Only Angels Have Wings (1939) - Rotten Tomatoes

Only Angels Have Wings (1939)

Only Angels Have Wings (1939)

Only Angels Have Wings




Critic Consensus: No consensus yet.

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Movie Info

Virtually a textbook example of Howard Hawks' "macho" mode, Only Angels Have Wings takes place high in the Peruvian Andes. Cary Grant heads a ramshackle airmail and freight service, forced to fly in the most perilous of weather conditions to the most treacherous of destinations. Facing death on a near-hourly basis, Grant and his flyers have adopted a casual, all-in-day's-work attitude towards mortality. If a pilot cracks up and dies, it's simply because he didn't have what it took, and that's that. Stranded showgirl Jean Arthur can't stand this cavalier attitude at first, but before long she becomes, in true Hawksian fashion, "one of the guys". Complicating the story is the presence of Richard Barthelmess, who has been persona non grata with the other pilots ever since his carelessness cost the life of one of their number. In addition to a surfeit of guilt, Barthelmess is saddled with a faithless wife, played by Rita Hayworth in her first important A-picture role. Hayworth makes a play for Grant, but he spurns her, finally realizing that, in spite of himself, he's in love with Arthur. Grant himself is riddled with guilt when near-blind pilot Thomas Mitchell insists upon taking on one final flight. Having lost his best friend, Grant drops his hard-bitten shell, and for the first time opens himself up emotionally to Arthur-which of course leads to a nail-biting climax wherein Arthur suffers mightily as Grant faces certain death. Scripted by Jules Furthman from a story by Hawks, Only Angels Have Wings is a treasure trove of terse, pithy dialogue: our favorite scene occurs when, upon discovering that he's about to die, Thomas Mitchell says he's often wondered how he'd react to imminent death-and, now that death is but a few moments away, he'd rather that no one else be around to witness his reaction. Though sometimes laid low by obvious miniatures, the aerial scenes in Only Angels Have Wings are by and large first-rate, earning a first-ever "best special effects" Oscar nomination for Roy Davidson and Edwin C. Hahn.more
Rating: Unrated
Genre: Drama, Action & Adventure, Romance, Classics
Directed By:
Written By: William Rankin, Eleanore Griffin, Jules Furthman
In Theaters:
On DVD: Aug 30, 1999
Sony Pictures Entertainment


Cary Grant
as Geoff Carter
Jean Arthur
as Bonnie Lee
Richard Barthelmess
as Bat Mac Pherson
Rita Hayworth
as Judy MacPherson
Sig Rumann
as Dutchman
John Carroll
as Gent Shelton
Allyn Joslyn
as Les Peters
Noah Beery Jr.
as Joe Souther
Lucio Villegas
as Dr. Logario
Forbes Murray
as Hartwood
Pat West
as Baldy
Sammee Tong
as Native Cook
Candy Candido
as Musician
Inez Palange
as Lily's Aunt
Lou Davis
as Mechanic
Don 'Red' Barry
as Tex Gordon
Al Rhein
as Mechanic
Ed Randolph
as Mechanic
Ky Robinson
as Mechanic
Bud Wolfe
as Mechanic
Eddie Foster
as Mechanic
Stanley Brown
as Hartwood Jr.
Wilson Benge
as Assistant Purser
Vernon Dent
as Ship Captain
Elana Duran
as Blonde Spanish Girl
Budd Fine
as First Mate
Jack Lowe
as Banana Foreman
Francisco Maran
as Planter Overseer
Tex Higginson
as Banana Foreman
Show More Cast

News & Interviews for Only Angels Have Wings

Critic Reviews for Only Angels Have Wings

All Critics (22) | Top Critics (5)

'Only Angels Have Wings' uses its paper-thin plot as an excuse to mount a scalpel-sharp analysis of men under pressure: bitching, blaming and refusing to back down.

Full Review… | May 11, 2015
Time Out
Top Critic

Howard Hawks's stirring tale of a fledgling airmail service that traverses the Andes from a strip in a South American banana port is the ultimate workplace dramedy.

Full Review… | November 3, 2014
New Yorker
Top Critic

It's a fairly good melodrama, nothing more.

Full Review… | May 20, 2003
New York Times
Top Critic

Full Review… | August 27, 2008
Top Critic

Full Review… | January 26, 2006
Time Out
Top Critic

Pure cinematic catnip.

Full Review… | May 15, 2015
Little White Lies

Audience Reviews for Only Angels Have Wings


Cary Grant leads a tight ensemble of mail pilots in the Andes Mountains for whom frequently bad weather conditions turn every regular day of work into a dance of death. Somehow Jean Arthur gets off the boat and gets involved with the guys first and then with Grant. Much of this doesn't make sense or add up and yet the presentation is so atmospheric and well done that damned if one doesn't hang around for the ride. Rita Hayworth, in her first A picture, sizzles even then.

Kevin M. Williams

Super Reviewer


It's a film about adventure and romance, but what we really have here is a study on the nature of death by director Howard Hawks. A lone adventuress (Jean Arthur) steps off the boat in a tiny South American banana port, and makes quick friends with some lonely american pilots working for the local mail company. It's a friendship that ends all too suddenly and all too violently. But where she would shed tears for a soul lost to dust, his fellow pilots choose to sing songs and even laugh it off, as death could come for any one of them at any time. The dashing head of the crew (Cary Grant) is perhaps the most cavalier of the group, but then, he has to be, as he's the one who sends them out (possibly to their deaths). She's attracted to him, and he to her, not as some flighty dame, but as a real woman who knows how to value life. But it becomes her task to convince him that she won't try to change him like his last love (Rita Hayworth) did, and he must make the effort to want something, to want her, for more than a passing fancy. He, who never owns so much as a book of matches, feeling it's too much of a commitment. In the face of the constant threat of death, maybe this all seems unimportant, or maybe it's the only thing that IS important. Maybe that's the heart of the matter, the issue of what this life is all about and what are we doing here and why are we doing it.

There is a scene towards the end of the movie, a pilot is going on "one last flight", and it's one he must make alone. It's the elephant in the room, the fact that everyone knows, but no one wants to say aloud. That we all must one day die, and that we will die alone. The light will die within us and the mystery of death will finally be revealed. It may be wrong to fixate on our ultimate fate, but it's more wrongful still to deny that fate completely. Only Angels Have Wings is a microcosm of all our own little lives put together. We push forward and persevere in our work and loves in spite of our own mortality, because to do otherwise would be to negate our whole existence in the first place.

Mr Awesome
Devon Bott

Super Reviewer


Great little drama packed full of twists and great characters.

Ken Stachnik

Super Reviewer

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