Two brothers attending Oxford enlist with the RAF when World War I breaks out. Roy and Monte Rutledge have very different personalities. Monte is a freewheeling womanizer, even with his brother\'s girlfriend Helen. He also proves to have a yellow streak when it comes to his Night Patrol duties. Roy is made of strong moral fiber and attempts to keep his brother in line.
Both volunteer for an extremely risky two man bombing mission for different reasons. Monte wants to lose his cowardly reputation and Roy seeks to protect his brother. Their assignment to knock out a strategic German munitions facility is a booming success, but with a squadron of fighters bearing down on them afterwards, escape seems unlikely.
Ben Lyon ... Monte Rutledge
James Hall ... Roy Rutledge
Jean Harlow ... Helen (as Jean Harlowe)
John Darrow ... Karl Armstedt
Lucien Prival ... Baron Von Kranz
Frank Clarke ... Lt. von Bruen
Roy Wilson ... Baldy Maloney
Douglas Gilmore ... Capt. Redfield
Jane Winton ... Baroness Von Kranz
Evelyn Hall ... Lady Randolph
William B. Davidson ... Staff Major
Wyndham Standing ... RFC squadron commander
Lena Melana ... Gretchen, waitress (as Lena Malena)
Marian Marsh ... Girl selling kisses (as Marilyn Morgan)
Carl von Haartman ... Zeppelin commander
Ferdinand Schumann-Heink ... First Officer of zeppelin (as F. Schumann-Heink)
Director: Howard Hughes / Edmund Goulding (uncredited) / James Whale (uncredited)
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.
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.
* Howard Hughes had all the prints tinted and hand-colored before releasing them for general distribution.
* This film cost $3.8 million, so expensive that it made no profit on its first release.
* Howard Hughes hired WWI aces to fly the planes but also flew one himself; he crashed shortly after his first takeoff and broke several bones.
* Three pilots died during shooting.
* All color prints of the movie were thought to be lost until a print was found in John Wayne\'s personal vault in 1989, ten years after the actor\'s death, by his son Michael Wayne. That explains why the younger Wayne\'s name appears on the credits of the restored version. It is possible that Wayne received the print from Hughes. The actor starred in Jet Pilot (1957) for Howard Hughes in 1949, but the film was not released until 1957 because Hughes continued to have the flying sequences re-shot, a situation not unlike Hell\'s Angels.
* 249 feet of film were shot for every foot used in the final cut.
* Stunt pilots refused to perform an aerial sequence that director Howard Hughes wanted. Hughes, a noted aviator himself, did his own flying. He got the shot, but he also crashed the plane.
* An eight-minute two-strip Technicolor sequence remains the only surviving color footage of its star, Jean Harlow.
* Stunt pilot Clement K. Phillips was killed in a crash in Hayward, California, while delivering one of the airplanes to the Oakland location.
* Entire story had been filmed as a silent, minus a soundtrack, by Howard Hughes in 1928. Greta Nissen had the role played later by Jean Harlow. When sound equipment became available Hughes decided to re-shoot the whole film as a talkie.
* Was the most expensive movie ever made at the time of its release.