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THE HAWKS FILE - PART 2

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by Peter Bogdanovich
October 5, 2012 11:30 PM
5 Comments
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These are more of my index cards on pictures directed by the great laconic American director of all genres, Howard Hawks; the films below were each seen by me for the first time in 1961, while I was preparing the first Hawks retrospective in the U.S., at New York’s Museum of Modern Art. titled The Cinema of Howard Hawks, the series ran for six months in 1962, and a monograph of the same title was published which featured a lengthy career interview I did with Hawks. That conversation, as well as several others I had with him, are all included in my book, Who the Devil Made It (1997), now also available as a fat e-book.

THE ROAD TO GLORY (1936; d: Howard Hawks).

1961: Very good* (Tragic, grimly realistic, powerfully written (by Faulkner) and directed war film (World War I) about a company of Frenchmen, their unquestioning dedication, the horror of their situation, the never-ending circle of command, and the futility of the world; the only way to survive is to face death with gallantry and honor. Completely personal, very well acted, typically Hawksian in every respect, except in the performance of June Lang, who is weak and amateurish. Otherwise, an outstanding war film.)

Added 1962: (Looks even better this time; a truly fine piece of work, personal cinema at its most interesting and complex.)

THE CROWD ROARS (1932; d: Howard Hawks).

Very good- (A vintage auto-racing action story of the thirties with Cagney and Joan Blondell, is lifted into an exciting, fast, clean piece of expert filmmaking by Mr. Hawks' incisive direction. One of his first sound pictures, it is rarely dated, and fits in with his theme of men in hazardous situations, who never question what they do or why - a theme that haunts all his adventure films. The story is simple, rather deceptively so: a racing hero (Cagney) tries to dissuade his younger brother from the same life he has chosen for himself. The brother, however, is determined, soon becomes a hero himself while Cagney becomes a has-been. There is a love story mixed in, and the two are finally reunited in a climactic, thrilling race in which both are injured. Still unperturbed, forever loyal to their creed, the film ends with them being raced to the hospital, cheering from the back as the ambulance passes other cars.)

THE DAWN PATROL (1930; d: Howard Hawks).

1961: Exceptional (Hawks' first sound film, a brilliantly directed - especially in the dog fight sequences which are magnificent - and well played story of the courage and gallantry of World War I fliers, who never question the impossible circumstances in which they must fly and fight. A classic.)

Added 1962: (Certainly Hawks' first masterpiece, and one in which all his themes are developed with eloquence and power: the unquestioning attitude of the men, their love for one another, the credo of professionalism. A tragic masterpiece, beautifully executed.)

Added 1966: (Except for some over-explicit dialog and some overstated playing, this is a thoroughly undated work, with a cumulative effect that is powerful, moving and fully realized. One of Hawks' finest early achievements.)

Added 1969: (The scene where they sing together, toasting "the next man who dies," is one of the great Hawks moments, and the action sequences are magnificent.)

CEILING ZERO (1936; d: Howard Hawks).

1961: Excellent* (Beautifully directed and written, fast and exciting air mail flying story, superbly acted by James Cagney, Pat O'Brien, others; a further extension of Hawks' theme about the unquestioning courage, honor and gallantry among men working under dangerous, difficult conditions.)

Added 1969: (If it is not as personal as Only Angels Have Wings, this is still a brilliantly directed movie - completely undated, terribly fast, engrossing and extremely moving; the script is excellent, so are the performances, and Hawks' handling leaves nothing to be desired; it is quite often awe-inspiring.)

AIR FORCE (1943; d: Howard Hawks).

1961: Exceptional (One of Hawks' major achievements, an exciting, epic war film about a bomber that takes off for the Pacific in December of 1941 and the men involved in the mission. Beautifully directed, written, acted, photographed, it is profoundly moving, often humorous, warm, in every way a vigorous, memorable picture, comparable only to Ford's They Were Expendable, and a brilliant, rewarding example of Hawks' continuing theme of gallantry and honor among men, who never question the terrible conditions under which they exist. Without doubt, a masterpiece.)

