BP Double Bill: Only Angels Have Wings (1939)/Major Dundee (1965)


Now, the men here eat first, understand?


I can’t quit you. . .

What we have here are two sides of same coin. Or perhaps both sides of the coin share the same image, a device used in Howard Hawks’ Only Angels Have Wings.

These are movies about men and the manly things they do. Angels is a about a ragtag group of commercial pilots on a rundown airstrip in South America. Dundee is a Civil War movie that features Native Americans, the French, Mexico, Confederates, swordfights on horseback, tequila, whiskey, brown skinned temptresses, questions of honor and, for sure over the top enjoyment, scenery chewers Charlton Heston and Richard Harris, who spend most of movie threatending to kill each other “when this is all over.”

Dundee was an early effort from Sam Peckinpah, whose career was largely defined by establishing a new level of hyperrealistic violence in Westerns. The legendary (and loathed) Peckinpah was not a subtle filmmaker. His masculine code is telegraphed througout his body of work. Men drink, fight, and die, in that order, and maybe they’ll stop a moment for a pretty girl, but she had better not get in the way. And of course, the women will never, ever understand.

Hawks, on the other hand, is one of the most celebrated directors of all time, one who could work comfortably in any genre. But he, too, created worlds of masculine energy, where men set the rules in the strongest possible terms. Angels is certainly representative. In probably the film’s most famous scene, the pilots drink after one of their own, Joe (Noah Beery), goes down in a fiery crash. When the token female on the premises, Jean Arthur, expresses her horror at the cavalier attitude of the pilots, she is ridculed by Cary Grant. “Who’s Joe?” he snaps.

Like Dundee, Angels is a movie about the Responsibility of Sending Good Men to Die. Nobody complains. No one questions their lot. A coward in Angels must redeem himself in the end to be accepted by the lot. A coward in Dundee is shot in cold blood by Harris.

The difference? Hawks is lighter in touch. And his women, typically, are stronger foils for the men. After all, he was also the director of To Have and Have Not and The Big Sleep, which created the cult of Bogart and Bacall.

This, regrettably, is less evident in Angels, where Arthur frets and worries so much you want to give her a triple dose of Lunesta. Grant can’t ever bring himself to tell her he wants her around, finally relying on that aformentioned double-sided coin.

Faring betterin the film is the incomparable Rita Hayworth in her first notable screen role.

A latecomer to Hayworth’s particular appeal, I will just say: Oh, boy.

I was familiar with her from the Orson Welles’ gotta-see-it-to-believe-it thriller The Lady From Shanghai, I caught her earlier this month in Gilda, the movie that she is probably now best known for.

And all I can say is, well: Woof.

If any modern actress can project this sort of sensuality, I would like to meet her. No seriously. Give her my email address.

Hayworth’s famous first appearence in Gilda:


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