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Blog Post March 2, 2013

Only Angels Have Wings

Only Angels Have Wings

Cary Grant     Directed by Howard Hanks   with   Jean Arthur


Cary Grant (Born 1904 and aged 35) and Jean Arthur (Aged 39) in the contrasting DVD cover and post for the 1939 Howard Hanks movie; “Only Angels Have Wings”.  The Bright blue and iconic palms trees might lead you to think this was a happier picture than it actually was.  The only clue to suggest otherwise is the worried looking Rita Hayworth Cradling the head of Richard Barthelmess.

I mention Cary Grant age just to place him where he was in time, his carer and endurance of this popularity being enormous.

This dark film is far better represented by the DVD cover; Cary Grant’s character Geoff Carter attempting to remain cold and distant from Jean Arthur, playing Bonnie Lee whose bouncing positive nature rattles Geoff Carter from the start.


This Columbia poster sums up the movie better; although to give credit to the performance of Jean Arthur she be the one holding the swooning Grant.  The film is dominated by dark night scenes; dark rain scenes and death.  With pilots dropping from the skies like files.

Now I bought this film due to two recommendations.  One that the Iconic ‘Indiana Jones’ outfit – the Fedora and leather working jacket; or in this case flying jacket (similarly to Alan Ladd in China) was inspired by this film.  A perfect description as far as wardrobe goes for these pilots.  The bar where these ill fated pilots gather looks like an ‘Indiana Jones’ convention!  The sight causing me to spluttering and snort my coffee all over the place.  Have got over these I must add the movie is in no way spoiled by this association.  Nor does the second recommendation as a possible inspiration for ‘Tales of the Gold Monkey’ – a favorite series from my childhood – whose humor and  characters could easily walk from the Monkey bar in Bora-Bora, South Pacific, into the Barranca Bar, South America!

‘Only Angels have wings’ was directed by Howard Hanks; supposedly based on personal experiences.  This followed his previous success with Cary Grant in the comedy ‘Bringing up Bady’, called the “the screwiest of the screwball comedies” by critics – defining the genre of screwball comedy.  Howard would work again with Cary revisiting the style.  However Howard, as did throughout his carrer.

The idea for the film was developed with Jules Furthman who work ed with Howard Hanks on many successful, and style defining movies such as ‘To Have and Have not’, ‘Rio Bravo’,  ‘The Big Sleep’.  ‘To Have and Have Not’ it self made by Hanks and Furthman out of Hemingway’s “worst book” for a bet.  Furthman and Hanks make an prefect team; if you are studying either direction or scene writing – both are worth study – especially together – or in seeing the development and reuse of ideas and progression of style and how both writing and director drives a plot with a smooth realism.

Bonnie Lee opens the story, looking lost in the foreboding docks on some unknown distant shore.  The setting dumping the Vacationing show girl, Bonnie, in foreign immediately sets a scene which the viewer is uncomfortable with.  Bright attractive blonde – at risk of being marooned, robbed or worse in a setting which at first is difficult to place, and then is not all together pleasant South American trading port – with poor communication and wholly unreliable transport links.  Yet Bonnie fixes to stay a while attracted to Geoff; in the opening scenes a voice at the back of your head screams no!  Get the next boat out of there, but then events hook you – drawing you in.

The events of the movie are staged around Geoff Carter’s Air Freight business – strangely it appears to be run pretty much of a bar.  Where Bonnie observes the stresses of the pilots, and their boss as aircraft crash, smash – get stuck in driving rain, snow and worse.  All the while Carter pushes to keep is business running, determined to get a lucrative contract to keep his fright company going.

Bonnie involves herself, Carter shuns her all the while diverting his glassy eyes, then to complicate things a misfit pilot – with glamorous wife appears on the scene.  No one trusts the pilot – who risks his life for pay; whilst his wife, who happens to be Carter’s old flame starts stamping in Bonnie patch.

On a knife edge the business, the pilots lives, the stuttering relationships, the poor weather and Carter’s future all balance.  The combination of characters and flaws swing until something has to give.

Bonnie resolutely gives up on Geoff, with some fine dialogue, and bids him farewell.   Carter offers to toss a coin to help her decide: heads, she stays; tails, she leaves.

A break in weather causes Geoff to rush out to secure the all-important contract.  Bonnie is still unwilling to be pushed in to making a choice between Carter, who’s now flown to certain doom with the clouds returning, and the next boat home?   Emotionally she says, “I’m hard to get, Jeff — all you have to do is ask me!”  But Carter stubborn as a mule, and has the dialogue to prove it, gives her the coin to make the toss.

All is resolved, much to Bonnie’s thrill when she discovers that coin is a double header.  Proving Carter might not be able to talk about his feelings, but he really does want to be a likable Bastard?

