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SSO Summer School- The Films and Style of Howard Hawks

Discussion of the actors, directors and film-makers who 'made it all happen'

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SSO Summer School- The Films and Style of Howard Hawks

Postby Lzcutter » July 14th, 2009, 11:10 pm

Anyone interested in a so-called summer class discussing the films and style of Howard Hawks? All very informal, just shooting the breeze about one of the most under-rated but genre prolific directors in the business.

If so, let me know.

Here's the schedule:

July 27th
Compare Hawks' Scarface with Wild Bill Wellman's Public Enemy.

August 3rd:
Compare Bringing Up Baby and His Girl Friday. Note: be ready to talk about the flaw in Baby (no premature googling).

August 10th
Draw a line from Only Angels Have Wings to To Have and Have Not to Rio Bravo.

August 17th:
Compare and contrast Rio Bravo, El Dorado and Rio Lobo.

August 24th:
Talk about the difference in John Wayne's performances in Hawks films and John Ford films including Red River and Hatari.

August 31st:
Gentlemen Prefer Blondes vs the other musicals of the 1950s, especially the Freed Unit at MGM.

September 3rd:
Compare and contrast Howard Hawks and his closest rival, John Ford. Why does Ford get more of the glory?

September 10th:
Talk about the significance of Land of the Pharaohs against the backdrop of the other big epic films of early Egypt made in the 1950s.
Lynn in Lake Balboa

"Film is history. With every foot of film lost, we lose a link to our culture, to the world around us, to each other and to ourselves."

"For me, John Wayne has only become more impressive over time." Marty Scorsese

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Re: SSO Summer School- The Films and Style of Howard Hawks

Postby myrnaloyisdope » July 14th, 2009, 11:16 pm

I'd be interested, though maybe some focus should be paid his early pre-codes and silents? As great as Rio Bravo is, does it need to be rehashed again?
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Re: SSO Summer School- The Films and Style of Howard Hawks

Postby Lzcutter » July 14th, 2009, 11:50 pm

Myrna,

I agree but part of the problem is finding his silents and pre-codes on DVD. I originally planned to compare and contrast Hawks' version of The Dawn Patrol with Edmund Gouldings but Hawks' version is not available on DVD here in the US via Netflix or other large rental houses.

I do hope you will join us though on the other weeks of discussing Hawks' films.
Lynn in Lake Balboa

"Film is history. With every foot of film lost, we lose a link to our culture, to the world around us, to each other and to ourselves."

"For me, John Wayne has only become more impressive over time." Marty Scorsese

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Re: SSO Summer School- The Films and Style of Howard Hawks

Postby charliechaplinfan » July 15th, 2009, 2:59 pm

Great I still reading his biography.

A flaw in Baby? No, that film is perfect :wink:
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Re: SSO Summer School- The Films and Style of Howard Hawks

Postby CoffeeDan » July 15th, 2009, 4:39 pm

Sounds like fun, Lynn. I'll fire up the old DVD player and Netflix the films I don't have already (only a couple, actually).

feaito

Re: SSO Summer School- The Films and Style of Howard Hawks

Postby feaito » July 15th, 2009, 8:44 pm

Great idea Lynn! I've been reading Hawk's Bio by Todd McCarthy and I've learnt a lot about his films, their making-of and Hawks the man. If I've could, I'd have watched every single film of his I own on DVD all over again while reading the respective chapters devoted to each of them.

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Re: SSO Summer School- The Films and Style of Howard Hawks

Postby charliechaplinfan » July 16th, 2009, 2:18 pm

Me too :wink:
Failure is unimportant. It takes courage to make a fool of yourself - Charlie Chaplin

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Re: SSO Summer School- The Films and Style of Howard Hawks

Postby Lzcutter » July 25th, 2009, 4:39 pm

Just a reminder that Summer School starts Monday!
Lynn in Lake Balboa

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"For me, John Wayne has only become more impressive over time." Marty Scorsese

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Re: SSO Summer School- The Films and Style of Howard Hawks

Postby Lzcutter » July 27th, 2009, 6:32 pm

Good evening, Class!

