Rupert Pupkin Speaks: Criterion Collection - ONLY ANGELS HAVE WINGS on Blu-ray ""

Saturday, April 9, 2016

Criterion Collection - ONLY ANGELS HAVE WINGS on Blu-ray

ONLY ANGELS HAVE WINGS (1939; Howard Hawks)
I can separate my movie watching life into two distinct periods. "BH" and "AH" ("Before Hawks and "After Hawks"). What's funny about that is that I saw my first Hawks movie and loved it before I even knew who he was. You see I got myself on a Humphrey Bogart kick in early college and I of course ended up running across TO HAVE AND HAVE NOT. It knocked me out. I even put the audio from that famous "you know how to whistle" scene on a mixtape (yes, a cassette - I'm old) for my girlfriend at the time. I loved the movie but I didn't fully get what Howard Hawks' deal was at the time. Soon after that, I took one of my first film theory classes and my professor loved Hawks so she used him and his films to demonstrate auteur theory among other things. Hawks was a great guy to do that with, because it was easy to see certain things that would carry over from one of his movies to the next. It was an ongoing code of professionalism. Characters constantly challenging other characters about being "good enough". ONLY ANGELS HAVE WINGS is oozing with these Hawksian professionalism undertones. Heck, they are hardly undertones - at times it's downright blatant. At one point, Cary Grant even says, "Hello professional" to Jean Arthur. Rarely are Hawks films quite as explicit about the Hawksian professionalism thematics as this. It's pretty fascinating. But what's neat about the movie is that it not only covers that what a professional is territory, but it is also an exciting and suspenseful adventure film to boot. The premise is basically that there is this small airline on a remote South American spit that is responsible for getting the nail through this very dangerous 14,000 foot pass that is constantly plagued with bad weather or horrible fog. It's a veritable death trap and several pilots have already been lost when the story begins. So the movie has the excitement of these guys trying to fly through terrible conditions and it has an amazing script (by Jules Furthman) - and on top of that it has an amazing cast. First off you have. Art Grant in that fast talking sweet spot he had right around HIS GIRL FRIDAY. Grant is rarely better than he is here. The "girl" is played with a delightful determination by Jean Arthur. Jean Arthur is something else. Beautiful and yet insecure while projecting an air of sharp confidence when she wants to. It's a rare cominatuin of things and few actors could pull it off.then you d got your supporting cast and it consists of three heavy hitters: Thomas Mitchell, Richard Barthelmess and Rita Hayworth. It's an ensemble to rival any cast that Hawks ever put together. He was an amazing director of actors and groups of actors. It was Howard Hawks who truly helped me understand the greatness of actors like Cary Grant and John Wayne. Before his films, I knew about Grant and Wayne, but I was not at all convinced of their abilities to be anything other than "movie stars". Hawks' movies illustrated to me the reason why these guys were the stars that they came to be remembered as. They are rarely better in films than they are with Hawks.
While I'm not necessarily the world's biggest musical fan, I am a big proponent of the musical sequences that Hawks often includes in his films. RIO BRAVO probably has my favorite stuff as far as that goes. Hell, I made. Ringtone if it "My Rifle, Pony & Me" at one point. That said, listening to Cary Grant sing along to a rickety piano rendition of "The Peanut Vendor" in ONLY ANGELS HAVE WINGS is wonderfully sublime and near the top of the heap for me as well. 1939 was an outstanding year for movies in general and ONLY ANGELS HAVE WINGS is one of the reasons why this is true. It is Hollywood cinema at it's finest as far as I'm concerned.

Special Features:

-"Hawks and Bogdanovich" (20 mins) excerpted conversation between Hawks and Bogdanovich circa 1972. It is fascinating to hear Hawks talk about his affection for ONLY ANGELS HAVE WINGS (it was apparently one of his favorites), how it was based on a true story and his filmmaking methods in general. Hawks gives the impression of not only a great director and storyteller, but also a man who has lived an interesting and adventurous life. He's one of my favorite directors and I've heard surprisingly few interviews with him, so this was quite a treat. I was absolutely transfixed the whole time as a listened.

-"David Thomson on ONLY ANGELS HAVE WINGS" (17 mins) this 2016 interview with film critic David Thomson is a solid one and he gives some insightful context. He talks about how Hawks needed a hit after BRINGING UP BABY (which was not a big success upon its release), which I never thought about before. He also expresses his love for the way Hawks had the uncanny ability to create places in his films that you just want to go to. From the jailhouse in RIO BRAVO and the cantina in TO HAVE AND HAVE NOT to Barranca in ONLY ANGELS HAVE WINGS. I feel exactly the same way. The male camradery in Hawks is another theme that Thomson addresses as well and I like this kind of examination.

-"Howard Hawks and His Aviation Movies" (21 mins) - A New program, produced by Criterion in 2016 - features film scholars Craig Barron and Ben Burtt exploring the visual effects and use of sound in ONLY ANGELS HAVE WINGS. Another thing I hadn't thought about was the popularity of aviation and airplanes in American culture during the 1930s and how that was undoubtedly part of the reason Hawks may have made his flying pictures.

-"Lux Radio Theatre" (60 mins) - A radio adaptation of ONLY ANGELS HAVE WINGS starring actors Cary Grant, Jean Arthur, Thomas Mitchell, Richard Barthelmess, Rita Hayworth, Victor Killian, Noah Beery Jr. and Donald Barry - hosted by Cecil B. DeMille. Originally broadcast on May 29th, 1939.

Here's one of my favorite directors - Allan Arkush - talking about his love for Hawks and ONLY ANGELS HAVE WINGS for Trailers from Hell:
ONLY ANGELS HAVE WINGS can be purchased from Amazon here:

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