This remake of Howard Hawks’s Ball of Fire is very scripty – so much screenwriting that there’s no room for anything else. Maybe a powerful performance could break through the scriptiness, but Virginia Mayo (ah, who?) is no Stanwyck, and Danny Kaye (I can never remember who he is exactly, and think of him as “Fake Donald O’Connor”) is no Gary Cooper (and I don’t even like Gary Cooper), so we’re boned. Mayo and her gangster boyfriend “Tony Crow” get in some real good slang, at least, while Kaye avoids Mayo because of her distracting body and the demoralizing effect of her presence, and hides out with his music scholar buddies, none of whom are Cuddles Sakall (but one of whom is Benny Goodman). Popular musicians Tommy Dorsey and Louis Armstrong look on as Kaye finally gets the girl, and picking up the second half of this movie a day later, we forgot why we’d ever started it, until we saw the Hawks name again – he remade his own pretty-good movie as a pretty-bad movie in the same decade.
Tag: howard hawks
A rah-rah-war movie in which an apparent simpleton with amazing gun skills (Gary Cooper) falls for a pretty girl (Joan Leslie), wins a turkey shooting contest, gets screwed out of some land he wants to buy, gets hit by lightning, and is convinced by his pastor (Walter Brennan) to chill out on the drinking. Then the army comes calling, and tricks poor Gary into believing that the bible justifies killing for your country, so Gary goes off to war and captures a whole flock of enemy troops.
Not that we didn’t enjoy watching Cooper mow down Germans. It’s a well-paced movie full of fun characters, which makes up for Cooper, who is very bad at playing drunk and speaking with hick accents.
Playing Coop’s serious little brother, Dickie Moore’s child-actor career was winding down while Joan Leslie’s was just taking off. York’s barely-seen sister June Lockhart went on to be an anti-war activist, then appear in C.H.U.D. II: Bud the Chud. All three were the same age, less than half of Cooper’s.
I enjoyed watching this with Katy much more than I did in film class. Everything is worse when doing it in class (or everything is better with Katy).
Mail flyers in Argentina struggle with difficult terrain, disabled pilots, a love triangle, infighting and a contract saying they get new planes if they fly a few more difficult missions on schedule. Dutchy (Sig Ruman, covert nazi in A Night in Casablanca) owns the planes but Cary Grant gives orders to the flyers. Kid (Thomas Mitchell) is the oldest with poor eyesight, Joe (Noah Beery Jr.) dies early, Sparks is the radio man, I think Les gets injured (most of them do at some point) and Tex (Westerns actor Don Barry) sits in a booth warning of weather conditions.
New flyer Bat (Richard Barthelmess, star of Broken Blossoms and The Dawn Patrol, sort of Henry Fonda crossed with Peter Lorre) shows up putting everyone on edge because of a word-of-mouth story that he’d abandoned a copilot – oh, and he brings new wife Rita Hayworth, an ex-flame of Cary’s who doesn’t know the dead-copilot story. And Jean Arthur (You Can’t Take It With You, Easy Living) was just passing through until she caught sight of Cary Grant, then follows him like a puppy for two hours trying to get him to tell her to stay, refusing to leave until he does, a catch-22 that works out romantically at the end.
Hawks and Cary Grant made this between Bringing Up Baby and His Girl Friday. Thomas Mitchell (The Kid) won best supporting actor as Doc in Stagecoach, also played the plantation owner (Scarlett’s dad) in Gone With The Wind, king of the beggars in The Hunchback of Notre Dame, and appeared again with Jean Arthur in Mr. Smith Goes To Washington – all in the same year as this movie.
Kinda like Rio Bravo in the sense that you’ve got good, tough characters who team up against serious odds, but the ending leaves me less with the sense that I’ve seen an epic drama or action flick than a buddy comedy. It’s too darned happy to be a Western, gives the same sense of companionable fulfillment as a Renoir movie.