Welcome to TCM Summer School where we will be looking at and discussing the films and style of the Grey Fox himself, Howard Hawks.

This week we are looking at Hawks' Scarface and Wild Bill Wellman's The Public Enemy. Enemy was released in 1931 by Warner Brothers and the studio would become known for their tough guys and tough talking dames.

Scarface debuted in 1932 from United Artists. The full title of the film was Scarface: Shame of a Nation due to pressure being brought by the church and censors of the day.

Both film makers came from silent films and both (along with Ford, King Vidor and a host of others) were sidelined in the beginning of the talkie era until they could convince their bosses that they could make talking pictures.

Both (along with Ford, Walsh, Allen Dwan and others) were underwhelmed at the focus on the microphone and the attention paid to sound. It got in the way of making good pictures, moving pictures.

They were of the group that sought ways to free the camera from the refrigerator box confinements and return motion to motion pictures.

Both films are considered landmarks of the gangster genre.

Let's start out with comparing and contrasting the two films. In what ways are the two films similar? How are they different? Talk about why you like the films and if there is one you prefer over the other, why?

How does Hawks' techniques differ from Wild Bill's?

Screencaps are welcomed but optional.

I look forward to your essays!
Lynn in Lake Balboa

"Film is history. With every foot of film lost, we lose a link to our culture, to the world around us, to each other and to ourselves."

"For me, John Wayne has only become more impressive over time." Marty Scorsese

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Re: SSO Summer School- The Films and Style of Howard Hawks

Postby movieman1957 » July 27th, 2009, 9:50 pm

I couldn't get to "Public Enemy" but having just seen "Scarface" I agree with your point about Hawks not worrying about the microphone placement. The first scene in the film is a long tracking shot with bits of dialogue as the camera moves from one part of the room to the other. They had to have been well placed because the camera doesn't stop.

Hawks still has a fondness for comedy even in the toughest of scenes. I don't recall that at all with "Public Enemy." The scene where the restaurant is getting shot up and the "secretary" is on the phone still trying to get a name. In its own perverse way he still goes after laughs when the secretary gets shot. He locks the door. He answers the phone and proud of himself that he got a name - finally, and dies.

Good performances all around. I did find it odd that Tony and his mother had Italian accents but his sister did not. Small nitpicking.

It was all going so well fo Tony. He reached too far and lost it all.
Chris

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Re: SSO Summer School- The Films and Style of Howard Hawks

Postby Lzcutter » July 29th, 2009, 4:52 pm

Howard Hawks loved adventure and he loved making movies. It was probably enviable that he would become a director. One of his cousins was Carole Lombard. His grandfather was the basis of the lumber tycoon in Edna Ferber's best-selling novel, Come and Get It.

He was born in Goshen, Indiana in 1896 and the family moved to Wisconsin soon after his brother Kenneth was born. They ultimately moved to Southern California while Hawks was still growing up. He went to college to study mechanical engineering. During the summer months, between 1916-1917, he worked on silent movies.

He became a prop man working on Doug Fairbanks, Sr movies. The movie called for a modern set to be built and Doug was unhappy with the designs until Hawks stepped up and helped design the one Doug liked. "There was only one art director . . . and he was away on another location. I said, 'Well, I can build a modern set.' I'd had a few years of architectural training at school. So I did, and Fairbanks was pleased with it. We became friends, and that was really the start."

Doug was dating Mary Pickford at the time and Hawks went to work as a prop man on her film, The Little Princess. One night the director, Marshall Neilan, got a bit "tight" (Hawks' word for drunk) and was still suffering from a hang-over the next morning. Pickford was unhappy about not being able to shoot. Hawks suggested they make "a few scenes". Pickford asked if Hawks knew how do that. Hawks replied he did and they began shooting.

He joined the Army Air Service and went off to World War I. He had gotten his pilot's license a few years earlier when his grandfather, who over-indulged both Hawks and his younger brother, paid for lessons. He also bought the boys race cars. Hawks loved fast cars, planes and women, not necessarily always in that order.

And he loved the world of flying and the men (and women) who inhabited that world.

