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Laramie Movie Scope:
Hell's Angels

Melodrama leads up to impressive WWI dogfight in the clouds and tragic conclusion

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by Patrick Ivers, Film Critic
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(1930, restored b/w with color; English, French, German) In pre-war Munich, visiting for a few weeks, Englishman Roy Rutledge (James Hall) converses with his Oxford classmate Karl Armstedt (John Darrow), a German citizen, when brother Monte (Ben Lyon) shows up at the café with a girl: "Found her at the museum." Roy replies to his playboy sibling: "Yeah, she's a work of art." Karl adds: "You should have left her there."

Rushing off to another assignation with the wife of a military officer, Monte's caught by Col Baron Von Kranz (Lucien Prival) in the arms of the adulteress and challenged to a duel. Ignoring Roy's exhortations to behave honorably & promptly departing for England, Monte leaves his brother to answer for the misdeed.

Back in Oxford, Monte avoids meeting Roy's girlfriend Helen (Jean Harlow): "You and I don't like the same kind of girls." First France and then Great Britain declare war against the Kaiser. An anarchist shouts in the street: "All your sons will die for capitalism!" When notification arrives for Karl to report to the army, he's in London with his friends: "I couldn't kill anyone."

Upon hearing his brother announce he's enlisted in the Royal Flying Corps, Monte's dismissive of heroics: "You're a fool, Roy." Nevertheless, soon afterward Monte's tricked into enlistment for a kiss: "Say, I'd rather marry the girl."

At a dance, Monte's finally introduced to Helen, who says she's joined Lady Randolph's Canteen Unit headed for France; Monte takes advantage of Roy's being busy as committee chairman, making out and off with Helen. Already in a slinky, revealing gown, Helen at her flat asks Monte: "Would you be shocked if I put on something more comfortable?"

Produced (for an estimated $4 million) and directed by Howard Hughes (with uncredited assistance from Edmund Goulding and James Whale), this melodrama (with occasional comic scenes such as Jymes serving soup to British aviators) leading up to an impressive World War I dogfight in the clouds and tragic conclusion was adapted by Howard Estabrook and Harry Behn from a story by Marshall Neilan and Joseph Moncure March.

"Roy's frightfully high-minded," Monte says to Helen: "He doesn't approve of me." "He wouldn't approve of me either if he knew what I'm really like," Helen replies, snuggling close: "Roy's love means marriage and children and never anyone but Roy. I couldn't bear that. I wanna be free. I wanna be gay and have fun!"

A Boche zeppelin with bombs hovers above blacked-out London, lowering Karl in an observation car to target Trafalgar Square; responding to an air-raid alarm, Roy and Monte in the same aircraft (hit by gunfire and forced to land) are among four bi-planes in pursuit of the enemy airship, which in desperation to lighten its load to gain altitude to escape, sacrifices most of its crew.

In France, Lt Roy Rutledge between fearful night patrols finds Helen at the canteen with flirtatious Capt Redfield before Monte's accused by other pilots of shirking duty. "I'll give 'em a word," retorts Monte: "Murder! That's what this dirty rotten politicians' war is. Murder! You know it as well as I do. Yellow am I? You're the ones that are yellow. I've got the guts to say what I think!"

Nevertheless, initially repentant of his outburst, Monte volunteers with Roy for a suicidal mission in a captured German bomber for a strike on a munitions depot at Spraug in advance of a major attack on the enemy's position. However, in the hours before the mission while carousing with girls, Monte has second thoughts (idealism is for fools) about going (if caught they'd be treated as spies); but Roy, who has finally learned of Helen's true character, reminds his brother that if they don't go they'd be court-martialed for desertion since hundreds of British lives are dependent on their accomplishing the bombing run.

Click here for links to places to buy or rent this movie in video and/or DVD format, or to buy the soundtrack, posters, books, even used videos, games, electronics and lots of other stuff. I suggest you shop at least two of these places before buying anything. Prices seem to vary continuously. For more information on this film, click on this link to The Internet Movie Database. Type in the name of the movie in the search box and press enter. You will be able to find background information on the film, the actors, and links to much more information.

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Copyright © 2012 Patrick Ivers. All rights reserved.
Reproduced with the permission of the copyright holder.
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Patrick Ivers can be reached via e-mail at nora's email address at juno. [Mailer button: image of letter and envelope]

(If you e-mail me with a question about this or any other movie or review, please mention the name of the movie you are asking the question about, otherwise I may have no way of knowing which film you are referring to)