Picture, the early years of aviation. The Wright brothers had not flown at Kitty Hawk a decade before and men were taking to the air with canvas covered wooden contraptions spitting death dealing fiery hot lead in attempts to end each other. World War One, nay, the Great War was upon us through black and white celluloid at the local cinema, the narrator booming the soundtrack through air so thick with cigarette smoke you could chew on it, and heroes made.
Right, enough with inexhaustibly long sentences… In making this movie, Howard Hughes went crazy – see The Aviator. Yes, the Howard Hughes which built the Spruce Goose, the biggest seaplane to date. Everybody told him it wouldn’t fly. However, after seeing a model of it fly when Cliff used it to escape from Hughes Aircraft, he decided to build it anyway – see The Rocketeer. For those of you who haven’t seen either those movies, you should. Both those statements are based on happenings in the films mentioned, and are not actually facts. Hell’s Angels of 1929, similarly, is as much a stunning film as it is Mr. Hughes’ personal commentary on war and his life. No facts, but one heck of a story!
Roy Rutledge, played by James Hall is the ever so honorable patriot. His patriotism gets him enlisted into the Royal Air Force after a stint at some high falutin British college. Was it Oxford? Bah, that’s irrelevant. Helen, so exquisitely played by Jean Harlow is the vixen of his affection and love. They just don’t build beautiful people the way they used to! I must find a pinup of Jean Harlow… Their love story plays out alongside Monte’s hedonism and cowardice, Roy’s brother.
Hughes examines the ideas of loyalty, morality, and the abysmal concept of war in minute detail through the trails these three weave with the stress of ever-present death. As the movie wanes, so does the outlook on hope, love and life, reflecting the state Hughes was in as the production of the movie drew to a close. Honor however is held high, high above each character’s shoulders! Some seize it, other don’t. Maybe it could be called a Tragedy? Maybe… However, I’d prefer to classify it in the Death of Honor genre, if there were such a thing. But all these themes-and-concepts literary crap is for the birds! Enjoy it if you must, but what is truly amazing are the action sequences!
To think that stunt pilots actually flew those contrivances, to record that film, and walked away with their lives is breath taking. A few twigs covered in twine, strapped together with a couple of cables are all that kept them in the air. How their wings didn’t fold in some of those dives is pure magic to me. Forget physics! Not to mention the in-air shots Hughes pulled off. Just think of the gargantuan size of the cameras he used to film all of this with!? An absolute technological marvel; a film to showcase the greatness of the man Hughes himself. Not just of it’s time, of all time! I dare any director today to do the same with the same. They’d flap their wrists and walk away with a sneer of disgust, cigarette dangling from their lips as the beret on their head wafted in the breeze… Okay, maybe their not all French, but really, they’d all be just as broke as he was by the time he’d finished. This movie not only drove him insane, it also almost nearly bankrupt him. And that is a fact!
All in all, a stunning good show, especially with a Scotch on the Rocks in one hand. Don’t think it will stimulate the same veins as the gyrating, big kabloomy “I know Kung Fu” films of today, oh heavens no. To appreciate this film completely, add a well oiled pipe and a smoking jacket to the screening.