Fig Leaves

“Ever since you ate that apple you’ve had the gimmies—“

Married life in a bygone age, milady’s wardrobe, the earliest alarm clock, etc. The 8:15 is drawn by a triceratops, Eve chews the fat with the snake, and “Eight Hundred and Ninety Six or Seven Million Years” go by.

The snake, “really another Woman.” Its byword is “men are so stupid!”

Thus by degrees and a traffic accident to the House of André, Jacques Becker’s Falbalas and William Klein’s Qui êtes-vous, Polly Maggoo? and Ken Russell’s Crimes of Passion and Robert Altman’s Ready to Wear. That much is self-evident, if not Man’s Favorite Sport? by way of Bringing Up Baby.

Hitchcock directed Roald Dahl’s variant “Mrs. Bixby and the Colonel’s Coat” for Alfred Hitchcock Presents.

“My wife hasn’t spoken to me for a week.”


The Technicolor showing of the line is magnificent in monochrome and cannot be seen otherwise at present, by report, “priceless gifts to glorious womanhood!” The very birth of His Girl Friday in that hat, the damnedest director of them all.

George Roy Hill’s The World of Henry Orient has the returning “SPRING!”

Bruised at her heel, she treads the snake underfoot at last.


Paid to Love

Poor little kingdom of San Savona, on the Mediterranean. “Here’s a real American dollar. Go buy yourself a title.”

A Stroheim (The Merry Widow, say) by Hawks. Malcolm Stuart Boylan, titles.

Risky business, a Crown Prince who prefers automobiles to marriage, might prove unpopular. “He wouldn’t look at a woman unless she had eight cylinders and a carburetor!” He needs a “female alarm clock,” the king has tried. “Bosh,” the American replies, “I have seen women in Paris who could make a mummy leave his pyramid!”

“Paris! Can I go with you?”

The Apaches scare the pants off tourists in Montmartre, even Nebraskans, even Iowans, King Leopold III and the American financier think they’ve seen Dolores kill a man, “one must eat.”

The body and the mystery clear themselves away almost at once, she’s hired.

Leonard Maltin, “a bit off balance.”

Hal Erickson (Rovi) reports that “it is often reported that Howard Hawks tried and failed to crate an ‘art’ film... in fact a very conventional-looking film.” This is like the novel Reg is publishing, the hero sticks his sword in various men and his cock in various ladies, a financial success, not critical. Perhaps if he went about it the other way round you’d have both, Butley offers helpfully.

She arrives unconscious, wet and muddy. Griffith has a variant, Lady of the Pavements, the theme is also found in Lubitsch (Rosita) and elsewhere, variously (Shaw has it in Cukor’s My Fair Lady), the angle here is highly acute. “An apartment, furnished with American money and foreign intrigue.” Beauty is one of its attributes, an intensely beautiful film, a real beauty. “Just a list of his peculiarities. Thought it might help you. Goodbye—and good luck.”

These outlines are significantly evoked by Capra in The Bitter Tea of General Yen.

“P.S. Don’t frighten him”. The complication that Maltin complains of is most brilliant and sets up Cukor’s Two-Faced Woman, even Frankenheimer’s All Fall Down.

In short, a masterpiece (the two old coots go into Trading Places, dir. John Landis). Again, as in Fig Leaves, Ken Russell divines the major analysis (Crimes of Passion).

“The King and I would like all the details.”

Billy Wilder, of course, has the answer, One, Two, Three, which doubtless is where John Osborne got The Blood of the Bambergs.

Poo-poo, M’sieur! That’s just an act—they do it every night.”


A Girl in Every Port

This is Hawks’ famous joke of a friendship between two men “like a love affair”. Everywhere he goes, Spike Madden finds the girl in his black book is married, or else she bears about her person the heart and anchor of an unknown rival, whom at last he meets and fights. They fight the Guards and are arrested, Spike bails Bill out of jail so they can fight some more, they fall off a dock, climb back up (one drips copiously on the other), become fast friends.

In Marseilles, Spike meets Marie, “Neptune’s Lady”, whose carnival act is a dive from a tower into a tub. She splashes him, he falls in love. Her heart-and-anchor tattoo is hidden by an armlet.

Her name was Tessie at Coney Island, and she’s still keen on Bill. Besides, Spike’s money is mostly hers already. Bill resists her, Spike gets the wrong idea. It all dawns upon him in a magnificent take, the two friends vow to let nothing divide them again.

McLaglen is himself, but also Gary Cooper, briefly Noel Coward and even (in a locket photo pooh-poohed by Marie) a sterling handsome sage. Robert Armstrong is like young Alan Ladd, Louise Brooks plays a poker face like a champion.

