“Life’s short — and I want to live while I’m alive!”
Genres, Themes, Actors, and Directors:
Hell’s Angels has a truly infamous production history, and TCM’s article provides plenty of behind-the-scenes information about the film:
Given this decidedly rocky trajectory, it’s impressive that the film coheres as well as it does — though it’s not exactly seamless. Opening scenes featuring Lyon bowing out of a duel with the husband (Lucien Prival) of a woman he’s been having an affair with — and Hall taking his place — are atmospherically filmed but don’t do much for the storyline other than present the brothers as a caddish coward (Lyon) and a foolish martyr (Hall).
Meanwhile, 18-year-old Harlow’s performance isn’t nearly as bad as accounts would lead you to believe; it’s easy to see how she turned into one of cinema’s most alluring sirens.
The best aspect of the film by far, however, are the stunning aerial “dog fights”, shot at great cost (both literally, and in terms of human lives lost). Also notable is a sequence in which German dirigible crew members are ordered to jump to their deaths in order to “lighten the load”; this is, as DVD Savant writes, a “disturbing and macabre scene.”
Note: This film’s production was a major narrative component in Martin Scorsese’s The Aviator (2004), a biopic about Hughes starring Leonardo DiCaprio.
Redeeming Qualities and Moments: