Filmsite Movie Review
Only Angels Have Wings (1939)
Pages: (1) (2) (3)
Plot Synopsis (continued)

The next flying assignment, when an impending storm threatens, is to fly a load of nitroglycerin to oil fields 200 miles north from the pass. When Gent Shelton (John Carroll) refuses to fly due to his contract, and Les is disabled by a broken arm in a fight with Kid, MacPherson accepts the treacherous flight offer from Geoff: "You weren't kidding me the other day, were you?" After he has taken off, Judy begs to know why her husband has such a bad reputation - but Geoff won't tell her: "You'll have to ask him":

Why does he always get things like this to do?..I told you I was happy, but I lied to you. Why don't people want to work with him? What's he done that makes people act the way they do?...Oh please, Geoff, I've got to know.

Because of her pleading and the onset of bad weather, Bat's mission is cut short and he is ordered to turn back. As he flies through the pass, he dumps the nitro on a flock of giant condors that are roosting there [a deliberate set-up for a future encounter with the birds]. When the weather clears, MacPherson completes the mail flight on schedule - the second-to-last trip before clinching Dutchy's government contract.

Behind the saloon's bar that evening, Geoff finds an inebriated, "no-good" Judy looking for a corkscrew for a bottle of whiskey - the faithless, selfish and demanding wife makes a play for him - with double entendres about losing her sexual inhibitions and her husband. Unwilling to give MacPherson a simple bond of trust, she has decided to reject him for not sharing his discredited past:

Judy: Judy's lost her equilibrium.
Geoff: Yeah. You're apt to lose something else if you put that stuff on top of it....
Judy: I don't care. I'm getting used to losing things.
Geoff: Did you ask him?
Judy: Hmm, mmm.
Geoff: Is that why you're celebrating?
Judy: He wouldn't tell me. Said it had nothing to do with us. So it seems that that's that. It's all over.
Geoff: You're gonna let him go it all by himself, huh?...Did you ever hear the word 'trust'?
Judy: I did once, but I forgot it.
Geoff: I don't blame him for not telling you. Maybe he wanted to find out what he'd got. You're no good, Judy, and you never were...I used to wonder if I was right when we broke up. Well, I don't have to worry about it anymore.
Judy: What did I do?
Geoff: You don't know what I'm talking about, do you? You've got some listening to do, and I'm gonna make sure you hear every word of it. Come on, it'll do you good. (He pours two pitchers of water over her head to sober her up and spurn her advances.) What do you care what he did? Why do you have to know all about it?...If it's so bad he can't tell you, how do you think he feels? Why don't you think of his side of it? You're just like all the rest of them. You don't know what it means to stick.

In his own quarters on the upstairs balcony, Geoff discovers Bonnie has invited herself in and is taking a bath. He shows distaste for her domesticizing of his room with a boiling coffee pot: "What's all this?...All this cooking?" She cautions him about burning himself - and wryly quips at him after he scalds himself a second time:

Bonnie: I thought you never did that.
Geoff: Did what?
Bonnie: Got burned twice in the same place.

Judy appears at the door to thank Geoff for his forthright assessment of her: "You were right, Geoff. I'm no good. I was only thinking of myself, not how to help him. I'm glad you didn't tell me what he's done. I don't ever want to know. I just want another chance." Bonnie's opinion of Geoff is softened and changed - she is impressed by Geoff's ability to provide "a matrimonial agency on the side." He scoops her into his arms after seeing her hobbling around on one foot. Her foot is not sprained - she has only lost the heel from her slipper. Bonnie playfully wisecracks in a self-effacing manner that she lost "one heel" - her "queer duck" partner:

Bonnie: Don't I have the darndest luck, losing one heel right after another?
Geoff: You're a queer duck, Bonnie.
Bonnie: So are you.

