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How about Howard Hawks?

April 13, 2012

by John Farr

Howard Hawks is certainly known for his comedies, but he’s just at the helm of adventure stories with plenty of intrique.


Only Angels Have Wings (1939)

What It’s About:
Classic Howard Hawks picture concerns Geoff Carter (Cary Grant), operator of an air freight service in South America’s fog-enshrouded Andes Mountains. Confronting treacherous flying conditions with regularity, Geoff must make life-or-death decisions about when his men can fly. Further complicating life on the ground is the arrival of Bonnie Lee (Jean Arthur), a showgirl in transit who’s socked in by weather, and Macpherson (silent star Richard Barthelmess), a pilot harboring a dark secret. Macpherson is also joined by young wife Judy (Rita Hayworth), who’d once been involved with Geoff. The plot thickens along with the fog.

Why I Love It:
Elements of drama and romance co-mingle with the serious business of men being men in this involving, exciting adventure story. Grant stretches his screen persona effortlessly as a tough guy with little humor and no polish, and Arthur makes a spunky love interest. Hayworth looks particularly stunning in a pivotal early role, and Thomas Mitchell also shines as Kid Dabb, a loyal older pilot who’s losing his bearings. This heroic outing soars.


To Have and Have Not (1944)

What It’s About:
Harry Morgan (Humphrey Bogart), an American skipper in Martinique during the World War II, seems like the self-interested type, but ultimately shows his true colors by aiding the Free French. Still, this risky bit of intrigue is mere pretext for the smoldering romance that ignites on- (and off-) camera between Morgan and alluring chanteuse Marie (Lauren Bacall, then just 19).

Why I Love It:
Director Hawks wagered Ernest Hemingway he could make a hit movie out of his worst novel. The author took the bet and once you watch “To Have and Have Not” (1944), you’ll know Hawks won. Still, the only elements Hawks keeps from the book are the title, the hero’s name and the fact he makes his living on the sea. Never mind, the film remains a gripping adventure tale with stand-out performances from the stars and supporting players Walter Brennan and Hoagy Carmichael. But above all, it’s very much a romance: just watch the famous “Just Whistle” scene. Bogie and Bacall fell in love on-set, and married soon after.


Red River (1968)

What It’s About:
Bitter, unyielding cattle breeder Tom Dunson (John Wayne) has been forced to take his large herd through treacherous territory to save his business. His adopted son Matthew (Montgomery Clift, in his film debut)-orphaned years ago in an Indian massacre-joins him, but when the two cross swords over Dunson’s obsessiveness, the older man loses his powerful temper and expels his ward, vowing to kill him if and when he next sees him.

Why I Love It:
Director Howard Hawks gave western icon John Wayne another indelible, ruggedly stubborn character to play in his masterful “Red River,” a high point of their many collaborations. Populated by colorful supporting characters, including the salty Walter Brennan as camp cook Groot Nadine, “River” combines psychological drama, action, and suspense in a stirring, expansive western landscape. The final settling of scores between Wayne and Clift is unforgettable.


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