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|Howard Hawks (1896 - 1977)|
American film director, screenwriter, and producer, the supreme craftsman, whose works gained acclaim first among French auteur theorists and then among American critics. Hawks directed well over forty films, from gangster movies like Scarface (1932) to comedies like Bringing Up Baby (1938) and His Girl Friday (1940), and Westerns like Red River (1948) and Rio Bravo (1959). His films have later inspired among others John Carpenter, Brian De Palma, Walter Hill, Peter Bogdanovich, and John Milius. During his career Hawks collaborated with such writers as Jules Furthman, William Faulkner, Raymond Chandler, Ben Hecht, Nunnally Johnson, and Leigh Brackett.
"I've always been rather mechanical-minded, so I tried a whole lot of mechanical things, and then gave them up completely. The best thing to do is to tell a story as though you're seeing it. Tell it from your eyes. Let the audience see exactly as they would if they were there. Just tell it normally. Most of the time, my camera stays on eye level now. Once in a while, I'll move the camera as if a man were walking and seeing something. And it pulls back or it moves in for emphasis when you don't want to make a cut. But outside that, I just use the simplest camera in the world." (Hawks in Who the Devil Made It by Peter Bogdanovich, 1997)
André Bazin (1918-1958), the editor of France's foremost film magazine, Cahiers du Cinéma, proclaimed Hawks one of the first and best American auteur directors. The auteur theory states that director is the sole creative artists responsible for the complete film, which reveal the director's personal touches and artistry. The theory burst on the scene with the nouvelle vague movement of the late 1950s. In Hollywood Hawks frequently was his own producer and worked with its biggest stars (Bogart, Hepburn, Grant). Among directors he was one of the tallest – six foot three – and he was a gambler, womanizer, and drinking buddy of Hemingway and Faulkner. Between 1938 an 1951 Hawks had unbroken string of 11 box-office hits. While many other directors, who started in the 1930s, had problems to find again the audience after World War II, Hawks continued his career succesfully into the1970s.
Hawks was born in Goshen, Indiana, into a wealthy midwestern mercantile family. His father was Frank W. Hawks and mother the former Helen Howard, the daughter of one of Wisconsin's leading industrialists. Having moved with his his family to California at the age of 10, he attended a school at Pasadena and studied at the Philips-Exeter Academy in Massachusetts. At Cornell he studied mechanical engineering. During summer vacations he worked at Famous Players-Lasky studios in Hollywood. During WW I he served as a pilot with the Army Air Corps. His rank upon his discharge was second lieutenant. He worked for a short time in an aircraft factory but then returned in Hollywood.
Hawks began his cinema career as a props man with Mary Pickford Company. From the editing department he moved to the script department. His great advantage to other newcomers was the family money - he lended some money to Jack Warner and financed Associated Producers' films directed by Marshall Neilan, Allan Dawn, and Allen Holubar. In 1922 Hawks wrote and directed two comedy shorts, and in 1923 he wrote the screenplay for Jack Conway's feature Quicksands and another screenplay, Tiger Love (1924). His first film as a director and writer was The Road to Glory, which started one of the most versatile and professional directorial careers in Hollywood.
Hawks's best achievements are part of the film history. Bringing Up Baby, starring Cary Grant and Katherine Hepburn, Hawks come close to the unpredictable world of the Marx Brothers. Scarface (1932), obviously modelled on Al Capone, was more brutal than any of its predecessors with its newsreel quality. Howard Hughes, the producer, kept later the film out of distribution and it was only after his death in 1979 that it could be seen again. The film combined the talents of producer Howard Hughes, scriptwriter Ben Hecht, cameraman Lee Garmes, and the director Howard Hawks. Paul Muni was the egocentric killer and George Raft the coin-flipping "Little Boy." In his use of expressionistic sets and lightning, Hawks was influenced by German film techniques.
Extraordinary frenetic His Girl Friday (1940), remake of Lewis Milestone's The Front Page, with the lead journalist role switched from male to female, is a classic screwball comedy. Only Angels Have Wings (1939) depicted men who fly cargo planes over the Andes and presented typical Howards Hawks world view where men are men and women have to be as tough as they are. Hawks based the script on one of his own experiences as a flyer. He had known a pilot who parachuted from a burning plane, leaving his co-pilot behind to die in the crash. Gary Grant, who could combine in his role a strong physical presence with comedy-talents, become one of Hawk's favorite actors.
To Have and to Have Not (1944) is perhaps the best film adaptation based on Hemingway's books – because it was unaithful to the original work. It united Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall, and includes one of the most famous invitations in the films history, when Marie Browning (Bacall) tells Harry Morgan (Bogart): "You don't have to say anything and you don't have to do anything. Not a thing. Oh, maybe just whistle. You know how to whistle, don't you, Steve? Just put your lips together and blow." The Big Sleep (1946), starring againHumphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall, was based on Raymond Chandler's novel. The film followed Chandler's complicated plot fairly closely until the book's last chapter. Hawks combined realism with tough, sardonic dialogue, complex characters and multiple layers of meaning. He went into production with the temporary script, shoot a lot of material ad lib which ran an already long screenplay into far too much footage. Jules Furthman was called in for a rewrite to cut the remaining or unshot portion into a manageable length – Faulkner who had written with Leigh Brackett earlier versions of the script was drinking heavily and anxious to return to home to Mississippi. He had told one of his friends: "Sometimes I think if I do one more treatment or screenplay, I'll lose whatever poerr I have as a writer."
