The scene in which Howard Hughes locks himself in the projection room and cuts off most contact from the outside world for an extended period of time is somewhat misleading. Though Hughes battled germ phobia all of his life (the fear of germs was instilled in him early on by his mother) Hughes did not become a recluse until much later in his life. The scene that is portrayed in the movie is very similar to a documented incident where Hughes did spend almost a year in a private movie theater however it wasn't until he was near 50 years old.
Whilst Hepburn and Hughes are dining in the Coconut Grove in 1935, she states "Haven't you heard? I'm being labeled box office poison..." Katharine Hepburn and a list of other stars including Mae West and Joan Crawford were not listed as box office poison until 1938 by a board of film distributors.
In the Cocoanut Grove Errol Flynn is portrayed as an established and successful movie star. The scene is set prior to 13 September 1935 (the date given in a subsequent scene), but Flynn was virtually unknown until Captain Blood, which was released in December.
The Honolulu clock behind Owen Brewster shows the time is 9:30, 3 hours earlier than the time on the Los Angeles clock (12:30). Based on Brewster's line about Harry S. Truman being Vice President, the scene takes place between January-April 1945. Until the Hawaii-Aleutian Standard Time Zone was changed to its present 3-hour differential in 1947, Hawaii was 3-and-a-half hours behind the West Coast.
Hughes refers to the Lockheed "F-80" when he's talking to Noah and Odie about working with jet engines. Since this conversation took place the same day as the flight of the Spruce Goose, 2 November 1947, then he should have called it the "P-80", as the Air Force did not discard the "Pursuit" designation until 1948.
The dialog places the scene where Hughes shows Frye and Gross the XF-11 on Christmas Night 1944, but the plane's insignia is of the post-World War II USAF, a red bar in the center of the white bar; it should have just the white bar. And the star on the left boom is pointing in the wrong direction.
During the filming of Hell's Angels, as one of the SE5a scout biplanes taxis past, the fact that it is a reduced-scale replica is obvious due to the oversize pilot's head. Also, same shot, you can see his modern microphone attached to the helmet.
When Hughes asks how long can the Civil Aeronautics Board keep the Constellations grounded, Frye replies until the CAB completes its investigation into "the Redding (Pennsylvania) crash". Although all Constellations were grounded from 12 July - 23 August 1946 (when the scene must take place), there wasn't a commercial plane crash in the US in 1945 or 1946, and there wasn't a crash involving a Constellation until 20 October 1948.
After reaching 352mph in the H1 Hughes describes himself as 'fastest man on the planet'. In fact the Supermarine s.6 had already established a faster speed than that in 1929 and the record at the time of the H1 was set by Francesco Agello at 440mph. It is inconceivable that Hughes, with his interest in aviation, would be unaware of this. Hughes' record was a land plane (rather than sea plane) record.
A main plot point is that Hughes is mysophobic, yet he engages in behavior that someone who suffers from mysophobia would not: he makes incidental contact with various characters; he opens the doors of public places with a bare hand; he turns the public restroom faucets on with a bare hand, and uses their towels; Katharine Hepburn and Ava Gardner complain about his womanizing; Ava refers to his "filthy gym shoes"; he shares the same sundae and spoon with Faith Domergue; he shakes hands with Owen Brewster before their lunch; he leaves food in the projection room half-eaten and exposed to ants; he shakes hands with people as he walks out of the hearings.
Howard Hughes replies to Mrs. Hepburn's statement "we don't care about money" with "that's because you've always had it", an insinuation that he has made his own way whereas they were of "old money" (a "point" Hughes makes again when he says: "some of us choose to work for a living" as he leaves the table). Some have asserted that the real situation was nearer opposite: the real Hughes was born into millions whereas the Hepburns, while well-off, had to work for what they had. HOWEVER, Hughes was not literally born into wealth, and his comment could have been a reference to his father, who was an oft-failed entrepreneur before making a fortune with drill bits in the early 1910s, years after Howard Jr. was born. Meanwhile, Katharine Hepburn's mother was born into the Houghton family (a prominent New England and New York family famous for its involvement with Corning Glass Works) and married Thomas Hepburn, who came from a respected, well-to-do southern family and became a wealthy doctor after studying at Johns Hopkins. From such a perspective, Howard's assertion and insinuation in the film is accurate.
