The Amazing Howard Hughes (1977)

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Released 16-Apr-2004

Cover Art

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Details At A Glance

General Extras
Category Drama Featurette-"Spruce Goose" Newsreel
Rating Rated PG
Year Of Production 1977
Running Time 120:46
RSDL / Flipper RSDL (78:02) Cast & Crew
Start Up Menu
Region Coding 4 Directed By William A. Graham

Universal Pictures Home Video
Starring Tommy Lee Jones
Ed Flanders
James Hampton
Tovah Feldshuh
Lee Purcell
Jim Antonio
Sorrell Booke
Marty Brill
Marla Carlis
Lee de Broux
Roy Engel
Arthur Franz
Denise Galik-Furey
Case ?
RPI $19.95 Music Laurence Rosenthal

Video Audio
Pan & Scan/Full Frame None English Dolby Digital 2.0 (224Kb/s)
Widescreen Aspect Ratio 1.78:1
16x9 Enhancement
16x9 Enhanced
Video Format 576i (PAL)
Original Aspect Ratio 1.78:1 Miscellaneous
Jacket Pictures No
Subtitles None Smoking Yes
Annoying Product Placement No
Action In or After Credits Yes, "Spruce Goose" newsreel footage

NOTE: The Profanity Filter is ON. Turn it off here.

Plot Synopsis

    The mere mention of the name Howard Hughes brings an instant association with money and, to a lesser extent, eccentricity. However, some of the man's biggest achievements were not inspired by money or greed, but merely the fact that Howard could pull off a particular feat that others thought impossible or improbable. He seemed to get an immense sense of satisfaction from this one "fuel" which kept him burning for many years.

    The movie stars Tommy Lee Jones as Howard R. Hughes, Ed Flanders as Noah Dietrich, James Hampton as Wilbur Peterson and Tovah Feldshuh as Katharine Hepburn in this made-for-television production.

    The story of Hughes is one of excitement and sadness. This man had everything that could be purchased and some things that couldn't and yet towards his latter years he clearly was missing love and companionship. Sure he married several times during his lifetime but during the latter years he desperately needed someone to keep him on the straight and narrow and of sound mind. These two things may well have prevented his reclusive spiral to oblivion if he had filled this need even just a few years earlier. And that is also assuming that the woman would have been able to put up with him where others had failed or been failed due to his infidelity. His mental decline and lack of concentration were probably the result of his numerous plane crashes which then caused germ fanaticism. Poor grooming habits were only the start, but then again, who am I to say what would have saved such an interesting man?

    There are several movies and books on the man, his companies and his dreams that have appeared over the years. This film is based on the book "Howard, The Amazing Mr. Hughes" which was written by Noah Dietrich and Bob Thomas and by all accounts provides a realistic and admired version of the subject's life. After all, Noah was Hughes' accountant and right-hand man for over 30 years and saw more than anyone else and is often credited with making Hughes more of a success that he would have been otherwise. Both the original writers plus a gentleman by the name of Bob Thomas were involved in making the TV adaptation of the book so that the essence of the book could also be portrayed on the screen. I have not personally read this version so can only surmise on what others have commented. From what I can find out, though, the book is a remarkable insight into the real man and not some Hollywood version of a playboy-pilot-film producer. After all, Noah Dietrich was Howard's right-hand man for many years and got closer than anyone else, so I would expect there to be some juicy and intriguing content to read. This movie must be a further summary of this book and spends too much time on the film producer portion and not enough elsewhere. The background on the book itself is quite interesting as Noah's memoirs where themselves part of a hoax where Clifford Irving, a popular writer of the day, decided to use Hughes' reclusive nature for financial gain. Irving convinced the executives at McGraw-Hill that Howard Hughes commissioned him to write his biography. Through a stroke of luck, Noah's notes landed in Irving's lap and were polished and made publishable. As the hoax started to gather momentum it infuriated Hughes to such an extent that he set up a telephone meeting on the 7th of January 1972 with seven well-known journalists to explain the facts. When this meeting was later aired across the country it was the first time in 14 years that Hughes had been heard by the public.

    His vast wealth started to accumulate when he inherited his father's tool company (the Hughes Tool Company) in 1925. The company's one main product was used to drill oil wells and Hughes Sr. decided to charge $30,000 in local dollars per well rather than sell the tool. His son actually made improvements using his natural talent for electrical and mechanical objects which netted the company further wealth. By the 30s his other love, flying, was given a boost when he set up the Hughes Aircraft Corp by purchasing 1 plane complete with the pilot after a test flight. Then it was time for the movies and he produced no less than 40 movies over three decades. Of the two most popular, Hell's Angels killed 3 pilots, cost $3.8M to produce but received Academy Award nomination for Best Cinematography, and Two Arabian Nights won an Academy Award in 1928. Airways were the next item on the agenda with the purchase of Trans World Airways (TWA) which he owned for some time before selling it due to legal bickering within the company aimed at Hughes. By the 60s, casinos were the thing and Las Vegas was to a large extent built on Hughes money and influence during the early years. By 1966, at the age of 60, he was the world's wealthiest man and this wealth kept increasing as his health declined.

