Howard Hawks - Director

Nationality: American. Born: Howard Winchester Hawks in Goshen, Indiana, 30 May 1896. Education: Pasadena High School, California, 1908–13; Phillips Exeter Academy, New Hampshire, 1914–16; Cornell University, New York, degree in mechanical engineering, 1917. Military Service: Served in U.S. Army Air Corps, 1917–19. Family: Married 1) Athole (Hawks), 1924 (divorced 1941); 2) Nancy Raye Gross, 1941 (divorced), one daughter; 3) Mary (Dee) Hartford (divorced), two sons, two daughters. Career: Worked in property dept. of Famous Players-Lasky during vacations, Hollywood, 1916–17; designer in airplane factory, 1919–22; worked in independent production as editor, writer, and assistant director, from 1922; in charge of story dept. at Paramount, 1924–25; signed as director for Fox, 1925–29; directed first feature, Road to Glory , 1926; formed Motion Picture Alliance for the Preservation of American Ideals, with Borden Chase, 1944. Awards: Quarterly Award, Directors Guild of America, for Red River , 1948/49; Honorary Oscar for "A master American filmmaker whose creative efforts hold a distinguished place in world

Howard Hawks (center), John Wayne, and Joanne Dru on the set of Red River
Howard Hawks (center), John Wayne, and Joanne Dru on the set of Red River

cinema," 1974. Died: In Palm Springs, California, 26 December 1977.

Films as Director:


The Road to Glory (+ story); Fig Leaves (+ story)


The Cradle Snatchers ; Paid to Love ; Fazil


A Girl in Every Port (+ co-sc); The Air Circus (co-d)


Trent's Last Case


The Dawn Patrol


The Criminal Code


The Crowd Roars (+ story); Tiger Shark ; Scarface: The Shame of a Nation (+ pr, bit role as man on bed)


Today We Live ; The Prizefighter and the Lady ( Everywoman's Man ) (Van Dyke; d parts of film, claim disputed)


Viva Villa! (Conway; d begun by Hawks); Twentieth Century


Barbary Coast ; Ceiling Zero


The Road to Glory ; Come and Get It (co-d)


Bringing up Baby


Only Angels Have Wings


His Girl Friday


The Outlaw (Hughes; d begun by Hawks); Sergeant York ; Ball of Fire


Air Force


To Have and Have Not


The Big Sleep


A Song Is Born (remake of Ball of Fire )


Red River (+ pr)


I Was a Male War Bride ( You Can't Sleep Here )


The Big Sky (+ pr); "The Ransom of Red Chief" episode of O. Henry's Full House (episode cut from some copies) (+ pr); Monkey Business


Gentlemen Prefer Blondes


Land of the Pharaohs (+ pr)


Rio Bravo (+ pr)


Hatari! (+ pr)


Man's Favorite Sport (+ pr)


Red Line 7000 (+ story, pr)


El Dorado (+ pr)


Rio Lobo (+ pr)

Other Films:


A Little Princess (Neilan) (d some scenes, uncredited; prop boy)


Quicksands (Conway) (story, sc, pr)


Tiger Love (Melford) (sc)


The Dressmaker from Paris (Bern) (co-story, sc)


Honesty—the Best Policy (Bennett and Neill) (story, sc); Underworld (von Sternberg) (co-sc, uncredited)


Red Dust (Fleming) (co-sc, uncredited)


Sutter's Gold (Cruze) (co-sc, uncredited)


Captain Courageous (Fleming) (co-sc, uncredited)


Test Pilot (Fleming) (co-sc, uncredited)


Gone with the Wind (Fleming) (add'l dialogue, uncredited); Gunga Din (Stevens) (co-sc, uncredited)


Corvette K-225 ( The Nelson Touch ) (Rosson) (pr)


The Thing ( The Thing from Another World ) (Nyby) (pr)


By HAWKS: book—

Hawks on Hawks , edited by Joseph McBride, Berkeley, 1982.

By HAWKS: articles—

Interview with Jacques Becker, Jacques Rivette, and Francois Truffaut, in Cahiers du Cinéma (Paris), February 1956.

Interview in Movie (London), 5 November 1962.

"Man's Favorite Director, Howard Hawks," interview in Cinema (Beverly Hills), November/December 1963.

Interview with James R. Silke, Serge Daney, and Jean-Louis Noames, in Cahiers du Cinéma (Paris), November 1964.

Interview, in Interviews with Film Directors , by Andrew Sarris, New York, 1967.

Interview with Jean-Louis Comolli, Jean Narboni, and Bertrand Tavernier, in Cahiers du Cinéma (Paris), July/August 1967.

"Gunplay and Horses," with David Austen, in Films and Filming (London), October 1968.

"Do I Get to Play the Drunk This Time," an interview in Sight and Sound (London), Spring 1971.

Interviews with Naomi Wise and Michael Goodwin, in Take One (Montreal), November/December 1971 and March 1973.

"Hawks Talks," interview with J. McBride, in Film Comment (New York), May/June 1974.

