The Amazing Howard Hughes (1977)
This biopic was originally a mini-series, screening over two nights with a running time of three hours and fifteen minutes. The version more readily available nowadays has a running time of less than two hours. Not surprisingly, with over 75 mins cut, the resulting film appears as erratic and unfocused as its title character.
Not that Hughes started out that way. We first encounter him as a determined youngster trying to score a plane ride. Shortly thereafter he is organising the takeover of his father’s business merely seconds after the old man has been buried. But any semblance of character development soon gives way to a box ticking exercise as the significant events of Hughes’ extraordinary life are checked off: the record-breaking flights, his film-making ventures, romances with actresses and run-ins with the government. Before we know it, Hughes is obsessively washing his hands and leading the life of a recluse.
No doubt this fragmentation is due to the biopic losing a third of its story in the editing room. What’s frustrating though is that the glimpses of a decent biopic remain. In one of his earliest starring roles, Tommy Lee Jones gives a slightly mannered performance which is unduly exaggerated by the film’s reduced running time.
Such was the scope of Howard Hughes’s story that other biopics have concentrated on certain time-frames of his eventful life. Unfortunately the only available cut of this biopic bears out the wisdom of that approach.
The scene depicting Hughes doing multiple retakes of the Zeppelin scene is incorrect. Hughes shot the Zeppelin scenes and left the partially shot footage untouched except for adding sound.
Biopic features quite a few scene recreations, mostly from Hughes' first directorial effort Hell's Angels.