Annotations for “Hell’s Angles” 8 pages in Cinema Purgatorio #17
Writer: Alan Moore, Artist: Kevin O’Neill
Note: Some of this is obvious, but you never know who’s reading and what their exposure is. If there’s anything we missed or got wrong, let us know in comments.
General: The film-within-a-comic tells the life story of eccentric businessman and film director Howard Hughes.
In an unpublished interview, Moore mentioned that the book Howard Hughes: The Untold Story (by Peter Harry Brown, Pat H. Broeske) was one source for this issue.
- On the left is the young Howard Hughes seeing his older self on the right. Hughes is washing his hands, representing his obsession with cleanliness.
- The women pictured are among the many women Hughes dated. From left to right are:
– Partial body shown – suggest??
– In black dress: possibly actor Katherine Hepburn (?) or actress Ava Gardner (?)
– Head not shown: actor Jane Russell, from her iconic publicity photos for Hughes’ 1943 film The Outlaw.
– In black V-neck: actor Hedy Lamarr (?) shown below. She could be actor Gene Tierney (?)
– Blonde in profile: probably actor Lana Turner (?)
- Both Hughes wear aviator watches.
- The long fingernails refer to how Hughes sometimes obsessively let his fingernails grow very long. The kleenex tissues were also a feature of Hughes’s obsessive cleanliness.
- The older Hughes appears to be bleeding film from his mouth.
- The text in the circle is the announcer voice-over an in-house film ad. The text in the box is the narrator’s internal dialogue. The internal dialogue of this issue’s framing sequence includes a lot of repetition – which perhaps builds on the sort of time loop in earlier issues.
- “How the West was Fun!” is a play on the title of the 1962 film How the West Was Won.
- “Three-headed hot dog” is a reference to Cerebus, the mythological three-headed dog that guards the gates of hell.
- The ad is, of course, sexualizing the theater food.
- “Some Like It Ho[t]” is the name of a 1959 comedy film. The title applies to the food being served, but also potentially to the heat of hell.
- “Kemi-Ora” seems to be based on “Chemi-” (from chemistry) and “Ora” (from orange.) It is a reference to the orange-flavored British soft drink Kia-Ora Suncrush known as “Kia-Ora.” which was advertised on-screen before movies. (Thanks commenter Ian Thomson)
- “Wrapping her in a rug” is a somewhat common trope (called the “carpet-rolled corpse“) in several movies, other fiction, and some real life incidents. The narrator’s scene is shown later in CP18.
- The lone woman sitting directly in front of the narrator may be Marie Prevost – see P8,p1 below. On the other hand, she may be another version of the Narrator herself; see CP #11, P8,p2-3.
- “Hell’s Angles” refers to the 1930 film Hell’s Angels directed by Howard Hughes. The title perhaps references the many aspects (angles) of Hughes’ life – and the hell that his mental illnesses subjected him to late in life. Also more generally, the many types of Hell there are, as evidenced by this series as a whole.
- Moore has riffed on Angles/Angels in Jerusalem.
- The narrator is now Howard Hughes. Towards the end of Hughes’ life he suffered from a severe obsessive-compulsive disorder – especially becoming fixated with cleanliness. From Wikipedia:
“He stayed in the studio’s darkened screening room for more than four months, never leaving. He ate only chocolate bars and chicken and drank only milk, and was surrounded by dozens of Kleenex boxes that he continuously stacked and re-arranged. He wrote detailed memos to his aides giving them explicit instructions neither to look at him nor speak to him unless spoken to. Throughout this period, Hughes sat fixated in his chair, often naked, continually watching movies.”
- Bleeding Cool points out that the scene depicted is reported to have taken place in 1957, not 1958 as stated. Per the article “the wrong date below is intentional, showing Howard Hughes’ lack of awareness of the passing of time.”
- “Nosseck’s Studio” apparently refers to film producer Martin Nosseck, whose private film screening room Hughes used, months at a time.
- Commenter pandrio points out that the film-within-a-comic portrays Hughes’ detachment and non-linear perception of time is ways that resemble that of Moore’s Dr. Manhattan from Watchmen.
- “Crashed that plane in 1946” refers to Hughes’ July 1946 nearly-fatal crash in the XF-11 aircraft. Details in panel 3 fill in the story.
- Per Wikipedia:
Many attribute his long-term dependence on opiates to his use of codeine as a painkiller during his convalescence. Yet, Noah Dietrich asserts that Hughes recovered the “hard way – no sleeping pills, no opiates of any kind.”
- Per Wikipedia:
- Hughes seems to be unaware of (or in denial of) Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder.
- According to New World Encyclopedia, “Hughes had also contracted syphilis as a young man, and much of the strange behavior at the end of his life has been attributed by modern biographers to the tertiary stage of that disease.”
- Blood and Sand is a 1941 film starring Rita Hayworth.
- Kate Hepburn is actor Katharine Hepburn., who Hughes was romantically involved with from 1936-38.
- The actor Cary Grant and Hepburn appeared together in four films.
- The film shown is Moore and O’Neill’s fictional The Time of Our Lives from CP#5. This is P2,p5.
