Jollity and death exist on a precarious seesaw throughout Only Angels Have Wings, a quintessential mid-career Hawks film about male commercial pilots operating in a remote alpine outpost in South America. Two worlds govern the film: there is the idyllic flying station, a bunkhouse-cum-saloon where the men carouse in between missions, and then there is the treacherous route through the mountains, where storm clouds constantly circle and planes go to die. Hawks delineates both masterfully through sound design, favoring brisk overlapping banter and near-constant barroom music in the station while letting the nerve-wracking drone of wind, rain and plane engines dominate the missions—a soundscape that gradually intrudes on the merriment as the film presses on. Geoff (Cary Grant) is the headstrong leader of the ever-dwindling crew, a stoic man who has learned to accept death with a straight face and an ace pilot who volunteers for the most dangerous trips himself. Still, what unites these daredevils is a passion for their death-defying craft, and much of the film revels in the pockets of joy found amidst lingering grief. In acquainting the viewer with this unstable existence, Hawks offers Bonnie Lee (Jean Arthur) as an audience surrogate, a curious traveler who must come to grips with the wearying transience of the pilots’ lifestyle in order to win Geoff’s affection. Restored by Sony Pictures Entertainment in 4K from the original nitrate picture negative and composite duplicate negative, with audio restoration at Chace Audio by Deluxe in Los Angeles.
Directed by Howard Hawks. With Cary Grant, Jean Arthur, Richard Barthelmess
US 1939, 35mm, b/w, 121 min
$9 - Regular Admission
$7 - Non-Harvard Students, Harvard Faculty and Staff, and Senior Citizens
Regular HFA screenings are free for all Harvard students with a valid photo ID. Discounts apply for Harvard Film Archive Members
Tickets are available 45 minutes before show time at the cinematheque on the lower level of the Carpenter Center. Cash or check only. No late seating.