Hell’s Angels (1930): Great Action, Decent Leads But Uneven

Hells Angels poster

     The film “The Aviator” lead me to check out “Hell’s Angels” as the first part of the film is Howard Hughes making this film. I got to say, it is a great film but it isn’t a favorite. It has some character issues that keep it from perfection, though visually it’s stunning and the ending is powerful. This is a film, like any good war film that explores the cost of war and what it means to be a person having to make though choices within it.

     The film was directed by Howard Hughes who also produced it with uncredited directorial help from James Whale, Edmund Goulding and Fred Fleck. and was written by Harry Behn, Howard Estabrook and Joseph Moncure March.

     The story involves brothers Roy (James Hall) and Monte (Ben Lyon) who are pulled into World War I as pilots and called upon a special bombing run they may not come back from. As each has his own reasons for taking the suicide mission.

The Pros: The Cinematography – Tony Gaudio and Harry Perry did a great job with the cinematography. There is great use of color to show conflict as well as great use of clouds for the shadows of war. The cinematography is easily the strongest part of this film.

The Three Leads – The three leads are the strongest part as each of them feels fully defined and should have received more development. Their interactions are what really made the film for me outside of the actions.

Karl – Karl is a German student going to Oxford who ends up becoming part of the German Army during the war. He ends up being sacrificed by his commanding officer after he bombs England when his Captain is trying to escape. His story is a tragedy as he described himself as more English than anything else and you could see how his duty was killing him before his Captain finally did. John Darrow does a good job.

Roy – Roy is the womanizer who doesn’t see anything deeper beyond experiencing the now. He only cares about Monte but even that only goes so far as at his base he just wants to live. We see him experiment with anarchy at one point before he joins the suicide mission to destroy the German Munitions factory. In the end Monte kills him when he is about to confess the military plans to the German Captain who has them captured. James Hall does a good job.

Monte – Monte is the hero who is the way he is because he needs surety. That is destroyed when he finds out that Helen’s been cheating on him but he comes back for the mission and is so by the book he kills Roy when Roy is about to confess the plans. In the end he dies alone calling out his brothers name though his sacrifice made England assaulting German headquarters possible. Ben Lyon is the best actor in this.

The Cost of a Mission – We see the human cost through everything that goes down. From Roy giving up, Karl being sacrificed and all the folks who die in the battles we see through the war. The cost is always there even when victory happens.

Loss – The three leads die and show the tragedy of war and how the three friends who could have grown old together had it cut short when they became tools of something bigger them.

The Cons: Helen – She sleeps around and cheats on Monte and that is the extent of her character. She’s a plot device that is never allowed to come into her own and have her own motivations.

Lack of Focus – This mostly applies to the battles which often times go on way too long. This film could have been cut if the battles had been cut in half, they purposes are achieved and when we get back to the characters the story is back in focus, but before that the story takes a lot of side detours for action.

   This is a great film that is worth checking out, though I wouldn’t call it a favorite or perfect. It explores a lot of themes that give it a lot of power, but the romantic lead just being selfish and given no depth hurt the story as did the fact that some fight scenes kept going on and took us away from the human drama of the brothers and their friend Karl.

Final Score: 8.5 / 10

The Aviator (2004): A True Scorsese Biopic Masterpiece

aviator

     I think at this point “The Aviator” is my favorite Martin Scorsese film. It has an amazing soundtrack, cinematography, writing and cast and deserves all the awards it won. It is a film I definitely plan to watch again and it inspired me to check out Howard Hughes’s films, which will be some later reviews down the road.

      The film was directed by Martin Scorsese, written by John Logan and produced by Michael Mann, Sandy Climan, Graham King and Charles Evans Jr. It is also based off the book Howard Hughes: The Secret Life by Charles Higham.

     The story is a biopic of Howard Hughes and the conflicts he went through with the businesses he owned and his role as a director and producer in Hollywood while dealing with his obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD).

The Pros: The Soundtrack – It’s Howard Shore so the fact that the soundtrack is amazing doesn’t come as much of a surprise. He does a great job here of capturing the jazz of the era, the torment in Howard Hughes’s mind. He truly did a masterful job on this soundtrack.

The Cinematography – The cinematography is stunning, especially in any sequences where Hughes is flying in one of his planes. Robert Richardson did a great job and the film is beautiful.

The Writing – The writing is really solid in this. People talk like they would in the era and we get a lot of show rather than tell, which is the screenwriter John Logan doing  a great job at his job. This film is long but it doesn’t feel long because of the writing.

The Characters – The main characters and their relationships are really what drive the film and it is fascinating to see how they interact and react to Hughes, who is an unstable genius. His relationships are really what drive the film.

Katharine Hepburn – Cate Blanchett does a fantastic job as Katharine Hepburn. She’s eccentric and selfish just like Hughes, but we see does have a little more self-awareness and did try to deal with the problems in their relationship that he ignored since he was so focused on his job. She moves on and is happier for it, though in his darkest place she still reaches out as a friend, even after how cruel he was when they broke up.

Noah Dietrich – John C. Reilly plays Hughes’s second in command and is the one making everything happen behind the scenes. Reilly is a great actor, which I really didn’t realize until this film. His arc is learning to put his foot down with Hughes so that Hughes won’t destroy the companies he created with his different projects.

Juan Trippe – Trippe is the owner of Pan Am Airlines and the main antagonist in the film. He is played by Alec Baldwin who does a good job in the role and manages to imbue the character with honor, humanity and ruthlessness. His arc is when he stops the fight after the hearing becomes an attack against him rather than the attack against Hughes it was meant to be.

Senator Brewster – Alan Alda is one of my favorite actors and it is wonderful seeing him in an antagonistic role as he works with Trippe to keep Hughes’s airline from competing with Pan Am. He’s ruthless but has a kindness to him as you see that even though he’s corrupt there is still a humanity to the character.

Ava Gardner – Ava is the one Hughes keeps wanting to marry but who continues to turn him down since his crazyness (paranoia, etc.) keep her from feeling safe around him. She is there to help him get back together though and we see she loves him as a friend, just knows that she could never marry him or be in a relationship with him. Kate Beckinsale does a good job.

Howard Hughes – DeCaprio is fantastic as Hughes. He really does a great job as the eccentric millionaire (Hello Gatsby) though this time we get to see the full depths of a very flawed genius. DeCaprio captures his passion, fear, anger and stubbornness and seeing him complete his arc and face his those fears is powerful.

Making “Hell’s Angels” – Making the film “Hell’s Angels” (Which is a pretty good film) is fascinating as we see how Hughes needed everything to be perfect and to be a certain way. Each year see what is going on, whether it is getting more cameras for filming, editing it so that it will be in sound or trying to find clouds to film the flight scenes. This could have been the film and us given more details and it would have been just as great as the film we got.

The Flights – The flights are beautiful. We see fighter planes, spy planes and even a crash that Hughes goes through over the course of the film. In each case the freedom and danger. The planes are beautiful and the shots from the sky are stunning.

The Hearing – They do a good job of overlaying the hearing where Hughes calls Senator Brewster out for business relationship with Juan Trippe and Trippe’s monopoly on the airlines and with it we get the conclusion as he finally pulls himself out of his depression and funk in order to be there and not to panic.

   There isn’t really anything I can say wrong about this film. It hits all the right notes, all the main characters are explored and grow and change or deal as the film progresses and the story has excellent payoffs. I’d highly recommend this film. It is the best film I have seen from Martin Scorsese and deserves all the awards it won. Not only does it give the snapshot of a person during an era, but it also manages to capture the freedom in flying and the passion it takes to make projects a reality.

Final Score: 10 / 10