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  • My roommates and I saw a few minutes of this many years ago, and we spent weeks poring over TV listings and video rentals to find more of this movie. We were not disappointed. The aerial combat scenes are, quite simply, the most astounding ever. Some scenes show DOZENS of REAL airplanes roiling in a frighteningly tight ball like a cloud of gnats, and barely missing each other. 3 pilots died filming this movie. I'm forever spoiled for the safe choreography, heavy editing, and airplane-free skies of Top Gun... Hell's Angels has real pilots doing really scary stuff. Real planes crashing into real hillsides, not "drifting behind a sand dune and then setting off a gasoline pot."

    I now scoff at the computer-generated zeppelin scenes in "Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade." Howard Hughes kicked their butts over 70 years earlier.

    Some of the movie is melodramatic and dated, but some human scenes are brutally harsh, powerful, and would never get filmed today because they're TOO chilling.

    A really stunning movie, which not only holds up, but betters today's air movies.
  • With the release of "The Aviator" there will be renewed, and well deserved, interest in this classic. Hell's Angels holds together surprisingly well for a 75 year old film. Sure there is the over-emoting one would expect from a film that bridges the era between silents and talkies, but the character development is good, the flight scenes are amazing and the story holds the attention from beginning to end. And we haven't even talked about Jean Harlow!! There can be no doubt that Howard Hughes was a genius, a perfectionist, and that he set out to, and did, produce of of the greatest movies of all time. The most expensive film of it's day, and worth every penny.
  • I saw this film (movie) in about 1933 and still remember every scene. Without the use of bad language it conveyed the fear,excitement,and gallantry of the time. The German evil was perhaps overplayed,but it was made just a very few years after the War. The flying scenes were dramatic and at least as effective as any made in recent years.

    Is it possible to obtain a copy?if so where.
  • grillrobert7 March 2005
    This is a fabulous film, far ahead of its time. The screenplay is outstanding, and all the actors did a marvelous job, and the ones who played Germans as well. There was only one German in a minor role and one Finnish actor, who played a German, all the others were Americans, to my big surprise! I am an Austrian and German is my mother tongue and I would have bet that there were at least half a dozen Germans in this movie! I was also mesmerized by the details of the air battles, which were mostly shot in the air. Jean Harlow was beautiful and gave a persuading performance, not to mention her great looks! I rented this movie, because I heard about it the first time, when I watched "The Aviator" and I have to say that this picture is one of the most entertaining and exciting movies I have seen in a long time and it should be an example how movies should be made as a guideline for modern day Hollywood! It is a perfect example that a great story, action and special effects can live together in a beautiful piece of art without sacrificing anything!
  • telegonus3 January 2003
    Howard Hughes produced and directed (with a little help from Edmund Goulding and Howard Hawks) this 1930 aerial extravaganza, whose plot is both hackneyed and largely irrelevant, since one is merely waiting for the heavy melodrama to end so as to feast one's eyes on Jean Harlow and aerial combat scenes. The photography is magnificent, and one gets a kind of God's eye view of reenactments of World War I dogfights. The leading actors, Ben Lyon and James Hall, playing brothers, give such intense performances as to suggest at times that they are not merely emotionally but romantically attached to one another. Those old-fangled airplanes are something to see, as is a gigantic zeppelin, and the combat scenes, full of billowing clouds, the sky full of airplanes that resemble orange crates with wings, buzzing and whistling through the air like flies, are the stuff of dreams, and make this otherwise turgid movie come alive and live in one's mind long after it's over.
  • Hughes as director had his limitations, but he was at his best in making possible the great combat and special effects scenes. The Zeppelin scenes are so realistic it is difficult to believe it was all model and special set work. In 1927-1930 there just wasn't available a "junk" Zeppelin for Hughes to buy and shoot down. It would not surprise me to learn that he offered the U.S.Navy or the Zeppelin Co. a good round sum to buy "Los Angeles" (LZ-126) or "Graf Zeppelin" (LZ-127) for that purpose! Hughes' inexperience as a director shows up at its worst in his handling of the cast. Even allowing for the difficulties of "Dawn of Sound" filming, and that HELL'S ANGELS started as a silent, Hughes tolerated some of the worst acting ever seen in a major film. There is some good work, though. Jean Harlow is very smooth and natural, and the actors playing the German officers are satisfactorily sly and evil.

