My Totally-Subjective Classic Movie Guide, Part 2

Continuing my attempt to introduce you to some Golden Age movies

John I. Carney
14 min readNov 9, 2022


Part 1

Part 3

As I explained in Part 1, this is a list of Golden Age movies that I’d recommend to someone unfamiliar with old movies. It’s based on movies I love, but I’ve also made an effort to include several different genres and some recognized all-time classics (which I also happen to love). They are in no particular order.

“Only Angels Have Wings” (1939)

“Calling Barranca … Calling Barranca ….”

Cary Grant and Jean Arthur in “Only Angels Have Wings”

Howard Hawks was one of the great directors of the 20th Century, and to me, one of his strengths was the way he captured camaraderie, the bonds formed by shared experience. Look at the relationships between John Wayne, Dean Martin, Rick Nelson and Walter Brennan in “Rio Bravo.”

But even more than that, look at “Only Angels Have Wings.” It’s not a war film, has nothing to do with war, but it feels almost like a war film in the relationships among its male characters. It’s set in a remote (and fictional) South American port, Barranca, where daring pilots regularly make flights through a dangerous mountain pass to deliver the mail. There’s a bond among Geoff Carter (Cary Grant) and the pilots who work for him — even the ones who hate each other.

There’s also Bonnie Lee (Jean Arthur), an entertainer, who finds herself in Barranca and is immediately attracted to Carter. Carter keeps insisting he doesn’t have time for a relationship and considers her a nuisance. Hawks liked quirky but determined heroines, like Rosalind Russell in “His Girl Friday.” Jean Arthur, best known for her Frank Capra movies, fits right into the world Hawks has created. This movie also provided a breakout role for Rita Hayworth as one of Carter’s old flames.

Bat McPherson (Richard Barthelmess) is a pilot in need of redemption; no one will hire him because of an instance when he bailed out of a plane, leaving his mechanic behind to die in the ensuing crash. The mechanic’s brother, “Kid” Dabb (Thomas Mitchell, best known as Uncle Billy from “It’s A Wonderful Life”) hates McPherson for the incident — and Kid just happens to be Carter’s best friend. But…



John I. Carney

Author of “Dislike: Faith and Dialogue in the Age of Social Media,” available at