“Only Angels Have Wings”: a perfect scene.


It’s already perfect on the page, but pair it with the subtle acting of Jean Arthur and Cary Grant (and Thomas Mitchell at the end there) … makes this one of my favorite filmed scenes of all time.

The inflection can’t be described or captured … that’s the magic of acting.

(Clips of the scene below the fold. Follow along.)

Watch how Thomas Mitchell fills up the line : “Uh huh” … you can’t “see it” on the page, you can’t “see” how it should be said, but he makes it seem inevitable, perfect.

And his reading of the last line. She protests – like: “I hardly know the man!” and the way Jean Arthur says it shows she is truly protecting herself here, protesting against his implication that she is already some worried lovestruck female. And his reply is not just perfect in his delivery, but perfect on the page: “Sure, but you’ll get over it.” He appears to agree with her, saying “Sure”, but then lets her know he doesn’t buy it … “but you’ll get over it.”

I just LOVE that line. She’s busted … but the way he says it makes it seem like it’s all right. Which is perfect – because often in movies like this, the men gang up on the women. And while these men are, indeed, a gang – they all truly like Bonnie, and you can see that in her interactions with them later. Especially KID, but with others as well. They don’t roll their eyes, like, God, what a pathetic little slut she is … or whatever … They can see how into their friend she is, and they’ve seen it all before – KID even tries to warn her off … but they’re kind to her. It’s all there in that moment.

“I hardly know the man!” she protests.
“Sure, but you’ll get over it….” replies The Kid. In a way that would certainly make ME feel comfortable going to him with my problems, later on, if I felt the need.

Same thing with one of Cary Grant’s sexiest moments on screen – ever, in my opinion – the manner in which he says, “After your boat sails.” It is primal. This man means business with that line. It’s far more sexy than anything more overt, it’s all in the implication. He’ll get sleep after her boat sailsno sleep until after she leaves. No wonder the script could get away with it … “after your boat sails” is not a sexual line, but just watch how he says it. It’s rough, his intent is clear in how he says it.

And the exchange that follows shows that she got his intent, too. Watch how these two actors play it. So wonderful.

Also, the fact that he is written to say, about the woman in his past and how she compares to Bonnie – that she was “just as nice and almost as smart” … Okay, first: watch how Cary Grant plays it. Geoff Carter is written to be a swashbuckling cranky macho man, and he IS. But, there’s a spot in his heart reserved for something soft, something female … and yes, he sleeps around (there’s that great scene where he sees a woman who looks vaguely familiar, and she obviously knows him well – and he embraces her, awkwardly, because he can’t remember her name – and he says, taking a stab at it – “Mexico City?” and she shakes her head mournfully and says, “Puerto Rico.” A few seconds later, she gives him a quick kiss, and the light dawns on his face and he says, “Now I remember! Puerto Rico!” Hysterical.) But anyway, he’s got the floozies he hangs out with … but the woman who “made him the way he is” he describes as “nice … and smart” … It’s a killer line, and Grant delivers it in a killer manner, his face looking down at Bonnie, suddenly vulnerable, suddenly full of memories. Slam-dunk.

On the page, Bonnie can come across as simpering – but the way Jean Arthur plays it, with true confusion, because of her lust and growing fascination with this man – undercuts that, making her seem like a practical humorous woman who is, for real, falling in love (lust, pinwheels in her eyes) for the first time. She literally doesn’t know what to do with herself. And instead of being sad or pathetic, it is funny and endearing.

His behavior – all the bottle-opening stuff and mixing drinks – is all written into the script … interesting … and some of it is a bit changed in the final version, but not much.

One of my favorite scenes of all time.

BONNIE: Well, goodbye Mister. It is too bad Barranca is so far from Brooklyn.

CARTER: What’s your hurry? It is only a few minutes after twelve. Your boat doesn’t leave until four o’clock.

CARTER reaches under bar, takes bottle and pours drinks.

CARTER: Here – say when.

BONNIE: When are you going to get some sleep?

CARTER: After your boat sails.

BONNIE: Aren’t you just wasting your time?

CARTER: Well, there is a point that is open to argument.

BONNIE: That is what I am afraid of.