Johnny Meyer tells Hughes that all the color cameras in Hollywood are being used by Cecil B. DeMille, who is making a movie for Paramount. The film referenced, The King of Kings, was actually made for Pathé-DeMille, not Paramount.
Hughes has cellophane wrapped on the yoke of the plane he flies Katharine in, yet the stick of the H-1, the yoke of the XF-11, the yokes he has to choose from for the Hercules, the yoke and the throttles of the Hercules, and his car's steering wheel on have nothing wrapped on them.
At the premiere screening of Hell's Angels, in the first wide shot after the film ends, Dietrich is seen to be one of the first to applaud, but on the close up of him, he is shown as being hesitant and watching others to see if they start applauding.
When Howard and Faith are at the nightclub, they share a chocolate sundae. The scene begins with a continuity issue involving Faith's spoon. As the sundae itself melts and re-freezes, the cherry jumps from the top to the side and back to the top with fresher fudge. Also, at one point, Faith is shown with her arm raised, eating, but, in the very next shot, her arm is on her lap.
The overhead shot of the H-1 just before Hughes takes it off for its test flight show the airplane with its short wings (used for setting pure speed records), whereas the in-flight shots portray the airplane with its long wings (used for cross-country races and setting cross-country records). In fact, the long wings did not exist in 1935 and were only designed (and fitted) in 1937 as a result of the 1935 crash.
When Hughes is dining with Senator Brewster in the hotel, his jacket seems to vary between being buttoned and unbuttoned. Before he rises to leave, he buttons it, but when he stands up, it is unbuttoned again. Then when he walks into the hallway (in what appears to be a differently coloured jacket) it is buttoned up again.
When Hughes rolls out the "Spruce Goose" at the dinner party, the plane's eight engines are shown with propellers spinning, then seen from a different angle they are not spinning, and then back to a head-on shot they are spinning again.
In the Cocoanut Grove with Errol Flynn, the waiter brings out Hughes' "usual", which includes 12 peas. The first shot of the dinner plate shows 12 peas. The shot of the dinner plate after Errol steals a pea still shows 12 peas. The amount of peas does not change until the third shot of the dinner plate showing that there are now 10 peas.
When Hughes is washing his hands at the Cocoanut Grove, the one where he cuts his finger, the overhead shots of his scrubbing his hands vigorously has inconsistencies in the splashes on the sink: first spotted with dirty splashes, then no splashes on the sink and then lightly spotted with dirty splashes.
Errol Flynn has a drink in his left hand when he approaches Katharine Hepburn and Howard Hughes' table, but the drink is gone when he kisses her hand moments later, then later appears on the table, even though we don't see Flynn put it there.
When Ava Gardner smacks Hughes, the flowers in the vase he knocks down fall onto the left side of the hearth. When we cut to the wide shot, the flowers are now strewn in front of the hearth and on the rug. When she stomps out of the room after him, the hearth is now clean.
Hughes' left hand is hanging up the phone as he points his right index finger up to acknowledge Katharine as she walks into the office. In the next shot, his left hand is rubbing his forehead, and the finger is down.
Hughes is holding a pen and notebook as he asks Ava Gardner what she thinks about the new name of his airline. But we don't see the the pad or notebook anywhere when we cut to a wide shot of them moments later as he fetches her wrap.
When Howard Hughes is in the mens room washing his hands with his personal soap, a man with crutches leaves a stall and goes to the sink and places one crutch on either side. When the camera angle changes to the angle from the mirror there is no crutch between the two sinks. After Howard apologizes for not being able to get a towel for the man, he grabs both crutches from the same (his left) side of the sink.
The posters outside the viewing room where Howard locks himself change when he leaves. Before he leaves, the Scarface poster is on the left and the Hell's Angels poster is on the right, but by the time he's gone they have switched.
The shots of Hughes flying the speed-test plane show him in an open cockpit, but the cockpit is clearly closed in the shots of the plane actually flying, then the cockpit is open again when Hughes lands in the beet field.
