A botch job by Sam Goldwyn, who exercised his power as producer by changing directors—from Howard Hawks to William Wyler—halfway through the shooting. Some sources hold that Wyler shot only the last ten minutes, working from Hawks’s script; others claim that Wyler reshot much of Hawks’s work. But the first part of the film, the best, is unmistakably Hawks, as Edward Arnold and Walter Brennan (in an early part, his first Academy Award performance) fight for the hand of Frances Farmer, against the background of the north-woods logging country. The Edna Ferber story (like her Giant) then shifts generations, and the action loses much of its scale. Farmer remains a wonder, in one of her few fully realized parts as an early and lusty version of the Hawksian woman (1936).
A wide-open San Francisco, circa 1890, is the background for one of Howard Hawks‘s intelligent love triangles: Miriam Hopkins is a mail-order bride whose husband-to-be is killed on the night of her arrival; gambler Edward G. Robinson offers her protection, drifter Joel McCrea offers her solace. A boisterous film with a serious undertone provided by Hawks’s preoccupation with the moral compromise necessary for survival. Ben Hecht and Charles MacArthur scripted (1935).
The story of a bomber and its crew, buffeted through most of the major battles of the first weeks of the Pacific war. In this 1943 propaganda film, Howard Hawks finds a perfect vehicle for his study of the male group. William Faulkner polished the dialogue, but as a silent it would still be tremendously exciting and evocative. Recommended. 124 min.
An audacious, skillful film noir (1978) by Walter Hill, so highly stylized that it’s guaranteed to alienate 90 percent of its audience. There’s no realism, no psychology, and very little plot in Hill’s story of a deadly game between a professional getaway driver (Ryan O’Neal) and a detective obsessed with catching him (Bruce Dern). There is, however, a great deal of technically sophisticated and very imaginative filmmaking. The cross-references here are Howard Hawks, Robert Bresson, and Jean-Pierre Melville: a strange, heady, and quite effective range of influences. With Isabelle Adjani, Ronee Blakley, and Matt Clark. 90 min.
A good example of the kind of soporific nonsense that won rave reviews and armloads of Academy Awards back in the 50s, while the finest work of Ford, Hawks, and Hitchcock was being ignored. George Stevens, a tireless moralizer and part-time embalmer of American myths (Shane), directed this melodramatic adaptation of Dreiser‘s An American Tragedy, and what does not seem facile in it seems overwrought. Curiously, this 1951 film now seems hopelessly dated, while Josef von Sternberg‘s 1931 treatment of the material, filmed under the original title, seems breathtakingly modern. With Montgomery Clift, Elizabeth Taylor, and Shelley Winters.
Though it’s almost impossible, try to sit back sometime and enjoy this 1938 Howard Hawks masterpiece not only for its gags, but for the grace of its construction, the assurance of its style, and the richness of its themes. Cary Grant’s adventures with Katherine Hepburn lead from day into night, tameness into wildness, order into chaos; needless to say, it’s a deeply pessimistic film, though it draws its grim conclusions in a searingly bright and chipper way. Amazingly, the film was a failure when first released (during Hepburn’s “box-office poison” period), but time has revealed its brilliance, as well as the apparent impossibility of its like ever being seen again (What’s Up, Doc? notwithstanding). With May Robson, Charlie Ruggles, and Barry Fitzgerald. 102 min.