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SSO Summer School- The Films and Style of Howard Hawks

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feaito

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

Postby feaito » July 31st, 2009, 8:57 pm

I'll make a point of watching those two films soon!

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

Postby Lzcutter » August 4th, 2009, 12:07 pm

As noted earlier in the thread, Hawks loved rapid fire dialog, held no truck for the preferred enunciated dialog and was part of the group that quickly tried to get motion back into picture making. Hawks also preferred his dialog delivery as natural as possible with people stepping on each other's conversations because to him it sounded more realistic. It was the way people conversed. People rarely wait for someone to completely finish sentences, especially if they're friends.

I've not seen Hawks' version of The Dawn Patrol but I have seen Edmund Goulding's. There is plenty of dialog in the film and lots of it cheeky, especially between the two best friends.

I would not be surprised if Goulding's is very similar to Hawks' version. If The Crowd Roars is any indication, (along with Hawks's silents), I don't think Hawks' version of Dawn Patrol would have much enunciation, instead, I think he probably saw the chance to free the camera and the actors and took it.

According to Joseph McBride's Hawks on Hawks, "when Thalberg saw the picture, he said, "You son (profane words followed). Everybody will be trying to do that and they won't know how to do it and we'll get in more trouble." But Dawn Patrol was a big grossing film and Hawks, studio heads decided, must know how to do dialog.

Which is a good way to transition to this week's two films: Bringing Up Baby and His Girl Friday.

As I said, Hawks loved what he called "three cushion dialog", the kind of dialog that ricochets around the room. Two of the best at that kind of dialog were Ben Hecht and Charles MacArthur who were good friends of Hawks. He had adapted their hit play Twentieth Century with John Barrymore and Carole Lombard and had a hit.

Perhaps he was hoping for lightening to strike again with Baby. Today, Baby is considered a classic film and the example of screwball comedy. But Baby bombed at the box office and cost Hawks (and Hecht and MacArthur) the chance to do Gunga Din.

It was only after the film was done that Hawks realized that there was a fatal flaw with the film. What do you think that flaw is? Here I would prefer your honest reactions versus Googling. Could the flaw have been prevented or would it have compromised the film?

Let's start with the fatal flaw and as the week goes on, we'll add more about Baby and get into HGF as well as the comedic style of Howard Hawks.
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Re: SSO Summer School- The Films and Style of Howard Hawks

Postby myrnaloyisdope » August 4th, 2009, 5:21 pm

Well in regards to Bringing Up Baby, I know what the flaw is, having read enough about Hawks and his work. His realization was that everybody in the film was crazy, there's no normal person at all, and because of that people couldn't relate to all the loonies in the film. Cary Grant is the closest thing to a straight man in the film, but he gets to do a bunch of crazy stuff, like dig for bones, and wear lingerie. Hep is crazy, all the supporting characters are weirdos, quacks, and eccentrics, and so the viewer is required to kind of jump right in. I can see how all the lunacy might be somewhat off-putting, especially considering it never relents. Even the final payoff involves Hep holding on for dear life as the dinosaur collapses.

Contrast this with a film like My Man Godfrey, also screwball but infinitely more successful in its initial run. William Powell more or less plays it straight, while lunacy abounds, and although Carole Lombard and her family are eccentric, they are played more like characters from a melodrama, they progress in accordance with the flow of the story. I think this was probably more palatable for viewers, as it wasn't strictly madcap humor at a breakneck pace, but rather a love story unfolding with steady laughs.

Bringing Up Baby lacks that progression, so if you aren't laughing there isn't much to hang on to as a viewer. Thank goodness it's so damn funny.

It's either that or viewers in 1938 wouldn't know a good movie if it bit 'em in the ass...I mean Holiday was a dud that year too...Holiday.
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Re: SSO Summer School- The Films and Style of Howard Hawks

Postby movieman1957 » August 4th, 2009, 9:35 pm

That's the flaw? I think it is part of its charm. Who needs normal? Grant is the closest thing to normal out of the major players. He kind of offsets Hepburn's wild craziness. There are different levels of wild but with most of the characters being what they are anyone normal would seem to be in the way.