During lunch with the Hepburns, as Mrs. Hepburn asks Hughes about his politics, the drinking glasses before her and the plate of sliced bread before him are spaced apart, and he holds a bowl of carrots. Katharine passes a bowl of string beans to Mrs. Hepburn, who passes them back to her. Mrs. Hepburn then takes the carrots with her left hand. When we cut to Hughes after Mrs. Hepburn asks him about Franklin D. Roosevelt, the carrots are now in her right hand, and the drinking glasses in front of her have moved. As Hughes grunts, the carrots are in Mrs. Hepburn's left hand again.
During lunch with the Hepburns, as Hughes complains about the dog, Luddy holds a bowl of string beans with his left hand. In the next shot, Luddy's left hand reaches for the dog under the table. In the next shot, Luddy holds the string beans with his left hand again.
During lunch with the Hepburns, when Dr. Hepburn asks Hughes "Don't you like dogs?", there are carrots on Hughes's plate that weren't there before. When we cut to Mrs. Hepburn, she is holding a full bowl of carrots. When she passes the carrots to Katharine without serving herself as Hughes says "No, no, I wasn't", the amount of carrots in the bowl has changed, and the carrots on Hughes's plate are gone.
During lunch with the Hepburns, as Luddy asks Katharine something, he passes a bowl of string beans to his right. When Dr. Hepburn asks Hughes "A bad experience? With a dog?", the string beans are passed across him. Two shots later, Luddy holds the string beans again. Seven shots later, Hughes holds the string beans.
During lunch with the Hepburns, as Dr. Hepburn asks Hughes if he reads, Hughes handles a fork and a napkin. When Uncle Willy reacts to Hughes's use of the word "snuff", Hughes is leaned over to his right as he looks at Uncle Willy, then, two shots later, Hughes is upright again, and holds the napkin only.
During lunch with the Hepburns, when Luddy says to Katharine "a mere trifle, darling", Hughes's arms are in his lap when they should still be holding the two pieces of bread he was using to describe the plane he is building.
During lunch with the Hepburns, as Hughes reacts to Dr. Hepburn telling him he's a urologist, there is a fork and vegetables on Hughes's plate that weren't there before. When Hughes says "I'll bet", the fork and vegetables are gone.
During lunch with the Hepburns, as Hughes tells Mrs. Hepburn "Well, that's because you have it", his plate is gone, his drinking glass and the sliced bread are in the same spot they were when the scene began, the spoon in the bowl of string beans has moved, and the amount of beans in the bowl has changed. When Hughes gets up, his plate reappears, there is a red pitcher between Hughes and the lady which should have been in the shots of Hughes from Dr. Hepburn's point-of-view, and there is a candle holder near Katharine and Mrs. Hepburn which we should have seen in the previous shots involving them.
As Hughes steps out of his plane just before meeting Hepburn on the beach and he buttons his coat, his tie is outside the coat. In the next shot of Hughes, the tie is tucked in under the buttoned coat.
When Katharine and Howard drive up to the Hepburn estate, it is sunny. When she gets out of the car moments later, the sky is overcast. When we zoom in on Hughes as Luddy shoots him, the sky is sunny again. When she gathers the clan and introduces them to Hughes, the sky behind them is blue, and the sunlight reflecting off of the roof is a yellow-orange, indicating that the sun is beginning to set. When we cut back to Hughes, the sunlight is the same as it was when we first cut to him as he was being shot by Luddy.
As Hughes confronts Roland Sweet, you see the face of the thug in the car behind Hughes. When we cut back to Hughes, the thug's face is completely dark. When we cut to Hughes again, the thug's face is visible again, and lighted differently from the first time we saw him.
As Frye tells Hughes about the airline route bill that Brewster is pushing on Trippe's behalf, Hughes removes his hat. In the next shot, the assistant walking behind them has the hat, and Hughes has the drawings for TWA's new logo. It's clear that Hughes exchanged the drawings for the hat, but we never see the assistant with the drawings to begin with.
At the lunch with Brewster, the garnish on Hughes' fish, the garnish next to the fish, and the potatoes and the asparagus on the plate move from when Hughes is served the meal to when he begins to eat.