- Hughes “wanted to marry Kate [Hepburn]” is confirmed in her Wikipedia entry.
- This shows CP#5 P5,p7. Their looking “too old” is due to the way time advanced quickly throughout #5’s story.
- The confusion between a (desired) wife and his mother would seem to allude to the oft-observed situation where men tend to marry women similar to their mothers.
- Hughes mother Allene Stone Gano is said to have been excessively cleanly, potentially contributing to Hughes’ later cleanliness obsessions. She did indeed wash him with lye soap every day.
- Howard Hughes Sr. was indeed a highly successful businessman. This panel recounts Hughes biography.
- A “Stutz Bearcat” was an early American sportscar – as pictured.
- The Hughes Sr. will is described on Wikipedia, but not to the detail that appears here.
- As stated in the next panel, the screen image appears to be from Hughes 1930 film Hell’s Angels.
- Hell’s Angels “almost bankrupted” Hughes – costing $3.5 million at the time. The high cost is attributed to many factors, including Hughes “overbearing” producing – as well as a mid-stream decision to shift from silent to talkie.
- “The plane I crashed” refers to a filming incident where, when stunt pilots refused one scene as too dangerous, Hughes flew it himself and crashed.
- “Women [whom Hughes] bought… engagement rings” refer to the many famous Hollywood stars Hughes romanced. The side of the plane lists five famous actresses Hughes had affairs with:
– Ginger [Rogers]
– Lana [Turner]
– Ava [Gardner]
– Rita [Hayworth]
– Terry [Moore]
(This is not a comprehensive list of Hughes’ many many women.)
- Hughes “becoming America’s richest man” is an oft-repeated assertion that is difficult to state with certainty. He was among the U.S.’s first billionaires, and certainly among the richest Americans ever.
- “Round-the-world flight in ’38” describes Hughes record-setting aviation feat.
- “Hughes for President” – suggest?? Google doesn’t turn up any Howard Hughes presidential campaign buttons (searches find mostly buttons for the unsuccessful 1916 run of Charles Hughes.)
- “Occasionally [Hughes would] disappear… working anonymously as a pilot” is mentioned in some form at several websites, including AcePilots which states: “[In 1933] he took a job with American Airways as a co-pilot, applying under the pseudonym Charles W. Howard. The ruse was soon discovered and Hughes quit.”
- Hughes, via aerospace companies started by his father, was a “main supplier to the USAF [U.S. Air Force].”
- Panels 4 and 5 form a fixed camera sequence
- In the background, a guard urinates into the just-emptied milk carton, as described on P2,p1.
- Kate is, again, actor Katherine Hepburn.
- “Muirfield mansion” refers to Hughes’ home on Muirfield Road in L.A.’s Hancock Park neighborhood.
- “Mr. [Lucky] Luciano and Mr. [Bugsy] Siegel” are gangsters. They’ve appeared previously in several Purgatorio issues.
- Left to right, apparently, are Hughes, Hepburn, and the corpse of Siegel.
- The ubiquitous couch is the one where Siegel was shot dead. The real life couch was located in a home in Beverly Hills – not Hughes’ Muirfield Road home – though Hughes is an unreliable narrator and the couch ties into its earlier Purgatorio appearances. The right half of the panel re-prints O’Neill’s Siegel death image from CP6 P7,p2 which was also printed in CP11 P6,p5, CP16 P4,p6 and P7,p3. The couch also appeared in the pages 1 and 8 framing sequence starting in issue 13.
- Hughes had various “connections with politics and the C.I.A.” through his aerospace company. These include Nixon scandals (see next panel) and Project Azorian (see panel 5 below.)
- “The future” is not very clear, as the date that Purgatorio takes place is not clear. It seems to be a version of Moore’s youth. Moore was born in 1953 – so it could take place in the late ’50s or early 60s. The Nixon incident took place in 1960, so that would place Purgatorio in the late ’50s.
Finding an exact coherent time frame for Purgatorio may be fruitless. Hughes is a delusional unreliable narrator. Moore has compelling theories about time – primarily eternalism (time as the fourth physical dimension of an unchanging solid universe), which is explored extensively in Jerusalem.
- In the background, the formerly urinating guard is placing the refilled container outside.
- Later president Richard Nixon narrowly lost the 1960 election, in part due to a late-breaking scandal: “the Kennedy campaign spread word that Vice President Nixon had secretly pocketed money from billionaire Howard Hughes.”
- That earlier Hughes scandal is thought to be part of Nixon’s motivation for Watergate. The Watergate scandal was triggered by a Nixon-connected team breaking in to the Watergate building to place a listening device in Democratic National Committee chair Lawrence O’Brien’s office. According to Vox: “Perhaps the most popular theory is that Nixon was worried that O’Brien knew about his financial dealings with billionaire tycoon Howard Hughes, for whom O’Brien served as a lobbyist in addition to his DNC duties.”
- Nitpick: “1960s” should probably read “1960’s”.
- Visible in the foreground is one of Nixon’s tape-recorders.
- A brief internet search did not find this replacement story, but it would fit Hughes madness/paranoia. It may have originated with this book?