    The story? Oh, two brothers are in love with the same girl, who doesn't really give a hoot for either of them. They volunteer for a suicide mission in a captured German bomber, and .... But, see the ending for yourself. Meanwhile, the Germans are trying to bomb London with their Zeppelin, but the Royal Flying Corps in on the job. That's about it.

    For true airship buffs, I'll add a word about the designation "L-32" visible in one scene when the "Zeppelin" is over London. In the minds of folks not too knowledgeable about Zeppelin history, there is apt to be confusion about the "L" and "LZ" designations of German airships used in The Great War (WW1) and after. The German Naval Air Service gave their ships an "L" number. The Zeppelin Co. gave its products an "LZ" number, and the two did not correspond. There was a real "L-32" (LZ-74), and a real "L-7" (LZ-32). Both were destroyed during raids over London in 1916. Perhaps Hughes may have had either of these airships in mind for his fictional one. Incidentally, there is no record of the "observation gondola", which figures in the film story, ever having been used over England. It was used to some extent in raids over European cities.
  • 'Hell's Angels', now available on DVD in a beautifully restored version, can now be enjoyed by all of us with tinted and full colour sequences intact.

    Directed by Howard Hughes (with dialogue scenes staged by James Whale), this war movie is famous for two reasons - one, it has some of the most exciting air-borne battle sequences to appear on film; and two, it marks the feature film debut of Jean Harlow. She appears in colour for the only time in the 8 minute Lady Randolph's Party sequence about halfway into the film.

    The story starts with three friends at Oxford - two brothers, the good-natured Roy (James Hall), and the fly-by-night Monte (Ben Lyon); and a German student, Karl (John Darrow). An early sequence features one of the brothers taking the other's place in a duel - important to remember for later in the saga; while the turning point of the first part is of course the start of the Great War (forcing Karl to join the enemy, and Roy and Monte to enlist as pilots). Roy has a well-to girlfriend, Helen (Harlow), who isn't quite the angel he takes her to be.

    The aerial battles are by far the highlight of the film, although Harlow is good in her role, vamping all who come into her path. Evelyn Hall is agreeably twittery as Lady Randolph, while Lucien Prival overacts as Baron von Kranz. Roy Wilson provides some comic relief as 'Baldy' Maloney.

    Originally planned and started as a silent movie, 'Hell's Angels' still has some problems with pacing and comes across as rather stilted in places. Ben Lyon is a bit of a problem as Monte - fine as a relaxed civilian, he doesn't convince in the later sequences.

    All this aside, 'Hell's Angels' is a good film and looks fantastic after its clean-up. A very interesting viewing experience.
  • I saw this movie many years ago, and just tonight on DVD. Wow. This film has been remastered by the UCLA Archives, and the sound is very clear. Clear enough, that you can hear some rather explicit language coming from Monte during the dogfight sequence. And if you understand German, there is even more. Definitely before the Code. This is a Great film, and for those who would criticize the acting, editing, etc, compare it to other films made during the first years of the "talkie era." It stands up very well. Pay special attention to the wounded pilots as they are dying in their planes. Very gritty. The realism of the aerial battles has never been equaled. This film is a true classic. How many other classic films circa 1930 come to mind? Not many.
  • This film, produced only three years after sound entered the movies, is entertaining and thoughtful. It makes good use of sound effects and has great visual effects as well. The flight scenes are impressive. Hughes flew a plane in this film (but crashed it) and three other pilots were killed during filming. The scenes of dozens of tiny aircraft swarming in the sky are still breathtaking. The plot is standard good-guys/bad-guys but adds some sensitivity to all parties. We have groups fighting a war in the air, and not too happy to be doing it. But they do their jobs, and give their lives for victory. The scene of Germans abandoning their airship is particularly wrenching and affective. Some token love interests and the usual inept comedy characters round out the cast, which all stood up to the task as well as anyone in 1930.

    Jean Harlow gets her first billing in this film (she's one of my all time favorites), so it is her breakthrough movie.