Scenes reported in Mordaunt Hall’s review are missing from the Cinémathèque Française print, which also lacks the “musical score and synchronized sound effects”, and at a recent screening was projected much too fast.



There is nothing like it, not the sharpest analyses by Corman and Leone and so many others have ever drawn near it because the formula is so elegant, so scientific, and so violent.

A moron with a Tommy gun.


Tiger Shark

The fishing fleet, San Diego. You have to catch sardines before you can catch tuna.

Admiringly and admirably filmed on location, with one of the earliest instances of Hawks undercranking on action, here in a shark attack almost exactly repeated for Thunderball (dir. Terence Young). Robinson’s Portugee lays the keel for Tracy in Captains Courageous (dir. Victor Fleming).

Robinson can act the hairs off a hog but this is Hawks’ picture, the stratagem is very close to A Girl in Every Port, the structure is a wee bit different, something in the Wellman line, maybe. The charming actress Zita Johann is in capable hands, Richard Arlen completes the composition.

“He wants me, I guess. Well, he can have me. Now, what have you got to say?”

Sharks on land and sea menacing life and limb. One helluva swell guy, one darling poor girl, a sterling mate.

“What is it?”

Eah, what ain’t it?”

Ford, Wellman and Hawks, diverting comparisons are the antithesis, there is a direct point to be made. The theme will bear a lot of steam, for Tay Garnett’s The Postman Always Rings Twice in short order, say, and so forth.

Tony Gaudio sets up la Johann to walk into bedside lamplight and turn off the wall switch, a hanging lamp behind her in the room goes out too, leaving moonlight in the window curtains or a streetlamp or outside light on the captain sleeping.

The fish are caught in nets or in a memorable sequence with pole and line, beset by sharks. In the confusion a fishhook strikes the mate, deep in the back of the neck.

And that is how the film is landed, he who lives by the shark... the Scarface theme, brilliantly handled.

“Rather reminiscent of O. Henry,” said M.H. of the New York Times.

“A strong and exceedingly well played sea drama” (Variety).

“Heavily melodramatic,” says the Catholic News Service Media Review Office, “outcome predictable,” warning of “fierce shark attacks and romantic complications.”

Pat Graham (Chicago Reader) stumbles, “Howard Hawks antique... misogynist component... heavy symbolic workout.... Steinbeck’s California coast.”

Geoff Andrew (Time Out), “minor but highly enjoyable”.

Halliwell’s Film Guide, “vivid melodrama.”


Today We Live

The British sacrifice in World War I. Faulkner’s screenplay (initiated by him, revised and completed by him) drives English laconicism in the exigencies of war to poetry.

Cooper lands in it, a rich American, “out of things”, neutral.

Crawford loves a lad (Young) from way back, shifts to the Yank.

Tone her brother and the lad are chums in the Royal Navy.

The Yank joins up as a bomber pilot, and the rest follows Faulkner’s story “Turn About” (or “Turnabout”), except that Hawks blinded the lad on his torpedo run with the Yank, and the Brits go in together to spare the Yank for the lass. The sort of heroism this is you find also in Fleming’s Captains Courageous.

Cooper and Crawford step out of it into the English countryside.

The madness of war on the home front is rather different from that in the skies or on the seas. Critical perception was lacking, perhaps because the film was ahead of its time. Variety thought it too long, and it was shortened.


Twentieth Century

Handel and the witch.

She is an underwear demonstrator, she must be taught everything with diagrams on the stage, he primes a scream out of her with a prick.

By the device of the screenplay, she’s a big star, still in her underwear, and one of Hollywood’s leading lights.

It’s a matter of life and death for him, though Cukor has the ending in Travels with My Aunt.

A supreme work of genius.


Barbary Coast

There is sufficient analysis in Joseph Kane’s Flame of Barbary Coast and Rouben Mamoulian’s Rings on Her Fingers, also John Ford’s The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance, to make Variety’s near comprehension a negligible thing, or Andre Sennwald’s guarded enthusiasm in the New York Times (Time Out Film Guide contrasts the script and direction to effect).

The director of Scarface and To Have and Have Not paints early San Francisco as a lawless town run by a crook who steals and kills with impunity and will brook no newspaper telling him off, “I’m the law and I give the orders!”

The rest of the story tells itself, Hecht & MacArthur scour the place clean to its soul after watching the Clarion editor sink in the mud like somebody’s burro on Sacramento Avenue, “ain’t found hide nor hair of him yet!”

Halliwell’s Film Guide notes “excellent background detail, sets and lighting,” Albert Brooks’ Lost in America has the return to New York.