After they passionately kiss each other, Bonnie confesses that she is in love and that she has been converted by him. Finding resilience, she will no longer be demanding and vulnerable, and she will accept uncertainty - just like his friendship with his male best friend Kid:

Geoff, you don't have to be afraid of me anymore. I'm not trying to tie you down. I don't want to plan. I don't want to look ahead. I don't want you to change anything. I love you, Geoff. There's nothing I can do about it. I just love you, that's all. I feel the same way about you that Kid does. Anything you do is all right with me....Yes, he doesn't ask you for anything, or get in your way or bother you, does he?

Geoff replies: "Drives me nuts" - but he kisses her anyway. He is called away by Kid to test plane engines - as he leaves, he reminds Bonnie to remain there for him: "And keep the coffee warm, will ya?" The weather has turned impassable, but with a new trimotor plane for the mail flight (the last job required to get the contract), prospects have increased of getting through the fog-bound, stormy pass at a higher altitude. Kid tosses a coin as a wager - to fly along as a second passenger to guide Geoff through the dangerous pass: "Heads, I go." But Geoff discovers it's a trick coin: "Heads on both sides!" Geoff consents when Kid begs to fly with him: "I wanna go with you, Pop."

Bonnie, standing between them in the background, overhears Dutchy tell Geoff: "Don't you think you're crazy to try to fly in that kind of weather?...Whatever you do, don't think you have to do it for me. I know what it means, but I'd rather be broke. I don't care whether we get that contract or not." Wearing her tight-fitting suit, she is planning to leave on the outbound night boat that has brought the mail for Geoff's mission overland. Fearing Geoff's flight through the storm - as lightning strikes outside, Bonnie breaks down when he asks her for a match to light his cigarette. She isn't strong enough to be part of Geoff's world - yet:

Bonnie: I'm sorry to be so silly. I wanted to do this just the way you do. I was all right up until the time you asked for that match, wasn't I?
Geoff: You sure were.
Bonnie: Well, just remember it up till then, would ya?

As he says goodbye without asking her to stay, she clings to him: "Geoff, I can't let you go." She grabs the gun from his holster and threatens to shoot him if he insists on flying: "I won't let you kill yourself." The hardened Geoff is contemptuous when she repeats the pattern of previous women who had cared about his perilous occupation and mortality: "You're going to do it to keep me from doing it? Well, Bonnie, You're just like all the rest." The gun accidentally goes off when she throws it down onto a table - Geoff is struck in the shoulder. When she runs to him, he motions her to "Go away!" She explains to the men, who run in from the saloon, that she shot him: "I didn't want him to go." After the men probe for the bullet, they decide that he is unable to pilot the flight ("You've joined the rest of us cripples"). Because Kid isn't "good enough alone" to fly, MacPherson again volunteers for service - with Kid as his co-navigator in the cockpit. [With this plot contrivance, the two are forced to fly together on this final, crucial flight.]

During the risky, instruments-only flight, Kid radios in and calls out the flight's altitude in numbers. Their trimotor breaks out of the first layer of clouds at eight thousand feet. At fourteen thousand feet, they begin breathing oxygen through antiquated tubes. At 16,000 feet, they fail to fly high enough and lose altitude in a spiraling dive: "...the bottom fell out." Geoff orders them to return while Kid claims that they can press on through the foggy, closed-in pass: "I've been flying in a blind for two months. Won't do any harm to do it once more." In the vicinity of the pass, a flock of condors are spooked. One crashes through the cockpit window and seriously wounds Kid with flying debris and destroys the aircraft's windshield. Two motors are set ablaze. Injured and unable to move, Kid urges MacPherson to get a parachute and bail out ("Jump yourself"). This time, however, MacPherson remains with the disabled craft and co-pilot - responding "Not this time." Unable to land safely, he daringly crash-lands the flaming plane onto the airfield in full view of onlookers - in a scene reminiscent of Joe's crash-landing.