    Not a keeper, but see it if you can.
  • Having just watched my VHS of this and wondering if it was out on DVD yet, I came to the IMDB to check and saw a comment about how hackneyed and awful this movie was, with the worst traits of the silent movies...lol! For those who don't know, this WAS a silent movie, and Hughes took so long trying to perfect the aerial sequences that sound came along, so then he had to try to rework everything else into sound, delaying things even further. Hughes was a "bit" of a perfectionist, ala Chaplin with "City Lights" and for every wonderful thing that does, it creates dozens of others you have to deal with as well... My favorite story of the making of this movie (recalling across 30 years from a book by Donald Dwiggins called "The Stunt Pilots" involved Paul Mantz (one of the lead pilots, later to die making "Flight of the Phoenix" after being the king of the Hollywood pilots for over 30 years) and Jean Harlow waiting in an airport restaurant for Hughes to fly in from somewhere and Mantz placing a nickel Coca-Cola bottle under a table leg before Hughes arrived and telling Harlow to "watch this". Hughes arrives for the meeting and being the perfectionist but also a bit ?, he never says anything about the table, never looks under it, but spends the whole lunch trying to eat with one hand and hold the table level with the other....
  • Three-quarters of a century before "Flyboys" hit the big screen, Howard Hughes had already made the definitive World War I flying movie, "Hell's Angels". While the plot and acting may occasionally leave a bit to be desired (the same being also true for "Fyboys") the flying sequences are the among the finest ever filmed for any motion picture.

    Because the art of special effect was in its infancy at the time, the marvelous aerobatics were were actually performed by scores of pilots, most of them actual WWI combat veterans. (As in combat, some of these maneuvers were quite hazardous, and several of the pilots were killed during filming.) Look also for the bombing footage; this is the only movie I've ever seen where the bomb can actually be seen falling away, punching through the roof of the building, and blowing debris back up toward the plane.

    Even in the few scenes where models were used (notably in the dirigible sequence) Hughes' meticulous attention to detail is apparent, as it is difficult to see that it is not a real Zeppelin (Hughes wanted to shoot down a real airship, but the Navy refused to sell him one of theirs!) With the restored version of the movie running a bit over 2 hours in length, things can drag a bit between battle scenes (that's what fast-forward is for!) but if you enjoy combat flight footage that looks real because it is, you owe it to yourself to see this classic movie.
  • OK, so the story is corny, and some of the performances (dialogue coached by James Whale!) are early sound acting at its worst. This is nonetheless a very watchable movie, even its hoariest plot devices (all about friends and enemies and duty and how betrayal is sometimes the greatest expression of devotion, creeeeeeeeeak) excused by breathtaking aerial footage and a truly memorable sequence in the middle involving a German dirigible over London. Some German dialogue adds realism, although that sign in occupied France that reads "Munitions Depot" is not too authentic. The portrayal of women, including a very young Jean Harlow, makes the late 20th-century viewer squirm; it's also unfortunate that that German general looks so much like Pee Wee Herman. Watch it anyway for the flying and the extremely effective two-color and three-color sequences. "Top Gun" doesn't look nearly as good and will not age this beautifully.
  • My husband and I were excited to see this after watching "The Aviator" with Leonardo DiCaprio as Howard Hughes. Hughes definitely had his problems but he was spot on with this film. The years it took to make, including remaking it in sound after initially filming it as a silent, were worth it. Even though some (not all) of the acting is dated, the aerial dogfight scenes, periodic tinting and coloring, score, and ending make this film worth seeing. UCLA refurbished it and it is a delight to watch. Even some of the landscape scenes were breathtaking. Give it a try--we don't think you'll be disappointed! We also enjoyed the 10 minute Intermission and Outro music--very civilized.
  • Warning: Spoilers
    In 1927, Howard Hughes began production on a epic featuring the pilots of World War I that would be heavy on aeronautical thrills much in the same vein as "Wings". However, Hughes just could not stop tinkering with his pet project, eventually running the production cost up to four million dollars. This movie is a good example of not being able to tell where Hughes' OCD ends and his desire for perfection begins. However, it all paid off in the end, although it took years. Eventually the film did make eight million dollars, making it one of the top money-making films of the 1930's.

