Every couple of years Hollywood Elsewhere devolves into a vein of sentimental appreciation for Howard Hawks‘ Only Angels Have Wings (’39). There’s also a theory going ’round that not every HE loyalist has read and memorized each and every post. So on that basis…
The realm of Only Angels Have Wings is all male, all the time. Feelings run fairly strong (the pilots who are “good enough” love each other like brothers) but nobody lays their emotional cards on the table face-up. Particularly Cary Grant‘s Geoff, a brusque, hard-headed type who never has a match on him. He gradually falls in love with Jean Arthur but refuses to say so or even indicate much. But he does subtly reveal his feelings at the end with the help of a two-headed coin.
It’s not what any woman or poet would call a profound declaration of love, but it’s as close to profound as it’s going to get in this 1939 Howard Hawks film. If Angels were remade today with Jennifer Lawrence in the Arthur role she’d probably say “to hell with it” and catch the boat, but in ’39 the coin was enough. Easily one of the greatest finales in Hollywood history.
Afterthought #1 (supplied 18 months ago by “Bob Hightower“): “I never understood this movie even after watching it many times until I finally realized it’s about Thomas Mitchell loving Cary Grant and Grant being torn between him and two women (Rita Hayworth, Jean Arthur) and finally being able to love Arthur after Mitchell conveniently dies.”
Afterthought #2: If Geoff wasn’t played by Cary Grant, he’d definitely be less likable.
Afterthought #3: Grant’s hardass, no-feelings-allowed demeanor makes total sense if you think he’s basically playing Gregory Peck in Twelve O’Clock High.
Afterthought #4: Isn’t it ridiculous that two one-armed guys wind up piloting the plane at the end because nobody can see clear to forgiving their fired coworker whose only sin was questioning the wisdom of schlepping nitro over the Andes?