BluRay/DVD Reviews


By • Dec 7th, 2004 •

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Universal. 1930. 2 hrs. 11 mins. B&W with color.

In Martin Scorsese’s newest film, THE AVIATOR, we witness three burning passions that guided a young Howard Hughes: flying, beautiful starlets and film-making. With the DVD release of HELL’S ANGELS, the epic war film Hughes made in 1930, we see those passions first-hand.

HELLS ANGELS follows the aerial adventures of Roy and Monte Rutledge, two Oxford students who enlist into England’s Royal Flying Corp at the start of World War I. After sharing a few death-defying adventures, as well as sharing the same sexy volunteer, Helen, Roy and Monte are called upon to lead a dangerous air attack against the Germans.

Hughes is credited as this epic’s sole director, but he had assistance from skilled directors like Edmund Goulding (GRAND HOTEL), horror maestro James Whale and action film pioneer Howard Hawks. It would be fascinating to know who were the creative forces behind some of this film’s amazingly visual moments.

These moments include a nighttime zeppelin battle that has truly eerie and suspenseful images. During a climatic air battle, vast wide shots of battling planes are intercut with scenes where the camera stays with screaming and bleeding pilots spiraling into tailspins. These scenes make HELL’S ANGELS a DVD keeper.

The Rutledge boys tend to drag the film. Ben Lyon, as Monte, overacts at times, you would think he’s doing a parody of old-fashioned acting. James Hall, as Roy, is too bland and cheerless. One wonders why the sexually charged Helen attaches herself to him. 19 year old Jean Harlow plays Helen with energy and spunk. It’s appropriate she makes her grand entrance during this films’ soft pastel eight minute two-tone Technicolor sequence (By the way, this is the only time Harlow appeared in a color film.)

The other stars of the film are the war planes themselves. Hughes flavors HELLS ANGELS with tidbits of aeronautic info, such as how to control a crashing plane, or how to boost a zeppelin to gain speed, and more.

In 1930, Hughes produced three amazing films, this one, THE FRONT PAGE (directed with hyperactive zip by Lewis Milestone) and SCARFACE (with Howard Hawks as director. I prefer the Hawks/Hughes SCARFACE over the Pacino remake.) As Hughes conquered other businesses, built his empire, and perfected his phobias, his film legacy wobbled. His later films, like THE OUTLAW (1943, with Jane Russell in a bra based on egg-head engineering) and VENDETTA (1950, with one of his last discoveries, Faith Domergue) lacked the energy found in HELL’S ANGELS.

Produced and Directed by Howard Hughes
Co-directed by Edmund Goulding (uncredited)
Dialog scenes staged by James Whale
Written by Joseph Moncure March

Ben Lyon, James Hall, Jean Harlow

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