Happy Birthday, Howard Hawks

“When Wayne saw Clift the first time he said, ‘Howard, think we can get anything going between that kid and myself?’ I said, ‘I think you can.’ After two scenes he said, ‘You’re right. He can hold his own, anyway, but I don’t think we can make a fight.’ I said, ‘Duke, if you fall down and I kick you in the jaw, that would be quite a fight. Don’t you think so?’ He said, ‘Okay.’ And that was all there was to it. We did it that way. It took us three days to make Montgomery Clift look good enough to be pitted against Wayne because he didn’t know how to punch or move when we rehearsed.”

— Howard Hawks on filming Red River (Hawks had seen Clift onstage in New York in a Tennessee Williams play “You Touched Me” – based on the marriage of Mr and Mrs DH Lawrence- an interesting marriage to say the least. This was when movie directors still gave a shit about the stage, and realized that the best actors were there – and he didn’t forget Clift – A couple years after seeing the play, Hawks offered him the role in Red River. Clift said no. Perhaps intimidated by the material, by how different it was from the normally elegant and tormented things he had done. Hawks persisted. It paid off.)

(Howard Hawks, John Wayne, Joanne Dru on location for Red River)

“Cary [Grant] was so fun on this picture [Bringing Up Baby]. He was fatter, and at this point his boiling energy was at its peak. We would laugh from morning to night. Hawks was fun too. He usually got to work late. Cary and I were always there early. Everyone contributed anything and everything they could think of to that script.”

— Katharine Hepburn

(Hepburn and Grant in Bringing Up Baby)

From Cary Grant: A Celebration by Richard Schickel:

Hawks liked to reverse things, to do the simple opposite of what the audience expected of actors, of a comic situation. Hepburn, for example, had previously done a certain amount of noble suffering and a certain amount of romantic dithering, too. He thought the business of making her not merely headstrong, but entirely thoughtless would be funny. “I think it’s fun to have a woman dominant …” Hawks would drawl in that off-hand way of his. Same way with Grant. “Such a great receiver,” the director was heard to murmur years later. Why not take that air of not being all present and accounted for that he had shown here and there in his work and develop it into the core of a comic character.

But it was not in Hawks’ nature, or Grant’s either, to let the matter rest there. There may be something sympathetic about a nebbish, but there is nothing funny about him. So they added a certain crankiness to Grant’s character – a crabby, exasperated, put-upon quality. After all, the man was a scientist, a rationalist, when he wasn’t being distracted. What, logically, would be his response to the sheer impracticality and heedlessness of Hepburn’s character when the full import of their consequences to him dawned? Obviously, it would be fuming fury, suppressed only by the demands of propriety (so many of her assaults on him occured in public, a golf course, a nightclub, her aunt’s dinner table, a police station) and politeness (she was, after all, a woman, and he could vaguely remember from childhood that you were supposed to be polite to them, even protect them, as they were ‘the weaker sex.’)

Well, this was splendid. This was even historic. Grant would use this comically-stated balefulness often in the future.

He is so horrified and so trapped in his own life.

I wrote a big long post on Hawks’ views on women and the gender wars.

From Cary Grant: A Celebration by Richard Schickel:

And it was perhaps only Hawks who could have got him to don the absurd goucho pants and oversized panama hat — soignee on the way to camp – that he wears in Only Angels Have Wings. He is the ramrodder of an air service flying the mail out of the banana port of Barranca, through a mountain pass with the worst weather in the socked-in history of movie aviation to … somewhere or other. Talk about your Hawksian group! They are old and young, smart and dumb, brave and brave (even the cowardly interloper is only misunderstood). They have built a barrier against the outside world otu of overlapping dialogue and Hawks’ much-vaunted ‘professionalism’, which consists of doing whatever job is at hand and not counting the cost, let alone sentimentalizing it.