The endings although not spectacular by today’s standards is satisfying, but you wonder was Carter really any good for Bonnie?  Which goes to show that in the end you have connected with the characters, not be put off by the plot, not doubted the credibility of special effects – which hamper most of todays movies, and in the end you shared part of the emotional journey the pilots went through.  Who ‘won’ is not quite answered – the dead pilots have their wings now.  In the end Carter has a showgirl and a contract; he’ll be looking for more pilots then?


Blog Post February 16, 2013

China (1943) Alan Ladd Directed by John Farrow


China staring Alan Ladd and Loretta young is a 1943 Paramount film directed by John Farrow (also Renno and Round the world in 80 days.)  Set, pre-Pearl Harbor, in China in the late 1930′s.  At this China has been at war with itself – with several groups attempting to unify the country; at war with Japan for over tens years.  China was also still subject to control via the treaty port system which German, France, Italy and Great Britain controlled various ports and city’s to protect their commercial interests from the instability of greater China.

The film China features an American opportunist named ‘Jones’ and his partner Johnny are in China to sell oil to anyone on either side; Jones is currently selling to the the invading Japanese.


The Character Jones, is immediately recognizable by this brown Fedora and leather jacket; an image used by George Lucas and Steven Spielberg and others in Indiana Jones.  Here the comparison with the archaeologist Jones ends.  The Alan Ladd Jones is a business man; ruthless enough to put profit first in a hostile country.

Alan Ladd 'China'Alan Ladd ‘China’

Alan Ladd is cast as Jones the antagonist to the compassionate teacher and his partner.  Johnny accidentally adopts an abandoned child during a Japanese air raid, and is forced to give him up.  Jones is forced to help the teacher; who also hides her ‘charges’, a group school girls aboard his truck; eventually the antagonist Jones turns from ‘Bad-guy’ to ‘Good-guy’.

The inevitable clash with the Japanese occurs forcing Jones to make a choice, putting his live on the line.

The teacher played by Loretta Young, while traveling cross-country to Shanghai, meets with Jones during an air raid on dark rainy night.  Sparks fly between these strong-willed characters where they oppose each other balling nose to nose, with neither budging an inch.

It’s interesting to point out that Alan Ladd is only 5ft 5″, and long legded Loretta is 5ft 6-7″ without shoes.  Alan spent a lot of his career acting stood on the top of a box to kiss his leading ladies.

Throughout the well written film the dialog flows well and through excellent character acting the characters both come alive and develop to provided us with an engaging character driven story.  The screen  itself was based on the play “Fourth Brother” by Archibald Forbes.

Gritty and realistic, dark and deadly the film differs from adventures stories of the time and those which followed.  It reminds realistic right to conclusion, there is no hint of false optimism. This is possibly the best film John Farrow made, his others being mainly formula Westerns, Farrow obivously had a talent for direction and used it well in China.  Alan Ladd and John Farrow worked together again on the 1947 film – Calcutta.

Blog Post February 15, 2013

Shanghai Triad Directed by Yimou Zhang

1995-shanghai-triad-poster1A subtle, but sometimes violent look a the turbulent social situation and how this affected the Chinese in the over populated – sometimes lawless – wholly divided – international city of Shanghai in the 1930’s.

A rustic boy fresh from the countryside sent by his poor family to a vaguely related Shanghai crime family, and his uncle who holds a minor subservient position to the notorious gang lord.

The simple country boy is awed and overwhelmed by the opulence and immense wealth he is suddenly surrounded by.

Set in cosmopolitan Shanghai in the 1930s with a background of crime, clubs, showgirls and jazz the boy is given the undesirable position of servant to the ganglord’s mistress, who also happens to be the singer at the boss’s night club.  She wastes not time in showing off her loathsome and selfish character.  To one of the shows other dancing girls “You know the rule – your ass is your own, but if you get fondled in here, the money is mine.”

The uncle plays on the fealty owed to his and the boy’s master the ganglord.  The allegiance is a strong bond of honor and debt in Chinese culture – taught and passed down by Confucian society, in the film this plays out not only through the family ties by their given surname, but also by the debt owned to the gang for ‘bettering’ their position in society.  Uncle “All the kids in our family want to come here to get rich, but you’re the only one I recommended. Don’t let me down.”

Both the boys fealty to the gang, and loyalty to his mistress whom he serves are tested by the violence of gang wars and the greed and duplicity of both Mistress and Master in their affairs.  The film’s conclusion takes us to the point that the boys loyalties to all are tested to the limits.

The splendor of the film is captivating, nowhere is production compromised by lack of investment and direction.  The Gang household is splendid and vast; the pace of the film perfectly captures the lonely feeling that puts you in the place of the boy.

The film is dark but also filled with richness of the Gangland and club society of the 1930’s.  The soundtrack and show music is splendid.  Featuring classic era songs.

The characters themselves are solid, having layers of light and dark which are allowed to develop with the pace of the film.

I’d highly recommend this film, as one of my all time favorites, as a good documentary piece for study  of Chinese side of Chinese in the 1930’s

Thumbs Up - I like it!
Thumbs Up – I like it!

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