Sunday, June 1, 2014

Don't Make a Scene: - Only Angels Have Wings

The Story:  Howard Hawks swore that he saw this scene from - Only Angels Have Wings played out in real life (but Hawks was a renowned story-teller)—a young pilot, dying, asking to die alone. 

"A good death," said Hawks. An unsentimental death, certainly, on the surface, but Hawks never did anything very simply. The conversation between Geoff and the Kid (who is, typically for Hawks, older than him) is played out conversationally with emotions held in check. 

But Nature has a way of betraying us, and the rain that falls from Carter's hat stands as a substitute for the tears he won't shed in front of his friend. 

And the trademark Hawks cigarette bit-of-business is there, too—his usual symbol for charity, for need, for friendship, for bonds, serves a dual purpose: the smoke escaping from the Kid's last puff might be a representation of a soul (other directors have used it, like Sergio Leone in The Good, The Bad and The Ugly); and, that last cigarette goes from the Kid's lips to Carter's bestowing a once-removed kiss, (Hawks never shied away from a gay sub-text), or you can see it as Geoff continuing something the Kid can't finish. Simple actions in Hawks' films often have deep or multiple interpretations.  

But, that's business.  The important part is that Geoff Carter and the Kid "go solo" their separate ways, Geoff finishing the Kid's last cigarette and walking out into a down-pour. 

A good death, indeed.  

And a great film.

The Set-Up: Tragedy has struck the flight-service run by Geoff Carter (Cary Grant)out of the banana-port of Baranca. On this rainy, wind-swept night, a flight over the Andes has been thrown into jeopardy when condors, spooked by the sound of the its engines, crashed into the plane and through the wind-screen, disabling the navigator Kid Dabb (Thomas Mitchell), and causing a fire in one of the engines that severely burns the pilot, Bat MacPherson (Richard Barthlemess). MacPherson, years earlier, had disgraced himself, jumping from a damaged plane that crashed, killing his mechanic. As Fate would have it, that mechanic was Dabb's younger brother, and "The Kid" has never been able to forget, or forgive MacPherson. Now, MacPherson, fighting fire and severe weather has brought the plane in for a crash-landing--both men injured, but Kid Dabb, critically. A doctor tries to make him comfortable on this rainy night, the entire crew of the service hovering near their older colleague. 


Kid Dabb: [Wounded and laid out on a table after the crash, he gets annoyed at the doctor attending to him] Okay, doc, that's fine, that's fine. Cut it out.  Come on, Geoff, tell this guy to quit fussing with me, willya? I'm all right.
Geoff Carter: Let him alone. doc. [The doctor backs away and stands with the other pilots, who are watching behind Carter]
Dabb: Cigarette, papa?
Carter: Sure [He holds the cigarette to the Kid's mouth] Here.
Dabb: How's the other guy?
Carter: Hands burned and one side of his face.
Dabb: He's all right, Geoff. He could have jumped, but he didn't. He just sat there and took it like it was an ice cream soda. Buy him a drink for me, will ya?
Carter: Sure I will.
Dabb: Hadn't been for those birds, we'd have made it.
Carter: Sure you would.
Dabb: I'd make a windshield at an angle. Then they'd bounce off.
Carter: Not a bad idea.
Dabb: I'll make a present of it, papa. When I get on my feet, we'll work it out....Or will we?
Carter: Your neck's broken, Kid.
Dabb: Funny. Wondered why I couldn't feel anything.
Dabb: Well I guess this is it, then.
Dabb: Bad sport. Gee. [He suddenly tenses up]
Carter: What is it, fella?
Dabb: Get that bunch outta here, quick.
Carter: [To the others in the room] Get out of here. Hurry up. You, too, doc. Use both feet. [They leave. Carter turns back to the Kid]
Carter: What is it, fella? Come on, you can tell me.
Dabb: I didn't want them to see me.
Carter: Sure, sure.
Dabb: I'm not scared, Geoff.
Carter: Of course you're not.

Dabb: 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.
Carter: Yeah.
Dabb: I don't know how good I'm gonna be at this.

Carter: Do you want me to go too?
Dabb: I'd hate to pull a boner in front of you, Geoff.
Carter: Sure, sure, I know.
Carter: Here y'are, boy. [He gives him a last puff on his cigarette] So long, Kid.
Dabb: So long, Geoff. [Carter, with the cigarette in his mouth, walks out into the night rain]

Words by Howard Hawks and
Jules Furthman

Pictures by
Joseph Walker and Howard Hawks

- Only Angels Have Wings is available on DVD from Sony Home Video

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