop for Geoff than anything else, and as talented as she was, Arthur can do little to add life to her. She seems constrained by the thinly-sketched role and finds no room to breathe.

Not much about the story itself provides intrigue. Again, the characters remain so flat that we don’t invest much in them, and we don’t find a lot of interest in their journeys. The tale ambles along without much forward thrust or dimensionality, which makes it a slow, tough ride.

I know Angels enjoys a good reputation – and as indicated elsewhere on this disc, apparently Hawks thought of it one of his best – but I can’t figure out what viewers see in it. I won’t call it a terrible movie, but it simply never provides a compelling story. Add to that a miscast leading man and Angels disappoints.

Footnote: has any other actor ever had a year like Thomas Mitchell’s 1939? He appeared in five movies that year, and each one stakes a claim to “classic” status. In addition to Angels, Mitchell appeared in Gone With the Wind, Stagecoach, Mr. Smith Goes to Washington, and The Hunchback of Notre Dame.

The Blu-ray Grades: Picture A-/ Audio B-/ Bonus B-

Only Angels Have Wings appears in an aspect ratio of approximately 1.37:1 on this Blu-ray Disc. The film came with a highly satisfying presentation.

Sharpness worked well. Only a smidgen of softness materialized, and when it did so, it usually seemed to reflect the original photography. The majority of the film showed solid delineation and accuracy. I noticed virtually no issues with jagged edges or shimmering, and edge enhancement was absent. With a nice layer of grain, I witnessed no indications of intrusive noise reduction.

Blacks looked tight and deep, and contrast seemed solid. The movie exhibited a nicely silver sheen that depicted the black and white photography well. Print flaws were a non-factor, as the movie suffered from nary a speck, mark or other defect. This was a strong representation of the source material.

As for the film’s LPCM monaural soundtrack, it seemed typical for its era, which meant nothing about the audio excelled, but it remained solid for its age. Speech demonstrated pretty positive clarity and appeared surprisingly natural. Some lines were slightly edgy, but the dialogue didn’t seem as thin and shrill as I expected. Effects were acceptably clean and accurate; they didn’t demonstrate much range, but they lacked distortion and were fairly concise.

Music seemed similarly restricted but sounded fine for its age. The film offered no score, so only source music – like singing/piano at the bar – appeared. Within those limits, the music appeared positive. The track lacked source flaws like pops or clicks. Ultimately, Angels provided a fine track for a flick from 1939.

A few extras fill out the set. Hawks and Bogdanovich provides 19 minutes, 31 seconds of audio excerpts from filmmaker Peter Bogdanovich’s 1972 interview with director Howard Hawks. Taken from a longer session, they discuss the film and Hawks’ experiences related to it. On his own, Bogdanovich can be insufferable, but he conducts good interviews and elicits interesting insights from Hawks.

Next comes David Thomson on Only Angels Have Wings. In this 17-minute, four-second piece, film critic Thomson chats about aspects of the film’s creation as well as interpretation of characters and story. Thomson brings us a good series of thoughts.

Howard Hawks and His Aviation Movies runs 20 minutes, 51 seconds and features film scholar/visual effects supervisor Craig Barron and film scholar/sound designer Ben Burtt. They cover the use of planes in cinema as well as technical elements and Hawks’ use of aircraft. Both combine to deliver a concise, informative chat – and we even find some effects outtakes from the film.

From May 29, 1939, we find a Lux Radio Theatre adaptation of Angels. The 56-minute, 37-second show boasts a slew of the movie’s actors, including Cary Grant, Jean Arthur and Rita Hayworth. Usually I find these radio shows to be too short, but since I felt the film ran too long, “Lux” actually feels about right. It doesn’t fix the flick’s problems, but I think it’s more entertaining than the movie itself.

In addition to the film’s trailer, the set includes a booklet. The 12-page foldout provides an essay from critic Michael Sragow. It becomes a good piece to complete the set.

Given the talent involved, I expected a terrific ride from Only Angels Have Wings. Unfortunately, the movie seemed slow and flat, dragged down by some poor casting choices. The Blu-ray delivers excellent visuals with era-appropriate audio and a decent array of bonus materials. Though Angels does little for me, the film’s fans will feel pleased with this nice release.

Viewer Film Ratings: 2.5 Stars Number of Votes: 2
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