Half-Time at “The Complete Howard Hawks”

postI had to wear a sweater today, and I’m not happy about it.

But, just like a loyal friend who cheers you up when you’re feelin’ blue, the Museum of the Moving Image is extending my warm weather moviegoing mania into the chilly days of October, and beyond. The ten-week Complete Howard Hawks retrospective is more than half way to its final fadeout, and so far I’ve been in attendance for 20 of the 26 films the Astoria, Queens-based museum has screened – all in 35 mm! Some (like my girlfriend) might call this enabling. I prefer to think of it as movie methadone after a summertime cinematic bender.

As a companion to the series, I’ve also been reading Todd McCarthy’s definitive 1997 biography The Grey Fox of Hollywood, which takes its title from John Ford’s nickname for Hawks (expletive deleted, of course).  It’s a gigantic, 756-page volume that can also double as a blunt weapon if I ever get into trouble on Steinway Street.

John WayneOrganized by chief curator David Schwartz, the Hawks-a-thon kicked off Saturday, September 7 with a Walter Brennan double feature: TO HAVE AND HAVE NOT (1945), also starring Bogart and Bacall (which I wrote about here), and RIO BRAVO (1959), with a charmingly understated John Wayne and crooning cowboys Dean Martin and Ricky Nelson.

On Sunday, September 8 the museum presented a triple feature of Hawks’ early silent films, all focusing on the battle of the sexes: FIG LEAVES (1926), an ingenious, time travel rom-com with George O’Brien and Olive Borden; THE CRADLE SNATCHERS (1927), a (partially lost) farce with Mack Sennett favorite Louise Fazenda and Arthur Lake, better known as Blondie’s husband Dagwood in film (1938-1950), radio (1939-1950) and TV (1957); and FAZIL (1928), a tragic melodrama about an Arab prince (Charles Farrell) and a French mademoiselle (Greta Nissen) who get hot and heavy until he gets too mansplainy.

Saturday, September 14 was a Cary Grant two-fer, with the touching aviation drama ONLY ANGELS HAVE WINGS (1939) costarring Jean Arthur and the cross-dressing comedy I WAS A MALE WAR BRIDE (1949), with a bewigged Grant opposite Ann Sheridan. Confession: I had to duck out early on WAR BRIDE for a Jewish New Year party, where I singlehandedly devoured most of a homemade honey cake. I guess that makes me a desserter. (I’ll be here all week.)

September 15 was another Silent Sunday at MoMI, with live accompaniment by Donald Sosin. In PAID TO LOVE (1927), hunky George O’Brien returns as a shy prince competing with caddish William Powell for the affections of a French showgirl. In the ill-fated (and incomplete) TRENT’S LAST CASE (1929), silent comic Raymond Griffith plays a murder mystery for laughs, with somewhat disastrous results (the film never got a legitimate U.S. release). And in Hawks’ most famous silent, A GIRL IN EVERY PORT (1928), Victor McLaglen and Robert Armstrong (KING KONG) are rough-and-tumble sailors competing for the affections of a duplicitous showgirl Louise Brooks (who doesn’t show up until 43 minutes in, despite her presence on the DVD cover).

Annex - Bacall, Lauren (Big Sleep, The)_02_DSOn September 20 Bogie and Bacall were reawakened for THE BIG SLEEP (1946), a film that gets to its destination with many delightful turns around the narrative block. September 21 was double barrel Hawks gangsters: THE CRIMINAL CODE (1931) with Walter Huston (not Brennan) as a strict constructionist district attorney/prison warden, and SCARFACE (1932), wherein Paul Muni shows Al Pacino exactly how scenery is chewed. On September 22 we took a ride on the TWENTIETH CENTURY (1934) with John Barrymore and Carole Lombard and chilled out with James Arness in 1951’s THE THING FROM ANOTHER WORLD (supposedly directed by Christian Nyby, with Hawks producing, which is not really true).

BRINGING UP BABY (1938) on Saturday, September 28 is Hawks’ most famous comedy, and one of the most overrated films of all time, in my opinion. (Send your hate mail to me, in care of this station). So I skipped that one and took my nieces to the park (where we dug for dinosaur bones). On Sunday, September 29 I raced back for THE CROWD ROARS (1932) with Jimmy Cagney and Eric Linden as racecar driving brothers and Ann Dvorak and Joan Blondell as the dames who love them. (Guy Kibbee also plays a character called “Pop” for the third of five times in 1932, alone.)

Annex - Grant, Cary (Monkey Business)_02MONKEY BUSINESS (1952) also played Sunday 9/29, and I’ve come to the revelation that I think it’s much funnier than BRINGING UP BABY (but I prefer the low key, cool Cary). Grant plays Dr. Barnaby Fulton, an absent-minded, middle-aged chemist who inadvertently discovers the Fountain of Youth (with the help of a monkey). Ginger Rogers is his patient (and extremely horny) wife, with young Marilyn Monroe and old Charles Coburn providing able support comic support. And the script, by Ben Hecht, Charles Lederer, and I.A.L. Diamond is a delight.