Kid's dark death-bed and farewell scene is one of the film's best-remembered highlights, as Carter's most-trusted flyer and best friend succumbs to his injuries. Annoyed with the doctor, he is laid out on a table after the crash, and asks to be alone to witness the end. As he dies and receives one last cigarette puff, he praises a badly-burned MacPherson for his calm heroism and bravery:

Kid: Geoff, tell this buy 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. (He suddenly becomes tense.)
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.
Geoff: Yeah.
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.

After a swift, simple goodbye, Geoff walks out into the night rain - death has claimed another flier. Inside the airfield office, Dutchy informs the broken-hearted boss that their air service is "licked" and the airfield is closed down. Moments later, Geoff radios Tex at the Lookout to tell him of Kid's passing with a flight metaphor: "Broke his neck. Took off a few minutes ago."

In the saloon, MacPherson (with bandages on his hands) is redeemed by the formerly-hostile pilots - he is welcomed back by the group after regaining their trust, and Geoff fulfills Kid's last request to buy him a drink - shared with Judy now that they have divulged their pasts. One of the men lights MacPherson's cigarette for him - a symbol of communion and acceptance. Sparks brings Kid's belongings to Geoff [paralleling the scene after Joe's death], and he picks out the two-headed coin: "Not much to show for 22 years." He leaves the bar and goes off to his office alone. Reassuringly, Sparks encourages a hesitantly-fearful Bonnie, with whispering voices, to speak to Geoff before leaving:

Sparks: Aren't you gonna say good-bye to him? I think you ought to.
Bonnie: You do?
Sparks: I think he'd want you to.
Bonnie: Are you sure?
Sparks: He might not act like it, but I think he would.
Bonnie: Well, if you think I ought to.
Sparks: I think you should.
Bonnie: I don't mind doing it if you say so.
Sparks: I do say so.
Bonnie: You do? (He nods.) Well, I guess I'd better go ahead and do it, then.

After finding her confidence, Bonnie stutters with halting sentences to Geoff, and then notices that his eyes are full of tears as he combs over Kid's belongings - she notices his human and emotional side and the softening of his exterior. His crying makes it more difficult for her to say goodbye. She bluntly asks him a direct question:

Bonnie: Geoff, do you want me to stay or don't you?
Geoff: Well, Bonnie. [Radio: Calling Barranca.]

His vocational commitment interrupts their conversation and he doesn't answer her critical question. Tex reports that the "storm's breaking up" and "the pass is clearing" - he recommends "Let 'em come, Papa." The final flight can still be accomplished to save Dutchy's airline contract, with two one-armed pilots Geoff and Les: "We've just got time to make it." Again, Geoff departs without explicitly telling Bonnie to stay: "Keep that coffee warm." She abruptly tells him that she won't be there when he returns: "Nobody asked me to stay...And you wouldn't ask anybody to do anything, would you?" To answer her question in a round-about way, Geoff wagers on her decision by flipping Kid's coin, but Bonnie refuses to remain on the basis of a coin toss:

Geoff: Here, we'll flip the coin for it. Tails you go, heads you stay. (He flips the coin.) Heads. What about it?
Bonnie: I won't stay that way.
Geoff: You won't?
Bonnie: I'm hard to get, Geoff. All you have to do is ask me. [This line is repeated in Hawks' To Have and Have Not (1944) by Lauren Bacall to Humphrey Bogart.]
Geoff: Here's a souvenir for you, Bonnie. I like that saying good-bye. (He kisses her and races off to his waiting plane.) So long, Bonnie.

As she stands there muttering "Son of a gun," and listens to the motors reving up for takeoff, she absent-mindedly fingers Kid's coin in her hands, turns it over and notices that it has two heads - her face lights up. Discovering that he has actually asked her to stay - to be Kid's female counterpart in his life, she runs to the outer door and watches his plane lift off into the rainy sky, while buoyantly exclaiming to him: "Hey! Hey, Geoff!"

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