After Ava Gardner shaves Hughes, she instructs him to rinse off his face. The water in the sink has drained, and the faucet is off. But as his hands move under the faucet, it is running, and there is water in the sink again.
As Katharine blots her face with the handkerchief on the golf course, a group of people walk up the slope to her left in the opposite direction, but there is no sign of them or the slope in the next shot.
When Errol Flynn reaches Hughes and Hepburn's table, he takes a final drag off of his cigarette, then exhales. When Flynn kisses Hepburn's hand moments later, he is clearly exhaling the cigarette smoke.
Errol Flynn holds a drink in his right hand and a cigarette in his left hand as the man behind him hits him with the crumpled-up paper ball. As he turns around to react in the next shot, the drink in now his left hand, and the cigarette is in his right hand.
When we first see Louis B. Mayer, the bar that he and his party are gathered at is to his left. As he talks to Hughes, the bar is now to his right as evidenced by the drink he sets down while talking to Hughes.
We cut to a frontal view of the plane whose rudder Hughes is inspecting with Dietrich, then to a shot of Hughes and Odie at the propeller, but we never see Hughes and Dietrich walk around to the front of the plane.
As Hughes is on the phone ordering Reel 10 to be re-run, his right index finger is pointed. When he orders chocolate chip cookies in the next shot, the finger now touches his thumb in an "OK"-like gesture.
As Dietrich breaks the bad news regarding the cost overruns on Hell's Angels, Hughes runs his hands through his hair up either side of his head, then stops. In the next shot, his hands have met on the back of his head, with the the fingers interlocked.
Hughes puts the drawings for TWA's new logo down on the table to free his hands. But as he chews out the assistant who gave him the drawings, we cut to a close-up of the mock TWA logo, and Hughes is holding it with his left hand. In the next shot, his hands are empty again.
During the crash of the XF-11 aircraft over Los Angeles, Hughes radios that he will put down on the Wilshire Country Club. Hughes actually lived in a Spanish Villa at Wilshire Country Club (near the 8th hole), the crash of the XF-11 was into Beverly Hills at the Los Angeles Country Club.
In the film, the Hercules is not only airborne, but flying over boats and above the newsreel cameras filming it. In fact, the Hercules was airborne for about 20 seconds, and was never more than 70 feet above the water.
Odie was not aboard the Hercules on her maiden flight because Hughes wanted there to be no doubt that he was at the controls. Those on board with Howard Hughes were Radio Operator Merle Coffee, Flight Engineer Don Smith, Flight Mechanic John Glen, James McNamara, and various reporters.
In the film, the witnesses inside the Hercules are seated and separated from Howard Hughes as he was at the controls. Newsreel footage showed that people were actually standing in the cockpit, with James McNamara steps away from Hughes.
Odie tells Hughes that there is enough fuel in the H-1 for two runs. Just after takeoff, the fuel gauge reads "43". Going into the first run, it's at "30". Going into the third run, it's nearly at "10". The H-1 doesn't drain that much fuel that quickly, nor would the gauge needle drop from "10" to "0" in a second, stalling the engine.
Howard Hughes is shown ordering 40 Lockheed Constellations on Christmas Night 1944 after being pitched by Frye and Gross. In fact, in 1939, after Hughes bought 25% of TWA at Frye's behest, he requested a 40-passenger transcontinental airliner with a 3,500 mile range from Lockheed; in the movie, Frye and Gross pitch a 60-passenger craft with a 3,000 mile range.
In a newsreel account, Howard Hughes himself says that the H-1's top speed was "approximately 370 miles an hour", and that the engine failed when the plane was "20 feet above the ground". In the movie, the H-1's top speed is 352 MPH, and the engine fails in mid-air.
A more careful examination of the timing of Hughes during the speed-test run: Odie says "347" (miles per hour) then "352". The first run shows the stopwatch at as near to 18.5 seconds as is possible to determine and the second run clearly shows the stopwatch (a more distant view of the watch face) at 18.3 seconds which is more in agreement with the times Odie announced. Since 1905, the Fédération Aéronautique Internationale, FAI, has been the recognized arbiter of all speed records. For a recognized record, their rules require 2 runs at a sanctioned event viewed by their officials, with the speed for the record being the average of the best of two runs.
