I’ve expressed this sentiment elsewhere in forums but it deserves its own. I’ve yet to see a Hawks film that has struck me as a stand-out. I’m not saying their bad. I’m saying they’re each slightly above average genre films. TWENTIETH CENTURY, BRINGING UP BABY, HIS GIRL FRIDAY; none of these, to me, are examples of the best comedy that Hollywood was producing at the time, or has produced since. TO HAVE AND HAVE NOT and THE BIG SLEEP are nowhere near the quality of the best noir of the period (Siodmak and Mann). Perhaps only his westerns come closest to being real, lasting achievements (though they pale compared to those of Ford, Boetticher, and, again, Mann). Anybody else here feel that Hawks has been getting a free ride critically?
Not really. I always preferred him over John Ford. Red River and Bringing Up Baby are 2 of my favorite films. Although I think Rio Bravo is overrated. Never much cared for it. Dean Martin never looked right in a western.
Haven’t seen enough films to really say, but so far he has earned his reputation with me. Especially with SCARFACE.
I’d say that TWENTIETH CENTURY, BRINGING UP BABY and HIS GIRL FRIDAY are examples of the best comedy that has ever been produced, anywhere anytime. And ONLY ANGELS HAVE WINGS is a damn fine film by any standard. And THE THING is one of the better and more interesting horror movies around. SCARFACE is a lot of good mean fun.
Not every film he made is a masterpiece. I’ve never been able to get through RED RIVER from start to finish, and have never really seen what all the fuss over RIO BRAVO is about, except for Dean Martin’s brilliant performance.
On the whole, though, nope. I’d say he’s not overrated.
As with many things cinematic, it took time and the French for we Americans to stop underrating our brilliantly native Hawks. The fact is that so many of the movies cited are in totally different genres yet are tied together by, among other things, his gender dynamics and love of professionalism. Versatility and consistency go a long way. Even if he cannot stand exactly toe to toe with Lubitsch and Sturges in comedy, Ford and Boetticher in Westerns, Siodmak and Mann in noir (all debatable propositions, by the way), he stands just barely behind them in every category, not to mention action (Only Angels Have Wings), gangster (Scarface), musical (Gentlemen Prefer Blondes), sci-fi (The Thing…), and epic (Land of the Pharaohs).
Over-rated? Partly because of his less-than-flashy visual style, I think he tends to be under-rated. But while he may not have produced the best examples of each genre he worked it, he stamped each one with his own personality.HIS GIRL FRIDAY is not merely a screwball comedy, it is identifiably a Howard Hawks film. And I defy you to name one other Hollwood director who could move so fluidly and confidently through so many genres as Hawks did and turn out even competent films.
He made qualitiy films in many genres and pummeled them out for fourty years. You rarely find someone so versatile and still as successful in every endeavor as he. How can anyone who did that be overatted? I find “Land of the Pharaohs” excellence to far exceed other films of its type still today. He made that movie with pure talent not CGI effects.
Hawks is my favorite director. But none of his films – even my fave, Rio Bravo – really “blows me away”, like, say, Citizen Kane or Breathless or F for Fake. Rather, what I value in Hawks is the way he creates these very natural-feeling rhythms, both in terms of his images and of the way he directs performers. I’d agree with Harry that he’s probably underrated, because his style is so low-key.
>>I find “Land of the Pharaohs” excellence to far exceed other films of its type still today.<<
Well, that’s two of us.
Few people are all that taken with this film, but it feels more real to me than any other epic of its day. In other Biblical epics one has the sense that the rich live in total splendor, but here even that splendor is quite simple and stark.
And besides, any movie that buries Joan Collins alive can’t be all bad.
>>what I value in Hawks is the way he creates these very natural-feeling rhythms, both in terms of his images and of the way he directs performers<<
He made a statement some where about deliberately keeping his camera at eye-level. That lack of tricky camerawork alone probably disqualifies him in many people’s eyes.
