Hell’s Angels (1930) Review

Directors: Howard Hughes, Edmund Goulding, and James Whale

Genre(s): Drama, Romance, War

Runtime: 127 minutes

MPAA Rating: PG

IMDb Page

Director Howard Hughes tried to top Wings (1927) with 1930’s Hell’s Angels. Both are fairly similar World War I aviation pictures with plenty of romance, so which one would be victorious in a dogfight? Hell’s Angels deals with British brothers Monte (Ben Lyon) and Roy Rutledge (James Hall) who’re romancing the same woman, Helen (Jean Harlow), and later join the military to serve as pilots after the First World War breaks out. Even though this one has sound, I think it pales in comparison to the silent Wings.

The action scenes are the clear audience draw for Hell’s Angels. The aerial warfare sequences are magnificent, although there’s very little ground combat. This flick has quite the body count…literally. Three stunt pilots were killed filming the large-scale dogfights. Howard Hughes even got in on the action and suffered a skull fracture doing some flying for the picture.

It’s the somewhat uninteresting plot that keeps Hell’s Angels from true greatness. The brothers’ troubles over Jean Harlow’s character don’t add up to much when everything’s said and done. As I said earlier, it’s really the war-related stuff that people want to see and remember. The romantic aspects of the movie are just filler.

Hell’s Angels was released during the Pre-Code era of Hollywood, prior to the enforcement of the Production Code, and has a few mild swear words as a result, something that was pretty rare at the time (even for a Pre-Code film). While primarily black-and-white, there is a color sequence during a ball and some scenes are tinted. Overall, Hell’s Angels can’t out-shoot Wings, but it still manages to be a watchable war feature.

My rating is 6 outta 10.

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