After the war, he returned to Los Angeles. He and his brother, Kenneth, shot aerial footage until a tragic accident claimed Kenneth's life. Hawks was hired by Paramount in 1922 as a producer. He found the stories and oversaw production and post production on over 40 films. Tired of producing, he quit and was hired by William Fox to work at Fox Studios.

He directed a small number of silents before the talkie revolution changed film making forever. Along with Ford, King Vidor, Wellman, Dwan and others, they had to prove to the studios that they could handle dialog scenes. The microphone was now the most important thing on the set, not the stars and not the director. The studios were adamant that the dialog be spoken slowly and properly lest the audience not be able to follow the story.

With the camera now forced into a refrigerator-like box (without the coolant), movies quickly became static. Hawks and his contemporaries sought ways to return motion back to movies while accommodating the new fangled sound equipment.

Hawks first talking was The Dawn Patrol, the story of a squadron of fliers during WWI and the risks they took. It was a successful film (remade in the 1930s by Edmund Goulding and starring Errol Flynn and David Niven). Hawks next film was Scarface, a thinly veiled story of Al Capone. There was not much money in the budget for a cast and Hawks found Paul Muni acting in a small, Jewish theater in New York. He'd seen George Raft at a prize fight. At the time, Raft was hanging with gangsters. He approached Ben Hecht about writing the screenplay. The movie turned out to be Hawks favorite.

He liked working with Ben Hecht and his partner, Charles MacArthur. He enjoyed the rapid-fire dialog they wrote. He also refused to work for any one studio. He had tried his hand at working at MGM but the experience was not a happy one. He decided early on that he would work independently for various studios.

He approached Hecht and MacArthur about making their hit play Twentieth Century into a movie. He knew he wanted Barrymore. He went up to Barrymore's estate. Barrymore said, "Mr. Hawks, just why do you think I would be any good in this story." Hawks replied, "It's the story of greatest ham in the world and God knows you fit that." Barrymore agreed to do the picture. Hawks hired Carole Lombard, his cousin, for the female lead. Hawks, Barrymore and Lombard were unhappy with Lombard's performance the first day of shooting. She was trying to hard. Hawks finally took her for a walk and they discussed the character. When they returned, Lombard was hitting on all cylinders.

He directed Come and Get It based on Edna Ferber's best selling novel. He hired the cast and shot most of the film before he was fired after an argument with Sam Goldwyn and replaced by William Wyler.

He went over to RKO and made Bringing Up Baby which many credit as the first screwball comedy. He enjoyed working with Cary Grant. Katharine Hepburn was a bit too arrogant for Hawks' taste when she first came on the picture. She talked back to him and his retort was not to her liking. She told him, "Howard, you can't talk that way to me. I've got a lot of friends here." Hawks looked up on the scaffolding at an electrician. He yelled up to him, "If you had your choice of dropping a lamp on Miss Hepburn or me, who would you drop it on?" The electrician replied, "Get out of the way." After that, Hepburn was not a problem on the set.

After Baby, he hired Hecht and McArthur and went to work on Gunga Din. RKO's new executive, Pandro Berman, though was less than impressed with the script. When Baby failed to connect with audiences (read, box office failure), Berman replaced Hawks with George Stevens.

Hawks had hardly time to care. He went to work on Only Angels Have Wings, a story about fliers down in South America. He filled the story with people he knew. When critics questioned his handling of Thomas Mitchell's character, Kid Dabb, Hawks replied that he had seen that happen. The characters that Richard Barthlemiss and Rita Hayworth played were based on a couple (he an injured pilot and she a beauty) that he knew personally.

He hit on the idea of His Girl Friday at a dinner party. Someone brought up the The Front Page and Hawks and another lady at the party began to read the play with the female guest reading the part of HIldy. Hawks realized it was even funnier with Hildy as a female reporter.