I’ll admit I cannot actively contribute to this discussion because of two nagging questions. First, who is “overrating” Hawks?—and as a subset, what does it mean to be “overrated”? The second is fundamental: Why this insistence on setting films and filmmakers in competition with/against each other? I find it impossible to name a “favorite” anything in film, let alone define “excellence” as a universally understood quantity we can set any film against.
In short: Can’t we just discuss, say, “Bringing Up Baby” simply for what it is, namely “Bringing Up Baby”—rather than a point along a continuum?
Howard Hawks is not someone I’d consider over-rated—although with that said, David Thomson is one critic who’s used Hawks very unfairly as a means to expose what he feels to be John Ford’s inadequacies. Ultimately, though, that’s a case of apples and oranges; the aims and character of those two men are worlds apart—whether they were working in the same genre or not.
Except that he preceeded him by many decades, you could alomst say that Hawks is an Anti-Tarantino; everything he did in terms of style and technique was well defined but understated, and applied soley towards the purpose of establishing character. (Which is what makes it so funny to me to learn that QT is such a fan of Hawks.)
Among Hollywood’s stable of American-born directors, he was easilly one of the most intellectually sophisticated, and quite capable of speaking on equal terms to writers of the caliber of both Faulkner and Hemingway. (Myself, I’d piss my pants it the presence of either, although I’d take comfort in knowing that both drank far too much to be able to notice.) Despite this, he had no problem making films that spoke to a popular audience as well as more demanding viewers. That is VERY not easy to do, and the mark of genuine craft.
I think that what happens is that, devotees of a particular director, (and in this instance, it’s Hawks) overcompensate in their attempts to establish their faves against others more prominent in the limelight. This ends up compounding the problem. With Hawks, I’d have to say that he’s someone I admire more than I love….BUT, for anyone with a well-developed critical eye, I don’t see how it’d be possible to over-state the importance and quality of the work he did in film—especially as regards the comedy. Loving him or leaving him is the choice anyone is free to make, but he’s one of the imortals, no matter how you slice it.
Mr. Marasa: you are dead on.
But I will join the friends of Howard and venture a quiet comment. Hawks made some fine films over a remarkably extended career. Most of them have been mentioned here.
I was 6 or 7 in the late-40s when I went to the Saturday matinee to see SERGEANT YORK. Made in 1941, before we were in the war, it was no doubt a piece subtle propaganda. Then of course I didn’t know a Hawks from a handsaw. And I haven’t seen the film since, and would never attempt a critical comment on it, but I can almost play it straight through in my mind’s eye to this very day. A few years later I was utterly terrified in a dark theater with THE THING FROM ANOTHER WORLD. Christian Nyby had the director’s credit for this, Hawks a producer. But then years later we are told that this movie was beyond the skills of Mr. Nyby, that we should count this one as another Hawks.
Last year, with a small group of friends, we were watching a batch of Billy Wilder’s stuff, and one week someone brought us BALL OF FIRE (for its Wilder screenplay). Here was “Sergeant York” again, silent Cooper, maybe somewhat miscast as the head nutty professor. But Stanwyck (Sugarpuss O’Shea) was stellar. It was a lot of fun.
Howard Hawks did a little of everything, and it all added up to quite a lot.
“the big sleep” is a perfect film to me. it’s the definition of a masterwork: endlessly repeatable and endlessly enjoyable. and its one of the films that set the prorotype for noir.
as much as i love it, i’m ashamed to say that i haven’t seen a majority of hawks’ work. only this and “scarface” actually. and to be more honest, i actually feel that “scarface” may be a bit overrated. it’s a great film, no doubt. but i dont see it as one of the towering masterworks of classical hollywood cinema that others do. maybe i’m missing something. i’d love for someone to dig into the important aesthetic aspects of the film, if they care to.
Rich Uncle —
Bravo to ADAM K for best addressing your position.
Hawks was setting the standard in all of these genre, and simply letting all others rise above or fall below.
