Like a chump or a drunken sailor, I recently bought Criterion’s Bluray of Only Angels Have Wings despite ample warning that it was too dark. A DVD Beaver review said it was “darker than the DVD,”and it definitely is that. Like it was shot in a mine shaft. Yes, the blacks are deep and wonderful and portions of this 1939 film look smoother and cleaner than any version I’ve seen before, but my God, man! This Angels is more shadowed than ten Jacques Tourneur and Robert Siodmak films put together. And there’s no reason for it.
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 “Taking Off,” posted on 8.8.11: “Emotional dialogue doesn’t have to be treacly or obvious. It’s fairly awful, in fact, when filmmakers have their characters say ‘this is who I really am and this is what I’ve always wanted,’ etc. I can’t think of a more sickening use of the gooey stuff than in the middle-school graduation scene in Crazy, Stupid, Love. And I can’t think of a better, less sentimental, polar-opposite case than Thomas Mitchell‘s death scene in Only Angels Have Wings.
Mitchell’s “Kid” is lying flat. Cary Grant‘s “Geoff” is standing a foot or two away, looking down. A few others are huddled nearby.
Kid: Geoff, tell this guy to quit fussing with me, will ya? I’m all right.
Geoff: Let him alone, Doc.
Kid: Cigarette, Papa?
Geoff: Sure. (He holds his cigarette to the Kid’s mouth.) Here.
Kid: How’s the other guy?
Geoff: Hands burned and one side of his face.
Kid: He’s all right, Geoff. Could’ve jumped but he didn’t. Just sat right there and took it like it was an ice cream soda. Buy him a drink for me, will ya?
Geoff: Sure I will.
Kid: Hadn’t been for those birds, we’d have made it.
Geoff: Sure you would.
Kid: I’d make a windshield at an angle and they’d bounce off.
Geoff: Not a bad idea.
Kid: I’ll make you a present of it, Papa. When I get on my feet, we’ll work it out. Or will we?
Geoff: Your neck’s broken, Kid.
Kid: Funny. Wondered why I couldn’t feel anything. Well, guess this is it, then. Bad sport. Gee.
Geoff: What is it, fella?
Kid: Get that bunch outta here, quick.
Geoff: (To everyone) Get out of here. Hurry up. You too, Doc, use both feet. (They leave. Geoff turns back.) What is it fella? Come on, you can tell me.
Kid: I didn’t want them to see me.
Geoff: Sure, sure.
Kid: I’m not scared, Geoff.
Geoff: Of course you’re not.
Kid: It’s just that…it’s like doing something new. Like when I made my first solo. I didn’t want anybody watching then, either.
Kid: I don’t know how good I’m gonna be at this.
Geoff: Do you want me to go too?
Kid: I’d hate to pull a boner in front of you, Geoff.
Geoff: Sure, sure I know. Here y’are, boy. (He gives him a last puff on his cigarette.) So long, Kid.
Kid: So long, Geoff.