Film: Hell's Angels
Hell's Angels 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 for cinematography.
- Blood from the Mouth: Happens with one of the pilots in the aerial dogfight, after taking a machine-gun burst.
- The Casanova: Monte. In his Establishing Character Moment, he brings one girl to a bar where another one of his girls works as a waitress.
- Chekhov's Gunman: Baron von Kranz, the officer who Roy fights a duel with in 1914, is the officer who questions Roy and Monte after they are captured years later.
- Cold Equation: See Heroic Sacrifice below.
- Dirty Coward: In the last scene, Monte is perfectly willing to tell the Germans about the attack and condemn a British division to slaughter in order to save his own skin. His brother has to shoot him In the Back to keep him quiet.
- Downer Ending: Roy shoots his brother and is promptly executed by the Germans.
- Emergency Cargo Dump: See Heroic Sacrifice below.
- Get Out: Helen to Monte after he grows a conscience following sex with her.
- Heroic Sacrifice: Most of the crew of the zeppelin willingly jump to their deaths to try and lighten the load so it can escape the RFC. A couple have to be pushed.
- High-Class Glass: Baron von Kranz, the German officer who catches Monte with his wife in 1914, wears one of these.
- Hitler Cam: An anarchist protesting against the war is shot this way, right before the audience pulls him off his platform and beats him.
- Honor Before Reason: When Monte skips out on his duel with Baron von Kranz, Roy, who is worried about the social stigma, takes his place.
- Mildly Military: Monte apparently is a good enough pilot but definitely isn't down with the whole war thing. His response when the squadron is roused to take on a zeppelin bombing London?"Surely we don't all have to go. I'm tired."
- Not Even Bothering with the Accent: Jean Harlow makes no attempt to sound British.
- Really Gets Around: Helen will sleep with anything in a uniform, while also pretending to love Roy.
- Sexy Backless Outfit: Harlow wears one for the ball scene.
- Slip into Something More Comfortable: Helen says this when seducing Roy. She then re-emerges wearing a robe tied loosely enough that it appears to reveal a breast. (Yes, this film was made before enforcement of The Hays Code.) This film is believed to be the Trope Namer.Helen: Would you be shocked if I put on something more comfortable?
- Splash of Color: The formal ball is shot in Technicolor. This scene is the only color footage of Jean Harlow.
- Taking You with Me: A British pilot plows his plane into the Zeppelin.