Filmsite Movie Review
Hell's Angels (1930)
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Background

Hell's Angels (1930) is well-known for Howard Hughes' high-cost direction (production costs of about $3 million), 18-year-old blonde bombshell Jean Harlow's first major role and big break into film, and the stunning aerial footage (e.g., authentic-looking dogfights). It was the costliest film ever made until Gone With the Wind (1939) beat its record by $1 million.

The Story

It is the contrasting story of two brothers (one good and one bad), Roy (James Hall) and Monte Rutledge (Ben Lyon) respectively, who leave Oxford and join in the British Royal Flying Corps at the beginning of World War I. Roy, falls in love with Helen (Jean Harlow), a sexy, voluptuous, platinum blonde.

Its most remarkable moment and famous line (often misquoted) is delivered by blue-eyed Helen, who wears a slinky velvet evening dress (with beaded straps) that barely covers her breasts. The plunging neckline on her dress caused a tremendous controversy at the time. As the two-timing, slutty fiancé of unsuspecting Roy, she encouragingly asks brother Monte to take her home during a dance:

Are we here?...Want to come up for a cigarette and a drink?...Come see my room. I've only had a place of my own for a week...(After serving him a drink) Would you be shocked if I put on something more comfortable?

Monte non-chalantly replies: "I'll try to survive" as she moves into her back bedroom, lets her wrap drop, and reveals her backless evening dress and a side view of her remarkable figure before disappearing. A few moments later, she returns wearing a white-trimmed dark robe - provocatively open to her waist and bare underneath. As he sits next to her, she behaves like a hot floozie and stirs his passions:

Monte: Well, are you more comfortable now?
Helen: Yes, are you?
Monte: Oh yes. You know it seems strange being here like this after hearing Roy rave about you for months.
Helen: Does Roy rave?
Monte: Or rather, he idolizes you.
Helen: Well, I do wish he wouldn't. It makes me feel guilty.
Monte: I can understand his raving now.
Helen: Oh, don't be silly. You're not a bit like Roy, are you?
Monte: I should say not. Roy's frightfully high-minded. He doesn't approve of me.
Helen: He wouldn't approve of me either if he knew what I'm really like.
Monte: Doesn't he know?
Helen: No. When I'm with Roy, I'm the way Roy wants me to be. That's caddish, isn't it? But I can't help it.
Monte: I understand.
Helen: Roy wouldn't.
Monte: May I ask you a very personal question?
Helen: Yes.
Monte: Do you love Roy?
Helen: No, not really. Not the way Roy wants me to love him. I can't. Roy's love means marriage and children and never anyone but Roy. I couldn't bear that. I want to be free. I want to be gay and have fun. Life's short and I want to live while I'm alive.
Monte: I know but...that's the way I feel too. (He caresses her hair as she languishes back under his attentive gaze.) I-I think I'd better go.
Helen: Must you?
Monte: I really should.
Helen: Pull!

She stretches out her arms and he pulls her up into his arms. They are frozen, inches away from each other's lips - and then they kiss. She surrenders herself to him and they lower themselves back to the couch and embrace further - as the scene fades to black.

Most memorable wartime scenes: the beautifully photographed aerial dogfight skirmishes, German zeppelin raids over London, and the red-tinted and two-color Technicolor scenes.

While flying their mission, the brothers are shot down by the Germans and captured. A shell-shocked Monte is shot by his brother to prevent him from revealing important secrets to the Germans. As Monte dies in his brother's arms, Monte forgives his brother. Angry and in retaliation, the Germans execute Roy.