"Most producers breathe constantly down a writer's neck. Howard Hawks sits down with you for a series of chats, giving you all his thoughts on what kind of story he wants, how it ought to go, etc., and then retires to Palm Springs and the golf course, leaving you to come up with a script the best way you can." ("From The Big Sleep to The Long Goodbye" by Leigh Brackett, 1973)
Red River (1948) was about rebellion, with John Wayne as Captain Blight and Montgomery Clift as Mr. Christian. Monkey Business (1952) was a celebration of anti-social behaviour, in which Gary Grant reverts in the course of the film to childhood and back to the ape stage. Gentlemen Prefer Blondes (1953) was a musicalized and updated version of the twenties satire, based on Anita Loos's novel. It portrayed a bumb blonde (Marilyn Monroe) and a showgirl (Jane Russell), who go to Paris in search of rich husbands.
Rio Bravo (1959) was an answer to the pessimism of High Noon, which have been seen as an allegory for the McCarthy era. Behind the script was the blacklisted writer Carl Foreman, who went into self-imposed exile to England. Hawks objected the film because he didn't think "a good sheriff was going to go running around town like a chicken with his head off asking for help..." Jules Furthman and Leigh Brackett wrote the screenplay. In the film John Wayne, playing Sherriff John T. Chance, refuses help. In El Dorado (1967) and Rio Lobo (1970) Hawks recycled ideas and themes from Rio Bravo. Hatari! (1962) was filmed in Tazania near the Lake Manyara. Henry Mancini's theme "Baby Elephant Walk" became hugely popular. Hatari!, the title referring to the swahili word 'danger', was especially popular in Japan, but it was not until the 1970s, with television sales, when it started to generate residuals. After Rio Lobo Hawks planned for a short time a war film set in Vietnam but abandoned the idea. He didn't want it to become a statement: "I never made a statement," he said once. "Our job is to make entertainment. I don't give a God damn about taking sides."
"Nowhere in Hawk's work does he show any interest in Ideas, abstracted from character, action, and situation: he has never evinced any desire to make a film on a given moral or social theme. He has always been quite free of the kind of ambitions or pretensions that most often bring directors into conflict with the commercial interests of production companies. The significance of his films never arises from the conscious treatment of a Subject." (Robin Wood in Howard Hawks, 1968)
Hawks's pictures display a remarkable organic quality, typified by their spare, well-oiled dialogue. According to film critic Robin Wood in Howard Hawks (1968), his classic analysis of the director, Hawks's method of work was consistently concrete. His raw materials were not only the story and the characters, but also the players. Dialogue and situation were often modified during the filming as the personality of the actor becomes fused with the character he is playing. Themes of male camaraderie recur in his films but his notion of a male hero is epitomized by the wise-cracking eccentricity of Gary Grant. Towards the close of his career, Hawks worked with a cast of aspiring actor's that included the young James Caan in the motor-racing melodrama Red Line 7000 (1965). However, Hawks considered the film failure, only Robin Wood has stated that it is possibly "the most underestimated film of the sixties."
Hawks was awarded an honorary Oscar in 1975. He died in Palm Springs, California, on December 12, 1977. Two of the director's brothers, producer William Hawks, and director Kenneth Hawks (killed in a plane crash in 1930), were also in films. Hawks was never nominated for an Acedemy Award. In 1974 Hollywood finally gave him one as "a giant of the American cinema whose pictures takes as a whole represent one of the most consistent, vivid and varied bodies of work in world cinema." Hawks was married three times. His first wife, Athole (née Shearer) Hawks, suffered from mental problems. After divorce in 1940 he married Nancy Raye Gross (called 'Slim'), whom he had met already in the late 1930s. During the eighth years Hawks was involved with Slim he directed several of his best films. Hawks's third wife was Donna (Dee) Hartford (originally Higgins). They married in 1953 – she was twenty-four and Hawks fifty-six. The marriage ended in 1959.
For further reading: Howard Hawks: Interviews, ed. by Scott Breivold (2006); Howard Hawks: The Grey Fox of Hollywood by Todd McCarthy (1997); Who the Devil Made It by Peter Bogdanovich (1997); Howard Hawks American Artist, ed. by Jim Hillier (1997); Howard Hawks: A Jungian Study by Clark Branson (1987); Hawks on Hawks by Joseph McBride (1982); Howard Hawks by Robin Wood (1968); The Cinema of Howard Hawks by Peter Bogdanovich (1962)
Selected films (as director, producer or scripwriter):