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.
as Howard Hughes
as Katharine Hepburn
as Billie Dove
as Jean Harlow
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.
The focus of scene recreations from Hell’s Angels and The Outlaw is not so much to produce an exact copy of the original, but to depict Hughes’s obsessiveness behind the camera. Also mixes newsreel footage of Hughes’ record-breaking aviation feats with newly filmed scenes of Tommy Lee Jones. Biopic accurately recreates Hughes’ appearance before the US Senate, with the occasional dramatic flourish thrown in for good measure.