The fact that it is relentless with the one liners, some are subtle enough you could miss them, helps with keeping everyone at their level of crazy. It's just me but I don't see it as a flaw but I don't direct films.
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Re: SSO Summer School- The Films and Style of Howard Hawks

Postby myrnaloyisdope » August 4th, 2009, 10:10 pm

The film is a classic, and there's lots to love about it, but audiences and critics at the time didn't take to it at all.

So in Hawks' case, as a director first and an artist a distant second, it was most important for him to make pictures that audiences liked. In his mind a bomb was a bomb regardless of quality.

The critical reputation of Bringing Up Baby only recovered in the 1950's with the lauding of Hawks and his work by the Cahiers du cinema crowd. Up until then it wasn't really thought of at all.
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Re: SSO Summer School- The Films and Style of Howard Hawks

Postby mrsl » August 4th, 2009, 11:01 pm

If someone thought craziness was a flaw, he didn't have much of a sense of humor, it WAS a screwball comedy.
I didn't see any flaws in 'Baby' but with all the hi-jinks going on, I'm sure there are many which we would actually call bloopers. I preferred the chemistry between Cary and Roz, but maybe that's because of the speech pattern overlaps. I like 'Baby' for completely mindless comedy. When I'm in a good mood, and want to laugh, it's the perfect movie. With the death sentence looming over 'His Girl', the comedy is a little darker, but still Cary and Roz make you laugh. What I did not like in 'Baby' was the scene where the supposedly intelligent professor/big game hunter making all those ridiculous animal sounds, though I guess what was going on in the world at the time, needed foolish things to happen in films. Almost from the first scene 'Baby' is a nutsy film with one crazy thing following another in a non-stop pace that barely lets you get your breath back. 'His Girl' gives you a little more breathing space, although occasionally you find yourself holding your breath while trying to understand what Roz and Cary are saying. Somebody mentioned My Man Godfrey and the silliness of the family, that movie actually brings to my mind, The Man Who Came to Dinner. The thought of those people letting that so-and-so take over their house the way he did is ludicrous, and they met his challenges with the same doltishness that Godfrey's family did. But that is for another discussion.

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

Postby jdb1 » August 5th, 2009, 8:59 am

This "fatal flaw" thing has always puzzled me. I don't see every single character in BUB as crazy. What about the psychiatrist and his wife? And David's fiancee? And Susan's aunt? And Lawyer Peabody (a/k/a "Boopie")? I don't see Cary Grant's character as inherently crazy, either. On the contrary, he is a habitually passive man who, in the course of the story, gets his mojo back through association with Susan and her circle. It's not characters who are crazy here, it's the situations they find themselves in. But then, if the situations weren't crazy, it wouldn't be a screwball, would it?

For sheer and total craziness of characters, I refer you to Million Dollar Legs of 1933. There isn't one "normal" person in the entire movie. I wonder just how well-received this movie was in its day. It would probably have made a perfectly suitable episode for Monty Python's Flying Circus, or some other Dada-type comedy venue. Nowadays, movies like this one, and BUB seem completely acceptable to us. But I suppose in earlier times with more stringent behavior codes, things were looked upon differently.

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

Postby myrnaloyisdope » August 5th, 2009, 11:40 pm

I don't see every single character in BUB as crazy. What about the psychiatrist and his wife? And David's fiancee? And Susan's aunt? And Lawyer Peabody (a/k/a "Boopie")? I don't see Cary Grant's character as inherently crazy, either.


The psychiatriast is played as an over the top stereotype, David's fiancee is in the film for about 2 minutes and does nothing but be dowdy and unappealing, Susan's aunt is your standard wealthy dowager stock character, and Lawyer Peabody is as much a mcguffin as anything, he really doesn't do anything other than give Susan and David a chance to meet. None of these characters are meant for the audience to connect with, they are there for laughs, or for plot movement.

