''Only Angels Have Wings'' is a 1939 American
adventure An adventure is an exciting experience that is typically bold, sometimes risky or undertaking. Adventures may be activities with some potential for physical danger such as traveling, exploring, skydiving, mountain climbing, scuba diving, river r ...
drama film In film A film, also called a movie, motion picture or moving picture, is a work of visual art The visual arts are art forms such as painting Painting is the practice of applying paint Paint is any pigmented liquid, ...
directed by
Howard Hawks Howard Winchester Hawks (May 30, 1896December 26, 1977) was an American film director, producer and screenwriter of the classic Hollywood era. Critic Leonard Maltin Leonard Michael Maltin (born December 18, 1950) is an American film critic ...
, and starring
Cary Grant Cary Grant (born Archibald Alec Leach; January 18, 1904November 29, 1986) was an English-American actor. Known for his transatlantic accent The Mid-Atlantic accent, or Transatlantic accent, is a cultivated Accent (sociolinguistics), accent ...

Cary Grant
Jean Arthur Jean Arthur (born Gladys Georgianna Greene; October 17, 1900 – June 19, 1991) was an American Broadway and film actress whose career began in silent film A silent film is a film A film, also called a movie, motion picture or movin ...
, based on a story written by Hawks. Its plot follows the manager of an air freight company in a remote South American port town who is forced to risk his pilots' lives while vying for a major contract. It features supporting performances from
Thomas Mitchell
Thomas Mitchell
Richard Barthelmess Richard Semler Barthelmess (May 9, 1895 – August 17, 1963) was an American film actor, principally of the Hollywood silent era. He starred opposite Lillian Gish Lillian Diana Gish (October 14, 1893February 27, 1993) was an American pioneer ...
, Noah Beery Jr., and
Rita Hayworth Rita Hayworth (born Margarita Carmen Cansino; October 17, 1918May 14, 1987) was an American actress, dancer, and producer. She achieved fame during the 1940s as one of the era's top stars, appearing in 61 films over 37 years. The press coined t ...
, marking the first major role for the latter.Frankel, Mark
"Articles: ''Only Angels Have Wings'' (1939)."
''Turner Classic Movies.'' Retrieved: October 22, 2012.
Released by
Columbia Pictures Columbia Pictures Industries, Inc. is an American film production Filmmaking (film production) is the process by which a Film, motion picture is #Production, produced. Filmmaking involves a number of complex and discrete stages, starting wit ...
in May 1939, the film is generally regarded as being among Hawks' finest films, particularly in its portrayal of the professionalism of the pilots of the film, its atmosphere, and the flying sequences. In 2017, the film was selected for preservation in the United States
National Film Registry The National Film Registry (or NFR for short) is the United States National Film Preservation Board The United States The United States of America (USA), commonly known as the United States (U.S. or US), or America, is a country Contigu ...
by the
Library of Congress The Library of Congress (LC) is the research library A library is a collection of materials, books or media that are easily accessible for use and not just for display purposes. It is responsible for housing updated information in order ...

Library of Congress
as being "culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant".


Geoff Carter is the head pilot and manager of Barranca Airways, a small, barely
solvent A solvent (from the Latin Latin (, or , ) is a classical language belonging to the Italic languages, Italic branch of the Indo-European languages. Latin was originally spoken in the area around Rome, known as Latium. Through the power of the ...
company owned by "Dutchy" Van Ruyter carrying
airmail Airmail (or air mail) is a mail The mail or post is a system for physically transporting postcard A postcard or post card is a piece of thick paper or thin Card stock, cardboard, typically rectangular, intended for writing and mailing ...
from the fictional South American port town of Barranca through a high pass in the
Andes The Andes, Andes Mountains or Andean Mountains ( es, Cordillera de los Andes) are the List of mountain ranges#Mountain ranges by length, longest continental mountain range in the world, forming a continuous highland along the western edge of Sou ...

