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HOWARD HAWKS--A MAN FOR ALL GENRES

 

From “Scarface” to “Bringing Up Baby” to “Sergeant York” to “The Big Sleep” to “A Song Is Born” to “The Big Sky” to “The Criminal Code” to “Only Angels Have Wings,” Howard Hawks was thoroughly at ease with every breed of movie. This astoundingly versatile director will be saluted in “HAWKS,” a 16-film retrospective at the Brooklyn Academy of Music, running from September 15 through the 30th. (If you’re not in the neighborhood at that time, check out Netflix or Blockbuster for the films in this series, as well as such Hawks gems as “Red River,” “Come and Get It,” “Rio Bravo,” “El Dorado,” “Air Force,” “Dawn Patrol,” “Ceiling Zero” and “The Crowd Roars.”) The text below is courtesy of BAM; click here for complete details on “HAWKS.”


TWENTIETH CENTURY (1934)
With John Barrymore, Carole Lombard, Walter Connolly

Hawks’ first screwball comedy sizzles with his trademark rapid-fire banter, as an egomaniacal Broadway producer (Barrymore) struggles to lure his former pet starlet (Lombard) back from Hollywood. Hawks notoriously coaxed a fiery performance from the difficult Lombard, giving the production an intriguing art-imitates-life element. Barrymore considered his “a role that comes along once in a lifetime,” and his acid-tongued hamminess steals the show.

THE CRIMINAL CODE (1931)
With Walter Huston, Phillips Holmes, Constance Cummings, Boris Karloff

A district attorney turned prison warden (Brady) must come face-to-face with many of the men he’s sentenced, while his favored inmate (Graham) wrestles with the decision to squeal on a cellblock murderer. This pre-Scarface potboiler, Hawks’ second talkie, is rife with moral upheavals, dubious convictions, and jailhouse grit. Karloff has a memorable stint as the ominous prison barber, pre-dating his Universal horror hits.

TO HAVE AND HAVE NOT (1944)
With Humphrey Bogart, Lauren Bacall, Walter Brennan, Hoagy Carmichael, Dolores Moran, Dan Seymour, Sheldon Leonard, Walter Sande, Marcel Dalio

“You know how to whistle, don't you, Steve? You just put your lips together and... blow.” Bogart and the 19-year-old Bacall (in her first film role) fell in love while shooting this iconic wartime Hemingway adaptation, and their red-hot chemistry crackles throughout the Casablanca-esque tale of a cynical expat’s reluctant Resistance efforts in Martinique. Hawks audaciously told Hemingway his book was “a bunch of junk,” and (together with Hemingway rival William Faulkner) re-tooled the script into a now-classic yarn.

BRINGING UP BABY (1938)
With Katharine Hepburn, Cary Grant, Charles Ruggles, May Robson, Barry Fitzgerald, Walter Catlett, Fritz Feld, Virginia Walker

A meek paleontologist (Grant), a loudmouthed socialite (Hepburn), a domesticated leopard, and a missing dinosaur bone all collide in this beloved screwball classic. Baby’s perfect balance of slapstick, spectacle, lighting-quick wit, and overlapping dialogue is a virtual course in Classical Hollywood style. Bringing Up Baby “benefits from the swift Hawks pacing and the charm of its two leads,” writes Slant Magazine.

SCARFACE (1932)
With Paul Muni, Ann Dvorak, Karen Morley, George Raft, Boris Karloff

Long before Pacino, Muni was the original pug-faced gangster—“The Shame of the Nation”—in this legendary, Howard Hughes-financed pulp knockout. Hawks’ favorite of his films overflows with enough violence (over 30 deaths!), surliness, and criminal glorification to send the censors into a fury. The pitch-perfect mobster lingo, biting cynicism, and neo-Shakespearean tragedy all culminate in a show-stopping shootout finale.

 

 

 

HIS GIRL FRIDAY (1940)
With Cary Grant, Rosalind Russell, Ralph Bellamy, Gene Lockhart, John Qualen, Helen Mack, Porter Hall, Billy Gilbert

The pinnacle of the screwball genre, His Girl Friday features prototypical “Hawksian woman” Hildy Johnson (Russell) as an ambitious, acerbic, and wildly energetic newspaperwoman in a man’s world. Hildy runs circles around her harried ex-husband/boss (Grant) on her way to writing one last big story before kissing the biz (and Grant) goodbye and re-marrying. Hawks’ pace was never more blistering: the newsroom chatter moves so fast, there’s not even time for a musical score.

BALL OF FIRE (1941)
With Gary Cooper, Barbara Stanwyck, Oskar Homolka, S. Z. Sakall, Henry Travers, Richard Haydn, Dana Andrews, Dan Duryea

A cheeky take on Snow White, a gaggle of graying professors’ lives are flipped upside-down when their junior colleague (Cooper) brings home burlesque dancer Sugarpuss O’Shea (Stanwyck) for a little “linguistic research.” Little do they know, she’s on the run from her gangster fiancé! Stanwyck’s cacophony of period jive is a total blast: “yum-yum,” “scrow, scram, scraw,” and “root, zoot, cute, and solid to boot” are just some of the gems that pop up in Billy Wilder’s script.

THE ROAD TO GLORY (1936)
With Fredric March, Warner Baxter, Lionel Barrymore, June Lang, Gregory Ratoff

William Faulkner (in his second of six Hawks collaborations) co-scripted this elegantly realized tragedy of the World War I trenches—a remake of Raymond Bernard’s French sensation Wooden Crosses. When a young lieutenant (March) secretly falls for his captain’s mistress, he struggles to prove his military loyalty amid the bewildering German bombardment. An under-recognized antiwar classic, featuring gorgeous battlefield photography by Citizen Kane’s Gregg Toland. The New York Times comments, “The work of the cast is faultless.” Click here to read Guy Flatley's 1973 New York Times interview with Fredric March.