Colorfully narrated (“Jim seed somethin’ in the trees, and Jim were the curious sort”) by elder fur trapper Zeb (Arthur Hunnicutt, baddie in The Tall T), who we don’t even meet for twenty minutes. Starting in 1832 Kentucky, the movie mainly follows Jim (Kirk Douglas, year after Ace in the Hole) and Jim’s new buddy/Zeb’s nephew Boone (Dewey Martin of a couple other Hawks movies). They’re both going west, searching for freedom and profit, Jim more aimless and easygoing, Boone seeking his uncle and hoping to revenge his brother’s death by bagging a few native Blackfoot.
Jim, Boone, Zeb:
The three men meet in jail after a bar brawl, then join an ambitious trapper named Frenchy (Steven Geray of Verboten!), who hopes to bypass the monopolistic fur company headed by frilly-shirted top-hatted MacMasters (voiceover man Paul Frees). Frenchy’s secret to being able to trade with the Blackfoot, who won’t deal with MacMasters’s people, is that Frenchy has one of the chief’s daughters Teal Eye (Elizabeth Threatt, in her only film), is escorting her home. After we’re introduced to the strong, stereotype-defying Teal Eye, the movie compensates by hiring along the drunk, buffoonish Poordevil (Hank Worden, a marshall in Forty Guns).
I think it takes months to go up the river, the men mostly pulling the boat upstream with ropes. MacMasters’s muscle man Streak kills a couple men, and more are killed by the Blackfoot’s rival Crow tribe hired by Streak, but Jim, Zeb and Boone, hired for the trading group’s protection, finally wipe out the lot of the sneaky sonsobitches. Meanwhile, both of the younger guns have fallen for Teal Eye, and there’s some drama over that. Zeb was once in the same situation, left a girl behind and she killed herself – and he was lying to Boone about the whole murdered brother thing. Boone is told none of this, because apparently it’s better for a man to make his own uninformed decisions, but opts to stay behind with the Blackfoot at the end anyhow.
My new favorite method of torture: having a strong fellow squeeze two baddies’ heads together
Tag G.: “Action is only an extension in character, and character, like the action it ignites, is biological, zoological. Vast events in many Hawks films are pushed by character.” So he analyzes their characters, answering why Zeb is telling his story about Jim instead of about himself or his own nephew Boone, when Jim gets lost and injured, has no particular goals, and doesn’t get the girl. Jim and Zeb are men of talk and whiskey, while Boone is a man of action. At the end of the trip, Frenchy and Boone have destinations – Jim and Zeb just have each other.
The first major studio film in the sound era to be shot all on location – I watched the long/original version, not the contentiously cut-down theatrical release.
Like two short films – a classic courtship comedy and a gender-politics comedy, with a wedding in the middle. In the first half, Cary Grant is reluctantly stuck with Ann Sheridan (of They Drive By Night & Good Sam) on a softball military mission in France, his last before retirement from the armed services. In the second, he’s Ann’s “war bride,” a civilian married to a “serviceman,” a loophole in the system, dealing with paperwork and regulations in attempts to stay (or better, sleep) with his new wife.
Smart, funny movie – Katy and I liked it. Based on a true story by Henri Rochard (the name of Grant’s character). Senses of Cinema has a write-up, but the very first sentence declares the difficulty to adequately situate the film within “accepted interpretative frameworks,” so I didn’t make it much further.
Another rockin’ John Wayne/Walter Brennan movie, although this one seems more Westerny than Rio Bravo, what with the cattle drives and Indian attacks. Wayne is a Texas rancher who builds a cattle empire after losing his sweetie to Indians while crossing the Red River years earlier. Now he and his young protege Monty Clift (his first year in Hollywood, five years before From Here To Eternity) take a long, difficult drive north since cattle prices have crashed down south, hoping they’ll hit a railroad town before they hit bandits or Indians. The men mutiny when Wayne becomes a slavemaster, Clift takes over, and there’s a pretty badass showdown between the two at the end, culminating in a happy reconciliation.