Mountains. Bonnie Lee, a piano-playing entertainer, arrives on a banana boat one day. After making her acquaintance, Joe Souther crashes and dies trying to land in fog later that day. Bonnie becomes infatuated with Geoff, despite his fatalistic attitude about the dangerous flying, and stays on in Barranca (''not'' at his invitation, as he insists on telling her). The situation is complicated by the arrival of pilot Bat MacPherson and his wife (and Geoff's old flame) Judy. McPherson cannot find work in the United States because he once bailed out of an airplane, leaving his mechanic — the brother of "Kid" Dabb, Carter's best friend — to die in the ensuing crash. When Geoff is forced to ground the Kid because of failing eyesight, he hires MacPherson on the understanding that he will get the most dangerous assignments. Dutchy will secure a lucrative government contract if he can provide reliable mail service during a six-month trial. On the last day of the probation period, bad weather closes the mountain pass. Geoff decides to try to fly a new
Ford Trimotor The Ford Trimotor (also called the "Tri-Motor", and nicknamed the "Tin Goose") is an American three-engined transport aircraftTransport aircraft is a broad category of aircraft that includes: * Airliner An airliner is a type of aircraft ...

Ford Trimotor
over the mountains instead. The Kid asks to go with him as co-pilot. Geoff refuses, but then lets the Kid toss a coin to decide the matter. When it lands on the floor, Geoff discovers that the coin has two heads. Geoff still agrees to take him along. Just before leaving, Bonnie tries to talk Geoff out of going. She takes his gun out of his holster and points it at him. When she realizes that she cannot stop him, she drops the gun on the table, but it accidentally fires, hitting Geoff in the shoulder. Unable to fly, Geoff lets MacPherson take his place. However, MacPherson and the Kid are unable to climb high enough; the plane stalls and drops thousands of feet before leveling off. Geoff tells them to turn around, but they decide to try to fly through the fogged-in pass. In the pass, they encounter a flock of
condor Condor is the common name for two species In biology, a species is the basic unit of biological classification, classification and a taxonomic rank of an organism, as well as a unit of biodiversity. A species is often defined as the larges ...

s. One crashes through the windshield, paralyzing the Kid; another hits the No. 1 engine, setting it on fire. Later the No. 2 engine also catches fire. The Kid tells MacPherson to bail out, but he refuses. He turns around and returns to Barranca, managing to crash-land the burning Trimotor on the field. The Kid dies from a broken neck, but not before telling Geoff what MacPherson did. As a result, MacPherson is finally accepted by the other pilots. Bonnie is torn between leaving and staying, and confronts Geoff in the hope he will ask her to stay. However, with mere hours to spare on the trial period, the weather clears and Geoff has to rush off to secure the all-important contract. Before he goes, he offers to toss a coin to decide: heads, Bonnie stays; tails, she leaves. The coin comes up heads, but Bonnie despairs that this is the result of chance, not love. Geoff leaves her with the coin. She then realizes that it is the Kid's trick coin, dispelling her sadness.