    There are two major flying sequences in the movie, part of which were actually filmed by Hughes since he couldn't get a professional cameraman to take the kind of chances involved. 1927's "Wings" had some great aerial combat, and had actually won a special Academy Award for engineering, but this film really outstrips it in daring and realism. For example, there are thirty or forty biplanes spinning around one another in one breathtaking combat sequence. Hughes pulled these scenes off largely by employing actual veteran flyers and ex-doughboys eager to show off their skill on camera in return for the big bucks Hughes was offering. However, after three of them died in the extreme sequences, the rest refused to fly for the final scene, saying that they were sure to crash. Hughes decided to fly the scene himself, getting the needed shot. However, just as the pilots had predicted, he also crashed the plane, although he escaped with relatively minor injuries. The main dirigible model was built on a vast scale, and when it explodes (in partial color) the effect is impressive. For the final aerial scene, Hughes used an authentic rebuilt German Gotha biplane bomber.

    Politically, this film has quite a bit of anti-German sensationalism. For example, the German dirigible commander decides to lighten his ship by ordering his own crew to jump to their deaths. In this film, although there is one "good" German - Roy and Monte's Oxford pal Karl - the women are all faithless. There are no adoring mothers or girlfriends waiting for our airmen to return home in this movie. This is especially true of Jean Harlow's character, Helen. She toys with Roy's heart while every man in uniform becomes her target of opportunity. Helen's outfits are all very revealing and definitely pre-code. There is also plenty of rough language between the pilots, especially when they are aloft. Although this is probably quite realistic in terms of what went on, this also could only happen in the pre-code era. Hughes knew the so-called "code" had no teeth in the era in which this film was made, although his stunts caused him real trouble in his later films.

    It's hard to tell from the film if Hughes had any real hard and fast feelings about World War I or war in general, or if it was just him inserting the right sense of showmanship at appropriate places to stir up the audience. For example, in one scene a man demonstrating in the street preaches that it is folly to fight a war that is really about capitalism being impeded by the petty inter-fighting of the various European powers, and is beaten by the crowd as a result. But strangely enough, when that line of reasoning is later adopted by the "bad" brother Monte, although much less eloquently, he is deemed a coward. Monte tries to redeem himself by volunteering for a dangerous aerial mission, but even then he has to be dragged to execute the assignment by his brother. When both brothers are captured and Monte wants to tell everything about the pending British attack to his German captors in order to save himself, brother Roy comes up with a clever but unpleasant solution.

    This is really great entertainment if you are at all interested in either film or aviation history.
  • I really had no idea what to expect from this film. Like many people, I had been attracted to it by the clips shown during Martin Scorsese's The Aviator, and was intrigued enough to buy the DVD. I read several reviews before watching it, which were inconclusive, but I must confess I was dubious about the fact that the majority of the film had been re-shot after the dawn of motion picture sound, suggesting a rushed or insensitive job.

    Having now seen the film, I must say I was more than pleasantly surprised. Considering it was made in 1930, Hell's Angels is unfailingly watchable. The relationship study between the brothers Roy and Monty, along with Jean Harlow's Helen, is unexpectedly interesting, and some of the avenues the film explores are, at times, gripping. The sexuality of the film must have been rather shocking for its time, not unlike director Howard Hughes' compelling use of colour in certain scenes.

    But of course, the great talking points of Hell's Angels are the aerial battles that were filmed so daringly by Hughes in mid-air. The closeness of the aircraft and the clear danger that many of the planes were in is alarming stuff and - whatever one says about the wisdom of the techniques involved - makes positively stunning film. Three pilots died during the filming, and Hughes himself was badly injured; but he was always fascinated by how far boundaries could be pushed, and that is clear right throughout the movie.

    The film's plot has been somewhat maligned, which is rather cruel considering when it was made and the fact that it is not predictable in the way that many of today's movies are. The performances are competent, the characters believable and the ending is what would be deemed 'satisfying'. The scale of this film is frankly monumental, and it is hard to think of a film being made on a scale which would equate to it today without the use of CGI. I am surprised this is not considered a classic, as it offers as much, if not more, than many movies placed in that bracket from a similar era.
  • The movie can be divided into two parts. The aerial half is nothing short of spectacular. What I remember the most is the dirigible moving silently through clouds like a mysterious dream. The surreal imagery has stayed with me over the years. The ground half, however, is turgid at best, though the ending is both surprising and appropriate.