Bobby Wise, I agree, “The Big Sleep” by itself precludes him from being vastly overrated, Top notch Noir, one of the best ever made. That and “Rio Bravo”, which just gets better with each viewing (some may disagree) btw, Angie Dickinson used to be frickin HOT!, I mean really hot! “Red River” which I think is one of the best westerns ever made, amazing cattle drive and stampede scenes, along with John Wayne playing somewhat of a villain, and even the hokey “Sergeant York” was a very fine film. Add those to the others mentioned here, and some that were not, and you have quite a body of work. Remember, the question was ‘is he vastly overrated?’ Absolutely not.
hard to overrate someone with that extensive and polished and influential a body of work. especially someone who’s practically a founding father of hollywood cinema. it’s like saying chaplin is overrated, or someone like hitchcock. you really have to put hawks on that level when you think about it. almost an untouchable, irreproachable level.
I think Nicholas Ray was a more original talent from the Golden Age, but I also like a lot of Hawks. As some people have mentioned, Only Angels Have Wings is a perfect film. So is Gentlemen Prefer Blondes. And there’s a surreal element to The Big Sleep that puts it many notches of sophistication higher than, say, John Huston’s The Maltese Falcon. The Big Sleep has moments that vaguely predict David Lynch. Funny thing is, Hawks would probably be the first to agree that the critics have seized on him like a dog with a chew toy. He was another worker, paid by the week, with the intention of giving the studio its money’s worth by making his films as entertaining as possible. But like Sirk and Ray, Hawks is mainly lauded today because of what he was able to smuggle into genre pictures, a kind of subversiveness between the lines. With Sirk it was social hypocrisy, with Ray it was the mental illness underlying modern life, and with Hawks it was probably the championing of the independent, the guy or gal who goes his or her own way. Whether or not that subversion is really there, or just a projection of critics’ egos, I guess depends on how highfalutin’ you want to get. I have read detailed Freudian analyses of Bringing Up Baby that make it sound more like psychodrama than screwball comedy.
what are the surreal elements in “the big sleep”? i’m curious.
and nick ray wasn’t really part of the hollywood golden age, which i consider to be the classical period (early sound period to the end of the studio system). he started his career at the edge of the classical studio system. to me, he’s more of a post-classical hollywood director. but he’s definitely on the borderline. like sam fuller.
Bobby, it’s not surrealism like Bunuel and Dali. But for me, there are numerous points. The way the exterior of the house where Bogart finds the stoned girl looks more like a film set than an actual location. The way Bacall turns up at the roadhouse, seemingly a place too declasse for her, but she’s right at home, singing a cheerful song about a wifebeater which is a clue to some of the darker aspects of the plot. The whole orchid jungle. The use of doubling: two sisters; two bookstores. I’d have to go through it scene by scene to come up with more examples, but it’s not a big step from the chemistry of The Big Sleep to those closeups Lynch loves of matches lighting cigarettes. In my opinion.
interesting. i see what you’re getting at. i’ve always loved geiger’s house in that movie. it does look very self-reflexively like a movie set. there’s something very iconic about it too. for reasons i can’t fully explain, its always been one of my favorite film sets/locations.
and the song that bacall sings is also one of my favorite parts of the film. there’s a long tradition of the femme fatale singing songs in classic noir, and this is one of the best of those scenes (as you mentioned, its a very noirish song too). but i can’t quite connect these elements to a surreal feel. i want to say another name for it. something like, so abstract that it becomes concrete. the opposite of surreal/dreamlike. but not mundane. its hard to explain. “the big sleep” is full of these moments. this is what makes it such a strong film. its totally unique for classic film noir.
“Chandler’s the perfect novelist for our times . . . He takes us into a different world, a world that’s like ours, but isn’t.” – Carolyn See. from the inside cover of “The Simple Art Of Murder”. Maybe that’s what HH was shooting for. That’s as close as I can get to explaining it for now. I love RC and I love HH and THE BIG SLEEP!