    Howard Robard Hughes was born in 1905 and lasted until 1976 when his weary body, fed a diet of lollies and cake, finally gave out. His latter years were sad in anyone's eyes, seeing such a powerful man driven to such isolation by his fear of germs and shyness. For years he used tissues on all objects and his personal minders to separate the germs from his body. He even placed tissues on his feet and between the toes to provide that extra level of protection for his piece of mind rather than for any medical reasoning. If the current fad of "germ/bacteria killing" household products was around back then I am sure he would have purchased the company for that extra level of protection. His need to hire Mormons was based on his belief that they could not be bought or corrupted and their own beliefs protected him from the world's evils. Never was he agreeing on a religious background but merely on their other qualities.

    Hughes drew his last breath as the result of kidney failure during a flight from Acapulco in Mexico to Houston, Texas as his aides were trying to rush him to medical care. He left an estimated fortune of $2 billion, and it took two decades to unravel his vast empire and distribute it to his fighting heirs. His "Spruce Goose" which is apparently made of Birth and not Spruce at all is still on exhibit at the Evergreen Aviation Museum in McMinnville, Oregon.

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Transfer Quality


    The transfer is presented in an aspect ratio of 1.78:1, 16x9 enhanced.

    The transfer is soft with no examples of sharp crisp footage being seen. The footage certainly looks like all of its 30 plus years of age. Shadow detail is also a problem with the darker sections such as at 11:56 containing a poor level of detail. Luckily there are only a few instances where there are low light conditions. There is low level noise throughout the film.

    The colours were quite bland and had a mildly washed out look leaving me to speculate that the original video has faded faster than other movies of a similar age.

    There were no MPEG artefacts seen. Aliasing is an artefact that was not noticeable during this footage and it was something that I was sure would make an appearance. There is some mild shimmer in some footage but it's not glaringly obvious unless you are specifically looking for video issues. Film artefacts are minor and are in the form of small flecks. The exception is the Spruce Goose newsreel which contains a lot of artefacts at 00:44, 80:15 and again at 80:15 which are the three instances where they appear in various forms. There is also a fair amount of low level noise present.

    There are no subtitles available on this disc.

    The dual-layer pause is at 78:02 and is barely noticeable.

Video Ratings Summary
Shadow Detail
Film-To-Video Artefacts
Film Artefacts


    The film has a single audio track in English Dolby Digital 2.0 (non surround-encoded) due to its made for TV heritage. This leaves the centre channel to be the only speaker to receive any audio.

    The dialogue was clear and easy to understand at all times.

    Audio sync was not a problem at all with this transfer, and was completely spot on.

    The musical score by Laurence Rosenthal was interesting but bland. I was unable to find any background information about this particular piece of music and if it contained any specific relevance to the movie's subject or not. The music did not drown out the dialogue at any point.

    The surround channels were not used by this audio track as this is a non surround-encoded track.

    The subwoofer was not used by this particular audio track. There is enough bass information in the main channels to provide sufficient deep sound as and when required.

Audio Ratings Summary
Audio Sync
Surround Channel Use



    The menu design is themed around the movie by using still pictures taken from the footage.

News Reel

    After the main credits there is newsreel footage of the Spruce Goose in flight complete with the original audio.

R4 vs R1

NOTE: To view non-R4 releases, your equipment needs to be multi-zone compatible and usually also NTSC compatible.

    The Region 4 version of this disc misses out on;

    The Region 1 version of this disc misses out on;     Region 4 is unfortunately missing out on a few extras but at least the Spruce Goose newsreel has remained. There is room on the disc and it would have taken minimal effort to include the other extras.


    This is supposedly the best film version of Hughes life and with Dietrich as one of the sources of information I feel it must be the most accurate. It has been presented acceptably on DVD considering its age and price.

    The video is soft and at times dull but it would be hard to justify a video restoration.

    The audio is acceptable even though it is centre channel based.

    There is only one extra.

Ratings (out of 5)


© Peter Mellor (read my bio)
Sunday, April 25, 2004
Review Equipment
DVDDenon DVD-1600, using RGB output
DisplayLoewe Aconda 9381ZW. Calibrated with Digital Video Essentials (PAL). This display device is 16x9 capable.
Audio DecoderBuilt in to amplifier/receiver. Calibrated with Digital Video Essentials (PAL).
AmplificationDenon AVR-2802 Dolby EX/DTS ES Discrete
SpeakersWhatmough Classic Series C31 (Mains); C06 (Centre); M10 (Rears); Magnat Vector Needle Sub25A Active SubWoofer

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