BONNIE: Those arguments.

CARTER: What’s the matter with them?

BONNIE: Oh, they are too one-sided.

CARTER: Well, no hard feelings.

BONNIE: (picks up drink) Apology accepted.

CARTER: (picks up drink) How about taking along a little souvenir – why not? Help yourself. Hmm – you’ve got a good eye, Lady.

BONNIE: (picking up bracelet) Someone must have given you an awful beating once.

LONG SHOT. LILY and woman seated at table rise as BONNIE enters and puts watch on LILY’s arm.

LILY: Oh, el reloj de Joe. Muchas gracias, Senorita, muchas gracias. Mira tia, el reloj de Joe.

AUNT: Si, si, muy bonito.

at bar.

AUNT’S VOICE: Vamos a casa, nina.

LILY’S VOICE: Muchas gracias.

BONNIE, LILY and AUNT by table walk to door as women exit. BONNIE turns.

LILY: El reloj de joe … muchas gracias.

BONNIE: Come on now, you better go home.

AUNT. Buenas noches.

BONNIE: Goodnight.

CARTER at bar – turns and picks up glasses.

CARTER at bar – walks to table as BONNIE enters, shakes her head, picks up purse, and starts back.

CARTER: You’re a queer duck.

BONNIE: So are you.

CARTER: I can’t make you out.

BONNIE: (turning to him) Same here. What was she like, anyway?


BONNIE: That girl that made you act the way you do.

CARTER: A whole lot like you — just as nice and almost as smart.

BONNIE: Chorus girl?

CARTER: Only by temperament.

BONNIE: Well, at least you’re true to the type.

BONNIE and CARTER by table – he sits.

CARTER: Let’s sit down and make yourself comfortable.

BONNIE: Still carrying the torch for her, aren’t you?

CARTER: Got a match?

BONNIE: Don’t you ever have any?

CARTER seated – back of Bonnie f.g. – she sits on edge of table.

CARTER. Don’t believe in laying in a supply of anything.

BONNIE: Matches, marbles, money or women?

CARTER: That’s right.

BONNIE: No looking ahead – no tomorrows – just today.

CARTER: That’s right.

BONNIE: Is that why she gave you the air?


BONNIE: That girl.

CARTER: Say, listen, I wouldn’t ask any woman to — Say, you can think up more questions. Here —

He hands her matches as she leans towards him.

BONNIE: What wouldn’t you —

CARTER: (taking drink) What?

BONNIE: Ask anybody to do?

CARTER: Did you ever know a woman who didn’t want to make plans? Map out everything – get it all set?

CARTER rises and reaches to bar left as CAMERA PANS – takes bottle then walks back to table – SIDE-ANGLE of the two.

CARTER: Oh, well, I don’t blame them I guess. It is the only way they can operate – run a home and have kids.

BONNIE: I suppose you think that is a lot easier and less dangerous than flying!

CARTER: I don’t know – I never tried it.

BONNIE: But didn’t you ask her to?


BONNIE: That girl.

CARTER: I told you I wouldn’t ask any woman —

BONNIE: What if she were willing to?

CARTER: Yeah – that’s what they all say.

CARTER walks left as CAMERA PANS to bar – then back to table.

CARTER: Women think they can take it, but they can’t. The minute you get up in the air, they start calling the airport – and when you get down you find them waiting for you so scared they hate your insides.

BONNIE: What if she was the type that didn’t scare so easily.

CARTER: (opening bottle) There’s no such animal.

BONNIE: Why? How do you know?

CARTER: (pours drink and sits) Well, the girl I was telling you about came as close to it as anybody I ever met. But one night when I’d been lost in a fog – something like this – radio beam was out and I was glad to get my feet on the ground – what do you think my welcome-home speech was? She was hoping I’d crashed.



CARTER’S VOICE: Couldn’t stand the gaff. Said she’d rather see me dead and have it over with. She told me if I wouldn’t quit flying – it was all off.

BONNIE: You wouldn’t, would you?

CARTER seated – back of BONNIE, seated on table, right f.g.

CARTER: I’m still flying.

BONNIE: I wonder what happened to her?