Pre-production and casting

The film's original script outline was written by Anne Wigton; the working title originally was ''Plane No. 4''. Howard Hawks re-wrote the film's scenario himself, based on a story that he wrote in 1938 titled ''Plane from Barranca.''"Notes: ''Only Angels Have Wings'' (1939)."
''Turner Classic Movies.'' Retrieved: October 22, 2012.
While he was scouting locations several years earlier, for the filming of ''
Viva Villa! ''Viva Villa!'' is a 1934 American pre-Code '' (1931) were able to feature criminal, anti-hero protagonists. File:LegsTurntab42ndStTrailer.jpg, upright=1.5, ''42nd Street (film), 42nd Street'' (1933) made concessions to the Hays Code in ...
'', Hawks had been especially inspired by the stoic aviation personnel that he had met in Mexico. The film's final script was written and re-written throughout the film's production, mostly by Hawks and
Jules Furthman Jules Furthman (March 5, 1888 – September 22, 1966) was an American magazine and newspaper writer before working as a screenwriter. Biography Furthman was born in Chicago (''City in a Garden''); I Will , image_map ...
, but also with contributions by
Eleanore Griffin Eleanore Griffin (1904–1995) was an American screenwriter who worked in Hollywood. She is best known for co-writing the film '' Boys Town,'' which she won an Oscar for in 1938. Griffin worked on and wrote for over 20 different Hollywood films ...
and William Rankin. Hawks had previously worked with Cary Grant the year before on ''Bringing up Baby'' and this was the second of five collaborations between the director and star. He cast Jean Arthur in the leading role of Bonnie Lee after appraising her acting in several films made by Frank Capra. Hawks then hired silent film star
Richard Barthelmess Richard Semler Barthelmess (May 9, 1895 – August 17, 1963) was an American film actor, principally of the Hollywood silent era. He starred opposite Lillian Gish Lillian Diana Gish (October 14, 1893February 27, 1993) was an American pioneer ...
for the role of Bat MacPherson. Barthelmess's career had gradually diminished since sound films became popular in the late 1920s, and he was a controversial choice, mainly because he had recently had a botched plastic surgery operation on the skin under his eyes that resulted in permanent X-shaped scars under both of his eyes. Barthelmess usually wore heavy make-up to hide the scars, but Hawks wanted to use the scars for the character. Hawks had originally cast Dorothy Comingore in the role of Judy MacPherson, but studio head Harry Cohn had been grooming a young starlet that would be advanced for the role. With backing from Cohn, her agent then insisted that Hawks give Rita Hayworth a screen test, which eventually resulted in Hayworth being cast in the role.


Shooting of ''Only Angels Have Wings'' began on December 19, 1938 at the Columbia Studio Ranch and Hawks shot the film in chronological sequence whenever possible. Hawks and Arthur initially found working together difficult and Arthur would often argue with Hawks on set. Hawks was attempting to coach Arthur to play a variation of the classical "Hawksian Woman Archetype", but Arthur often felt uncomfortable with his direction. Eventually, she unhappily agreed to play the role as he directed her. Years later after Arthur saw Lauren Bacall's performance in ''To Have and Have Not (film), To Have and Have Not'', Arthur apologized to Hawks and told him that she finally understood what he had wanted from her (epitomized in Bacall's repetition and emphasis on the paradoxical line "I'm hard to get ... all you have to do is ask me.") Hawks later said that he considered Arthur to have been good in the film. Initial shooting was completed on March 24, 1939, 31 days over its shooting schedule. This was followed with several weeks of second unit shooting of aircraft flying in various locations in the western United States. A few re-takes were shot in April with Cary Grant and Victor Kilian. Two days of re-shoots with Rita Hayworth were also shot, but were directed by Charles Vidor. In a 1972 interview, Arthur revealed, "I loved sinking my head into Cary Grant's chest".

Aircraft used in the production

The "cast" also starred a 1929 Hamilton H-47, Hamilton Metalplane,
Ford Trimotor The Ford Trimotor (also called the "Tri-Motor", and nicknamed the "Tin Goose") is an American three-engined transport aircraftTransport aircraft is a broad category of aircraft that includes: * Airliner An airliner is a type of aircraft ...

Ford Trimotor
and TravelAir 6000 single engine monoplane. All of these types accurately represented the types of aircraft flying in the period depicted by the film. The Metalplane was the airplane Joe Souther crashes while trying to land in heavy fog, and was only used for ground shots. In 2007, one of the Hamilton props used in the simulated flying scenes for this aircraft surfaced on an episode of ''Antiques Roadshow''; its owner had been able to screen match it, confirming its authenticity. The Pilgrim was used in the exciting mine rescue flying scene, while the Ford Trimotor was featured in another dramatic landing that ends in a fiery crash. Midway through the film, Paul Mantz flew a Boeing P-12, Boeing Model 100 biplane in a spirited aerobatic performance, reprising his earlier scene in ''Flight from Glory''. ''Only Angels Have Wings'' has become very popular among enthusiasts of the aircraft of the golden age of aviation.

