Howard Hawks on Dean Martin

Excerpt from Peter Bogdanovich’s Who the Hell’s in It: Conversations with Hollywood’s Legendary Actors:

Here’s more from Bogdonavich’s superb essay about Dean Martin. Here he is talking to Howard Hawks about directing Dean Martin in Rio Bravo. Martin was afraid he couldn’t do it – afraid it would be “too dramatic” – that he would fail. If you see that movie – it is truly astonishing how much he does NOT fail. But we all have our demons of insecurity. Martin had never been called upon before to play such dramatic scenes. But watch him in that movie. Seriously.

So: Bogdonavich:

Hawks told me how he had happened to cast Martin in what would remain the finest dramatic performance of his career. “I always liked him,” Hawks said. “I’d met him personally.” Martin’s agent had asked if Hawks would consider Dean for the role of the drunken deputy and talk with him. Hawks said, “OK, nine-thirty tomorrow morning.” When the agent said he wasn’t sure Martin could get there quite that early, Hawks just closed him off: “Look, if he wants to get here at all, have him get here at nine-thirty.” Hawks grinned, remembering that Dean had come in the next day right on time and said, “Well, I’m kind of shufflin’. I did a show till midnight over in Vegas — got up early, hired an airplane to get down here and I’ve had a lot of trouble gettin’ ‘cross town.” Hawks shook his head. “You went to all that trouble to get here at nine-thirty?” Martin answered, “Yes,” and they talked for a minutes until Hawks abruptly said, “Well, you’d better go up and get your wardrobe.” Dean looked confused. “What do you mean>” he asked, and Hawks replied, “Well, you’re going to do it – go get your wardrobe.” Howard went on to me, “And that’s what we did. I knew that if he’d do all that, he’d work hard, and I knew that if he’d work we’d have no trouble because he’s such a personality. And he did – he worked hard over that drunk.”

It shows – yet only in the best way – nevere labored, remarkably natural. Clearly, Martin never worked that hard over a role again, nor did he ever have as layered a part to play. Apart from a cowboy burlesque with Lewis (Pardners), Rio Bravo was also Martin’s first Western, which was by far his own favorite kind of entertainment. Especially John Wayne Westerns. In his last tragic eight years, supposedly all Dean ever did was sit in front of the TV and watch Westerns. Therefore, to co-star with John Wayne (of all cowboy stars, the most popular), and to be directed by Howard Hawks – for the director’s first Western since his triumphant debut epic with Wayne, Red River — must have been for Dean one of the crowning moments of his career. The performance he gave was a kind of committed investment proving to doubters that if he wanted to, Dean could, within his range as an actor, do just about anything.


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1 Response to Howard Hawks on Dean Martin

  1. Ken says:

    Ironically, I’ve seen El Dorado (the more-or-less remake with Robert Mitchum and James Caan) twice in the last year, but I haven’t seen Rio Bravo yet.

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