"Hawks on Film, Politics, and Childrearing," interview with C. Penley and others, in Jump Cut (Berkeley), January/February 1975.

"You're Goddam Right I Remember," interview with K. Murphy and R.T. Jameson, in Movietone News (Seattle), June 1977.

On HAWKS: books—

Bogdanovich, Peter, The Cinema of Howard Hawks , New York, 1962.

Missiaen, Jean-Claude, Howard Hawks , Paris, 1966.

Wood, Robin, Howard Hawks , London, 1968, revised 1981.

Gili, J.-A., Howard Hawks , Paris, 1971.

Willis, D.C., The Films of Howard Hawks , Metuchen, New Jersey, 1975.

Murphy, Kathleen A., Howard Hawks: An American Auteur in the Hemingway Tradition , Ann Arbor, Michigan, 1978.

Giannetti, Louis D., Masters of the American Cinema , Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey, 1981.

Mast, Gerald, Howard Hawks, Storyteller , New York, 1982.

Poague, Leland, Howard Hawks , Boston, 1982.

Belton, John, Cinema Stylists , Metuchen, New Jersey, 1983.

Simsolo, Noel, Howard Hawks , Paris, 1984.

Branson, Clark, Howard Hawks: A Jungian Study , Los Angeles, 1987.

McCarthy, Todd, Howard Hawks: The Grey Fox of Hollywood , New York, 1997.

On HAWKS: articles—

Rivette, Jacques, and François Truffaut, "Howard Hawks," in Films in Review (New York), November 1956.

Perez, Michel, "Howard Hawks et le western," in Présence du Cinéma (Paris), July/September 1959.

Dyer, John Peter, "Sling the Lamps Low," in Sight and Sound (London), Summer 1962.

Sarris, Andrew, "The World of Howard Hawks," in Films and Filming (London), July and August 1962.

"Hawks Issue" of Cahiers du Cinéma (Paris), January 1963.

"Hawks Issue" of Movie (London), 5 December 1962.

Comolli, Jean-Louis, "Howard Hawks ou l'ironique," in Cahiers du Cinéma (Paris), November 1964.

Brackett, Leigh, "A Comment on the Hawksian Woman," in Take One (Montreal), July/August 1971.

Wise, Naomi, "The Hawksian Woman," in Take One (Montreal), April 1972.

"Hawks Issue" of Filmkritik (Munich), May/June 1973.

Wood, Robin, "To Have (Written) and Have Not (Directed)," in Film Comment (New York), May/June 1973.

Haskell, Molly, "Howard Hawks: Masculine Feminine," in Film Comment (New York), March/April 1974.

Cohen, M., "Hawks in the Thirties," in Take One (Montreal), December 1975.

Special issue, Wide Angle , vol. 1, no. 2, Summer 1976.

Richards, Jeffrey, "The Silent Films of Howard Hawks," in Focus on Film (London), Summer/Autumn 1976.

Durgnat, Raymond, "Hawks Isn't Good Enough," in Film Comment (New York), July/August 1977; see also February and March/April 1978.

"Hawks Section" of Positif (Paris), July/August 1977.

"Dossier: le cinéma de Howard Hawks," in Cinématographe (Paris), March 1978.

Rohmer, Eric, and others, "Hommage à Hawks," in Cinéma (Paris), March 1978.

McBride, J., "Hawks," in Film Comment (New York), March/April 1978.

Burdick, D.M., "Danger of Death: The Hawksian Woman as Agent of Destruction," in Post Script (Jacksonville, Florida), Fall 1981.

McCarthy, T., "Phantom Hawks," in Film Comment (New York), September/October 1982.

Lev, P., "Elaborations on a Theme," in Quarterly Review of Film Studies (New York), Spring 1984.

Jewell, R.B., "How Howard Hawks Brought Baby Up," in Journal of Popular Film (Washington, D.C.), Winter 1984.

Walker, Michael, "Hawks and Film Noir: The Big Sleep ," in Cine-Action! (Toronto), no. 13/14, 1988.

Davis, Teo, interview with Walter Hill, "Hill on Hawks," in Sight and Sound (London), vol. 7, no. 2, February 1997.

Gross, Larry, "Hawks and the Angels," in Sight and Sound (London), vol. 7, no. 2, February 1997.

Younis, Raymond, "Hawks and Ford Resurgent," in Cinema Papers (Australia), no. 120, October 1997.

On HAWKS: films—

Bogdanovich, Peter, The Great Professional—Howard Hawks , for television, Great Britain, 1967.

Schickel, Richard, The Men Who Made the Movies: Howard Hawks , for television, United States, 1973.

Blumenberg, Hans, Ein verdammt gutes Leben (A Hell of a Good Life) , West Germany, 1978.

