Reissued for the first time in the UK since its original release in 1939, Howard Hawks’ high-flying aviation adventure boasts an all-star cast that includes Cary Grant, Jean Arthur and Rita Hayworth in her first major role. Following screenings at BFI London Film Festival, the new 4K restoration of Sony Pictures’ Only Angels Have Wings is to screen across the UK.
Short lifespans, short drinks and great heights define the aviators of Barranca Airways – a ragtag fraternity of who risk their lives flying mail from their isolated port town through treacherous passes high in the Andes. They’ve seen whole troupes of impressionable chorus girls come and go on their way back to the States, but none like Bonnie Lee (Arthur).
Bonnie arrives intending to catch the next boat out of town, but finds herself falling for the emotionally distant Geoff Carter (Grant), a hardened pilot and manager of the struggling airline. Shocked by the fatalistic attitude of the pilots, Bonnie books a one-way ticket home. But when a notorious flier (Richard Barthelmess) shows up with Geoff’s old flame Judy (Hayworth) in tow and looks like the only hope for the business, things are set on a new course – Geoff may have to change his ways, and the couple’s future rests on the toss of a coin.
Howard Hawks wrote the film’s scenario himself, based on a story that he wrote in 1938 entitled Plane from Barranca. While scouting locations several years earlier, for the filming of Viva Villa! Hawks had been especially inspired by the stoic aviation personnel who he had met in Mexico.
Though he was a director whose career ranged across a vast range of genres, from screwball comedy to noir to science fiction, aviation was a lasting passion for Hawks and a topic he returned to many times, from the lost 1928 silent movie The Air Circus, to 1930’s The Dawn Patrol which also starred Barthelmess opposite Douglas Fairbanks Jnr as First World War flyers, to 1943’s Air Force.
Impeccably scripted and executed, Only Angels Have Wings won acclaim at the time for both the performances of its star-studded cast – including what was to prove a star-making breakthrough role for Hayworth – and for the gripping flying sequences. It was nominated for two Oscars and is considered one of Hawks’s finest films.
Only Angels Have Wings, from 15 May at BFI Southbank, London, and in selected cinemas across the UK. For more information visit www.whatson.bfi.org.uk
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