One of the most visionary directors of all time - probably better in his time than he would be now, I think he hit the perfect times and films and especially actors and actresses. I don't know if he would have been able to improve on "The Terminator" if it had been handed to him, or even if he would have accepted that kind of film to do... But what he did accept and complete is just amazing.
With a 47-year career in movie making that ran the full
gauntlet from silent to talking films. His body of work covered
just about every film genre there is from comedies like
Bringing Up Baby', musicals 'Gentlemen Prefer Blondes',
westerns 'El Dorado', film noir 'The Big Sleep', to historical
'Dawn Patrol'. Not only did he succeed in making some of
Hollywood's best films, he also had a hand in finding and
promoting some of the movies best stars. Actors such as
Lauren Bacall, Carole Lombard, Angie Dickinson,
Montgomery Cliff and James Caan owe a degree of their
success to Howard Hawks.
The Hawks style
His writing and directing focused on the characters in his movies. How they interacted and
talked with, and too each other, and he pushed those who wrote for him on finding new and
fresh ways of this happening. With the introduction of talkies, Howard was the first to gain the
full benefit of this new addition to film, unlike other silent director's who were content to filming
staged plays. Hawks would push his writers to out do each other, and find unique twists. In 'His
Girl Friday', Hawks took the play and had one of lead male characters changed to a woman. He
then had his actors talk over one another's lines for rapid-fire delivery. Quentin Tarantino refers
to him as "the supreme storyteller and entertainer."
scenes first, plot second
Howard recognized that every story has already been told, in one
form or another, but what counts, and made his films stand out, is
'how' the story is told. The plot could be sacrificed for the sake of
good scenes. 'The Big Sleep' is the perfect example when both
Hawks and the writers could not figure out who the murders was.
When Raymond Chandler, the writer of the novel, admitted even he
didn't know who it was, Hawks choose to ignore the problem and go
ahead shooting great scenes. In response to a question on critics
Hawk's said "The French have been very kind to me, and they
attribute an awful lot of things to me that I had no thought of - 'Why
did you do this...'- Well,'cos I liked it, I thought it was funny. I didn't
think it out. It's very dangerous to stop and think things out."
less can be more
Hawk's films often reflected one of his own personal traits, that of being reserved. The use of a
simple gesture over a long diatribe by a character often had more impact. The first encounter
between Lauren Bacall and Humphrey Bogart's characters in 'To Have and Have Not' could
easily have been scripted with dialogue setting up their attraction to each other. However
Hawks simply had Bacall's character simply leans against Bogart's doorway and asks, 'anybody
got a match?' Bogart's reply is to toss her matches, which she casually snags out of the air, we
now know in that brief scene that these two are made for each other. Not only that, but there is
no need for Bogart to later do a gut spilling speech on how much Bacall's character means to
Hawk's films always centered on the friendship of men, and of how a
man must do 'his duty as a person of character and honor'. Hawks best
film for this was 'Sgt. York', that showed the transformation of a sinner
to a God loving man, who must then battle with his religious beliefs
over the duty to serve ones country, and to kill for it. The battle
between what a man wants to do, and what he should do is found in 'To
Have and Have Not'. Where Humphrey Bogart's character goes from
being only interested in what is best for the men who work for him, to
what is best for all men by opposing the Vicy regime, and openly
Bogie and Bacall
The latter half of the decade had him pairing up with
Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall for the 1944 film noir
classic 'The Big Sleep', and later in 1946 for 'To Have and Have
Not'. Here we can see how Hawk's pushed his writers for
unique dialogue, most notably the horse dialogue scene
between the two lead actors. It is so full of sexual innuendo it's
surprising it got past the censors. He also used real life to
good advantage in the film, when he was able to re-shoot some
scenes. He took advantage of the illicit affair the two actors
were having at the time. Although he did his best to put an
end to it by having his second wife, Nancy Gross, and himself
trying to set the young actresses up with Cary Grant.
This film also shows Hawk's breaking one of his film
traits to meet another. Lack of women, for character
interaction, at the same time. "The Bacall character
developed because of an idea that we had of making a
girl as insolent on the screen as Bogart was. He was
probably the most insolent man on the screen, and we
thought it would be fun to make a girl insolent."
Hearkening back along the lines of 'His Girl Friday'.
It also showed Hawk's adding yet another twist, by using Bogart throughout the film to help put
the audience in his characters' place. "Every scene started with him coming into it and ended
with him going out of it. We didn't do anything that he wasn't in, and there are only a few actors
in the world that you can have in every scene and not get tired of them. It made an interesting
way of telling a whodunnit because the audience saw everything that Bogart saw - nothing
happened that was not within their ken or Bogart's ken."
He closed out the decade by first putting a western twist on 'The Caine
Mutiny', by casting John Wayne in the Captain Bligh role, and
Montgomery Cliff filling the role of the mutineer Christian Anderson for
1948's 'Red River'. It also was the start of a five picture working, and
personal friendship with Wayne. Hawk's even drew on his love of metal
work, and made the silver belt buckle with the letter 'D', the name of the
ranch. Wayne viewed the piece as a good luck charm and wore it in
many of his other western films.
He then ended the decade as he started it, on a comedic note by
teaming up once again with Cary Grant for 'I Was A Male War Bride'.