* * *

Howard Hawks was perhaps the greatest director of American genre films. Hawks made films in almost every American genre, and each of these films could well serve as one of the very best examples and artistic embodiments of the type: gangster ( Scarface ), private eye ( The Big Sleep ), western ( Red River, Rio Bravo ), screwball comedy ( Bringing up Baby ), newspaper reporter ( His Girl Friday ), prison picture ( The Criminal Code ), science fiction ( The Thing ), musical ( Gentlemen Prefer Blondes ), race-car drivers ( The Crowd Roars, Red Line 7000 ), and air pilots ( Only Angels Have Wings ). But into each of these narratives of generic expectations Hawks infused his particular themes, motifs, and techniques.

Born in the Midwest at almost the same time that the movies themselves were born in America, Hawks migrated with his family to southern California when the movies did; he spent his formative years working on films, learning to fly, and studying engineering at Cornell University. His initial work in silent films as a writer and producer would serve him well in his later years as a director, when he would produce and, if not write, then control the writing of his films as well. Although Hawks' work has been consistently discussed as exemplary of the Hollywood studio style, Hawks himself did not work for a single studio on a long-term contract. Instead, he was an independent producer who sold his projects to every Hollywood studio.

Whatever the genre of a Hawks film, it bore traits that made it unmistakably a Hawks film. The narrative was always elegantly and symmetrically structured and patterned. This quality was a sign of Hawks' sharp sense of storytelling as well as his sensible efforts to work closely with very talented writers: Ben Hecht, William Faulkner, and Jules Furthman being the most notable among them. Hawks' films were devoted to characters who were professionals with fervent vocational commitments. The men in Hawks' films were good at what they did, whether flying the mail, driving race cars, driving cattle, or reporting the news. These vocational commitments were usually fulfilled by the union of two apparently opposite physical types who were spiritually one: either the union of the harder, tougher, older male and a softer, younger, prettier male (John Wayne and Montgomery Clift in Red River , Wayne and Ricky Nelson in Rio Bravo ), or by a sharp, tough male and an equally sharp, tough female (Cary Grant and Rosalind Russell in His Girl Friday , Bogart and Bacall in To Have and Have Not and The Big Sleep , John Barrymore and Carole Lombard in Twentieth Century ). This spiritual alliance of physical opposites revealed Hawks' unwillingness to accept the cultural stereotype that those who are able to accomplish difficult tasks are those who appear able to accomplish them.

This tension between appearance and ability, surface and essence in Hawks' films led to several other themes and techniques. Characters talk very tersely in Hawks' films, refusing to put their thoughts and feelings into explicit speeches which would either sentimentalize or vulgarize those internal abstractions. Instead, Hawks' characters reveal their feelings through their actions, not by what they say. Hawks deflects his portrayal of the inner life from explicit speeches to symbolic physical objects—concrete visual images of things that convey the intentions of the person who handles, uses, or controls the piece of physical matter. One of those physical objects—the coin which George Raft nervously flips in Scarface —has become a mythic icon of American culture itself, symbolic in itself of American gangsters and American gangster movies (and used as such in both Singin' in the Rain and Some Like It Hot ). Another of Hawks' favorite actions, the lighting of cigarettes, became his subtextual way of showing who cares about whom without recourse to dialogue.

Consistent with his narratives, Hawks' visual style was one of dead-pan understatement, never proclaiming its trickiness or brilliance but effortlessly communicating the values of the stories and the characters. Hawks was a master of point-of-view, knowledgeable about which camera perspective would precisely convey the necessary psychological and moral information. That point of view could either confine us to the perceptions of a single character (Marlowe in The Big Sleep ), ally us with the more vital of two competing life styles (with the vitality of Oscar Jaffe in Twentieth Century , Susan Vance in Bringing up Baby , Walter Burns in His Girl Friday ), or withdraw to a scientific detachment that allows the viewer to weigh the paradoxes and ironies of a love battle between two equals (between the two army partners in I Was a Male War Bride , the husband and wife in Monkey Business , or the older and younger cowboy in Red River ). Hawks' films are also masterful in their atmospheric lighting; the hanging electric or kerosene lamp that dangles into the top of a Hawks frame became almost as much his signature as the lighting of cigarettes.

Hawks' view of character in film narrative was that actor and character were inseparable. As a result, his films were very improvisatory. He allowed actors to add, interpret, or alter lines as they wished, rather than force them to stick to the script. This trait not only led to the energetic spontaneity of many Hawks films, but also contributed to the creation or shaping of the human archetypes that several stars came to represent in our culture. John Barrymore, John Wayne, Humphrey Bogart, and Cary Grant all refined or established their essential personae under Hawks' direction, while many actors who would become stars were either discovered by Hawks or given their first chance to play a major role in one of his films. Among Hawks' most important discoveries were Paul Muni, George Raft, Carole Lombard, Angie Dickinson, Montgomery Clift, and his Galatea, Lauren Bacall.

Although Hawks continued to make films until he was almost seventy-five, there is disagreement about the artistic energy and cinematic value of the films he made after 1950. For some, Hawks' artistic decline in the 1950s and 1960s was both a symptom and an effect of the overall decline of the movie industry and the studio system itself. For others, Hawks' later films—slower, longer, less energetically brilliant than his studio-era films—were more probing and personal explorations of the themes and genres he had charted for the three previous decades.

—Gerald Mast

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