The Road to Glory

The strange and particular structure is, in its broadest general outlines, very similar to Today We Live, also from Faulkner, but is certainly advanced in the direction of surreality, a fact that makes rather a hash of Nugent’s complaint in his New York Times review against Hawks’ matter-of-factness.

Variety, on the other hand, criticized June Lang, “her banged hairdo and general fullness of the way she wears her hair militate against a completely favorable impression.”

A musical lieutenant in the trenches, under the command of a cognac-and-aspirin captain, and the captain’s father, a private soldier who sounded the charge at Sedan decades before.

There is a question of German sappers, and a forward observation post, and a Red Cross nurse.

Footage and situations appropriated from Raymond Bernard’s Les Croix de bois partially make up the sum of the screenplay by Sayre and Faulkner (and Nunnally Johnson, according to some reports).


Bringing Up Baby

“And then he came and put it in my shoe!”

The master of old bones and the lady with the big cat.

“Alice, I think this one must belong in the tail.”

“Nonsense, you tried it in the tail yesterday and it didn’t fit.”


Only Angels Have Wings

Flying the mail from a valley floor over the Andes to meet a contract.

The old flyer, grounded, “taking off”. The young one, no good, on dirty jobs.

The women who don’t understand, or do and try.

The secret understanding, the confidence and faith measured up to.

A thousand symbolical expressions make up the fabric of the film, somewhat tortured in the circumstances. Frank S. Nugent couldn’t make head nor tail of it for the New York Times.


His Girl Friday

It must have been reassuring to Ezra Pound that his Pisa cage was already prepared and the hieratic head safely ensconced above Bensinger’s versifying desk, with a reprieve from the Governor for “dementia præcox” waiting (see also Huston’s Across the Pacific).


Sergeant York

The lightly divided form is God and Country (on Matthew 22:21), or rather God’s country in Tennessee represented on a sound stage, and the fields of France out of doors. This is modified with exteriors and process shots, respectively, minuscule and in proportion.

The parallelism is entire. York is a hellion struck down by the Lord, who conquers his enemies by turning the other cheek. He is a conscientious objector who wins the battle by “rendering unto Caesar”.

Still more, the screenwriters have cultivated an analysis that is thoroughgoing to an extreme. The first scene tells the tale. The congregation is singing “When the Roll Is Called Up Yonder I’ll Be There”, the preacher is expounding on the lost sheep while a latecomer with squeaky shoes tries to enter surreptitiously. The discourse changes to a local example, a farmer whose sow escaped. Outside, York and his friends are drunk and raising hell on horseback, he shoots his initials into a tree (like the inscription shown later, “D. Boon / cilled a bar / on the tree / in year / 1760”). The farmer looked high and low for the sow, months went by, he thought he saw a “bar” in the woods, it was the sow. The drunken men disband the service unknowingly and sing “Whiskey Leave Me Alone”.

The structure is reflected in the stateline saloon divided down the middle between Tennessee and Kentucky, where a fight breaks out authentically over York’s drunken smile at a girl, exciting envious and bitter remarks from her male companion. Spite and envy characterize the enemy, forgiveness and humility are the weapons against him. Thus, by extension, York picks up a Luger against the treacherous prisoner who has just killed Pusher, but doesn’t use it.

St. Monica is effectively evoked by Mrs. York’s concern and understanding simply conveyed to the preacher and relayed to her son in the terse dialect of the place. Against the draft board, the preacher gives an object lesson, writing an appeal all the way to Washington, D.C. The resolution comes in meditation on a stretto of the division, ending in a breeze flipping the open pages of the Bible on a mountain ledge to reveal the signal verse.

The heavenly soldier is “trouble” to his superiors at Camp Gordon, until as before the genuineness of his character is seen as well as his marksmanship. “I reckon you just have to speak their language, Alvin,” said at the turkey shoot.

The nearest thing to this is The Magnificent Ambersons, the structural concern as well is akin to Welles. Hawks works his actors seemingly to within an ace of their unimaginable limits, governed by the dialect and the demands of each scene, complex group effects or isolated two-shots, fast or slow.

Pall Mall is as isolated as Hooterville. “How did you men get here,” asks the drummer. “We was born here,” is the reply. The newspaper comes by mule, a matter of days. York doesn’t even know what a subway is.

The painted clouds and valley give way to sunlight on the firing line in Georgia. The battlefield is a dance of death brightly lit by daylight, and typically filmed at a down-angle with no horizon by another cinematographer.

The ballyhoo attending his exploit causes York to be extolled among the troops as having “captured the Kaiser.” Congressman Hull effects the transition back to God’s country, where “it’s a cwur thing how the folks on the bottom looks down at the folks on the top.” The hilly soil is full of rocks, bottomland is richer.