He loved working with Bogart. His wife, Nancy, had seen Lauren Bacall in a fashion magazine. Hawks thinking his secretary would find out information on Bacall, he asked her to find Bacall. The secretary, instead, called and told Bacall that Hawks wanted to see her. Hawks and his wife, Nancy, called each other Steve and Slim and that soon worked its way into the script. After To Have and Have Not came out, Hawks got a visit from Jean Arthur whom he worked with on Angels. He had tried to get Arthur to be more adventurous with her characterization in that film but Arthur had resisted every step of the way. She was calling to tell Hawks, "I saw To Have and Have Not. I wish I had done what you asked me me to do. If you ever make another picture with me, I'll promise to any anything you want to do. If a kid can come in and do that kind of stuff, I certainly can." To which Hawks replied, "I know you could."

He enjoyed working with Ernest Hemingway, Raymond Chandler and William Faulkner on his movies.

He gave John Wayne the chance to age in the film, Red River and in doing so showed Ford and everyone else what a good actor Wayne could be. Ford starting using Wayne in more complicated roles after that. Hawks claimed in later interviews that it wasn't John Ireland's interest in Joanna Dru that got him cut from so much of Red River as much as it was Ireland's drinking.

He enjoyed working with Wayne a great deal. After a brief hiatus following the The Land of the Pharoahs, Hawks returned to making movies with Rio Bravo. He had hired Leigh Brackett to co-write the script for The Big Sleep not knowing she was a woman. But she quickly proved to be a Hawksian woman and he had her write the script for Rio Bravo.

He wanted Elvis for the role of Colorado but the US military had other plans for the young singer. He wanted someone smaller than Wayne to play the role of Dude, the drunken deputy. Dean Martin's agent called asking Hawks to see the crooner. Hawks told the agent to have Martin at his office the next morning by nine. The agent replied it would have to be be later. When Martin arrived at 10:30 the next morning, Hawks asked why he couldn't be there earlier. Martin replied, "I was working in Vegas, had to do a late show (which typically got done about 2:30 in the morning) and hire an airplane to fly down here." Hawks was impressed enough to hire Martin. He sent him down to wardrobe. When Martin returned he looked like "a musical comedy cowboy." Hawks told him, "Dean, you know a little about drinking. You've seen a lot of drunks. I want a drunk." Martin returned in the torn shirt and jacket he wore for most of the film. Jack Warner, after watching dailies, asked Hawks when Dean Martin was going to show up. Hawks told him Martin was playing the drunken deputy.

Hawks career in the 1960s began to slow down. He and Wayne made a few more films together, Hatari and El Dorado, which is a remake of Rio Bravo.

He enjoyed being rediscovered by the young French critics and film makers as well as young American up and coming film makers like Peter Bogdanovich.

He visited John Ford when Pappy was ill in health and bedridden. Their conversation traveled over many subjects including how difficult it was to make a western without John Wayne. They spent awhile talking and walking down memory lane before Hawks left. But before he started his trip back to his home in Palm Springs, Hawks called Wayne down in Newport Beach and told him that he should go see Ford soon because Hawks didn't think the old man had much time left. Wayne chartered a helicopter and visited Ford the next day. Ford died shortly after that visit.

Hawks remade Rio Bravo one last time as Rio Lobo. He wasn't fond of the picture and thought Jennifer O'Neill, who he'd been forced to hire, was "a damn fool."

He was awarded an Academy Award for Lifetime Achievement in 1975. Ford had always told him he should have won the Oscar for Sgt. York. Instead, Ford had won that year for How Green was My Valley.

Howard Hawks passed away December 26th, 1977. Up until the end he was planning to make another film.

His career spanned a great deal of the history of American film. He worked in every genre- drama, comedy, musical and western and you know always knew "who the devil made it."

Quotes from Richard Schickel's Men Who Made the Movies, Joseph MacBride's Hawks on Hawks and Peter Bogdanovich's Who the Devil Made It.
Lynn in Lake Balboa

"Film is history. With every foot of film lost, we lose a link to our culture, to the world around us, to each other and to ourselves."

