Movie. Hell’s Angels, 1930.

Posted by T on October 21, 2006
By Title, History, Movies

Booze, broads, and brawling, that’s life! could be the subtitle.

Two brothers, one bound by duty and honor, the other sensuous and libertine, end up together as fliers for Britain in WW1. A floozy (Jean Harlow) threatens to come between them; but destiny takes over to transcend that possible problem. A dangerous bombing mission puts them together as copilots into German airspace. A dramatic ending is almost operatic in its surprise twist and melodrama.

Because of the amazing flight sequences, this Howard Hughes movie was the most expensive talkie made until Gone with the Wind.

There is a great deal of debauchery, as was common in movies of this era. The Savior’s name is twice used as a grunted curse– I had thought before seeing this that that did not start until the late 60s.

Besides that, I would offer additional criticisms:

1. The story is rather uneven in its pacing, chiefly because of Hughes’ boy-flier interest in the air battles.

2. The theme fragments are not fully coherent. An extensive dirigible sequence shows the Germans willing to sacrifice themselves for Kaiser and fatherland. This adds to the theme of bravery as ridiculous because war is ridiculous. Yet this message is really contradicted by the manner of ending of the story.

3. The characters and situations are somewhat unbelievable under the circumstances. Would two brothers be so different in values, yet so loyal one to the other? Would the authorities have put two brothers into the same plane on a dangerous mission?

But if you can buy all that, then the dramatic skeleton is somewhat satisfying.

There are several reasons one might be interested to see this movie.

  1. Howard Hughes was an important figure in the rise of the 20th century welfare-warfare state.
  2. Some may find Howard Hughes an interesting character in his own right. A recent movie (The Aviator) was made of his life, directed by Scorsese and starring DiCaprio.
  3. The extensive dogfight sequence using real WW1-vintage airplanes is quite fascinating.

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2 Comments to Movie. Hell’s Angels, 1930.

  • Actually, the policy of not stationing brothers together in dangerous areas did not come about until WWII, when five brothers were on a destroyer which was sunk by the Japanese. They were all killed.

    So it’s entirely possible (though unlikely) that two brothers could have been serving on the same plane.

  • Bob — Thanks for pointing that out. Knowing that makes me regard the movie with a bit more respect (not that movies should be judged by realism simpliciter).

    Now I’m wondering, would they have allowed them to fly drunk?

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