Release and reception

Twelve days after the film's final re-shoots were completed, ''Only Angels Have Wings'' premiered in Los Angeles at the Pantages Theater on May 10, 1939. Its official world premiere occurred the next day at Radio City Music Hall. It was heavily promoted by Columbia Studios and ended up making $143,000 on its initial two-week run at radio City Music Hall, and earned over one million dollars overall. It was the third-highest-grossing film of 1939. The film was also Rita Hayworth's breakout role and helped make her a major Hollywood star, with Hayworth appearing on the cover of Look (American magazine), ''Look'' magazine after the film's success. ''Only Angels Have Wings'' received good reviews on its release, with Abel Green of ''Variety (magazine), Variety'' comparing it favorably to ''Flight From Glory'' and praised Barthelmess's performance. Frank S. Nugent in his review for ''The New York Times'' focused on the excitement found in the aerial scenes, also recognizing the talents of the star-studded cast, "Mr. Hawks has staged his flying sequences brilliantly ... He has made proper use of the amiable performing talents of Mr. Grant, Miss Arthur, Thomas Mitchell, Mr. Barthelmess, Sig Rumann and the rest." ''Only Angels have Wings'' was later selected as one of 12 films representing the U.S. at the first Cannes Film Festival. However, the festival was canceled in light of events leading up to World War II. On Metacritic, the film holds a score of 86 out of 100, based on 10 critics, indicating "universal acclaim."

Radio adaptations

Two weeks after the film's premiere, ''Only Angels Have Wings'' was adapted as a one-hour radio play for the May 29, 1939 broadcast of ''Lux Radio Theatre''. The film's principal actors, Cary Grant, Jean Arthur, Rita Hayworth, Richard Barthlemess and Thomas Mitchell all reprised their roles. Orson Welles headlined a radio adaptation on ''The Campbell Playhouse (radio series), The Campbell Playhouse'' on February 25, 1940, that starred Welles and Joan Blondell.

Awards and honors

Roy Davidson (special effects artist), Roy Davidson and Edwin C. Hahn were nominated for the first-time Academy Award for Visual Effects, Best Effects, Special Effects."The 12th Academy Awards (1940) Nominees and Winners."
''oscars.org''. Retrieved: June 16, 2013.


''Only Angels Have Wings'' has become thought of as one of Hawks's best films, with Dave Kehr calling it the "equilibrium point" of Hawks's career, bridging themes developed in his early films of the 1930s to some of his darker films of the 1940s and 1950s. Film critics at ''Cahiers du Cinema'' also praised the film in the 1950s as a quintessential support of the auteur theory.

See also

* Misquotation, List of misquotations: In one scene, Cary Grant calls after Hayworth's character by saying, "Judy, Judy." This is the closest he ever came on film to the misquotation associated with him: "Judy, Judy, Judy". * List of films with a 100% rating on Rotten Tomatoes, a film review aggregator website





* * * * *

External links

* * * *
"Judy, Judy, Judy" FAQ''Only Angels Have Wings: Hawks’s Genius Takes Flight''
an essay by Michael Sragow at the Criterion Collection Streaming audio
''Only Angels Have Wings''
on ''Lux Radio Theater'': May 29, 1939
''Only Angels Have Wings''
on ''The Campbell Playhouse (radio series), The Campbell Playhouse'': February 25, 1940 {{Authority control 1939 films 1939 drama films American films American drama films American aviation films American black-and-white films 1930s English-language films Films scored by Dimitri Tiomkin Films directed by Howard Hawks Films set in South America Films adapted into radio programs Films with screenplays by Jules Furthman Films shot in Utah United States National Film Registry films Films about postal system Columbia Pictures films