It’s the labor to plow the topland makes a man wild at times, says Mrs. York. She brings her eggs to market, demure at their smallness, and is proud to offer salt at the breakfast table.

“Whatsoever thy hand findeth to do” is the culmination of York’s first Bible lesson outside Gracie’s home, where she’s entertaining a rival suitor while her uncle reads aloud. A characteristic Hawks shot (cp. Red River) follows him all the way to the ground to pick up a handful of bottomsoil. He carries it home and puts it on a plate in front of his mother. “I reckon that’s bottomsoil,” she says. His father “like to kill hisself” trying to get a farm in the bottomland.

The plain virtuosity of Hawks in the great sequence of York’s own attempt by selling his trappings and pelts and working any job he can find culminates in an echo, “How can I do it?” “Do it!” Then comes the turkey shoot.

Bosley Crowther set the tone for subsequent criticism by finding an agreeable surface “a little naive.” The naïveté of critics is revealed in the charge of “propaganda”, superficiality or outright failure.

“Ain’t nobody ever cut five centers, ‘less’n it were Dan’l Boone, and you ain’t got no coonskin hat.” “I reckon I don’t need none.” The parlay of a turkey for beef on the hoof to pay for the land is foiled by the rival, who eventually confesses, “I was a-buyin’ that land jes to spite yuh.”

Sometimes a man gets religion quietly, says the preacher, sometimes like a bolt o’ lightnin’. York is obleeged, heaving away a stone from the plow as he hears this. Lightning hits his rifle as he rides to redress his wrongs, he steps in out of the rain to sing “Give Me That Old Time Religion” with the congregation. He even teaches Sunday school, where the lesson is on Cain and war, Moses and the promised land.

When York and Gracie enter their Mt. Vernon, it comes after a captain’s dithering theology and a major’s American history. What was Boone seeking in the wilderness? Freedom, and a government by and by was formed of the people, “each pledged to defend the rights of all.”

Hence York’s dilemma on the mountain ledge. It comes down to a pair of machine guns mowing down his men, himself the only non-com standing, a flanking movement and a capture of heroic proportions.

The desolation of war and the bloody massacre of it are depicted in a hellstrewn landscape festooned with bodies and shellholes full of water bursting up suddenly while soldiers spin to the ground and the camera follows York in a typically speeded-up move (cp. To Have and Have Not and El Dorado) up and around the German line.

The effect of the form is to place this battle in a noonday realism that gradually expands from the training camp in Georgia to this killing floor. It conveys the sense of outwardness and strangeness in quite unexpected ways. By contrast, Kubrick’s battles are at night on a sound stage in Paths of Glory, he proceeds in an opposite way.

Pusher loads passengers on the Bronx line, a captured German lobs a grenade and is warned. At the tickertape parade York remarks that everyone ‘pears to be havin’ a good time, what he wants to see is the subway he’s “heared” about, a train in a tunnel under the ground not up and down but “this way,” not steam but electric. There’s a picture of his mother at the Waldorf-Astoria, she has to be coached on how to use the telephone at the general store.

Job offers come, endorsements for a breakfast cereal he doesn’t eat, that sort of thing. York rejects them and arrives at Crossville, Tennessee, whence he and his girl repair to the bottomland.

The battle is preceded by a scene that directly portrays the sense of E.E. Cummings’ poetic description of shellfire in the trenches. The Yanks join veteran British troops who know the sound of incoming fire, undershot or overshot near or far. This is a philosophical discussion sometimes interrupted by ducking for a burst, and one of the Yanks is dead when it resumes.

Sergeant York is a film justly admired and for that reason little understood. Renoir’s The Southerner reveals its influence, however. Films that are disliked receive no critical insight in the same way, such as Ford’s later films, whereas irascibility and emotionalism have nothing to do with criticism. York leaves his hunting to a boy, his younger brother, at the sight of Gracie on her porch.

A Distinguished Service Cross is pinned on him, then a Croix de Guerre from Marshal Foch, then the Congressional Medal of Honor from General Pershing.


Ball of Fire

A great man, a benefactor of mankind, high atop his column, constitutes the opening shot (cf. Howard Nemerov, “The Statues in the Public Gardens”).

Cleopatra, the indeterminacy of human knowledge, and contrary to this the sword of Damocles up against the limitations of time.

The sun of Antonioni (Identificazione di una donna).

A Howard Hawks film, by the opening image (cf. His Girl Friday), from a script by Wilder & Brackett.


Air Force

Green airmen get a taste of war, and that’s the point, it is war, “not a fight”.