From Cary Grant: A Celebration by Richard Schickel:

In short, [His Girl Friday is a tour de force for both Grant and Hawks, a testing of their limits. Could Hawks quick-march a comedy so fast that no one stopped to think about the stench of the sinkholes we were being hustled past (there is the tragic murderer about to face the gallows hereabouts, and more municipal corruption that one dare contemplate)? Yes, he could. And Grant? Could he keep his frenzy concentrated, never let it deteriorate into something we might understand as unattractive desperation? Yes, he could. When he throws out his front page to accommodate news of a murderer’s escape and alleged capture by his newspaper, he is capable of ordering Hitler and the war in Ethiopia banished to the comic page, but ordering the story about chickens retained on page one. “That’s human interest,” he cries, and we must indulge him. His single-minded devotion to the awful standards of tabloid journalism is a form of innocence of other-worldliness, the flip and noisy side of his devotion in Bringing Up Baby‘s intercostal clavicle, not to be understood as anti-social or mean-spirited. In a way, this was his ultimate test: cou;ld he make even charmlessness charming? Yes, he could.

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10 Responses to Happy Birthday, Howard Hawks

  1. Emily says:

    Oh my god, that last picture…I’m stunned at how chemistry can be captured in a single frame.

  2. Bella says:

    What a wonderful post. You’ve inspired me to see some films I haven’t seen before.

  3. Dan says:

    That second to last shot – the group photo from To Have..… awesome.

  4. red says:

    Dan – I know, right?? I love those kind of script-conference photos – there’s a lot of them out there, a really really funny one of Cary Grant, Hepburn and Howard Hawks all sitting on a couch together, holding scripts, laughing …

    Just makes you want to be there.

    Also I love how Dolores Moran’s legs look. Like – check out her right leg. It’s just so = elegant the way she’s sitting!

  5. Red: Someone once told me the hardest/most unfair question I ever asked on one of my quizzes was “What’s your favorite Howard Hawks movie?”

    Great post! I’m not sure why I didn’t before, but I’ve linked to your site, and there’s a direct link to your Howard Hawks post under my brief mention of his birthday and the death of Shoehi Imamura. Thanks for the terrific read!

  6. red says:

    Dennis – thanks for the link!! Yeah, I’ve read a couple of Imamura obits today – just amazing stuff.

    And I kinda can’t pick my “favorite” Hawks – it just seems WRONG!

    Although I do have a real soft spot for Only Angels Have Wings. And by ‘soft spot’ I mean “raging obsession”. I just don’t seem to ever tire of that film – I want to LIVE in that film.

    But still. He was just a master – but a master who didn’t make a big deal out of being a “master”. He’s still HIGHLY under-rated, in my opinion.

    But I just don’t think there’s anyone better.

  7. dick says:

    You have written so many entries on Howard Hawkes and Slim but I have never seen a photo of Slim to see just what it was he was basing his women on. She must have been really something to see to keep a man like him so in thrall of her for that long. Do you have any shots of Slim Hawkes?

  8. red says:

    She was the ultimate babe. Stylish, sleek, yet tough, swore like a sailor, yet remained a lady – Hawks liked women who could “keep up” (meaning: with men) – women who shot guns, rode horses, but then cleaned up real nice. The ultimate sleek tough tomboy.

    Lauren Bacall has a ton of pictures of her in her autobiography – let me see if I can find one for you online.

  9. red says:

    Oh, and another cool thing:

    Hawks was, like I said, really under-rated in America – in the same way that Grant was. Or – maybe not under-rated, but taken for granted.

    And for YEARS after Hawks’ heyday died out- it was the French film enthusiasts who kept it all alive. They “got” him – they thought he was one of the greatest artists ever. Peter Bogdonavich has spent much of his adult life trying to bring back Hawks into the public consciousness – he’s done documentaries about him, interviewed him, wrote long long essays about him – he does a MARVELOUS commentary on the Bringing Up Baby DVD – and it’s just mysterious to him and to me: why wasn’t Hawks as revered (or even remembered) as, say, John Ford or George Cukor?? The French were his partners in this Hawks fanaticism – they adored (and still do adore) Howard Hawks.

    I am not coming up with any photos of Slim Hawks online – frustrating!! I’ll scan one for you from Lauren Bacall’s book.

  10. dick says:

    I would appreciate that. When I think of Bacall and the mystique she had I get the idea of what Slim must have been like but putting a face to the image would really cement it. I love strong women who still have the ability to be feminine.

    I worked on Wall Street for years and most of the women I met there were either cry-baby women trying to get by on their looks or else women who were trying to out-masculine the men they worked with. I hated both types. Once in a while you would meet one who really enjoyed being a girl while still being able to hold her own at the job. They were fabulous!! Great to work with and great to go out with after work to have fun. You could really be yourself with them.

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