Hell’s Angels, according to the unexpectedly accurate statement of its corps of press agents, is “the most pretentious spectacle ever produced.” It cost four million dollars. It took four years to write and film. The producer and director, Mr. Howard Hughes, assembled for it the largest fleet of aircraft ever brought together by an individual—a larger air force than is possessed by the governments of many great countries. In an aerial conflict between Mr. Hughes and
I have often seen advertisements of motor cars on which all the resources of a great corporation were lavished. Their seven-bearing crankshafts were designed and equilibrated by experts after thirty years of experiment. Their eight or sixteen cylinders were fashioned by machines more complicated than the human brain. Their upholstery was copied from fabrics preserved in the great museums of
It is a film in which machines are the heroes and villains. Every expense is lavished upon them; their authenticity is guaranteed. The airplanes, many of which survived the minor battles of Picardy and Flanders before being heroically wrecked in the
The people are incredible—but after spending so much money on a real dog fight in the air, why should the producer waste other months and millions on the details of a pillow fight at Oxford? What does it matter if the students there are made to act like fraternity boys in a cow-country college? Why shouldn’t British officers at mess be given chuck-wagon manners and the accents of the
The story “distinguished by its originality and historic fidelity”—the story doesn’t matter. It is about two
Consider the case of Mr. Howard Hughes, aged twenty-four, the inheritor of
They are symbolic. . . . In very early times, a living representative of Adonis was crucified or torn by wild boars in order to restore the fertility of the earth. A living victim was cast into the sea to appease the storms that threatened the fishing fleet. Later, the god died only in mimicry and the waves were asked to accept an image. Tiberius, Caligula, Domitian were primitive rulers in that they required real victims to die a visible death. Mr. Hughes belongs to our own perfected era. Watching Hell’s Angels, we have the pleasing assurance that these aviators are acting death for wages, that soon they will be drinking, not mead out of skulls, but soda-pop, that this burning Zeppelin is empty of human freight, that our blood lust is being satisfied symbolically—and with dividends to the producer who hired the symbols, who set them in authentic machines, who flew about them directing the fictitious details of their agony. Hell’s Angels is the realization of a Neronian dream. It is a vicious picture, too, but not for this reason. It is vicious because it is anti-human—because the people who enact these simulacra of death are themselves only the simulacra of people.