Ben Oliver

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Only Angels Have Wings

I’m hard to get, Geoff. All you have to do is ask me.
06 August 2017

Jean Arthur plays Bonnie Lee, a woman who passes through a small South American port town and encounters an airline devoted to running mail over the Andes. It’s a perilous job and heading up the operation is Geoff (Cary Grant), a fatalistic, jaded and pragmatic pilot. In spite of his standoffishness she begins to fall for him and decides to stay in town a little while longer.

This is like a cross between Casablanca and The Wages of Fear yet it pre-dates them both. The exotic yet prison-like setting of the former combine with the dangerous career choices of the latter. It’s also more complex than both - the plot is more a series of connected vignettes rather than a sweeping Hollywood epic. Hawks is really a chronicler of his character’s lives and the choices they make. He’s not afraid to let things happen without obvious meaning or consequence and, more importantly, not afraid to let people drop out of the frame when they aren’t relevant to the story.

And yet at the end he ties it all together with one of the most satisfying, subtle and beautiful endings you could wish for. The way he lets the audience realise what’s happened at exactly the same moment as Bonnie is genius.

A timeless and exotic classic that rings true even 80 years on.