MAN’S FAVORITE SPORT (1964) played on Saturday, October 5 and I missed it, which is unfortunate because I love Paula Prentiss. TIGER SHARK (1932) played on both Saturday and Sunday, with Edward G. Robinson as a hook-armed fishing boat captain, Zita Johann as his sort-of wife, and Richard Arlen as the best man who comes between them. This film has a surprising amount of location photography for the era, all supervised by Richard Rosson who, according to Todd McCarthy, “almost singlehandedly invented the job of second-unit director.”

Also on Sunday, October 6 was TODAY WE LIVE (1933), a WW I weepie with Joan Crawford, Gary Cooper, Franchot Tone, and Robert Young. Even with a screenplay (in part) by William Faulkner, based on his story Turn About, the film is extraordinarily long and dull, at least until its explosive conclusion.

still-of-montgomery-clift-in-red-river-large-pictureRED RIVER played Friday, October 11 and, although I wasn’t there, I did watch it (again) on Amazon on Demand later that night. John Wayne plays cattle driver Thomas Dunson and Montgomery Clift is his adopted son, and later, his sworn enemy. Walter Brennan performs without his false teeth, which is always a treat. BALL OF FIRE (1942) with Barbara Stanwyck as a fast-talking hep cat and Gary Cooper as the lexicographer who loves her played on Saturday, October 12, along with SARGEANT YORK, the WW I drama also starring Cooper and Brennan (again).

HIS GIRL FRIDAY (1940) with Cary Grant as fast-talking newspaper man Walter Burns and Rosalind Russell as his ace reporter and ex/future wife played on Sunday, October 12 along with A SONG IS BORN (1948), the musical remake of BALL OF FIRE. Danny Kaye and Virgina Mayo step into the Cooper/Stanwyck roles, and the result is far less magical, though it is a treat to see legendary musicians like Benny Goodman, Tommy Dorsey, Louis Armstrong, and Lionel Hampton.

Print quality for this series has been surprisingly good, considering that a number of the titles are obscure. If you’re anywhere near the New York area, I encourage you to get over to MoMI for the remainder of this series, which concludes on November 10 with a triple feature of RED LINE 7000 (1965) in 16mm, THE BIG SKY (1952), and GENTLEMEN PREFER BLONDES (1953).

For more information on The Complete Howard Hawks at the Museum of the Moving Image, click here

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About willmckinley

Will McKinley is a New York City-based writer, producer and classic film and TV obsessive. He’s been a guest on Turner Classic Movies (interviewed by host Robert Osborne), Sirius Satellite Radio and the official TCM podcast. Will has written for PBS and his byline has appeared more than 100 times in the pages of NYC alt weeklies like The Villager and Gay City News.
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12 Responses to Half-Time at “The Complete Howard Hawks”

  1. So glad you were able to see some of these films!

  2. girlsdofilm says:

    I rewatched Scarface just this week, and it’s certainly reawakened my appreciation of Hawks. Glad I found this post as it reminded of a few other gems that need the same treatment.

    • willmckinley says:

      I was jokey in my reference to SCARFACE, but it’s a great film. And the relationship between Muni and Ann Dvorak is particularly disturbing. There are also elements of that weird, pseudo-incestuous love in TODAY WE LIVE.

  3. Vienna says:

    Oh you lucky people in New York. Seventh Heaven to see all these Hawks films on the big screen. And interesting to hear from someone who doesn’t like Bringing Up Baby. I love it!

    Vienna’s Classic Hollywood

    • willmckinley says:

      Vienna, I’m not sure I’d say I don’t like it. (Sorry, for the double negative there.) I don’t dislike it, I just get bothered by the constant raves for it. I think there are many better screwball comedies. I think Hawks’ TWENTIETH CENTURY is better. I also think HIS GIRL FRIDAY is better.

  4. Laura says:

    Really enjoyed this overview, Will. As someone who’s become a big George O’Brien fan this year I’d love to see PAID TO LOVE! Hopefully it will turn up here at some point.

    Congrats again on your impressive Hawks viewing stats!

    Best wishes,
    Laura

    • willmckinley says:

      Thanks Laura! Have you seen FIG LEAVES (1926) with George O’Brien? I was shocked by how hip that movie is. It’s only Hawks’ second film as a director, but it is so tight and so funny.

      • Laura says:

        I haven’t seen FIG LEAVES either! Thanks much for the recommendation, that sounds really interesting. I have a lot of O’Brien catching up to do!

        It’s been such fun to discover the work of an actor I previously just knew from Ford’s FORT APACHE and SHE WORE A YELLOW RIBBON. The part-silent/part-talkie NOAH’S ARK which I saw at UCLA was fascinating. The O’Brien films still ahead of me include SUNRISE. His “B” Westerns are just the best, great “movie comfort food,” among my favorite film discoveries this year.

        Best wishes,
        Laura

      • willmckinley says:

        I envy your first viewing of SUNRISE, Laura. It’s one of my favorites!

  5. NY_Patricia says:

    Great writing, Will.

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