Continuing to be impressed by Scorsese's The Aviator (2004). It might be his best film (certainly not the one he won the sympathy Oscar for a few years later). Taxi Driver is more Paul Schrader's vehicle and Raging Bull is too damn arty (and grim).
The teevee has a truncated, censored version of The Aviator--even that's pretty good.
And YouTube has many of the strange bits where Hughes' obsessive-compulsive disorder gets the better of him in public situations (e.g., "show me all the blueprints"), well acted by Leonardo di Caprio.
Ted Goranson has a good review of the movie, including this part:
Howard Hughes: The movie gave the impression that Howard simply inherited his money. No so. He was a brilliant engineer who famously codesigned systems and the engineering organizations to support them. While most of us were barfing at frat parties, he designed a drill bit (often credited to his father) that is still the standard in the industry, together with a set of screw connections that has since become the international standard. That's where the money came from. And though he went loopy toward the end, he ensured that 100% of his wealth (yes, all assets were sold) went to endow the world's largest private research institute.
This was a passionate engineer in a world of monopolistic thugs (Gates take notice), truly what we like to think the "free market" is all about. The movie also ignores a key movie connection: He always intended the "Spruce Goose" to be made of wood, and because all US manufacturing assets were committed, he designed a production system that allowed small businesses, even backyard groups, to make pieces that would be floated down rivers and successively be glued into larger parts. This (what he called the "packet production system") was the first serious research into what we today call "virtual enterprises."
When the war ended, he sent his virtual enterprise experts into his film business where they used the system (freely giving away details) to destroy the vertically integrated studio system. Nearly all movies today use his virtual enterprise approach and the Weinsteins (producers of this very film) are the current masters of the system.
I can't find any support for the statement that Hughes Junior designed the drill bit--need to investigate that further. The Aviator airbrushes quite a bit of Hughes' bio, such as his support for the Hollywood blacklist and his rather, er, omnivorous sexuality. It may be I watch the movie through the lens of what I know about Hughes from James Ellroy and Sam Shephard (Shephard's mostly forgotten play Seduced featured Rip Torn as the aged reclusive Hughes in a great off-Broadway performance). In other words, if you already know Hughes as a malevolent arachnid moving from one penthouse nest to another, the movie shows you the young manhood and the aviation chutzpah that were part of the same equation adding up to this Inspiring and Scary American Figure.