Added 1961: (Truly a superb work of art, dateless and affecting.)

Added 1962: (Apart from everything else, consider the battle sequences in this film: they prove conclusively that Hawks is the best action director in sound cinema.)

Added 1969: (An air epic as much as "Red River" is a land epic - one of Hawks' most beautiful films, and a movie with a large canvas that never once seems sprawling or out of control; it is without doubt one of Hawks' greatest works, filled with simple poetry, truth and depth that is profoundly moving.)

THE LAST FIGHT (1931; d: William Dieterle; and uncredited, Howard Hawks).

Poor* (Dated, but occasionally interesting early sound film inspired by, but not credited to, Hemingway's The Sun Also Rises, about four World War I fliers self-exiled in Paris and of their attempts to adjust to a new life. Helen Chandler gives a particularly effective performance, but Dieterle - this was his first American film - is a quickly uninteresting director, quite uninspired, often tedious, impersonal. This is better than most of his later work, which isn't saying much. Hawks' airplane footage - borrowed from The Dawn Patrol - is, finally,the best thing in the movie.

BRINGING UP BABY (1938; d: Howard Hawks).

1961: Exceptional* (Perhaps the best, certainly among the most hilarious of Hawks' comedies, a masterpiece of speed, wit, timing, zaniness and bite. Baby is a leopard in this incredibly fast, uproarious comic whirl in which Cary Grant, at his harassed best, tries to retain his sanity in an insane world, peopled by, among many others, a daffy society girl, magnificently played by Katharine Hepburn. Directed at a frenetic, break-neck pace, it has its unstated dark side showing a man of science reduced to the gropings of an animal. In the Hawksian scheme of things, however, this is the normal way for a guy to have some fun, to turn from a bore to a man of the world. Done in high style, with flawless technique, this is in every way a superior satirical farce by a master filmmaker.)

Added 1962: (It is so extremely fast and so relentlessly funny, that the picture becomes almost physically exhausting by the end.)

Added 1966: (Amazing how this picture neither dates nor decreases in hilarity; Hawks’ sense of where to put the camera - determining from whose point of view we are to see a thing - and feeling for the precise moment when to cut is breathtaking and awe-inspiring. This is as nearly flawless a work as there has been: achingly funny, and as personal to Hawks, as much his individual creation, as any of the dramas.)

Added 1969: (Hepburn has never been better, and Grant is perfect; a divine movie that never fails to delight.)

TIGER SHARK (1932; d: Howard Hawks).

1961: (Edward G. Robinson is superb as an ugly, rough tuna fisherman who loses an arm to a shark in this moving, powerful Hawks picture shot on location. Men in dangerous jobs, two strong rivals for the same girl - these situations are typically Hawksian, though many of these things are still in rough form here.)

Added 1962: Very good* (Superb fishing sequences, fascinating characterizations, exceptional atmosphere of the waterfront types - all these things make this movie increasingly more effective.)

Added 1969: (It’s a beautiful film, with something of the feel of a ballad, and though the acting is uneven, the direction is not - it is hard, personal and evocative.)

THE THING (FROM ANOTHER WORLD) (1951; d: Christian Nyby; and uncredited, producer Howard Hawks).

1961: Very Good* (Nyby gets the credit - he was Hawks’ editor on several films both before and after this - but it is quite clear the producer had a great deal to do with it; not just the overlapping dialog technique so effectively used throughout and the dark photography. Tremendously exciting – [Dimitri] Tiomkin’s score is frighteningly perfect - this is certainly the most sophisticated and intelligent science-fiction movie ever made: about an expedition to the Arctic and the monster they discover, attempt to preserve, finally destroy.)

ONLY ANGELS HAVE WINGS (1939; d: Howard Hawks).

1961: Exceptional* (Among Hawks’ finest, most personal achievements: a minor-key masterpiece about a South American air-freight concern and the men who fly the inferior planes through often impossible weather. Tough, understated, fatalistic, sexy, often funny, and beautifully directed and acted, by Cary Grant, Thomas Mitchell, Jean Arthur, Richard Barthelmess. One of the best films of the thirties, and a key Hawks work.)

