Howard Hawks: 45 years since the death of Hollywood’s most important “unknown” director

Howard Hawks: 45 years since the death of Hollywood’s most important “unknown” director

Howard Hawks is one of the few great directors who has entered and excelled in almost all film genres

One of the most important directors of American cinema, Howard Winchester Hawkespopularly known as Howard Hawks, he remains relatively unknown to the general public, even though he has enormous successes to his credit, creations that remain unchanged over time, adored by true film lovers, compasses for great filmmakers.

Entering the film set as a child – he would shoot his first silent film at the age of just 21 – Hawks would understand and put into practice two of the most important principles of cinema: First, the greatness of simplicity and the austere and unnecessary narrative, something in which he surpassed even the terrible, mega-master, John Fordeschewing fancy techniques, special lenses, elaborate camera setups, and secondly, he made it a point to sacrifice the director for the sake of the film and its effectiveness.

Howard Hawks is one of the few great directors who entered and excelled in almost every film genre, from witty comedies and dramas to film noir, war and westerns, while at the same time highlighting his actors, giving them all the cream of the crop. However, where he gives his change is in decoupage, i.e. in the succession of shots, for the narration of a scene. His shots fit together so harmoniously and have the necessary nerve, like the body of a top dancer, without unnecessary fat and flourishes that may glorify the director, but undermine the overall work. Moreover, his narrative flows with an unprecedented naturalness, like a pristine stream, with gurgling cool water. He says it more simply: “My job is to tell stories in motion. So I set them in motion.” Yes, so simple, yet so demanding.

On the occasion of the 45th anniversary of his death (he died on December 26, 1977) it is an opportunity to remember unknown elements of his life and character, to unravel the celluloid of his long career and the reasons why he influenced world cinema.

To riches

Howard Winchester Hawks was born on May 30, 1896 in Goshen, Indiana. He was the first child of a wealthy paper manufacturer and his mother was the daughter of a wealthy industrialist. He was a child who grew up in wealth, who in the cold winters moved with his family to Pasadena, California, where they lived forever from 1910. From 1912 he began to pilot airplanes, while in 1913 he was sent to Phillips Exeter Academy in New Hampshire, a college only for the rich. In 1914 he will win the US tennis championship, then he will be accepted at Cornell University in New York, where he studied mechanical engineering, while he also “distinguished himself” in the restless student life, spending most of his time drinking and playing dice. He served in World War I as a lieutenant in the air force, and in 1917 he returned to Hollywood, where he did auxiliary work and worked alongside Cecil de Mille.

Speed ​​and Pickford

His passion for aviation will push him to make important acquaintances, such as the director Victor Fleming, who also had a craze for fast cars. Hawks will start competing in races, and several years later, “making” his own racing car, he will win the Indianapolis race. At the same time, his friendships will lead him even deeper into Hollywood, to make his first film at the age of 21, starring the diva of the time Mary Pickford.

The “honorary” Oscar

That’s it. Hawkes will begin a long career in the cinema, making dozens of films, which never fell into mediocrity, while there were not a few that would be characterized as simply flawless or even masterpieces. However, Hawks will never win it Oscar directing and will only receive an honorary Oscar, for his contribution to cinema, two years before he died. After all, it is not the first case of a director, that the American Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences will show small-minded and inadequate to judge the genius talent of a director. The examples are many, from Charlie Chaplin and Orson Wellesuntil Hitchcock and Stanley Kubrick

Comedies, westerns and noirs

His movies to be remembered are so many that they would hardly fit in a book. Also, except for William Wyler and Stanley Kubrick, was the one who so successfully and ingeniously navigated all film genres. But where he excelled is mainly in screwball (witty) comedy, film noir and westerns. Just some of the films that every true cinephile must have seen are:

In comedy, with the sparkling dialogues, the imaginative romance, the ingenious structure, films like “I’m Remarrying My Wife” stand out, with Cary Grant and Rosalyn Russell“The Woman with the Leopard”, with Cary Grant and Katherine Hepburn“Barnabas, Edwina, Maimu and Bogomolets” with Grant and Ginger Rogers“The Bride Was Male” with Anne Sheridan and him again Cary Grant, which Hawkes held in high esteem. Also, of the same class are the comedies “The Professor and the Naked Dancer” with Gary Cooperthe Barbara Stanwyck and a host of unforgettable character actors, as well as the hit musical comedy “Men Prefer Blondes” with Marilyn Monroe and Jane Russell.

Although in the western, his dominance John Ford was indisputable, the crafty Howard Hawks would make some of the best films of the genre. First of all, the unforgettable and incredibly charming “Rio Bravo” with John Wayne, Dean Martin, Walter Brennan and revelation Angie Dickinson and the masterpiece and deeply studied in the psychology of the heroes, the confrontation between father and child, old and new, “Red River”, with John Wayne, Walter Brennan and its emergence Montgomery Clift. Also, the remake of “Rio Bravo” and almost equal “El Dorado” again with John Wayne, but this time with next to him Robert Mitcham and the young man James Kahnthe romantic “River of No Return,” with Robert Mitcham and Marilyn Monroebut also “Big Sky” and “Rio Lobo”, which he did not like, but remained classics.

He will shoot perhaps the best film noir of all time “Big Sleep” (“Passion and Blood”) with the amazing Humphrey Bogard and Lorin Bacall, in a script by Brackett and Faulkner, who adapt Chandler, while the same leading couple will enchant us in “The Siren of Martinique”. He will also direct the classic gangster film “The Marked One” with Paul Muni, the historical “Land of the Pharaohs”, the science fiction film “Thing from the Other World”, which would become an inspiration for John Carpenter in the famous “Menace” his, as well as the dramatic “Sergeant York”, with which he was nominated for an Oscar for the first and only time.

Special occasion

Howard Hawks, who would marry three times and have four children, was a special case. An incurable Republican, without, however, having addictions and many ties to politics, he adored John Wayne – claiming “how can anyone stand in the same shot with him?” and he considered the young people of that time, Steve McQueen and Clint Eastwood, somewhat “feminine”! At the same time, however, he almost always reserved, in his films, a particularly genius and important role for the woman. He could also be described as a pioneering feminist! This was Howard Hawks, the director who could do it all and complement John Ford decisively in the cinema alphabet.

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