“Is this an aviation film directed by Howard Hawks or what? Yes, much of it takes place after dark but this is also a film with a certain merriment and esprit de service and drinks and songs on the piano. Why so inky?

“I lost patience after a while and turned the brightness all the way up, and it was still too dark. I much prefer the high-def Vudu version that I own; ditto the TCM Bluray that I bought a year or two ago. Mark this down as a case of Criterion vandalism — it’s just not the film I’ve been watching all these years.” — from HE pan of Criterion’s Only Angels Have Wings Bluray (“Dark Angels, Black Barranca, Noir All Over“), posted on 4.19.16.

The realm of Only Angels Have Wings is all-male, all the time. Feelings run quite 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 show it very 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: If Geoff wasn’t played by Cary Grant, he’d definitely be less likable.

Afterthought #2: 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 #3: 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?