    The plot itself is nothing special, two bothers flying combat for the British in WWI. Monte is personable but somewhat weak and ultimately dependent on his sober-minded brother Roy. How they get along in civilian and service life makes up the storyline, especially when Monte is seduced by Roy's trampy girlfriend (Harlow, as in no underwear). Though a little shopworn, there's nothing wrong with the premise, which also manages to treat the Germans as worthy adversaries. The trouble is that actors Lyon and Hall have zero charisma, and thus form a weak center. More vivid actors would have made for a better ground half.

    But that's not the draw, anyway. Producer Hughes sunk his big budget into the flying part and sure got his money's worth. No need to attempt details. The effects have to be seen to be appreciated. In my little book, they've never been surpassed, at least during that lengthy non-digital age.

    Anyhow, the sometimes stodgy, sometimes silly parts are worth putting up with so we can get up into the sky with the bi-planes and big balloons. All in all, the 2-hours plus amounts to a flawed but spectacular masterpiece, thanks to that squirrelly billionaire, Howard Hughes.
  • ajfore17 October 2007
    Warning: Spoilers
    Howard Hughes is known for his multi-million dollar movies and love for action and that really shows in the scenes of this 1930s spectacular film, "Hell's Angels". The only negative I have about the whole movie is that the first half is full of wide angle conversation shots and a few mixed in close ups and the real run doesn't get started until Roy and Monte go off to their war barracks. It is very obvious that Hughes is very passionate about this film and really wants to make it the film of the decade and take movie production of the thirties to a next level. Every thing from the characters to the mise en scene, Hughes landed it right on.

    My favorite part of this movie is when all the planes are all fighting and crashing into each other and all the shooting is done from sky level either from a birds eye view, directly underneath the planes, or looking right at a pilots face as he shoots, gets shot, or is shooting. This really shows a great job done by Briggs, Lawrence, and Hollingsworth as editors. These three men (even-though Hollingsworth is not credited) were able to edit all these plane fight scenes and after watching the movie to its entirety then the sky scenes once more I could not notice any continuity editing errors. I am just really amazed that this complex of a film was produced in 1930 and as far as the editing goes I don't think it could be done any better to this day.

    Another piece of this film that really took my by surprise is the color effects during all the airplane and bomb explosions. We all know going into this movie that it is all shot in black and white, but when that first explosion of the Englishman's plane flying into the German 'ship' and that explosion really caught my eye and I was amazed by the detail and bright colors all the sudden shown on the screen. I expected for this even to occur but what I did not expect was this great light show to occur and light up my whole living room, especially in an all black and white film. The blues and the yellows are really vibrant and took my by surprise when I first saw something blow up.

    The cast selected for this movie was another dead on strike by Mr. Hughes. The second I saw Helen I could tell that she was not as into Roy as he was her, but she played the part fairly well and when caught kissing the Captain at the bar her reaction was a perfect summary of how she felt for Roy the whole time. I like Roy's character because he just tries to be the nice guy that takes directions and does as he is told. He stays loyal to his "relationship" with Helen and his love for his country, however he does not stay loyal to his brother Monte. I was taken by real surprise when Roy really did shoot his brother at the end of the movie, but he still does not give up on his country and ends up getting shot for it. Monte is the only one I'm not really sure about. This is because at first he seems pretty laid back just seems to go with the flow of things, then at the end he is ends up being very passionate for his brother and country. I didn't get a real feeling for Monte until they were at dinner and his name was called out as to report for night shift duty after dinner. This scene to me is the best monologue in the whole film. I say that because when Monte starts to explain to his boss why he doesn't want to go on duty that night his words really get me feeling sorry for the guy. He is so passionate and full of emotion that he really does not want to be a part of the war and he does not even understand why they are at war. This short shot is the reason Monte is my favorite character in this movie.

    The shots in this movie start very plain and rather boring and by then end I was amazed at the way the cameras were used to produce some great shots. The first hour all the shots are of two or three people just having a basic conversation and the scene starts with a wide shot then mixes up close up and medium close ups. By the end of this movie when the main fight scene is going on their is a mixture of close up shots, medium close ups, wide angle, and on a couple occasions Hughes uses a very wide angle shot to show you how many planes are involved in this major air battle. Hughes also uses fly-by shots during this battle where one plane will fly by and right behind will be another plain firing bullets trying to gun the first plane down, this mixture of shots really adds to the intensity of this movie.

