Hughes and Harlow: Angels in Hell (1977)
After the commercial success of his sleazy Marilyn Monroe biopic Goodbye Norma Jean, self-confessed schlockmeister Larry Buchanan determined that his next film would be another biopic depicting the rise of Hollywood sex symbol, the original platinum blonde Jean Harlow. Like the eponymous hero of his film, though with a considerably smaller budget, this Texan outsider would show the Hollywood community that he could make a film to rival any of their productions. He almost succeeded.
Opening at the premier of Hell’s Angels (or is it Angels in Hell?!?), the biopic places Hughes and Harlow in a balcony overlooking a theatre audience before a Scooby-doo flashback posits Hughes and company filming what they believe are some of the last scenes in the film’s production. The advent of sound changes all that. Needing to find a new leading lady who ‘speaks American’ Hughes discovers Jean Harlow, whose foul-mouth appropriately fits the bill.
Unlike most of Larry Buchanan’s films, this biopic doesn’t need the so-bad-its-good rationale to earn credit. Victor Holchak provides a solid lead as Howard Hughes while Lindsay Bloom delivers the best Harlow yet. And though the bar may be set low by other biopics of this era, Hughes and Harlow: Angels in Hell holds its own against Gable and Lombard, Valentino and W.C. Fields and Me.
Unfortunately, the film was used as a tax write-off and was never released theatrically.
as Howard Hughes
as Jean Harlow
as Howard Hawks
as Will Hays
Howard Hughes did not discover Harlow on the set of Double Whoopee. She was recommended to him by Hell’s Angels’ lead James Hall.
Noah Dietrich, CEO of most of Howard Hughes’ business empire from 1925 to 1957, wrote that Hughes disliked Harlow and that their relationship was strictly professional.
Though the many “movie-within-a-movie” scenes in this biopic reference Hell’s Angels, none of them duplicate scenes from the original. Even the classic line “Would you be shocked if I put on something more comfortable” is flubbed. The nearest Hughes and Harlow: Angels in Hell comes to recreating a scene is that old standby Double Whoopee, first recreated in both the Baker and Lynley Harlow biopics.