Review: ‘Hell’s Angels’

Howard Hughes' air film was advertised as costing $4 million, which likely means $3 million - plenty.

Howard Hughes’ air film was advertised as costing $4 million, which likely means $3 million – plenty.

It’s no sappy, imbecilic tale. One of the brothers (Ben Lyon) is strictly a ‘good-time Charlie’ continuously on the make and humanly afraid to die; the girl (Jean Harlow) is no good in the sense that she has and will try anything with either brother, but only does so with Lyon. This is because Jimmy Hall has ideals, idolizes her and wants to make everything official.

The first half of the film builds up to a Zeppelin raid on London which runs two reels and is given a big screen. Second half’s main display is an aerial dog fight in which at least 30, maybe 40, planes simultaneously start diving and zooming at each other.

Story actually opens in Munich with Lyon trying to date every femme in town. Highly seasoned portion of the second half comes with Lyon and Hall on a spree. Hall finds Harlow half soused and entwined with another officer in a barroom booth.

Hughes spent three years working on his pet. The story was remade three times. Originally it was silent, with Greta Nissen as the girl; then it was made once in sound and remade again after that. Air shots were taken silent with the sound dubbed in afterward.

James Whale is programmed as having staged the dialog and does that smartly. The one color sequence [a London ball] runs just about a reel and is not important.

1929/30: Nomination: Best Cinematography (Tony Gaudio, Harry Perry)

Hell's Angels


Caddo. Dir Howard Hughes; Screenplay Joseph Moncure March, Howard Estabrook, Harry Behn; Camera Tony Gaudio, Harry Perry, E.B Steene, Harry Zach, Dewey Wrigley, Elmer Dyer, Pliny Goodfriend, Alvin Wyckoff, Sam Landers, William Tuers, Glenn Kerschner, Donald Keyes, Roy Klaffki, Paul Ivano, Charles Boyle, Herman Schopp, L. Guy Wilky, John Silver, Edward Snyder,; Editor Krull, Jack Greenhalgh, Henry Cronjager, Edward Cohen, Frank Breamer, Ernest Laszlo; Editor Frank Lawrence, Douglas Biggs, Perry Hollingsworth; Music Hugo Riesenfeld Art Dir J. Boone Fleming, Carroll Clark


(B&W & Color) Extract of a review from 1930. Running time: 119 MIN.


Ben Lyon James Hall Jean Harlow John Darrow Lucien Prival Frank Clarke
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