TIGER SHARK (1932)
With Edward G. Robinson, Richard Arlen, Zita Johann, J. Carrol Naish

This rarely-screened early talkie features an archetypal love triangle that inspired countless remakes: after losing an arm while rescuing a friend, an immigrant fisherman (Robinson) fights to stay afloat when his wife leaves him for the man he saved. The exquisite, documentary-style fishing sequences highlight Hawks’ longstanding fascination with the workingman’s process. “Tiger Shark was remade several times ‘unofficially’ by Warners, but this remains the definitive version, with its hard-edged, almost documentary style and monumental performances,” remarks Channel 4 Film.

A SONG IS BORN (1948)
With Danny Kaye, Virginia Mayo, Benny Goodman, Tommy Dorsery, Louis Armstrong, Lionel Hampton

Hawks remakes his own Ball of Fire with a jazz twist: this time it’s nightclub singer Honey Swanson (Mayo) stirring up a gang of musicologists (led by the affable Kaye). Featuring a veritable who’s-who of the 40’s Big Band scene, with unforgettable cameos by Louis Armstrong, Benny Goodman, Tommy Dorsey, Lionel Hampton, and others!

I WAS A MALE WAR BRIDE (1949)
With Cary Grant, Ann Sheridan, Marion Marshall, Randy Stuart, Bill Neff

A languid post-war farce, oozing with Hawks’ usual sexual frustration: gender-bending hijinks ensue when bumbling French Captain Henri Rochard (Grant) weds an American lieutenant (Sheridan), only to have their marital bedroom abruptly invaded by news of the war’s end. With his wife shipped back to the States, Rochard must emasculate himself in order to dodge the military bureaucracy, declaring himself a “war bride” and—in a classic finale—dressing in drag in a harried attempt to consummate their marriage.

ONLY ANGELS HAVE WINGS (1939)
With Cary Grant, Jean Arthur, Richard Barhelmess, Rita Hayworth, Thomas Mitchell, Allyn Joslyn, Sig Ruman John Carroll, Noah Beery Jr.

Perhaps Hawks’ most poignant film: a stolid airmail pilot (Grant), holed up in a ramshackle Ecuadorean port, must grapple with a colleague’s death, an enchanting singer's (Arthur) arrival, and a former lover’s untimely reappearance, all while navigating the stormy South American skies. The film features stunning aerial sequences drawn from Hawks’ personal experiences as a pilot. Variety comments, “In Only Angels Have Wings, Howard Hawks had a story to tell and he has done it inspiringly well.” Click here to read Guy Flatley's 1973 New York Times interview with Cary Grant; for Guy's 1972 Times interview wih Jean Arthur, click here.

THE BIG SLEEP (1946)
With Humphrey Bogart, Lauren Bacall, John Ridgely, Martha Vickers, Dorothy Malone, Elisha Cook Jr., Bob Steele, Charles Waldron

Chandler, Hawks, Bogey, Bacall: it doesn’t get any better than this. Hawks’ only true noir remains an absolute genre classic, with a labyrinthine plot so convoluted that, famously, neither director nor author could determine who killed who. Nitpicking such details seems futile, anyway, while trying to keep up with the steamy badinage of Hollywood’s greatest real-life couple. “It’s unusual to find yourself laughing in a movie not because something is funny but because it’s so wickedly clever,” comments Roger Ebert in Chicago Sun Times.

MONKEY BUSINESS (1952)
With Cary Grant, Ginger Rogers, Charles Coburn, Marilyn Monroe, Hugh Marlowe, Esther Dale, Larry Keating, George Winslow

Bringing Up Baby looms large in this outrageous fantasy of simian sidekicks, absent-minded professors, and madcap slapstick. When a test monkey slips a fountain-of-youth elixir into a water cooler, a stodgy scientist (Grant) and his wife (Rodgers) begin to act half their age. Monroe is typically titillating as a young secretary enticing Grant to sow his wild oats, putting his marriage on the rocks. Jacques Rivette was so inspired by the film, he launched a Hawks revival with his seminal essay “The Genius of Howard Hawks.”

THE BIG SKY
(1952)
With Kirk Douglas, Dewey Martin, Elizabeth Threatt, Arthur Hunnicutt, Buddy Baer, Steven Geray, Jim Davis

Douglas excels, in his only Hawks collaboration, as an underdog wilderness trader racing 2000 miles up the Missouri River to oust his monopolizing competitors. Hawks’ affinity for nicknames shines through, as Frenchy, Poordevil, Boone, Zeb, Streak, and Teal Eye all play important roles. Upon viewing the film, Eric Rohmer gushed that “if one does not love the films of Howard Hawks, one cannot love cinema.” Features lush Oscar-nominated cinematography from longtime Hawks lenser Russell Harlan.

SERGEANT YORK (1941)
With Gary Cooper, Walter Brennan, Joan Leslie, George Tobias, Margaret Wycherly, Ward Bond

Hawks, himself a World War I veteran, earned his lone Oscar nomination—and his greatest box office success—for this jingoist biopic of the Great War’s most decorated soldier. Cooper was handpicked by the real-life York and delivers one of his best performances as the “aw shucks” hillbilly turned hero, while Hawks staple Brennan has a memorable turn as a down-home preacher. Cooper went on to win the Oscar, and later declared York his favorite of his own films.