If I say Cary Grant, you say suave, debonair, maybe even funny. To see him as a hardnosed, tough-as-nails aviator, watch Only Angels Have Wings about the rough and tumble lives of pilots flying the mail in 1930s South America.
Starring opposte Jean Arthur and a young Rita Hayworth, Grant plays Geoff Carter, pilot and manager of a small cargo service. Despite loss of pilots and dangerous conditions, the men fearlessly hop into puddle jumpers to fly from the tropical coast over the Andes.
Arthur, as Bonnie Lee, steps off a banana boat to stretch her legs in quaint Barranca, and ends up staying when she falls hard for Carter, who swaggers about in a white (maybe bleached khaki) outfit and panama hat with a holster on his hip—as I said, Cary Grant as you’ve never seen him before.
No matter what happens or who dies, Carter always says, “Get the mail,” lugged in and out of planes in big canvas sacks. Having seen the size of the town, I have to wonder who’s writing all those letters?
“I don’t know how you can act like this when that poor kid, he’s … dead!” demands Lee after a crash. “And he’s been dead about 20 minutes, and all the weeping and wailing in the world won’t make him any deader 20 years from now. If you feel like bawling, how do you think we feel?” replies Carter, who then joins the men in the bar for some eat, drink and be merry bravado.
“Romance soaring above the Andes! Drama thundering across a continent!” trumpets the movie poster. The film offers both, especially some thrilling flying sequences by what we’d now call vintage planes. Of course, the Pilgrim Model 100-B and Ford Trimotor were the type of aircraft small cargo outfits actually used at that time, as were the handheld radio mics, oxygen hoses and spotlights for the air field. I’m not so sure about the donkey sharing the mountain lookout hut with spotter Tex.
Only Angels Have Wings was the third highest grossing film in 1939, and that’s saying something in a year that also saw the release of The Wizard of Oz, Gone with the Wind, Stagecoach and Mr. Smith Goes to Washington.
One last publicity still to share of Cary Grant looking oh-so-dashing… Enjoy it here, because he doesn’t look like that in the movie.
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