First Hit: I was left wanting because I wanted this film to be insightful about the secret world of Howard Hughes, a powerful, interesting, and enigmatic figure of my youth.
The name “Howard Hughes” billionaire, held its own fascination to me during the late 1950’s – 1960’s. In Southern California, where I grew up, the name Hughes Aircraft labeled a number of buildings in and around the Glendale and El Segundo areas. The Hughes Aircraft Company was a subsidiary of Hughes Tool Company, which his father started, was headquartered in Texas and because of his father’s early death, he inherited the business when he was just eighteen years old.
With drive and vision, this wealth allowed him to create the airline company TWA (Trans World Airlines) out of Transcontinental and Western Air. He also bought hotels in Las Vegas (The Sands, Castaways, Landmark, Frontier, Silver Slipper and Desert Inn). He also got involved in Media and specifically for this film RKO Pictures.
The film opens with Levar Mathis (Matthew Broderick) and Nadine Henley (Candice Bergen) anxiously trying to get Howard Hughes (Warren Beatty) to, via telephone, address a group of reporters. The reason is that in this public press conference, Hughes is expected to answer reporter’s questions to disprove and debunk a book stating that Hughes is now insane and needs to be institutionalized.
The movie rolls back in time 5 years and we meet Marla Mabry (Lily Collins) and her mother Lucy (Annette Bening) who are coming to LA from Virginia for Marla to meet Howard and have a screen test for a film Hughes was going to make with her as the star. They are met by Hughes’ driver Frank Forbes (Alden Ehrenreich) and there is an immediate spark between Marla and Frank. However, Frank is forbidden by Howard’s rules as explained to him feverishly by Levar, that he will be fired if he fraternizes, in any way, with any of Hughes actresses.
As the film makes its way to the press conference, we learn about Howard's quirks with people and things. He likes Banana Nut ice cream one moment, and Vanilla the next. We see bankers waiting for hours in a bungalow at the Beverly Hilton just to meet and see Howard before giving him $400+ million dollars. Hughes of course is in nearby bungalow but prefers to speak with them via phone.
We watch him and Frank gaze at the Spruce Goose which the Army commissioned to build but thinks it won’t fly. But Hughes flies the plane one time to prove its feasibility, then decommissions the plane. Watching a film of the flight, you hear Howard complain there was no close-up of him flying the plane.
He lives in the shadows of rooms and in the dark. He does most of his business by phone, meanwhile Marla and Frank both try to find personal one-on-one time with Howard so that she can pitch her talents and he can pitch his real estate deal. Along with way, they signal their mutual interest in each other.
I was fascinated with what Howard would say or come up with next. But what didn’t work for me was not getting more about the very odd story of Hughes. I thought the love story of Marla and Frank was rather tepid. However, the redemption of the latter arrives at the end of the film, but it wasn’t what I was interested in. I wanted more about Howard Hughes a childhood fascination of mine.
I did like the film’s time-period and the views of Hollywood, LA and Las Vegas were engagingly wonderful. The attention to details in the rooms and bungalows were great.
Beatty was oddly quirky and strong as a man on the edge of greatness and sanity. He was perfect for this role and did an excellent job of directing himself. Collins was very engaging and good as Maples. Her ability to be sober and drunk and keep the character congruent was virtuous and perfect. Bening, as Marla’s mother was wonderful. Her religious and personal beliefs were perfectly represented. Ehrenreich was wonderful. His intensity and respect for Hughes in their conversations was excellently presented. Martin Sheen as Hughes’ CEO was great. He expressed just the right amount of irritation at the bosses’ behavior and respect for Howard’s accomplishments. Broderick was fun as the sort of chief of staff role he had for Hughes. Bergen was fun and good as Hughes’ secretary and assistant. Beatty wrote a wonderful screenplay but as I said earlier I would have rather had more Hughes and less Maples and Frank, but that is just me. Hughes is what I was interested in. Beatty also did a good job of directing this bigger than life story.
Overall: I wanted a bigger story about Hughes.