Sunday, 26 April 2015

Capital Celluloid 2015 - Day 127: Thu May 7

Only Angels Have Wings (Hawks, 1939): Regent Street Cinema, 7.30pm

This is the opening night of a new cinema, in a theatre dubbed “the birthplace of British cinema”, one which screened the UK’s first moving image – and its first X-rated film. Shira MacLeod, the Regent Street Cinema’s director, has revealed it will be the only movie theatre in the UK to show moving image media “from 16mm and 35mm to Super 8 film, to the latest in 4K digital film”.

The restored cinema, which also houses the original organ used to accompany silent movies, will feature “cutting-edge British and world cinema, retrospectives and classic repertory titles, documentaries, experimental moving image and animation”, Ms MacLeod has said in an article in the Independent you can read here.

The first screening, Only Angels Have Wings, is a major American movie and a pivotal film in the great Howard Hawks's career. Indeed, Robin Wood, in his BFI book on Hawks, describes the movie as a "completely achieved masterpiece". Cary Grant leads a group of pilots who regularly take their life in their hands flying mail planes across the Andes. They are joined by a sparky Jean Arthur, who drops in for a steak but fascinated by the life and times of Grant's team stays on and witnesses the adventures of one of Hawks's archetypal male groups. Only Angels Have Wings mixes tragedy and comedy in typical Hawks style and has an atmosphere all its own. Here is the justly celebrated piano-playing sequence with Grant and Arthur.

Chicago Reader review:
Howard Hawks's 1939 film represents the equilibrium point of his career: the themes he was developing throughout the 30s here reach a perfect clarity and confidence of expression, without yet confronting the darker intimations that would haunt his films of the 40s and 50s. The setting is a South American port where a group of fliers, led by Cary Grant, challenges the elements nightly by piloting mail across a treacherous mountain range. This all-male existential ritual (Grant almost seems the high priest of some Sartrean temple) is invaded by an American showgirl (Jean Arthur) who stops off for a steak and remains, fascinated by the heightened, heady atmosphere of primal struggle. The film's moral seriousness (which sometimes approaches overt didacticism) is balanced by the usual Hawks humor and warmth, and as Grant and Arthur are drawn into a romance, the film moves toward a humanistic softening of its stark premises.
Dave Kehr

Here (and above) is the trailer.

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