As for Cary Grant, yes he's not crazy, but in virtually every scene he's doing something absurd or foolish. He never gets the chance to stand up and be the true straight man or to rise above it all.

The film is pure breakneck lunacy without a sobering presence, and Hawks made the connection between that and the film's box office failure. I also think the antipathy towards Hepburn at the time played a part in the film's failure as well, I mean she was perceived by the public as eccentric and inaccessible, so having her reinforce those ideas somewhat in her role as Susan was bound to keep audiences away. It wasn't until she started to subvert her eccentricity and independence (by means of comeuppance at the hands of her male lead) that audiences started to connect with Hep en masse.

His Girl Friday moves at a similar pace, it's fast and furious, with jokes and one-liners, but Cary Grant and Rosiland Russell are far different from David and Susan. They are both implicitly aware of themselves and their surroundings. You get the sense they are in control of what's happening. They assail themselves upon the world, rather than being assailed upon.
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Re: SSO Summer School- The Films and Style of Howard Hawks

Postby jdb1 » August 6th, 2009, 8:22 am

I simply don't see Baby as pure, breakneck, lunacy. It all seems quite sedate and decorous to me, screwball situations notwithstanding. Certainly the tone of the movie is quite similar to anything W.C. Fields was putting out. Perhaps, as you say, the inclusion of those particular stars into the mix was what audiences had trouble accepting.

I suppose I'm in the minority here, but I can't stand HGF (nor can I take more than a few minutes at a time of The Front Page). That frantic pace is not amusing to me -- it's downright off-putting, and I think I have a pretty high tolerance for outrageous comedy. I don't find the script particularly funny, either. I don't feel the flow -- just about everyone seems to be trying much too hard. I think Grant and Russell are as artificial as stock characters in commedia dell'arte. The claim Russell made in her memoirs, that she and Grant were trying to one-up each other in quips and asides (so much so that Russell hired a writer to feed her material), is all too obvious. Nothing in this movie clicks for me, except maybe Ralph Bellamy's performance. If artificiality is the intended conceit, I don't buy it, and I don't like it. At least not in this particular movie. I find The Front Page even more ghastly and unpalatable. But maybe it's really Russell's pinstripe suit that puts me off. And that ugly hat.

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

Postby knitwit45 » August 6th, 2009, 12:34 pm

Eureka!!!!!

I suppose I'm in the minority here, but I can't stand HGF (nor can I take more than a few minutes at a time of The Front Page). That frantic pace is not amusing to me -- it's downright off-putting, and I think I have a pretty high tolerance for outrageous comedy. I don't find the script particularly funny, either. I don't feel the flow -- just about everyone seems to be trying much too hard. I think Grant and Russell are as artificial as stock characters in commedia dell'arte. The claim Russell made in her memoirs, that she and Grant were trying to one-up each other in quips and asides (so much so that Russell hired a writer to feed her material), is all too obvious. Nothing in this movie clicks for me, except maybe Ralph Bellamy's performance. If artificiality is the intended conceit, I don't buy it, and I don't like it. At least not in this particular movie. I find The Front Page even more ghastly and unpalatable. But maybe it's really Russell's pinstripe suit that puts me off. And that ugly hat.


HGF has always been like fingernails on a blackboard to me. I thought it was just me, because everyone else talks about the hilarity of the movie. About as funny as watching paint dry. Grant and Russell act as though they can barely tolerate each other, Grant seems to be looking down his beautiful nose at her, and she isn't having any part of him, either. And yes, Judith, that has to be one of the UGLIEST costumes ever conceived for a leading lady. Maybe it is supposed to convey that Hildy is clueless as a woman, or has no time for fashion sanity, and just throws on whatever falls out of the closet?????
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Re: SSO Summer School- The Films and Style of Howard Hawks

Postby jdb1 » August 6th, 2009, 1:40 pm

Yes, I agree. I feel plenty of star power from Grant and Russell, but zero chemistry. Contrast that pairing to Grant and Hepburn in Baby. It's like night and day.