During the test flight of the Howard Hughes H-1 racer, as Hughes pulls the plane up over the runway, a shadow on the ground reveals a plane with fixed undercarriage - the H-1 had retractable landing gear.
At one point in the film, Hughes and Hepburn address each other as "City Mouse" and "Country Mouse" - a detail lifted from telegrams exchanged between the two that were auctioned off after Katharine Hepburn's death in 2003, in which they address each other by those names. In the movie, Howard calls Kate "country mouse", and she calls him "city mouse." This is incorrect: Howard Hughes was the country mouse (living in suburban Los Angeles) while Kate was the city mouse (a regular in New York).
Several changes were made in the movie to the relationship between Katharine Hepburn and Howard Hughes. Hepburn did not in fact leave Howard for Spencer Tracy. The two broke up long before she had met Spencer Tracy. And lastly, Katharine Hepburn's brother committed suicide when she was little, not during her years as a star.
According to biographers, Hughes Tool Company ("Tool Co"), which owned a 90% market share of petroleum drill bits, was such a gusher of cash, the financial crunches in the movie never took place. Howard Hughes entered the entertainment, aviation, and hospitality industries solely by using the revenues generated by Tool Co. In 1953, Hughes spun off Hughes Aircraft, which had been spun off from Tool Co., and donated it to the Howard Hughes Medical Institute as its endowment.
While shooting the dogfight, a plane clips the camera mounted on Hughes' plane, and brown film spews out. Brown is the hue of undeveloped color film. Hell's Angels was shot in black and white; the hue of undeveloped black and white film is either gray or blue. In the next shot the camera mounted on the plane is undamaged.
After Huges crash lands the H-1 in a tomato field, he tells Hepburn that he landed in a beet field. You can clearly see red fruit on the plants so it has to be tomatoes because the beet is a root that grows in the ground.
In the first scene at the Cocoanut Grove, which was the nightclub at the Ambassador Hotel in Los Angeles, nearly everyone is holding an alcoholic beverage. This was during Prohibition, and the Cocoanut Grove was not a speakeasy, so they would not have openly served large quantities of alcoholic beverages.
It is not certain that Howard Hughes had any of his germ phobias prior to either the crash of the XF-11 or the congressional hearings. However, according to Faith Domergue's autobiography, Hughes began to display the bizarre behavior that would typify his later years as early as 1942.
In a shot with the Hercules aircraft in the background, a painter is seen applying paint to the nose-area of the aircraft with a paint roller. The roller passes past the section that he is supposed to be painting.
When Hughes is staring at his hands in the projection room he raises them to be illuminated by the light of the projector in a close-up, but in the subsequent long shot, although his hands are still in the light, there are no shadows of the hands on the screen.
When Howard arrives at the Hepburns', and the dog greets him, there is a visible laser pointer on the dog's head, indicating that the dog followed the laser to Howard's body rather than actually greeting him.
(at around 45 mins) Hughes sits down to the table with Johnny Meyer who pulls out a cigarette and proceeds to light a match with the cigarette backwards in his mouth. In the next cut of him holding the match up to the cigarette, it has been reversed.
As Hughes gets the idea to build a single-wing plane out of the bi-plane, Odie smashes the support holding up its upper wing with a beam. But the upper wing is already broken, with a covering laid over the joint.
Immediately following the aerial filming on Hells Angels, the scene cuts to the Hells Angeles cast party with the camera on an ice sculpture of a mountain and airplane. Two background actors immediately race in front of camera and bump the ice sculpture, causing the airplane to torque at an angle on the mountain. It reveals that it's not really an ice sculpture but rather just plastic with a wire holding the airplane in place.
The goof items below may give away important plot points.
During the speed runs of the H-1, Hughes increases engine power for each run, as evidenced by the increasing tachometer (the needle of which falls off prior to the final run). However, we hear the same engine note for each run.
When the H-1 runs out of fuel after the last speed run, Hughes immediately yanks the throttle completely back to the idle position, followed by the mixture leaver to full lean / cut off. While reducing power would certainly help keep a fuel-starved engine running, pulling both controls back completely in an abrupt manner would stall it immediately.