2005-01-28 / Columnists


By Robert Snyder

Back in the ‘30’s, my mother (then a young debutante) was attending a dance at the Lawrence Beach Club in Atlantic Beach, when the notorious Howard Hughes showed up. He didn’t dance, just stood staring at the girls. The following day, my mother received a call, “Mr. Howard Hughes, would appreciate the presence of your company at dinner tonight.” My mother refused. “I didn’t like his eyes,” she said. “They were shark-like. My friends told me that he was a gangster.”

In Director Martin Scorsese’s epic biographical film, “The Aviator,” Howard Hughes (Leonardo DiCaprio) does indeed have shark-like eyes. But it is hardly the only thing about him that’s strange. He’s obsessed with germs, airplanes, women and movie-making. Still, Scorsese and screenwriter John Logan see him as a true American hero, taking on industrial and government bullies (Alec Baldwin and Alan Alda) in a successful effort to keep transcontinental commercial aviation competitive.

However, before actress Ava Gardner (Kate Beckinsale) pulls the genius inventor from his germ-obsessed depression for the climatic senate battle, we’re taken on a wild ride through Hughes’ life when he spent loads of money making the aerial war film, “Hell’s Angels” and romanced such great beauties as Katharine Hepburn (Cate Blanchett), while designing and test-flying state-of-the-art aircraft.

Although Scorsese doesn’t seem as connected to his subject as he did in his street-smart classics (“Goodfellas,” “Taxi Driver,” “Raging Bull”), he is fascinated with Hughes’ determined American individualism and know-how. As for DiCaprio, he gives a spectacular performance, easily justifying his Golden Globe best-actor win. He starts out resembling a youthful Orson Welles in “Citizen Kane” and winds up a demented, but still noble James Stewart in “Mr. Smith Goes to Washington.”

“The Aviator” also features some mind-blowing aerial sequences, including a plane crash on the roofs of Beverly Hills homes that will make you want to move far away from any airport.

If you have three hours to spare, check out “The Aviator.” You’ll learn more about Howard Hughes than you may want to know.

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