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THE HAWKS FILE - PART 3

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by Peter Bogdanovich
October 14, 2012 10:09 PM
4 Comments
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The following are another ten cards from my file on Howard Hawks pictures, still in the order in which I first saw them. Of course, I’ve seen a number of these films again, and some of them more than once again, in the years since 1970, when I stopped keeping up the card file. But Hawks certainly remains among my five most favorite directors.

HIS GIRL FRIDAY (1940; d: Howard Hawks).

1961: Excellent* (Frantic, uproariously funny, brilliantly Hawksian comedy, based on “The Front Page.” Superbly played by Cary Grant and Rosalind Russell, brightly written, and unfailingly right in terms of pacing within the frame, camera-placement, editing, casting. A personal and thoroughly delightful piece of work.)

Added 1962: (Even better the second time; a great comedy.)

Added 1966: (Hawks just made all the best movies, that’s all there is to it; completely undated, thoroughly magnificent.)

Added 1969: (The rating should read Exceptional, because there’s no other word for this completely undated, miraculously paced and flawless work.)

CORVETTE K-225 (1943; d: Richard Rosson; p: Howard Hawks).

1961: Fair* (Competent, if uninspired, war picture about a convoy of Canadian ships made up of men from all the Allied countries. Hawksian in choice of women --- Ella Raines --- and in it’s authenticity; especially well made action sequences, weak love stuff; in no way comparable to Hawks’ own films, but interesting as a sidelight, and likable on its own.)


Added 1967: (Of interest mainly because of Hawks’ name, the actors he obviously chose, the script he approved; a minor work, but pleasant.)

GENTLEMEN PREFER BLONDES (1953; d: Howard Hawks).

1961: Very good- (Wild, raucous, splashy musical comedy that burlesques, in typically perverse Hawks fashion, the American ideal of sex: Marilyn Monroe and Jane Russell. Loudly decorated, nicely played, expertly directed; a fascinating and delightful movie.)

I WAS A MALE WAR BRIDE (1949; d: Howard Hawks).

1961: Exceptional- (Uproariously funny, fast, beautifully paced comedy about a Frenchman and an American Wac who fall in love, get married and go through a nightmare of red tape before they can go to bed together. Typically Hawksian view of an insane civilization that reverses male-female roles, darkly lit, magnificently played by Cary Grant and Ann Sheridan.)


Added 1968: (Really a delightful movie, with some of the funniest sex antagonism scenes Hawks has done; brilliantly directed, with a classic Grant performance that has great masculinity even at the most awful moments.)

HATARI! (1962; d: Howard Hawks).

1962: Excellent* (A personal, sophisticated, thoroughly delightful Hawks achievement, brilliantly photographed in Africa --- about a group of wild-game trappers and one hunting season in their lives. Charmingly acted, excellently written, tightly directed: a typically Hawksian comedy of danger.)

Added 1962: (More interesting and fascinating and entertaining this time than the first… The action-sequences alone are superior to most whole films; a personal, intriguing work.)


THE CRIMINAL CODE (1931; d: Howard Hawks).

1962: Very good (Hawks’ second sound film is an expertly handled study of prison life, filled with a grim gallows’ humor, and an underlying respect for the convicts and their code of honor; particularly well acted by Walter Huston, with fine support from Phillips Holmes, Boris Karloff, among others.)

Added 1967: (Not one of Hawks’ most personal films, but still a very well made work, with flashes of the director’s mordant wit, understated and effective.)

In my first film, Targets, shot this same year (1967), and starring Boris Karloff in what he liked to refer to as his last picture, we used a couple of clips of Karloff as a convict from The Criminal Code. Boris adlibbed a line to the effect that this was his “first really important part,” and of course we kept that in.

FIG LEAVES (1926; d: Howard Hawks).

1962: Very good (A strange, forthright, and simple burlesque of women and their fetish about clothes --- “I haven’t anything to wear” --- this silent Hawks picture --- his second as a director --- is skillful, witty, urban, and extremely well done…)

PAID TO LOVE (1927; d: Howard Hawks).

1962: Good* (Very well done, but impersonal Hawks film about a Parisian night club performer and the Prince who falls in love with her --- with some effective, if self-conscious, camerawork. Decidedly a contract job…)
 

A GIRL IN EVERY PORT (1928; d: Howard Hawks).

1962: Excellent* (Hawks first love-adventure film about a couple of sailors and their strong friendship developed through rivalry and conflict: beautifully, simply directed, acted, written silent comedy-drama: personal and masculine.)

Added 1962: (This is really a fine Hawks film, his first truly personal work.)

VIVA VILLA! (1934; d: Jack Conway; uncredited: Howard Hawks).

1962: Good- (It is quite clear where Hawks leaves off and Conway begins, because the film turns from excellent to something less than mediocre. The exteriors --- all Hawks --- are striking, atmospheric and exciting; the script --- when it is not overly talky, is taut and has some pungent dialog, not always well delivered. Stu Erwin, who replaced Lee Tracy, is no substitute at all and Wallace Beery looks like Villa even if he is not always convincing in the part.)

Added 1969: (A split movie in its personality and quality, and therefore mainly interesting historically and as an example of a director’s effect on scripts.)

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4 Comments

  • Salty Bill | November 1, 2012 5:17 PMReply

    I caught Corvette-K255 on--where else?--TCM, and it was most enjoyable.

  • Jake Cole | October 23, 2012 12:04 PMReply

    I love these files so much, and especially the revisions over the years, whether coming back to The Big Sleep to see it as a masterpiece or confirming/refining initial thoughts. I was amused how many of Hawks' films you labeled "exceptional" because I'm the same way. I tried to make a list of my favorite director's single best film (or at least my favorite) and could not narrow down Hawks to fewer than three, and it was hell putting another four out of consideration.

  • Esoth | October 15, 2012 2:42 PMReply

    "His Girl Friday" is great on so many levels and I find the leads' endlessly fascinating. Walter Burns could have rolled Joe Bascopolous and Johnny Aysgarth without ever breaking stride. Grant never had a harder edge on film. Maybe it was the confidence of working with Hawks that allowed Grant to trust his character and not use his bankable personal charm to ingratiate Burns with the audience.

    For a long time, and until a recent re-viewing, I thought of "Hatari!" as a guilty pleasure. There was just something preposterous about the idea of the Duke in the cap rumbling around the Savannah with Red Buttons. But Hawks' execution is so masterful that it overcomes my cynicism enough to recognize and enjoy it as a bloody good picture, with no guilt attached.

    I haven't yet seen "The Criminal Code" but am now looking for it and forward to it. Thank you.

  • Ben Lewis | October 15, 2012 11:41 AMReply

    THANK YOU Mr. Bogdanovich for posting this and the previous Hawks cards. A real treat to see how some of the films grew on you as time passed. And a few gems I have yet to see!

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