The elusive structure is precisely that, while the film goes into the hell of Hickam Field and Wake Island and Clark Field with one of those bombers sent to Hawaii on December 7th.

Crowther (New York Times) analyzed it as a lousy film that made you feel good, missing the analysis. Variety took a somewhat more sober view.

A main inspiration, in the repair work at Manila, of Aldrich’s The Flight of the Phoenix.



To Have and Have Not

Hawks proceeds exactly as he does in His Girl Friday, with a formal structure later exploited musically by Elliott Carter (in much the same way Boulez’s le marteau sans maître resembles the structure of Citizen Kane, The Best Years of Our Lives, or Clarence Brown’s Anna Karenina). In the earlier film, a breathless pose by Rosalind Russell is a bubble needing to be pricked, and this device gives cinematic form to a stage adaptation. In To Have and Have Not, the opening dialogue quickly exposes the Vichy government as an insupportable burden, and the rest of the film liquidates it. The precise transposition from Hemingway is the measure of the material’s deadliness, which Hawks proposes not to handle directly, as a matter of prophylactic emotional necessity. This is the game he sets himself to play, and it allows him to formulate the jazz band as a composition, beginning with “Am I Blue”. Apart from this, there are no coalescences more definite than in Morgan’s room, beyond which pure artifice stands for incalculable horror.

The material is visibly reworked from Only Angels Have Wings.


The Big Sleep

Philip Marlowe involves himself in the affairs of the Sternwood household because, from Hawks’ point of view, Huston had made The Maltese Falcon and had still to make The Asphalt Jungle. The springing rhythm of the one and the brutality of the other are the two main foci of style. Over and over again, Hawks initiates new movement in a scene (which has consequences for Lang as well, in Die Tausend Augen des Dr. Mabuse, also akin in its feints and red herrings), or wastes no time getting to a direct setup of whatever is a more pressing consideration to the exclusion of whatever else might come to mind. And yet, when Marlowe meets Vivian, the camera quickly moves to a vantage between them showing her bed in the background, the same shot used when he flings Carmen into bed after her ordeal.

The terse, elliptical style is at least partly a function of the screenplay, which in an abundantly fulsome draft approaches Michael Winner’s film (set in England because that’s what it’s about) in detail and elaboration of writing. This was excised for shooting and became a film the elements of which abut one another almost without intermediary, and in which very little not actually seen by the camera can be relied upon. Talk is cheap, the characters can be made to say anything by circumstances or events, Marlowe has no better time of it than the audience, nevertheless he deduces the main action finally, which occurs a month before the film begins.

Carmen Sternwood has murdered Shawn Regan, IRA brigade commander, rumrunner and lately Sternwood employee, he wasn’t interested in her. Marlowe is called to do the job previously handled by Regan, deal with the girl’s IOUs. General Sternwood doesn’t believe they’re from gambling, Regan was close to him and is thought to have absconded with the wife of Eddie Mars, the hood who runs the gambling club.

The name on the notes is A.C. Geiger, who runs a rare book shop quickly ascertained by Marlowe to be a front. The real trade is revealed that night in Geiger’s Hollywood Hills bungalow, rented from Mars. Amid the Oriental décor, Geiger is dead, Carmen is drugged and seated before a camera mounted in the head of a Buddha. The film is missing.

The Sternwood chauffeur evidently took it after shooting Geiger over his treatment of Carmen. Joe Brody (by his own account) is gathering up the remnants of the trade, follows Taylor and saps him with a blackjack for the film. The chauffeur and his Sternwood Packard are later removed from the water off Lido Pier.

During negotiations with Marlowe, Brody is shot by Geiger’s “shadow” and employee, Carol Lundgren, who thinks (according to Marlowe) he shot Geiger. And this whole feint ends there. What follows is the larger question, asked several times by Marlowe, “what does Eddie Mars have on you?”

Carmen goes away, in the end, where treatment might help. The late Eddie Mars, killed by his own men, is assigned responsibility for Regan’s murder. His wife has holed up in Realito (behind Art Huck’s Auto Repair) to keep the police away with the story of her tryst (they were only good friends, she says). Vivian Sternwood warms up to Marlowe.

A.G. Geiger as represented is clearly Clare Quilty. Canino’s last gunshots through the windshield prepare the ambush of Bonnie and Clyde. Hawks is all business here, so hotpaced is the script with its adamantine transcriptions of Chandler’s dialogue. Hawks dispenses with Chandler’s beautiful description of Hollywood Boulevard and environs in the rain, and of the decaying Sternwood estate.


