Howard Hawks

Howard Hawks (1896 - 1977) - Director, Writer, Producer

In a mini biography of Howard Hawks on IMDb, Jon C. Hopwood asks,

"What do the classic and near-classic films I Was a Male War Bride (1949), Scarface (1932), Twentieth Century (1934), Bringing Up Baby (1938), Only Angels Have Wings (1939), His Girl Friday (1940), Sergeant York (1941), Ball of Fire (1941), Air Force (1943), To Have and Have Not (1944), The Big Sleep (1946), Red River (1948) and Rio Bravo (1959) have in common with such first-rate entertainments as I Was a Male War Bride (1949), Monkey Business (1952), Gentlemen Prefer Blondes (1953), Land of the Pharaohs (1955), Hatari! (1962), Man's Favorite Sport? (1964) and El Dorado (1966)?

... Aside from their displays of great craftsmanship, the answer is director Howard Hawks, one of the most celebrated of American filmmakers, who ironically, was little celebrated by his peers in the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences during his career.

... Hawks' career spanned the freewheeling days of the original independents in the 1910s, through the studio system in Hollywood from the silent era through the talkies, lasting into the early 1970s, with the death of the studios and the emergence of the director as auteur, the latter a phenomenon that Hawks himself directly influenced. He was he most versatile of all American directors, and before his late career critical revival, he earned himself a reputation as a a first-rate craftsman and consummate Hollywood professional who just happened, in a medium that is an industrial process, to have made some great movies. Recognition as an influential artist would come later, but it would come to him before his death.

... The success of his films was partly rooted in his using first-rate writers. Hawks viewed a good writer as a sort of insurance policy, saying, "I'm such a coward that unless I get a good writer, I don't want to make a picture." Though he won himself a reputation as one of Hollywood's supreme storytellers, he came to the conclusion that the story was not what made a good film. After making and then remaking the confusing The Big Sleep (1946) (1945 and 1946) from a Raymond Chandler detective novel, Hawks came to believe that a good film consisted of at least three good scenes and no bad ones--at least not a scene that could irritate and alienate the audience. He said, "As long as you make good scenes you have a good picture - it doesn't matter if it isn't much of a story."

... It was Hawks' directorial skills, his ability to ensure that the audience was not aware of the twice-told nature of his films, through his engendering of a high-octane, heady energy that made his films move and made them classics at best and extremely enjoyable entertainments at their "worst." Hawks' genius as a director also manifested itself in his direction of his actors, his molding of their line-readings going a long way toward making his films outstanding. The dialog in his films often was delivered at a staccato pace, and characters' lines frequently overlapped, a Hawks trademark.

... The spontaneous feeling of his films and the naturalness of the interrelationships between characters were enhanced by his habit of encouraging his actors to improvise. Unlike Alfred Hitchcock, Hawks saw his lead actors as collaborators and encouraged them to be part of the creative process. He had an excellent eye for talent, and was responsible for giving the first major breaks to a roster of stars, including Paul MuniCarole Lombard (his cousin), Lauren BacallMontgomery Clift and James Caan.

... It was Hawks, and not John Ford, who turned John Wayne into a superstar, with Red River (1948) (shot in 1946, but not released until 1948). He proceeded to give Wayne some of his best roles in the cavalry trilogy of Fort Apache (1948), She Wore a Yellow Ribbon (1949) and Rio Grande (1950), in which Wayne played a broad range of diverse characters.

... In a sense, Hawks' oeuvre can be boiled down to two categories: the action-adventure films and the comedies. In Hawks' action-adventure movies, such as Only Angels Have Wings (1939), the male protagonist, played by Cary Grant (a favorite actor of his who frequently starred in his films between 1947 and 1950), is both a hero and the top dog in his social group. In the comedies, such as Bringing Up Baby (1938), the male protagonist (again played by Grant) is no hero but rather a victim of women and society. Women have only a tangential role in Hawks' action films, whereas they are the dominant figures in his comedies. In the action-adventure films, society at large often is far away and the male professionals exist in an almost hermetically sealed world, whereas in the comedies are rooted in society and its mores.

... Men are constantly humiliated in the comedies, or are subject to role reversals (the man as the romantically hunted prey in "Baby," or the even more dramatic role reversal, including Cary Grant in drag, in I Was a Male War Bride (1949)). In the action-adventure films in which women are marginalized, they are forced to undergo elaborate courting rituals to attract their man, who they cannot get until they prove themselves as tough as men. There is an undercurrent of homo-eroticism to the Hawks action films, and Hawks himself termed his A Girl in Every Port (1928) "a love story between two men." This homo-erotic leitmotif is most prominent in The Big Sky (1952).

... While many during his life-time would not have called Hawks an artist, Robin Wood, compared Hawks to William Shakespeare and Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, both of whom created popular entertainments that could also appeal to elites. According to Wood, "The originality of their works lay not in the evolution of a completely new language, but in the artist's use and development of an already existing one; hence, there was common ground from the outset between artist and audience, and 'entertainment' could happen spontaneously without the intervention of a lengthy period of assimilation."

... The great French filmmaker Jean-Luc Godard, who began his cinema career as a critic, wrote about Hawks, "The great filmmakers always tie themselves down by complying with the rules of the game ... Take, for example, the films of Howard Hawks, and in particular Rio Bravo (1959). That is a work of extraordinary psychological insight and aesthetic perception, but Hawks has made his film so that the insight can pass unnoticed without disturbing the audience that has come to see a Western like all the others. Hawks is the greater because he has succeeded in fitting all that he holds most dear into a well-worn subject."

... Hawks' definition of a good director was "someone who doesn't annoy you." When Hawks was awarded his lifetime achievement Academy Award, the citation referred to the director as "a giant of the American cinema whose pictures, taken as a whole, represent one of the most consistent, vivid, and varied bodies of work in world cinema." It is a fitting epitaph for one of the greatest directors in the history of American, and world cinema."

For the complete mini biography of Howard Hawks by Jon C. Hopwood on IMDb ...