Monday, April 14, 2008

Find of the Week:

Howard Hawks (1896 - 1977)

While at the library last week, I picked up a copy of one of the American Film Institute’s 100 Greatest American Films, Bringing Up Baby, starring Katharine Hepburn and Cary Grant , and was happy to discover a bonus documentary entitled, “The Men Who Made the Movies: Howard Hawks.” The film was based upon the book, The Men Who Made the Movies by Richard Schickel. It features film clips and interviews with the director and is narrated by director Sydney Pollack.

For years I’d admired Hawks’ flair for writing smart, rapid-fire dialogue that keeps audiences tuned into the story. Hawks said his trick to this was adding a few extraneous words to the beginnings and endings of characters’ sentences so that characters talk over each other while still communicating everything the audience needs to hear. This was demonstrated superbly in his film, His Girl Friday, also starring Cary Grant.

Bringing Up Baby, a film ahead of its time, was not successful during its initial release. It features a lot of double entendre, another one of Hawks’ trademarks, and also noted prominently in His Girl Friday.

Hawks said his preference in making a film was for scene over logic. He focused on the scene first, making sure that he liked everything presented in it, then worried about the logic. He noted the 1946 film, The Big Sleep, a Raymond Chandler novel adapted into screenplay format by William Faulkner, and how when actor Humphrey Bogart asked him about a particular killer in the film, they discovered that the killer Hawks had in mind was already dead at the time of the murder. While I don’t advocate logical inconsistencies in screenplays, his emphasis on satisfaction of each scene of the film is noteworthy since his films are still popular.

Hawks also noted that if he liked a character, he could make his audience like a character. He drafted the screentest scene for Lauren Bacall in To Have and Have Not, her first film. This included the memorable lines,

“You know how to whistle, don’t you, Steve? You just put your lips together and blow.”

He said that the scene didn’t really have anything to do with moving the story forward, but the studio executives liked it so much, they insisted that he work it into the film.

Hawks directed over seventy films. Others include: The Dawn Patrol, Scarface, Twentieth Century, Sergeant York, I Was a Male War Bride, The Philadephia Story, Monkey Business and Rio Lobo.


Blogger Melissa Marsh said...

He had such GREAT movies. Another Golden Era legend!

10:08 AM  

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