Wednesday, May 30, 2018

Hell's Angels

Another movie I watched off my DVR recently that's available on DVD is Hell's Angels.

This one is relatively formulaic, although it's a good formula. Sensible Roy (James Hall) and passionate Monte (Ben Lyon) are brothers and students at Oxford with their German classmate Karl (John Darrow) circa 1914. As you can guess from the year, the Great War (it wasn't World War I yet during the storyline and the movie was released in 1930 so even then there was no World War II) is about to start, splitting the brothers and Karl. Karl gets drafted into the German forces, while Roy and Monte sign up for the air corps.

Meanwhile, Roy and Monte meet Helen (Jean Harlow), both falling in love with her and providing romantic tension. Roy loves Helen although the feeling isn't mutual; she wants somebody more passionate. But that someone doesn't seem to be Monte.

Karl takes part -- very reluctantly -- in a zeppelin attack on London, while Roy and Monte wind up in France. Monte, in order to redeem himself after being declared a coward, takes on a dangerous mission with his brother that would have both of them declared spies if their plane gets shot down.

There's not much to say about Hell's Angels, I suppose, that I couldn't say about any other war movie. I don't think I can even say it created any of the tropes, since there were buddy war movies like Wings and Two Arabian Knights that had already been made. Having said that, however, Hell's Angels is still pretty good.

For one thing, there's that zeppelin attack. It goes on too long, but a lot of it is pretty harrowing. Especially when the movie decides it's going to propagandize by showing the Germans to be monsters during the scene. I couldn't help but think of the character in 49th Parallel who just wanted to be a baker and bake bread.

There's also a two-strip Technicolor scene that, as I understand it, has the only surviving color footage of Jean Harlow. At first it surprised me that they'd use a soldiers' ball for the big Technicolor scene, but then I'd guess there were technical limitations on using it for any of the outdoor or flight scenes. The color, I thought, was quite good for two-strip.

The aerial scenes are also quite good. Howard Hughes assembled a ridiculous number of aircraft and pilots to do the aerial scenes, and the quality shows. It's as good as anything you'll see in Wings.

Finally, there's the ending, which I won't give away, but it's realistic and handled well. Overall, I can certainly recommend Hell's Angels.

No comments: