is a 1930 film directed by Howard Hughes and starring Ben Lyon, James Hall, and Jean Harlow
in her Star-Making Role
. Lyon and Hall play Monte and Roy Rutledge, students at Oxford at the start of World War I
. Harlow is Helen, the local society girl that Roy is sweet on—although unfortunately for Roy she is not as sweet on him. Roy is the serious, high-minded one who wants to have a family with Helen, while Monte likes good times and carousing.
Roy signs up with the RFC immediately at the start of the war. Monte is essentially tricked into signing up by a pretty girl at a recruiting station. The brothers are assigned to the same unit and go off to France, where they learn the truth about Helen and about war. They survive an attack on a German zeppelin, but later have to go on a dangerous mission behind enemy lines to bomb an ammunition depot.
The Troubled Production
of Hell's Angels
was notorious at the time, and was dramatized 75 years later in The Aviator
. Shooting lasted for three years. Hughes, who was 22 years old when production started in 1927, was Doing It for the Art
, spending rivers of money on elaborate sets and dozens of planes used for the flying scenes. The entire film was in the can when the talkie revolution spurred Hughes into scrapping almost all of his silent footage and re-shooting everything with sound. Greta Nissen, the Swedish actress who had played Helen during shooting of the silent film, was replaced by the 18-year-old unknown Harlow when filming of the talking scenes commenced. Hughes hired and fired three directors before taking on the aerial scenes himself and hiring James Whale, who would soon have his breakout hit with Frankenstein
, to direct the talking scenes. (Hughes received sole directing credit.) The film didn't earn its money back because Hughes spent so much, but it was well received, winning an Academy Award