Hell’s Angels: Jean Harlow, Sex Symbol, Introduced

Howard R. Hughes produced this tribute to World War I flying aces, starring Ben Lyon and James Hall as Monte and Roy Rutledge, British brothers who drop out of Oxford to join the British Royal Flying Corps.

Complicating matters is Lyon and Hall’s romantic rivalry over the pretty socialite Helen (Jean Harlow).

While flying a dangerous bombing mission over Germany, the brothers are shot down. The commandant (Lucien Prival), savoring his opportunity for revenge, offers the boys their freedom if they’ll disclose details about the next British attack.

Driven mad by his combat experiences, Roy is about to tell when he is shot and killed by Monte, who’s then condemned to a firing squad by the disgruntled commandant.

Hell’s Angels boasts thrilling aerial sequences, including a Zeppelin raid over London.

It also features a star-making appearance of Jean Harlow. When Hell’s Angels was begun as a silent, Norwegian actress Greta Nissen played the female lead. During the switch to sound, Hughes decided that her accent was too heavy, so he reshot her scenes with his discovery, Harlow. Harlow excels in delivering such sexy lines as slipping into “something more comfortable.”

James Whale, hired as the film’s English-dialect coach, contributed (uncredited) to the dialogue.

The film takes advantage with the pre-code frankness of the dialogue, with phrases like “The hell with you.”

The film’s restored two-color Technicolor sequence, offers the only glimpse of how radiant Harlow looks in color; she died in 1936.

 

Oscar Nominations: 1

Cinematography (color): Gaetano Gaudio and Harry Perry

Oscar Awards: None

Oscar Context:

The winners were Joseph T. Rucker and Willard Van Der Veer for With Byrd at the South Pole.

 

Credits

Running time: 135 minutes.

Directed by Howard Hughes and Edmund Goulding

Written By: Harry Behn, Howard Estabrook, Marshall Neilan

Jean Harlow and Ben Lyon in Hell’s Angels