Hell's Angels

Produced 1927-1930 by Howard Hughes, premiered May 27, 1930, budget of $4 million, gross of $8 million, black and white 35mm negative with some Multi-Color sequences, 1.33:1 screen ratio, mono sound, 119 mins.

   

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This war film about World War I was made by Howard Hughes who loved to fly, earned a pilot's license in 1927, was inspired by Charles Lindbergh's transatlantic flight May 21, 1927, and by the Paramount feature film Wings that premiered at the Criterion Theater in New York ion April 12, 1927. Hughes began production in October 1927, and would continue filming until May 1930. He hired authentic World War I ace pilots such as Roscoe Turner to fly the 45 biplanes he bought for $563,000 (not the rumored 87 planes, yet still the largest private air force in the world). Many planes were authentic World War I models including the SE-5, the Fokker D-VII, the De Havilland DH-4, along with other biplanes such as the Thomas Morse S4C Scout converted to look like the Sopwith Camel. Hughes spent $400,000 to lease several Los Angeles airfields, starting at Mines Field in Englewood (now LAX), and Caddo Field in Van Nuys. In Oct. 1928 he moved to the Oakland airfield in the San Francisco area to film his planes against clouds. Two pilots died in the aerial sequences, and a third mechanic was killed in the accidental crash of the Sikorsky S29-A converted to represent the Gotha bomber. The Sikorsky was flown by Roscoe Turner, with mechanic Phil Jones along to make smoke. When the big plane lost control and fell 7000 ft. into an orange grove on March 22, 1929, Turner bailed out but Jones was killed. Cameras recorded the fall, but not the crash that was re-staged with a Curtiss JN4 as the Gotha, pushed off a cliff. Hughes had starting filming his epic as a silent film, but after the introduction of sound in 1927, he re-shot much of the film using sound, and hired 18-year old Jean Harlow to substitute for the Norwegian-accented Greta Nissen. This extra sound filming added $1.7 million to the budget. He shot 560 hours, or 3 million feet, of film but used only 0.36 percent in the final release, throwing away more film than any other film in Hollywood history. He hired dirigible engineers from Akron, Ohio, to provide blueprints for two 60-foot models of a Zeppelin airship, filmed in the giant airship hangar at Arcadia (where the Santa Anita Racetrack is now located). The Zeppelin scene cost $460,000, including the cost of a glass floor to film the falling buring airship directly overhead. The great dogfight in the film between 15 British and 15 German planes took 3 weeks to film and cost $300,000. Most of the action was filmed from cameras aboard planes or on the ground. The mid-air crash of two planes was filmed with two 12-foot models. For the ground battles scenes, he hired 1700 extras at $200 per week. The film premiered at Grauman's Chinese Theatre in Hollywoood May 27, 1930, and would be popular with audiences despite the Depression, grossing $8 million.

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revised 10/1/06 by Steven Schoenherr | Filmnotes