Red River

There’s a quick little image that tells the tale of Hawks’ genius in this film, and in all of his films. After the mutiny on the prairie, there’s a cut to the cattle drive on its way to Abilene, Montgomery Clift leans way over and down to pick up something on the trail, he’s just faced down John Wayne, that ornery fellow, and a close-up shows what’s in his hand, now palm up as he contemplates it from the saddle he never left—a horned toad.

To be more precise even than that, this is Hawks in the realm of Twain and no mistake, because you can bet your boots that if the latter ever made up his mind to write the tale of the Biblical Kings Saul and David, the way he did Joan of Arc, that would be Red River.

It opens with the Promised Land. Wayne as Saul leaves his girl behind, Indians get her. Clift as David takes the herd and is pursued, and finds a girl besieged by Indians.

A more powerful analysis of this story could not be imagined, probably, and it all hangs on that horned toad, the way the equally prodigious Personal Recollections of Joan of Arc hang on a bee-stung bull.

The ending is a beautiful synthesis leading to Malachi and reconciliation, “lest I smite the earth with a curse.”

The sum total of the pictures that went before does not include She Wore a Yellow Ribbon, which came after, along with Chisum and The Cowboys (which notably make use of material in Red River).

Where else does King David of Israel stay in Abilene but the Hotel Royale?


I Was a Male War Bride

The definitive satire of red tape and petty bureaucracy.

By the same comical process, there is the grateful tragedy of Polanski’s The Tenant.

The Big Sky follows on these superior landscapes.

Parvulesco in Godard’s À bout de souffle comments on the dominance of American males by American females, in America.


The Big Sky

Two thousand miles up the Missouri by keelboat for pelts, beyond the fur company, the last fort, and the Crow. The trading mission is to the Blackfeet and carries along with it a chief’s daughter captured by the Crow.

The sublimest of Hawks’ teachings is deliberately couched by Dudley Nichols in plain operative terms, to show finally what it means to accomplish something passably worthwhile.

Variety and the New York Times both complained the picture was too long, RKO obligingly reduced its length by sixteen minutes.


O. Henry’s Full House

“The Ransom Of Red Chief”, Hawks on his own with Henry’s knuckleheads, such a pair, they pay on the way out, invariably.


Monkey Business

The sins of youth. “The dream of youth! We remember it as a time of nightingales and valentines, and what are the facts? Maladjustment, near-idiocy and a series of low-comedy disasters, that’s what youth is! I don’t see how anyone survives it.”

Ben Hecht, Charles Lederer and I.A.L. Diamond arranged it for Cary Grant, Ginger Rogers, Charles Coburn and Marilyn Monroe, Hawks directed it, taking in stride a chimp and a baby.

Naturally, naturally, Bosley Crowther was bored, Variety too.


Gentlemen Prefer Blondes

Truffaut in 1954 laid the basis at least of a correct understanding, this is one of Hawks’ greatest comedies.

A favorite scene in many a film is the long night after a show opens. The cast and director gather over drinks in a hotel suite, waiting for the morning papers. Now picture the critic dashing off after the show to meet his deadline, he fires off a piece that fast.

If it all fails to register with him at once, all the concentrated work of weeks and months, he covers his typewriter at the hour of truth and pronounces a failure. It took days, however, for Ken Russell’s first Broadway show, Mindgame, to be reviewed in the New York Times, which largely dilated on his incompetence as a film director and his “weird sense of humor” or words to that effect.

Variety praised Gentlemen Prefer Blondes for its boffo appeal, but found it dramatically deficient. Crowther thought it merely a tribute to the ladies.

Curly-haired Barrymore reclining, quill in hand, to indite his notes of genius in Twentieth Century, cylinder-hatted Russell breathless with the idea of marrying the insurance man in His Girl Friday, such magnificent targets are sustained with Monroe in Gentlemen Prefer Blondes and not deflated, while at the same time there is Noonan as Grant in Bringing Up Baby, treated as a sideline.

The deus ex machina is Esmond, Sr., whose private dick weds Jane Russell, and who (the sententious old buzzard) “cannot answer”.


Land of the Pharaohs

A glimmer of understanding has peeked out of the gloom in the Chicago Reader, where Jonathan Rosenbaum has discerned a fitful relationship to Red River.

Otherwise, critics are sticking to their story, propounded by A.H. Weiler in the New York Times, that the spectacle is thrilling but the story is “merely ancient”, the acting satisfactory at best (Minotis takes top honors in this view, if you can call it that), the writing abysmal.

You have to laugh or hear William Faulkner saying, “tough crowd!” His signature is on more than a title card, but the whole question of looted burial treasure and the “second life” and captured slaves, the parallel universe to De Mille, the whole point has been lost in the sands that flow between a critic’s noggin and his pen.