    All in all this is a great production by Hughes and his crew, but I guess you cant settle for any less when you spend four million dollars on this project. Hughes was a great director and would not accept anything but perfect.
  • Warning: Spoilers
    Had I not seen the recent "The Aviator", the movie about the life of Howard Hughes, I probably would never have seen this movie, "Hell's Angels." As good fortune would have it, my local public library has the DVD of the version restored by UCLA. I was prepared for it to be poor to mediocre, but instead I found it to be a gripping story of two brothers in WW I, very well made by Mr. Hughes.

    Early scenes in "The Aviator" depict the difficulty of filming "Hell's Angels" and how the director Hughes insisted on such things as the large number of airplanes used in the big final air battle, the numbers of cameras used for the filming, and finding a location with clouds so that the relative speed of the airplanes would be apparent. He spared no expense and "Hell's Angels" became by a wide margin the most expensive film during that era. But it paid off, and the scenes are spectacular.

    Monte and Roy Rutledge were two brothers who joined the British Air Corps when Germany attacked France. Roy was the one with honor, Monte was the one who had a yellow streak. Both of them became pilots. A very young Jean Harlow (18 or 19) plays Helen, a carefree girl who eventually snubs Roy's affections. Her biography states that Harlow never wore underwear, and it is apparent in her scenes here.

    SPOILERS FOLLOW. The allies capture a downed German bomber in France and repaired it but needed two men to fly it into Germany to destroy a munitions post, to allow allied forces to mount a successful ground attack. Monte and Roy volunteer, go out drinking first, and Monte tries to skip out on the assignment which might mean their death. But Roy won't let him, the lives of the other soldiers are too important. They fly the mission, destroy the munitions, and the big air dogfight near the end is between allied fighters and German fighters, while Monte and Roy try to fly the bomber back to safety. They are shot down, captured, told to talk or be shot. Monte wants to tell, but Roy gets a gun and is forced to kill his own brother to protect the safety of the allied troops. Then Roy is executed.
  • Warning: Spoilers
    With everything that went on during the making of this film you can make a good point that it's more interesting than the film itself but don't let that keep you from viewing this because some of the footage that was shot is still amazing to look at. Story surrounds two brothers who end up in World War I together as pilots but also the relationship they share with the same woman. Roy Rutledge (James Hall) is brave and polite but also dull and he keeps telling everyone around him about his girlfriend Helen (Jean Harlow) but what he doesn't know is that she's a promiscuous tramp. Roy introduces her to his brother Monte (Ben Lyon) who's a selfish cad and a playboy and Helen doesn't waste any time getting him to go home with her where she seduces him.

    *****SPOILER ALERT***** Both brothers are pilots for the British Royal Flying Corps and Helen volunteers to work in a Canteen which Roy visits often but one night he catches her with another man and it ends with her telling him that she never loved him in the first place. Later a dangerous mission comes up and both brothers volunteer to fly a German plane into enemy territory and bomb a munitions dump which they succeed in doing but they are also caught and told that if they don't cooperate they will both be shot.

    This was the first film that Howard Hughes directed and it cost almost 4 million dollars for him to produce which resulted in him never earning a profit in it's initial release. So many things to mention about this film and I guess I'll start with the fact that it was supposed to be a silent film but sound took off during filming and Hughes re-filmed several scenes with the actors and one of the interesting things to watch is the newer footage edited in with sound effects. Three pilots working on the film would crash and die during filming and Hughes himself flew some of the planes and crashed twice nearly killing him. There are two scenes that are tinted and hand colored and this film possesses the only color footage in existence of Jean Harlow. I'm one of those who never thought that Harlow was this jaw dropping beauty but I do think she's incredibly sexy in this film. The dresses look like they are ready to fall off of her and considering that this was her first big role it's easy to see why it made her a big star. Some have said that the story is dated but I still see a uniqueness in it especially with the characters and some of the dialog that was written by Hughes. In one scene Monte screams about how senseless the war is and how it was started by politicians and the film doesn't attempt to hide the fact that he would give up information to the enemy to save his own hide. Thank God the Hays Office Production Code that was formed in 1934 wasn't in effect otherwise audiences wouldn't have been titillated by Harlow's deliciously trampy performance. But the highlight of the film is still the aerial dogfight footage and the scene of the German Zeppelin going down while on fire. These scenes still hold up and add to the mystique of Hughes legacy as a maverick in everything that he wanted to do.
  • Back in 1930, multi-millionaire, Howard Hughes (25 at the time) may have been the richest kid on the block, but, regardless of that, when it came to competently directing a Hollywood, adventure movie he was sure clueless, as was clearly evident here with Hell's Angels.