CARTER: Who? I don’t know for sure. I heard she married another flyer. Well —

CARTER seated – BONNIE seated on table – he rises and walks to her – side-angle.

CARTER: Now, is there anything else you’d like to know about me? Would you like to go over to my room? Got some letters from home. Pictures of my father and mother – pictures of me the first time I went up in the air — pictures of my first crash.

BONNIE: Any pictures of you when you were a baby?

back of BONNIE f.g.

CARTER: I don’t remember. Want to go and look?

back of CARTER f.g.

BONNIE: (starting to rise) Sure.

CARTER by BONNIE – she rises from table as they start left – he stops her – they walk right to door back as CAMERA PANS

BONNIE and CARTER walk to door with backs to camera.

CARTER: Bonnie —

BONNIE and CARTER by door — side-angle.

CARTER: Keep on the way we were going – just follow your nose and it will take you right to the boat.


CARTER: I’ve got to stick around here.

BONNIE: Oh – so that’s where we were going.

CARTER: (puts hands on her shoulders) Take care of your —

KID walks right as CAMERA PANS to CARTER and BONNIE at door b.g.

KID: Oh, Geoff!


KID: Tex just called from lookout – he says the Pass is clearing.

CARTER and BONNIE by door.

CARTER: Yes — did you wake Les up?

KID: No, because – well – Tex says it’s nobody’s picnic.

CARTER and BONNIE at door – he puts out cigarette.

CARTER: Yeah – all right, wind up number seven and put some coffee in it.


KID: I already did.

warming up – travels towards Camera.

BONNIE and CARTER by door – he kisses her and exits left f.g.

CARTER: So long, Bonnie- have a nice trip.

BONNIE: (she starts to follow) Hey, wait a minute —

CARTER walking to b.g.- BONNIE enters and follows to bar –

BONNIE: You going up yourself?


BONNIE: When will you be back?

CARTER enters behind bar – back BONNIE right f.g. he pours water over head.

CARTER: Oh, it takes three hours each way. I won’t be back until after your boat sails. I’ll look you up in New York sometime.


CARTER: What — huh?

BONNIE: Did you say you’d look me up in New York sometime?

CARTER: Sure! I’ll see you there —

BONNIE: When are you coming —

CARTER: What did you say.

BONNIE: When are you coming —

CARTER: Next week at two o’clock.

CARTER walks around bar as CAMERA PANS to her – they embrace.

CARTER: Hey, I like that saying goodbye – let’s try it again, huh? So long, Bonnie —

CARTER exits through b.g. as BONNIE watches – as she turns KID enters – they start right b.g.

BONNIE: Say – things happen awful fast around here.

KID: Uh huh!

warming up – CARTER’S walking from f.g. to plane

walks – examining it. As man gets out, he climbs – others working around exit as plane takes off LEFT.

MED. SHOT BONNIE and KID in doorway

BONNIE: Is it going to be dangerous?

KID: What do you want to do – put a net under him? Well, lady, you’re really better off this way —

BONNIE: (turning to him) Yeah, I guess — but look, I hardly know the man.

KID: Sure, but you’ll get over it.

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5 Responses to “Only Angels Have Wings”: a perfect scene.

  1. Betsy says:

    I love it when you do that.

  2. tracey says:

    /You know, I always did like a bath better than a shower./

    Oh, I love that — she’s totally falling apart.

  3. Nicola says:

    Aaaah Sheila you are single handedly responsible for turning me onto this movie. I really love it. My favourite seen is when he catches her bathing in his room.

  4. A says:

    I love this scene. Jean Arthur plays Bonnie’s slow unravelling so well. It’s as if she doesn’t know how to be in the same room as this man, as if he makes her so aware of her body that she doesn’t know how to stand or carry herself. The strain of keeping it together in his presence and hiding her growing eagerness is played so beautifully.

    I love the way he shakes the glass when he says, “I heard she married another flier”. Amazing. All the information the audience needs about whether he cares is in that gesture and his eyes.

  5. red says:

    A – you’ve got such a good eye. The way he shakes the glass is one of my favorite unspoken moments in that scene. You’re right – all the information you need to know is in that tiny gesture.


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