I think that maybe Russell's getups were true to the situation and the time. It's only in the last 20 years or so that women in the business world stopped dressing like men. Before that, a woman had to look as unwomanly as possible to be taken seriously. Otherwise, the men around her might think she was some kind of lesbian or prostitute or something because she wanted to be in charge. [Sarcasm]

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

Postby myrnaloyisdope » August 7th, 2009, 1:00 am

Well I adore HGF, but I definitely sympathize with the complaints...if you don't find it funny early on...there's no hope for ya. I'd compare it to Billy Wilder's One, Two, Three...which despite my digging upon first viewing, I found abrasive and annoying on second viewing. It's all rapid fire jokes and gags, and if you don't laugh there's nothing to grasp hold to. Cagney does his best to keep it bearable, but man it wears on me by the end.

But with either film there isn't much middle ground, given the pace that the jokes come at. There's no slowing down, so a viewer has to either grasp and like the story very quickly or pretty much hate the film.
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Re: SSO Summer School- The Films and Style of Howard Hawks

Postby knitwit45 » August 7th, 2009, 6:55 am

I "grasped" the story....but instead of seeing it as funny, I see it as abrasive. There is no warmth or chemistry between any of the actors, it's like someone handed out scripts, held a starting pistol up in the air and yelled ONE TWO GO!!!!!!!. With BUB, there is an underlying attraction to, and mutual respect of, Grant and Hepburn. There seems to be a joy to life that shines thru the entire movie.
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The way we cope with it, is what makes the difference." ~ Virginia Satir
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Re: SSO Summer School- The Films and Style of Howard Hawks

Postby feaito » August 7th, 2009, 9:33 am

BUB and HGF are both films that I saw when I was very young and like Cukor's The Philadelphia Story are among my perennial favorite Classic Comedies, especially because Kate Hepburn and Cary Grant have been for very ong my favorite actors and stars.

I must admit that I agree with several things that have been written on this thread. If I'd have to choose between both films I'd go with BUB's sheer lunacy. As pure entertainment, zaniness and for laughs, it beats HGF which I feel may be formally or academically more perfect, perhaps, but colder at the same time, oddly enough.

HGF's appeal to me lies in Grant's and Russell's respectives tour-de-force and in the incredibly fast-paced dialogue, which I didn't listen the first times I saw the fim, since I watched a dubbed version in Spanish. Dubbing films like HGF is an impossible, unsuccessful, doomed task. When I watched the film in English for the first time in my University days, it wasn't always easy to capture everything, because I'm not a native speaker. The overlapping dialogue and frantic pace really left me exhausted, but it was at the same time fascinating to witness this duel of wits between Grant and Russell. From a sociological, historical, academic and cinematic point of view, HGFis a must-see. Obviously it is not everybody's cup of tea, since some viewers will feel overwhelmed by the non-stop dialogue and its frantic pace. My wife for one did not enjoy it when she saw it with me and felt dizzy because of its dialogue. The excess of dialogue does not detract from my enjoyment of a film.

BUB maybe flawed for some critics in some aspects from an academic viewpoint, but it has more heart -IMO- and it flows more naturally, more leisurely and gamely. HGF may be smarter and have more brains in its construction, but BUB is more endearing and warmer. Here heart beats brain and BUB is my favorite among the two.

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

Postby Lzcutter » August 11th, 2009, 11:12 pm

Hey Class,

Sorry, my real life intruded (as it often does) but I am back home and back to class. I'd like to finish the conversation on Baby and His Girl Friday before continuing on. Hope that's okay!

You guys had some wonderful essays on *Baby* and I loved how you defended yourselves against Hawks' fatal flaw. Everyone should be proud, especially those who jumped into the deep end of the conversation.

As for His Girl Friday, the film radiates with three cushion dialog, overlapped dialog (which Hawks loved) and rapid fire delivery (which he loved Hecht and MacArthur for).

Which film is more structurally sound? Are the characters in Friday any more believable (and WHY) than in Baby?
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