November 17, 1930 [Hell's Angels]

The waiting crowds break like pilots veering toward their targets: Howard Hughes has drawn us in, and we eagerly dog-fight all the way to our seats. The picture itself reminds me of certain films made during the War, like J'Accuse!--boundless heroism slapped around by bitterness. Remarque in All Quiet on the Western Front may have earned the right to scorn pointless sacrifices, but Hughes had the money to buy in--not that he didn't bowl us over: The aerial sequences scoop us up like feathers and blow us all to Hell, dizzy as Coney Island daredevils in our anchored seats.

But watching the three chums die just to prove they're better than the War takes the fun out of it--despite Jean Harlow's round-faced, curving invitation. Hughes is brutally frank with us: death is an agony--the pilot crying out, gnashing his teeth, vainly wrestling the bullets inside him--or a simple drop into the darkness--dismal to consider while trying to enjoy the thrill of flight. In the end, Hughes does allow us to soar--but not without making us squirm, the loop-the-loops and vertical drops not the only falls turning my stomach.


Popular Posts