Bobby, you have a point that “surreal” may not be the right word. Or it might be my own private interpretation of surreal. Hyper-real is a word I’ve heard used to describe certain kinds of art that mix reality and artifice.
but hyperreal is also wrong. to me, that implies a speeding up of reality somehow. formally, it implies a technological approach.
if chandler takes us into a different world, a world that’s like ours, but isnt, the question remains. how is it not like our world? it’s not simply a dark, noirish world where violence and catastrophe reign supreme. at least, it isn’t in “the big sleep”. is it not like our world because appearances are deceiving (bacall singing in the gambling joint, the geiger house)? that doesnt quite hit it for me. but this “it” is what makes the film so special.
well, you have a hero in Bogart who keeps getting tested. And who must keep responding in resourceful ways. This is a theme of great myths immemorial — Hercules, The Magic Flute. So it taps into that anxiety of can-he or can’t-he. Love is his enemy because he can’t really trust Bacall. It’s only when he’s been knocked out and tied up toward the end that we really see them on the same level. She can afford to sit on the floor with him and reveal all the secrets of the mystery. I’m kind of thinking out loud here, so some of this might not make sense. And thanks for providing the name Geiger, I couldn’t come up with it and it’s such a great name, cashing in on postwar anti-Germanism and also suggesting the geiger counter that points to things that are hidden. Yes, that scene of waiting outside Geiger’s house and then going in when it’s almost “too late” moves exactly like a dream: it’s Bogart’s descent into the inferno. Oh, another favorite moment is the snappy dialogue when Bogart and Bacall prank-call the police station, bending family relations with the first sparks of sexual attraction. Any way you want to look at it, The Big Sleep was decades ahead of its time.
all the names in the film are great. geiger. joe brody. eddie mars. carol lundgren. canino. sean regan. art huck. doghouse riley.
and can’t forget agnes lozier!
I couldn’t hear the laugh but the hole in her face when she unzippered her teeth was all I needed.-The Long Goodbye
He sighed. His eyebrows waved gently, like the antennae of some suspicious insect.-The Long Goodbye
On the dance floor half a dozen couples were throwing themselves around with the reckless abandon of a night watchman with arthritis.
“She’s dark and lovely and passionate. And very, very kind.”
“And as exclusive as a mailbox,” I said.-The Little Sister
“Tall, aren’t you?” she said.
“I don’t mean to be.”
Her eyes rounded. She was puzzled. She was thinking. I could see, even on that short acquaintance, that thinking was always going to be a brother to her.-The Big Sleep
An hour crawled by like a sick cockroach.-The Long Goodbye
The eyelids came down again, very gradually, like a slow curtain in the theater.-The Long Goodbye
“I put the duster away folded with the dust in it. I leaned back and just sat, not smoking, not even thinking. I was a blank man. I had no face, no meaning, no personality, hardly a name. I didn’t want to eat. I didn’t even want a drink. I was the page from yesterday’s calender crumpled at the bottom of the wastebasket.”-The Little Sister
The big foreign car drove itself, but I held the wheel for the sake of appearances.-Farewell My Lovely
I’m an occasional drinker, the kind of guy who goes out for a beer and wakes up in Singapore with a full beard.-The King In Yellow
She smelled the way the Taj Mahal looks by moonlight.-The Little Sister
The minutes went by on top toe with their fingers to their lips.-The Lady In The Lake
Bobby and Justin, I don’t think that you are going to be able to define “it”. “It” is how Raymond Chandler viewed the world in which he lived and how masterfully he described that world for his readers and how effectively he projected that into his characters. And I think that Howard Hawks came as close as one possibly could to capturing that world visually. I don’t think that it can be defined.
so you think “the big sleep” is the definitive adaptation of a chandler work?
I’ve never seen “The Long Goodbye” (1973). I had a hard time accepting a Chandler adaptation in anything other than black and white. Kind of silly I know, but I can’t imagine that it could be better than “The Big Sleep”. So, yeah, for me it’s THE ONLY Chandler adaptation. I once asked my doctor how difficult it would be to have the color removed from my vision, but I don’t think he took me seriously. I may seek a second opinion.
Good point, Soybean.