    Even for a film from that particular era of early movie-making, Hell's Angels was still noticeably mediocre and below-par in so many ways.

    With this film's budget being $4 million (making it the most expensive picture of its time), I have to tell you that I honestly couldn't see (by the final product) where all of this money was spent.

    From my point of view - The one and only reason for watching Hell's Angels was for its fairly impressive aerial dogfight sequences (which, unfortunately, happened so few and far between throughout the story).

    Without these action scenes, this film would've been a real forgettable, nothing picture. And, believe me, at 2 hours and 11 minutes, Hell's Angels was already running on empty, anyway, right from the very start.
  • Incredible aerial combat scenes redeem a poorly written and acted story. The Zeppelin sequence illustrates the intensity and ultimate futility of that form of warfare. The dirigibles, shown as capable of doing a great deal of damage, are also shown to be death-traps incapable of protecting themselves from determined attacks. The dogfights seem as realistic as anything you are likely to see this side of actual combat, probably because they were filmed using stunt pilots, many of whom participated in the real thing a decade or so earlier.

    The story is so weak, however, even more so when one realizes that such strong plays as "What Price, Glory" and novels such as "All Quiet on the Western Front" and "A Farewell to Arms" were available as models to Howard Hughes and his writing stable.

    Also jarring to my modern (but not necessarily superior) sensibility is the switches to blue monochrome scenes that occur more or less at random throughout the movie. Perhaps audiences in the the 1930s appreciated the addition of tints, I surely did not.

    One final comment, it was helpful to realize that the imperious, officious Prussian officer stereotype preceded World War II films by many years
  • thepartyoftea22 September 2006
    Warning: Spoilers
    Howard Hughes' epic World War I film which was a major breakthrough of it's time with the biggest budget of the time. Written out of the love of air planes and the beauty of flying, Hell's Angels provides some of the best flying battles, assortment of planes, amazing aerial shots and stunts. Hell's Angels delves deep into the aero library and features several kinds of airplanes from zeppelins to biplanes and single engine planes. Since the release in 1930, several ways of depicting aerial or space battles have been seen, there has been flying models (Star Wars: Episode 4: A New Hope) or CGI (King Kong). The battles in Hell's Angels are a sure showstopper as the audience is drawn into the real world look of planes flying and crashing. The film doesn't just have one or two planes fighting, but multiple planes flying around. The epic battle scenes were shown with such passion and earth-shattering explosions (literally) is something rarely seen preformed today.

    Of course the beautiful flying sequences and stunts weren't the only astonishment to be seen in Hell's Angels. The movie also went through an early coloring process, it may have been primitive by today's standard, but during the early 1930's it was ground breaking. The use of the blue or purple dyed film showed an early form of day for night and helped distinguish the difference between day and night in the movie. The movie also tries to go for full color, but comes out a little short, but it would be at least seven years before color would be enter the movie scene. But color wasn't the only barrier that Hell's Angels broke down, it also made the leap from silent to talkie movie during production. It is said that there's 250 feet for every foot of footage in the film release.

    Hell's Angels takes a look at the reaction of two brothers as World War I hits and how they were once in love with Germany. There's a metaphor for World War I when Baron Von Kranz finds Monte in bed with his wife and kills the romance of his life, in return the Baron battles Monte's older brother Roy. World War I started as a small assassination and ended up being a huge battle, in Hell's Angels, Monte falls for a girl who is already taken and then runs away when he's challenged to a duel and Roy takes the bullet and begins to create a rift between the two brothers. Until the point where Roy was shot it felt like the two brothers were in-separateable and do everything together, but as the film progresses the rift between the two grows larger and larger until the end of the film when both brothers realize that they are still brothers and love each other despite the things they had done.

    The film shows a sexy, strong and backstabbing Helene, portrayed by the no underwear wearing, dyed bombshell Jean Harlow. A women who would go on to inspire a young girl just four years old when the film was released called Marilyn Monroe. Jean Harlow's performances as a seductress and two faced may have been an inspiration for the femme fetales of the film noir genre.