Rio Bravo

One of the most marvelous films ever made, so vast, minutely constructed, rapid and quiet that whole masterpieces have been carved from it. The degradation of the town drunk is remembered by John Huston in The Life and Times of Judge Roy Bean, the shadowy figures of Burdette’s men in Peckinpah’s The Killer Elite. Eastwood is the inheritor of all this structure.

The material is entirely reworked from To Have and Have Not, with Pedro Gonzalez-Gonzalez in the role played by Marcel Dalio, Angie Dickinson for Lauren Bacall, Wayne for Bogart, Walter Brennan again and most significantly Dean Martin for Walter Molnar in a greatly revised and expanded part.

The warmth and intimacy of the first scene in quiet conversation at the saloon turns and smiles at the drunk parched for whiskey and pitches a silver dollar into the spittoon for him. A boot kicks the spittoon away, the sheriff is thwacked with a stick on the head and knocked out face down on the floor, Joe Burdette faces the drunk, a man intervenes and is shot point blank, Joe smiles and walks out.

The construction of this scene is repeated later in a famous variant. Joe walks into his brother Nathan’s saloon, the bleeding sheriff follows with a scattergun, Nathan’s men get the drop on him, the drunk enters with a gun, the sheriff belts Joe across the face with the weapon in his hands so hard that Joe falls down and he himself turns all the way around again. The sheriff and the drunk, his former deputy, drag Joe to jail.

One of the most remarkable things about this film is its elliptical nature, which partly comes from a situation in To Have and Have Not hardly in need of explanation. It transports bodily the overwhelming anxiety of the place, bottled up by Nathan Burdette, a wealthy rancher, and his thirty or forty hired professional gunmen. One of the things Hawks has in mind to explore is just this, and so you have sheriff and deputy on patrol in the town at night, one of very many scenes in which the easy hand of the director holds three or four reins in utmost tenseness. The dark street full of unseen menace and a man just taking the air on an upstairs landing ends in a stable with a door ajar and a burro in the window.

The complicated surrealism accumulates so that later the saloon variant has an assassin in the stable, who flees to Burdette’s saloon dripping blood and is killed with the price of his hire on him, a fifty-dollar gold piece, and later still the price goes up, three gunmen are laid out on the street by day with twice that sum on each of them, in the background stands a building with a signboard offering Miner’s Equipment on the left, to the right another just reads ASS (the rest is out of frame).

It’s a question of waiting five or six days for the U.S. Marshal to make a visit. Burdette stops the stagecoach with a broken wheel, his men stand on the sidewalks all day long and into the night punctuated by lamps and lanterns. Hawks registers one complete day from sunup to sundown on the cactus, Burdette rides into town, sees his brother, goes to his saloon and has the band play “The Cutthroat Song” over and over again, it’s heard in the jail as it was at the Alamo.

There can be no help from the townspeople, it’s too dangerous, the sheriff won’t allow it. Their mere presence as onlookers curtails Burdette somewhat, “too many witnesses”. A man dies soliciting them for it.

One night, the defenders sing “My Rifle, My Pony, and Me”, as well as “Get Along Home, Cindy”. The deputy was undone by a woman who came in on the stage, another is in town, the sheriff eyes her from a handbill as a sharper’s accomplice, her deck is missing several aces, the man with the checkered vest is found to have them.

A hired gun of the sheriff’s late friend’s won’t fight, he prefers to mind his own business. The long day ends at the Alamo Hotel, the girl sits up at night on her own downstairs to watch for trouble, the sheriff picks her up asleep and carries her upstairs. In the morning, three riders approach, the one in the middle is bent over and needs a doctor, all suddenly draw. The girl makes for the door, the hired gun stops her, suggests a plan. He steps out, minding his own business, she hurls a flowerpot through the windowpane. Distracted, the men turn, the hired gun picks up the sheriff’s rifle where he had been forced to set it down, draws and fires while it’s still in the air. The sheriff catches his rifle and fires, the three men are laid out for the undertaker. This scene is as illustrative as anything else in the film of Hawks’ complete unpretentiousness of manner, his speed and the construction of his scenes. The hired gun is now a second deputy.

Stumpy guards the prisoner, with orders to kill him if any attempt is made on the jail. It dawns on the sheriff to hole up there, but the first deputy needs a bath and they’re out of tobacco. Burdette’s men capture the deputy and the sheriff at the hotel. Stumpy kills the two men who march the sheriff over to the jail, the deputy is offered in a swap for Joe.

The late friend’s wagon train full of dynamite is put to use against the Burdette warehouse full of killers. The girl undrapes herself, casting a slim black garment out the window, where it lands on Stumpy patrolling the town with the deputy. “Think I’ll ever get to be a sheriff?”, asks Stumpy. “Not unless you mind your own business,” the deputy replies.