"For me, John Wayne has only become more impressive over time." Marty Scorsese

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feaito

Re: SSO Summer School- The Films and Style of Howard Hawks

Postby feaito » July 29th, 2009, 9:06 pm

I haven't seen either "Public Enemy" or "Scarface" recently and my memory fails me, but I've always thought they are the two best gangster films of the 1930s, very superior than Mervyn Le Roy's "Little Caesar" (1930). Both films have landmark, energetic, inspired performances by the respective leads, Cagney and Muni, both of whom came from the theatre.

They are both Pre-Codes and use cleverly the camera; not stilted or stodgy like other early talkies at all. Quite the contrary.

In both films women are treated like objects and both lead characters are cruel and sadistic towards them, although I think that Tom Powers is even more ruthless. But the female character that I remember more vividly is the doomed Cesca, fabulously played by Ann Dvorak.

Sadly both films' ending had to comply with censorship requirements as far as I recall -Gangsters couldn't be heroic or regarded as an example to follow. I seem to remember reading that the first choice for Tom Powers was Edward Woods and not Cagney.

The scene in which Cagney smashes a grapefruit on Mae Clarke's face must be one of the toughest scenes featuring the humiliation of a woman by a man.

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Re: SSO Summer School- The Films and Style of Howard Hawks

Postby myrnaloyisdope » July 30th, 2009, 11:59 pm

Sadly both films' ending had to comply with censorship requirements as far as I recall -Gangsters couldn't be heroic or regarded as an example to follow. I seem to remember reading that the first choice for Tom Powers was Edward Woods and not Cagney.


In regards to the endings, I think they are fine as is. I'm pretty comfortable with having gangsters die in shootouts or getting killed by other gangs. Having seen Alibi which reduces Chester Morris to a snivelling little baby who practically wets his pants when a copper pulls a gun on him, or the alternate Scarface ending where Paul Muni loses his gun and begs the cops not to shoot before meakly going to the gallows, the respective endings to Scarface and The Public Enemy seem perfectly plausible in relation to the plot. And don't get me started on Angels With Dirty Faces, what a terrible and misguided ending that one has. Cagney crying and screaming just doesn't work for me, his snitch routine really undermines the otherwise solid Doorway to Hell. He's not a man who projects weakness.

According to William Wellman, Edward Woods was indeed the lead, but after a day or two of filming, Wellman insisted that Cagney would make a better lead. Given his ragged energy and less than good looks, Cagney seems like he would have been perfectly suited to be a character and supporting actor. Raw, jangly and nervous types were simply not leading men. But Wellman saw differently, and thankfully it worked out.
"Do you think it's dangerous to have Busby Berkeley dreams?" - The Magnetic Fields

feaito

Re: SSO Summer School- The Films and Style of Howard Hawks

Postby feaito » July 31st, 2009, 5:14 pm

Hi Justin,

I haven't yet seen "Alibi" (1929) and I agree 100% in relation with "Angels with Dirty Faces" (1938). Concerning the endings, I was especially thinking about the ending forced upon by Censors in respect of "Scarface" (1932) where Muni turns yellow.

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Re: SSO Summer School- The Films and Style of Howard Hawks

Postby myrnaloyisdope » July 31st, 2009, 8:33 pm

Yes the ending is a bit tacked on, but I find it somewhat plausible. He becomes yellow when he's out of bullets, so at least there's a reason for his actions. Plus the sequence is fairly brief, and doesn't involve tears, or a clong copper monologue about how all gangster's are just snivelling rats. It's still not the ideal ending I don't think, but it doesn't ruin the movie, or even undermine it in my eyes.

The best ending I've seen for the gangster pictures of the era is The Beast of the City. It's shockingly violent and doesn't play the coward card.

As for Alibi, it's a pretty strong early talkie, with some interesting uses of sound, and solid direction by Roland West. Chester Morris is one of the early prototypes for the film gangster as he is tall, handsome, dashing, with a menace that makes him appealing. He is an anti-hero, but the film goes to ridiculous extremes to make undermine this sentiment. Plus the cops are remarkably crooked in the film, planting evidence and threatening detainees with violence in order to lure confessions. Plus they are all Irish stereotypes...total Micks.
"Do you think it's dangerous to have Busby Berkeley dreams?" - The Magnetic Fields


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