- This panel details Hughes role in the 1974 top secret Project Azorian. Hughes designed the Glomar Explorer ship that attempted to retrieve the Russian submarine. The specific soviet sub was indeed numbered 722.
- Note that each of the large panels on pages 3-4-5 include a big metal vehicle increasing in size: car, airplane, submarine.
- “Split screen” – see next page.
- “Abel Gance” was a silent-era French filmmaker who pioneered “tracking shots, extreme close-ups, low-angle shots, and split-screen images.”
- Split screen film-making does not appear to be specifically associated with Howard Hughes; it appears to be a convention that Moore and O’Neill are using to juxtapose contradictory aspects of Hughes life.
Moore and O’Neill use an expanding split screen on the first three panels of this page.
- “[Charlie] Chaplin and [Errol] Flynn” were movie stars known as womanizers, even alleged rapists. Flynn is famous for playing a swordsman in several movies. Moore has conflated sword with penis here; a Google search didn’t find other places where film star womanizers were called “swordsmen.” Hughes did seduce many Hollywood teenagers, most famously a then-17 Gloria Vanderbilt.
- “Drunk driver who kills a pedestrian…” describes a 1936 Hughes car crash.
- “Hepburn” – see P3,p2 above.
- “Presidents” – see P5,p3 above.
- “Pink elephant” is a euphemism for a drunk hallucination.
- Though Hughes supplied the C.I.A., a Google search doesn’t find a Hughes helicopter connection with U.S. Senator Teddy Kennedy and his Chappaquiddick scandal pictured. Suggest??
- Hughes “American Airlines pilot” incident is described in P4,p3 above.
- “Hermit eating Baskin-Robbins” references how Hughes “once became fond of Baskin-Robbins’ banana nut ice cream, so his aides sought to secure a bulk shipment for him, only to discover that Baskin-Robbins had discontinued the flavor. They put in a … special order [for] 350 gallons… A few days after the order arrived, Hughes announced he was tired of banana nut and wanted only French vanilla ice cream.”
In the bottom right screen, the logo “[Bask]in 31 Robb[ins]” (Baskin Robbins was sometimes known as “31 Flavors”) to perhaps appear to read “in 31 rolls.” This may allude to Hughes’ many roles as shown throughout this panel.
- As Bleeding Cool points out, this 9-screen grid resembles the 9-panel comics grid, used extensively by Moore, most associated with Watchmen. The grid-of-screens also appears in Watchmen, watched by Ozymandias.
- “Nuts” has a secondary meaning here of “crazy”.
- Nosseck – see P2,p1 above.
- “The Fatal Officers” including the images shown is from CP#1.
- Hughes indeed died in Acapulco in 1976, though the death was announced when the airplane carrying his corpse reached the U.S.
- In his later years, Hughes was attended by a “committee” of assistants, many of whom were Mormon.
- This describes and depicts the complicated international incidents behind Hughes’ death.
- This appears to be the first time that the film-within-a-comic has explicitly connected with the purgatory framing sequence (though there have been connections between the various films.) Purgatorio‘s narrator mentions this in panel 5 asking “was that last bit about this place?”
- “The same sofa” (where Siegel was shot dead – appearing in P5,p1 and P7,p5above) appeared earlier in CP6 P7,p2 and CP11 P6,p5 and framing sequence starting in issue 13 – including P8,p5 below.
- The end title is that from Hell’s Angels, only with the addition of a gradual fade to utter blackness.
- This Marie Prevost Screen Regrets issue appeared in CP6. Prevost was an actress who died of acute alcoholism at the age of 38 in January 1937. The cover and text of the magazine are a darkly ironic reference to the fact that Prevost’s body was not discovered until two days after her death, when neighbors complained about her dog’s incessant barking.
Perhaps the woman reading this is Prevost. Or, perhaps she is the narrator herself, who bought this issue in CP6. Note that the fingernails are the same.
- Scar/mark on usherette’s cheek? – suggest??
- “Burt Lancaster” was a Hollywood actor. “Crockery Joe” was a nickname based on his wide white grin.
- This is the fifth time the ticket seller has alluded to children without the narrator paying full attention. Quoting our previous note from CP#11, P1p2:
“Different conditions […] for children” is similar to CP#2 P1,p3, the ticket seller says “something about adults and children, muffled”; in CP#3 P1,p2, “for adults and children there are different… She mumbles the last word, it could be tariffs, or duties. Something like that.”, and in CP#9 P1,p3, “different charges for minors”. Is the narrator in purgatory because she abused a child she had a “duty” towards, one who was in her “charge”?
- This is, again, the “stained prop sofa” where Siegel was murdered – see P5,p1 and P7,p5 above.
- “Albert Lewin” was a Hollywood filmmaker.
- The Man Ray photo – suggest?? (Man Ray was mentioned in CP#11.)
- “The danger in the commonplace is dullness” sounds like a Moore homage of an Oscar Wilde truism. Moore previously homaged Wilde and Dorian Gray in Lost Girls chapter 13.
- “Hurd Hatfield” was an actor. He played Dorian Gray in Lewin’s 1945 film.
- “The Sweet Smell of Excess” references the 1957 Burt Lancaster film Sweet Smell of Success.