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Film / Hell's Angels

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Hell's Angels is a pre-Code war 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.

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Tropes:

  • Better to Die than Be Killed: When Roy talks Baron von Kranz into letting him kill Monte as his price for telling the Germans about the Allies' battle plans, he asks for two bullets - in case he misses the first time. He is clearly planning to use the second bullet on himself, and von Kranz knows this, so he only gives him one bullet.
  • 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: For the German zeppelin to gain enough altitude to outrun the RFC planes bearing down on it, the load must be lightened. When throwing out all non-essential cargo isn't enough, the captain starts ordering members of the crew to jump out to their deaths.
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  • Defiant to the End: While Roy and Monte are in a cell in the German HQ, they see a British sergeant being executed by firing squad. He is offered a blindfold and snarls that the Germans can wipe their noses on it for all he cares.
  • Died in Your Arms Tonight: When Roy shoots Monte In the Back to prevent him from telling their captors about the Allies' plans for the upcoming battle, he holds Monte in his arms as the latter, with his dying breaths, thanks Roy for doing what was necessary to keep him from potentially causing the deaths of thousands of Allied soldiers.
  • 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. The only silver lining is that the Allied charge Roy and Monte were ordered to help by bombing the ammunition depot appears to have succeeded.
  • Emergency Cargo Dump: When the zeppelin needs to gain altitude to escape the pursing RFC planes, Karl's observation basket is cut loose, sending him plummeting to his death, while every non-essential piece of equipment is thrown overboard. When even that isn't enough, all non-essential members of the crew are ordered to jump out.
  • Face Death with Dignity: As the firing squad prepare to execute Roy, he keeps his composure as best he can and says to Monte that they'll be together soon enough.
  • 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: Ben Lyon, James Hall, and Jean Harlow were respectively born in Atlanta, Dallas, and Kansas City, and all three make almost 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: Helen 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.

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