Greatest Film Scenes
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Only Angels Have Wings (1939)


Written by Tim Dirks

Title Screen
Movie Title/Year and Scene Descriptions

- Only Angels Have Wings (1939)

In director Howard Hawks' quintessential and very entertaining aviation-adventure film and character study, set in Barranca (fictional town in South America), that told about a group of mail pilots who flew treacherous routes from Ecuador to Peru over mountain passes in the fogged-in Andes Mountains:

  • the opening sequence of the entrance of perky, unemployed, smart-talking Brooklynite blonde Bonnie Lee (Jean Arthur), who disembarked off a 'banana boat' at the port of Barranca; she became stranded at a broken down, air-freight aviation headquarters (in a saloon owned by a Dutchman affectionately named "Dutchy" Van Ruyter (Sig Rumann))
  • Bonnie Lee's first acquaintance with the stoic, steely-eyed, cool, all-business, rude, misogynistic and cynical Latin American freight pilots' boss Geoff Carter (Cary Grant), nicknamed "Papa"
Main Characters
Bonnie Lee
(Jean Arthur)
Geoff Carter
(Cary Grant)
'Kid' Dabb
(Thomas Mitchell)
  • the affectionate relationship between Geoff and his "best friend" - older, near-blind daredevil pilot 'Kid' Dabb (Thomas Mitchell) with a 22-year flying career, who draped his jacket over Geoff's shoulders and lit his cigarettes for him
  • the nerve-wracking and tense scene of an attempted foggy landing (with three approaches) by dare-devil flier Joe Souther (Noah Berry, Jr.) - a dangerous mission for the trans-Andes Barranca Airways in a rickety-old single-engine plane that ended with a fatal crash at the airstrip
  • Geoff spitefully put the blame on Joe's death on Bonnie: "Sure it was your fault. You were gonna have dinner with him, the Dutchman hired him, I sent him up on schedule, the fog came in, a tree got in the way. All your fault. Forget it, unless you want the honor" - she responded negatively to his insensitivity: "Haven't you any feelings? Don't you realize he's dead?"; Geoff coldly told her to be less emotional: "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?"
  • at the start of an on/off again romance, bachelor Geoff's revelation to American showgirl and cabaret singer Bonnie Lee that his hard nature was due to a failed romance in his past; he told her that his steadfast, stubborn nature was to avoid any entanglements, attachments, supplies, and binding emotional relationships with women because they always wanted to make plans for the future; his closest female in a relationship left him due to his dangerous occupation: ("Told me if I didn't quit flying, it was all off...I'm still flying")
Geoff's Past Relationship Described to Bonnie Lee:
"Told me if I didn't quit flying, it was all off"
  • the arrival of ostracized and shunned pilot Bat MacPherson/alias Kilgallen (Richard Barthelmess) to take Joe's place, accompanied by his radiant and glamorous wife Judy (Rita Hayworth in her first appearance in a major film), Geoff's embittered ex-wife; due to Bat's troubled past, he was shunned by the other fliers as disgraced and unworthy; allegedly, his cowardice once caused the death of Kid's younger brother - "the first pilot who ever bailed out of his plane and let his mechanic crash"
  • the attempted seduction, in private, of Geoff by his ex-wife Judy (who had kept her past life's secrets from her new husband) - she happily greeted Geoff: "I could hardly believe my eyes"; after he kissed her on the lips, she wondered: "I'm not so sure we should've done that"; later in the film when she was drunk, Geoff chastised her for advancing on him and for betraying her husband: "You're no good, Judy, and you never were...I used to wonder if I was right when we broke up. Well, I don't have to worry about it anymore"
The Seductive Wife Judy MacPherson
  • the scene of Bonnie's encounter with Geoff in his quarters on the upstairs balcony, while she was sticking around for another week to get better acquainted with him; she invited herself to take a bath and appeared in a bathrobe; after he scooped her into his arms and called her a "queer duck," they kissed each other; then, Bonnie confessed her love toward him and that she was no longer demanding and vulnerable about his risky profession; she affirmed that she was accepting of uncertainty, just like his close friendship with 'Kid' Dabb: "Geoff, you don't have to be afraid of me anymore. I'm not trying to tie you down. I don't want to plan. I don't want to look ahead. I don't want you to change anything. I love you, Geoff. There's nothing I can do about it. I just love you, that's all. I feel the same way about you that Kid does. Anything you do is all right with me....Yes, he doesn't ask you for anything, or get in your way or bother you, does he?" - surprisingly, he admitted differently: "Drives me nuts" - although he still kissed her
  • the scene of a redeemed MacPherson's volunteering for a treacherous flight (with co-navigator 'Kid' Dabb) carrying nitroglycerin to prove his bravery; the risky, instruments-only flight in horrific flying conditions led to a condor crashing through the cockpit window and seriously wounding Kid with flying debris, causing a broken neck; it destroyed the aircraft's windshield and two motors were set ablaze; instead of parachuting and bailing out, MacPherson remained with the disabled craft and co-pilot - responding "Not this time"
Fatal Flight for 'Kid' Dabb
Co-Navigator 'Kid' Dabb with Bat
Condor Strike - Broken Windshield
Bat Flying and Landing Flaming Plane
  • the affecting death scene of 'Kid' Dabb after a final crucial flight that ended with a disastrous crash-landing on the airstrip; before dying, he bid farewell to Geoff
  • in the final moments of the film, as Geoff (although injured) was off to fly another mission, Bonnie told him that all she had to do to remain with him was to be asked: "I'm hard to get, Geoff. All you have to do is ask me"; after he departed, she discovered that he had actually asked her to stay (by flipping a two-headed coin) - to be Kid's female counterpart in his life; she buoyantly exclaimed: "Hey! Hey, Geoff!" and then watched his plane lift off into the rainy sky

Crash-Landing Death of Joe Souther

Sparring Between Geoff and Bonnie Lee

New Disgraced Flier: Bat MacPherson/Killgalen (Richard Barthelmess)

Judy MacPherson (Rita Hayworth), Geoff's Ex-Wife

Bonnie Lee In a Bathrobe in Geoff's Quarters

Geoff: "You're a queer duck, Bonnie"

Bonnie: "Geoff, you don't have to be afraid of me anymore. I'm not trying to tie you down..."

A Passionate Kiss

Cargo: Nitroglycerin

Death Scene of 'Kid' Dabb

Bonnie to Geoff: "I'm hard to get, Geoff. All you have to do is ask me"

Ending: "Hey, hey, Geoff"


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