Dmitri Tiomkin’s score was noticed at once for its expert inspiration as an element of the composition. Brackett & Furthman break up the drama into discreet islands of perception in a sea of doubt. Nathan Burdette’s “what are you gonna do about it?” is a matter-of-fact utterance at the jail and not a rising point. The deputy’s consternation when he’s shot at by Stumpy for being unrecognizable after a shave and change of clothes almost rises to hysteria, but is punctured by the sheriff’s calm.

Hawks’ widescreen is a complete organization of the picture plane relative to the actors, perturbation comes from shadowed figures in the foreground.



The girl who has just grown up and the photographer from the Swiss zoo are formally speaking one and the same, in a formal masterpiece like few others.

The first has three beaux who are the second’s baby elephants, and that is enough of an understanding.

The duple movement is the capitulation of the hero, and that completes the formal arrangement.

The virtuosity of the filming has a lot to do with Huston’s The Misfits.


Man’s Favorite Sport?

Bringing Up Baby is child’s play to this. The fishing expert taught by his fish in lashings of pole and line and hook, Hudson’s expertise deferred to hmphs and oh hells while Prentiss goes to town, a marvel, Fishing Made Simple at Lake Wakapoogee.


Red Line 7000

The tachometer indication of danger to the engine, a driver exceeds it in the opening sequence, crashes and burns.

The film is a supremely masterful structure so perfectly composed that, though it is not hard to discern, is very difficult to describe, form and content are united. The rookie car driver has a background in the small time, the professional rides the circuit, the European champion returns to America and is again in some fashion the rookie but as champion faces the other two, up-and-comers not in his class, and they are the two dead fiancés or husbands that drive a girl to loneliness or a bank employee (the champion is the latter, safe as houses).

No critic had any idea of this at all, which is all the film, so it was a bewilderment of racing and romance to them all.


El Dorado

The defense of the town and old MacDonald’s farm against a ruthless aggrandizer and his hired guns.

A general re-working of the essential material in To Have and Have Not, with the very same startling jump cut on action that might be described as being of extreme necessity, in order to accelerate it just so slightly.

The relationship to Rio Bravo is mainly analytical, a composed scene like the saloon arrest contains the previous style by way of reflection.

Poe’s great poem on the Mountains of the Moon and the Valley of the Shadow is cited extensively.

Generally ill-considered by critics, favorable or unfavorable (Halliwell and Kael derided it).


Rio Lobo

It begins with The General and ends with My Darling Clementine. Not that Hawks needs any precedents, being one himself (To Have and Have Not), but he has a difficult, rarefied and curious tale to tell, and an epic kind of structure will bear symbolic substructures.

The Confederate Army robs a gold train by dropping hornets in the caboose and commandeering the engine. Col. McNally (John Wayne) pursues and is captured. He makes his escape, averting a surprise attack, the war ends, and everybody goes home amicably, except for the two Union soldiers who sold information about the gold shipments to the Confederates.

McNally returns to Blackthorne, Texas, and the Rebs of his recent acquaintance to a town not too far from it, Rio Lobo, where his turncoats rule the roost, extorting land deeds and water rights from the settlers. One of the two, an Albino named Whitey, attempts to extradite a traveling saleslady (Jennifer O’Neill), who is accused of snake oil drilling, from Blackthorne with a badge and no warrant, which causes a saloon gunfight to erupt wherein George Plimpton is plugged quite excellently well. The idea now is to capture the ringleader Ketcham (Victor French) and oblige him to let the people of Rio Lobo go.

One of them is old man Phillips (Jack Elam), whose son is in jail until Phillips signs over his property to Ketcham. McNally, Phillips and the rest take Ketcham to jail and hole up, which finally brings Hawks to El Dorado, Rio Bravo and To Have and Have Not (the saloon gunfight is an echo of the police raid in the Hemingway film, and Elam takes over the Walter Brennan character).

The long reach of understanding is in all of this. That’s the idea, anyway, because Hawks is too fastidious to deal directly with offal, he must have safe removes and leave the awful, foul stuff suggested offscreen. What’s interesting is the long memory as the shortest route between A and non-A, to Hawks.

The situation, then, is the same, as in To Have and Have Not, only more so. Not a hotel, but a jail, in an occupied country, with no outside help. In Rio Lobo, John Wayne’s ally is again a Frenchman (Jorge Rivero), an evil lawman (Mike Henry) roughs up a girl (Sherry Lansing) and pays for it, only it isn’t a novel by Hemingway set in Martinique under the Nazis, but The Stars in Their Courses by Harry Brown in the American West (viz. El Dorado).