The Senator steps back in time with 10-cent popcorn, an old flick

October 08, 1992|By Stephen Hunter | Stephen Hunter,Film Critic

The Senator Theatre, Baltimore's venerable art moderne landmark on York Road, once again turns itself from a museum to a time machine for an anniversary trip back to the year of its founding, 1939.

Today, financial policy reverts to 1939's scale: 25 cents admission and popcorn for 10 cents. You also get a 1939 movie for your trouble: Howard Hawks' campy "Only Angels Have Wings" with Cary Grant in straw hat, gaucho pants and cowboy boots muttering stoicisms almost as if he believed them and wasn't heading out to the Brown Derby for a cocktail after the day's work.

Hawks is definitely not a touchy-feely guy for our sensitive age; he admired taciturn professionals who did dangerous jobs in dangerous places without a lot of fanfare. The only lyricism permitted in this stark world was boy-boy camaraderie and much of "Only Angels Have Wings" is about male codes of conduct under stress, about trying to find the right thing to do. This is admirable. On the other hand, he had little patience for the gender he called either "broads" or "dames," with their icky ways of trying to say the unsayable. A secret arc of most classic Hawks work, manifestly evinced in "Angels," is the woman's initiation into the rituals of manhood, once she learns the ropes.

The woman in this case is Jean Arthur as a stranded showgirl who finds herself among a colony of sweaty, existential flyboys in South America trying to hump the mail over the Andes and trying not to pay too much attention to the fact that they crash and burn at a rate of one a reel. Head bull goose of this macho stud circus is Grant, trying to look tough and cool in those ridiculous pants.

For an aviation epic, a lot of "Angels" takes place in a seedy little bar just off the runway, where the boys lift a glass to fallen comrades and try to keep their upper lips from quivering. Subplots abound: froggy little Richard Barthelmess shows up as a disgraced flier who wants another chance to prove himself; his hot wife Rita Hayworth tries to make herself a movie star (she succeeded); Thomas Mitchell is quietly going blind; and Arthur, reduced by the sophomoric script to a child's relationship to adult authority, hops about hoping to catch Grant's eye.

But, in its crackpot, politically incorrect way, it's innocent fun.

Anniversary screening

What: 'Only Angels Have Wings'

When: 2, 5 and 8:15 p.m.

Where: Senator Theatre

Cost: 25 cents.

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