Bottom Line: A cinematic war classic.
Directed by: Howard Hughes
Starring: Ben Lyon, James Hall, Jean Harlow
War is hell. Don’t tell me you haven’t heard that phrase before, or I’ll ask you who the war you think you are. In this movie, there are the men who have enlisted in the war, and then there are their women–hell’s angels. Set around World War I, this vintage piece is centered on a few men who have gone away to war, but more importantly, their wives and girlfriends. Clearly, it’s not your typical war movie. It stands as an interesting cross between a soap romance and a war drama.
I’ll give you all a memory of Martin Scorsese’s THE AVIATOR, for those sane souls who have seen it. Think back to the first forty minutes, in which Howard Hughes, the biographical subject portrayed by Leonardo DiCaprio, was going crazy over his 1930 production, HELL’S ANGELS: hand painting the completed film, ordering Air Force planes down to the precise bolt he preferred, hiring and firing…you get the picture. I was hesitant to watch this film after being informed of how insane this guy was. I knew I couldn’t expect much, as this was Hughes’s first feature film as director, and he had to have been caught up in some of his other careers, such as entrepreneurism and aviation. How wrong I was. It all goes to prove that as long as you don’t go over the top, obsessing over a film production has to lead to a mighty outcome. Okay, there was one thing that this billionaire DID go a bit far with: hand painting the film here and there, an effect that only worked in one or two scenes of this early use of color. Other than that, I couldn’t name one flaw to you if it depended on my life. The plot, premise, acting, and characters are all so well-done.
Maybe the historical value also makes HELL’S ANGELS worth a watch. It remained for quite a while the most expensive film production. The budget would approximate to almost $100 million in today’s currency. Contrary to popular belief, even GONE WITH THE WIND, from nine years later, failed to exceed this whale of an amount of money. If we adjust for inflation, we’d see this would be one of the better ways to put money to use. Lots of today’s big-budget pieces have been strictly visual action hounds such as TRANSFORMERS, JOHN CARTER, and PIRATES OF THE CARIBBEAN. In so many ways, it makes us long for a time 80 years ago when even madmen like Howard Hughes had some sense.