Name someone who defined the gangster on film — and way, way before Coppola or Scorsese. Who would also go on to shape the screwball comedy, too. Might as well throw in the dark of film noir into the mix. Plus, take on that other Hollywood staple, the Western, challenging John Ford’s domain. And use John Wayne perhaps even more effectively. The answer would be one Howard Winchester Hawks (by the way, John Carpenter’s favorite director).
He not only covered all these genres, he made them exceedingly well. Likely, the most versatile director, before or since. I can watch his films anytime. Either planned or as I stumble across them channel surfing. As my contribution, and celebrating the start, of the Howard Hawks Blogathon hosted at Seetimaar — Diary of a Movie Lover, here is my list of the 13 favorite films by The Silver Fox. Why this number? Well, if you don’t know by now, it’s my favorite.
1. His Girl Friday – it’s unfathomable to me that the AFI left this completely off their Top Ten list for Romantic Comedy! Howard Hawks film not only fits the definition for this genre, it actually exceeds it with a dream pair of leads (Cary Grant, Rosalind Russell) delivering on a stellar script. Funny, smart, and lightning quick on its feet, the film is one of the few remakes that surpassed the original by leaps and bounds.
2. Red River – no question, Howard Hawks had to be on any list that included the Western. For all its sense of epic, as portrayed by the film’s grand cattle drive, the film was really a character study of those living on the desperate plains. A 40s film, with a great cast that included a young Montgomery Clift and the Hawksian Woman Joanne Dru, that set the standard for the next decade over. Its other secret was that John Wayne portrayed the villain.
3. The Big Sleep – Howard Hawks helped to turn Humphrey Bogart into a matinée idol with this motion picture. No doubt helped by mannerisms still known today by the multitude of Bogie fans. As well, he only cemented his mainstay Hawksian Woman tradition with another Lauren Bacall performance tailored for the screen. Who cares that explaining story, like the novel, would take away from the noir splendor on display.
4. Bringing Up Baby – If you enjoyed Peter Bogdanovich’s What’s Up Doc? in the 70s, this film was its progenitor. As usual, Hawks helped to refine the screwball comedy. To such a degree, his name is almost synonymous with the genre (among others). Fast moving, rhythmic dialog, and a sharp woman character, being the hallmarks. Cary Grant starred, once more, with a Kate Hepburn that could cut you to ribbons.
5. Rio Bravo – Yes, this was the overtly unofficial response to Fred Zinneman’s allegorical (think Hollywood’s Blacklisting and Red Scare) High Noon. But that doesn’t stop it from being excellent on its own. Hawks might have been the best at getting the most out of the older John Wayne. Another character-led western that got great work out of its marvelous cast that included crooner Dean Martin and Angie Dickinson.
6. To Have And Have Not – loosely based on the Hemingway novel, this Hawks film would be the Humphrey Bogart, WWII classic double-feature I’d bill together with my all-time favorite. The ageless Casablanca. With its snappy dialogue, entertaining story, and the leads (Bogart and Lauren Bacall) falling in love with each other on screen, and for real, it’s the perfect complement to the Michael Curtiz classic, I think.
7. Only Angels Have Wings – The one film my friend and author Joe Maddrey convinced me to finally check out via his fine article from last year. I was grateful he did since it’s as great as its reputation. Cary Grant (in a role you’d think better suited for John Wayne, but he surprises), Jean Arthur and cast (don’t forget Rita Hayworth) in a film that lands high up in the classic-rich year of 1939.
8. Ball of Fire – Come on, with Barbara Stanwyck portraying someone by the name of Sugarpuss O’Shea, with all the smart and sass of a classic Hawksian heroine, what’s not to love? Oh, and Gary Cooper is in it, too. Inspired by “Snow White and the 7 Dwarfs”, if you can believe it, this ’41 classic is another screwball comedy that was among the best this genre ever put out. Hawks definitely had a way with these.
9. Scarface – No way in Hell you can ignore this gangster classic by Howard Hawks. As has been stated by those who’d know, the film defined this category of cinema. Paul Muni’s chilling portrayal, beautifully and brutally staged by the director, should not to be missed by classic film aficionados, or just about any fan of movies. De Palma’s remake gets all the attention of late, but this started it.
10. I Was A Male War Bride – I admit, this film is a soft spot for me. The second Howard Hawks I ever saw as a kid — staying up and watching late-Saturday night TV. His Red River being the first. And with my favorite actor in it once more, Cary Grant, in the most extraordinary of WWII situations, as well. But when you have Ann Sheridan by your side, and this director at the helm, you have to know all will be happily solved by the end.
11. Monkey Business – An underrated, throw-back screwball comedy, as Howard Hawks was known to steal from himself in such things. A great pairing (their second) of Cary Grant (who by now you know was a Hawks favorite) and Ginger Rogers. Did I mention Marilyn Monroe was in this, too? Definitely worth seeing for the fans of each of these fantastic performers. Surely, a must for Hawks’ base.
12. El Dorado – Howard Hawks essentially did three versions of the same western (Rio Bravo being the first and best). Yet this, the middle edition, was undoubtably his best redux. Improving on cast — I mean, Robert Mitchum for Dean Martin, James Caan for Ricky Nelson…come on! — it proved that Hawks, even at this late-stage of his career, merely by repeating himself was still better than most filmmakers out there.
13. The Thing From Another World – Yeah, I know Christian Nyby gets the chair credit for this film, and Hawks denied he ever directed the film. But you’re not going convince me (or any fan of Howard Hawks) this was not his. All his trademarks are there in this sci-fi classic. With Maggie Sheridan in true Hawksian mode especially — her banter alone with Kenneth Tobey certainly qualifies — this doesn’t get enough credit for being what it was.