    Closer look at the other characters and one feels like they are very stereotyped: The stiff German officers, the older, more mature brother, the boozing, and womanizing younger brother who doesn't have much responsibility. However, both the brothers have moments where they shine, for Roy, it's his decision to fool his brother and kill him before he spills the secrets. For Monte, it's his speech on how hard war is and how it can ruin people and how he feels like a pawn.

    Howard Hughes had a real eye for getting the beautiful feel of flight captured on film and has captured some of the most breath taking footage that stands the test of the time while bringing a real epic feel to the movie and breaking rules and making the movie he wants.
  • For 1930, this was an excellent effort for special effects. Just think, all the aerobatic stunts were live action caught on film. George Lucas and Steven Spielberg must be in awe of this movie. The story was great, but the flow was not very good as there were no smooth transitions. The DVD is a fabulous package and the picture quality was great. The sound quality, however, was not up to the usual DVD quality. I understand, that the movie was made in the thirties, but the soundtrack should have been remastered into digital sound. Even the Wizard Of Oz, when presented on DVD, remastered the sound into true stereo, in some places, and at least played through the digital Dolby 5.1 decoder. Again, the high-point of this movie are the aerobatics. This ain't NO computer generated land-of-make-believe flick, folks!
  • World War I was the source of two great war films, All Quiet On The Western Front and Hell's Angels in 1930. The first was the Best Picture for that year according to the Motion Picture Academy, the second is known for its special effects and had the Special Effects Oscar been a category that year, Hell's Angels would have won no doubt.

    The other thing that Hell's Angels is noted for is the screen debut of Jean Harlow in a major part. She had done several bit roles prior to Hell's Angels when Howard Hughes who produced and directed this gave her the big break. Harlow is perfect as the flighty upper class woman who flirts between brothers Ben Lyon and James Hall. Hughes photographed her to best advantage the way he would do for Jane Russell later on in The Outlaw. Harlow was not the accomplished comedienne she later became, but all she has to do in Hell's Angels is be alluring and sexy and that she did without practice.

    When it came to the special aerial effects and filming of same, no film could touch Hell's Angels. The film received it's one Academy Award nomination for cinematography. It lost to the documentary film, With Byrd At The South Pole. If there had been a documentary category that year, the Admiral Byrd film would have been in that category and probably an easy winner. As it was the real life heroics of Richard E. Byrd trumped any make believe that Howard Hughes put on the screen.

    But Howard Hughes was not a man of thespian profession and was no director of actors. He was also no judge of scripts. The plot is an overwrought melodramatic one involving two brothers, one a heroic if somewhat dull figure, the other one both a ladies man and a weakling as well. Maybe with a real director the acting would have been of a better caliber.

    The most famous sequence is the aerial battle between the German Zeppelin and the Royal Flying Corps squadron sent up to bring the big dirigible down. Even there with the well done battle sequences there's a bit of ridiculousness where the German crew after everything else has been tossed overboard to lighten the load and gain altitude is asked to sacrifice themselves. And you see them jumping out the plane for the Kaiser and the Reich as they put it WITHOUT PARACHUTES. I mean PLEASE give me a break.

    The German commander who had a run in with the brothers before the war when they were touring Germany as Oxford students is played by Lucien Prival. He must have been the guy that the producers called for when they couldn't get Erich Von Stroheim. He had all of Von Stroheim's bullnecked Teutonic personality down to the last sneer. He did fine with the part, but it must have been something with this guy to be cast in these parts and only when the producers couldn't get Von Stroheim.

    Aviation fans will love this film, but for all its technical wizardry it's not close to being as good as All Quiet On The Western Front.
  • Klio28 February 2000
    WWI as melodrama, with remnants of silent-movie-era film style.... The spectacular, breathtaking dogfights in this movie had me on the edge of my seat, as did the in-the-cockpit sequences of the German aces as they are shot down. In fact, overall the "enemy" is portrayed in a human, personal way. The performances aren't too over the top for the 21st-century viewer -- in fact, they're charming (and unfettered by censors); they could be called hoary only because, well, anything is hoary seventy years on. Remember the age of this movie and go along with it and you'll bawl and be uplifted at all the right moments. Yes, you can see the strings when some of the models blow up and fly through the air, but they do blow up with a mighty flourish. Highly recommended.
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