Added 1962: (This film gets better with looking - one of those rare movies - like “Bringing Up Baby” is too - that’s so good you begin to doubt it could have been made.)

Added 1967: (The honesty and utter simplicity of the direction is awe-inspiring; it is difficult to imagine how a man could make anything seem so right and so effortless. It is unquestionably one of my favorite films, and one that can be seen twice a year with no loss in enjoyment.)

Added 1969: (What a romantic, tragic, beautiful poem this is; so many things in it I’d never noticed before - so many nuances; it is an unqualified masterpiece.)

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5 Comments

  • Salty Bill | November 1, 2012 5:14 PMReply

    As I said in an earlier post, I would love to see Ceiling Zero made available on DVD in my lifetime!

  • Blake Lucas | October 6, 2012 7:51 PMReply

    I was going to say something in strong defense of "The Last Flight" myself but it wouldn't be exactly what its other admirers here have said. Though I think it's great, I also think it's Dieterle's best movie and so the ups and downs of the rest of his career are a disappointment. Helen Chandler, also so great in John Ford's "Salute" was an asset, and the others very good too, especially Richard Barthelmess, who was always so good and an actor we rightly associate with Hawks to an extent because of both "The Dawn Patrol" and "Only Angels Have Wings" in which he gives two of his best performances ever, on par with his silent work in say "Broken Blossoms." Some directors have enough talent to be roused to something special by so interesting a project as this one and I think that happened with Dieterle. Of course, as much as it reminds of Hemingway's novel "The Sun Also Rises" it also could almost be the second chapter of "The Dawn Patrol" (both originated in writing of John Monk Saunders) if the Barthelmess character had lived, and it's my understanding that Hawks was at one time attached to the project. Even if I do love the film, I'd sure love for Hawks to have made it and to see what he would have done with it, especially given that "Dawn Patrol" connection. I'll give credit to any film I think gets the best from a director but Dieterle is not remotely in the same class with Hawks in the long run, or even in the short run, because if I had to choose between the two films it would be for "The Dawn Patrol," which I agree is Hawks' first masterpiece--it's just strikingly brilliant, very moving, the scene you single out of the men singing "Hurrah for the next man to die" one of Hawks' most memorable, and I have to say I think this remained always among his best films.

  • Esoth | October 6, 2012 4:22 PMReply

    "Bringing Up Baby" was the one that set me on a life-long love of movies. I saw at as kid and so thought of it as a Hepburn/Grant movie, which led me to seek out other movies starring Hepburn and/or Grant. Not a bad pursuit, of course, but it's something to think how this first, best-loved screwball comedy has stood very near the summit ever and all the movies since ("Twentieth Century", "Easy Living", "Sullivan's Travels", and "His Girl Friday" crowding in). It took a long time to focus on "Bringing Up Baby" as a Hawks picture, and that happened a lot -- many of my favorites just happened to be directed by Hawks. Of course, that was the furthest thing from an accident -- Hawks was both gifted and of an almost retiring willingness to allow the film to make its mark without his personal thumb-print being prominent. His films have that Hawks' humor, pacing, emotional assuredness and biting dialog but for me, even today, it is hard for me to think of the paradigmatic Hawks film. His best are each so good and so individual.

  • Gene Stavis | October 6, 2012 2:58 PMReply

    Have to echo Doug's comments re Dieterle and, especially concerning The Last Flight and Jewel Robbery. Both films are far more “modern” than anything from Hawks and reveal an original singular voice in the cinema.

  • Doug Krentzlin | October 6, 2012 12:21 PMReply

    "Dieterle - this was his first American film - is a quickly uninteresting director, quite uninspired, often tedious, impersonal." Sorry, Pete, but IMHO, you're full of it! Dieterle's work for Warner Brothers in the early 30s includes some of the finest pre-Code movies of that era. Gems like JEWEL ROBBERY, FROM HEADQUARTERS, and FOG OVER FRISCO are hardly the work of a hack. (Despite your firmly-held convictions, not every great movie is the work of those filmmakers who're worshiped by the auteurists.)

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