Harry Carey Jr. (in one of his first movies) makes the mistake of talking about his lovely wife waiting at home, so he gets killed in a stampede brought on by some idiot who steals sugar from chef Brennan – the movie’s way of saying that life is meaningless. Harry Carey Sr. (in one of his last movies) plays the happy-ending cattle buyer at their destination town. And John Ireland (the coward Robert Ford in I Shot Jesse James) is set up as Clift’s big rival, then his plot thread fizzles out. IMDB says Hawks wanted Cary Grant for the part – I guess Ireland wasn’t an exciting enough player to justify adding another twenty minutes to the film. Remade in the 80’s with James Arness, Ray Walston and LQ Jones.
As usual after we watch a Hawks movie, Katy and I shared an uneasy conversation about auteurism. She accused me of being a Hawksian auteurist, but I still can’t tell a Hawks movie from, say, a Billy Wilder or William Wellman movie. I just tend to like them is all.
I shouldn’t have to look up web articles about this movie since I have the BFI Film Classics book, but it turned out to be way boring. Senses of Cinema talks up Wayne’s oedipal relationship with Clift, then Intl. Cinema Review compares Clift’s and Ireland’s competitive gunfight to an orgasm, so apparently the movie was all about sex and Katy and I didn’t realize.
Felt slightly long and slow and full of old men for a Hawks movie. Gary Cooper is a hunky young encyclopedia writer locked in a house with his coworkers (including “Cuddles” Sakall). Barbara Stanwyck is the ball of fire who hides out with them on the pretense of helping with an entry on slang, hiding out from her gangster boyfriend (young Dana Andrews, star of one of my least-favorite Fritz Lang movies).
Mostly fun to watch for the language. Written by Billy Wilder and Lubitsch vet/future Sunset Blvd. collaborator Charles Brackett. Same cinematographer as Citizen Kane, the same year. Remade in ’48 with Danny Kaye in the Gary Cooper part, Virginia Mayo as Barbara Stanwyck and Louis Armstrong as Cuddles Sakall.
The internet likes to say the encyclopedaeists were inspired by Snow White’s seven dwarfs, and so here’s me on the internet faithfully repeating it.
Still not so sure I understand the auteur-stamp of Howard Hawks (some characteristics of which were discussed after watching His Girl Friday). But gosh does he make entertaining movies. Both of these built up tension and excitement, then came up with improbably happy endings for our heroes.
To Have and Have Not (1944)
A few years after His Girl Friday, same year as Wilder’s Double Indemnity. Novel by Hemingway, adapted by Faulkner – that’s some writing credentials. Bogart, so soon after Casablanca, is again trying to stay coolly neutral in a tense city occupied by wartime Vichy France (Martinique this time), falling for a girl who’s trying to skip town. This time the girl is smoky, deep-voiced Lauren Bacall (her first movie) and Bogie’s drunk friend and partner in his fishing boat business is triple oscar-winner Walter Brennan of Lang’s Fury & Hangmen Also Die. Clearly a great character actor, Brennan spiced up both movies considerably.
Bogie has been taking an obnoxious customer out fishing all week, catches Lauren picking the guy’s pocket before Bogie has been paid, but all is forgiven when guy catches a stray bullet during a police raid at their favorite hangout bar (a secret meeting place for the anti-Vichy free French underground). Now broke with no customer, Bogie takes a job ferrying a French couple in his boat, then helping the guy when he gets his stupid self shot. Suspecting Bogie’s involvement, the nazi collaborators hold Eddie (that’s Walter Brennan) hostage and refuse him alcohol until Bogie gives up the hostages. This is the point when I decided the movie is not trying to be grimly realistic. I hadn’t felt any sense of danger or suspense so far, not even when the boat was shot at, and now this kidnapping has hardly begun when Bogie shoots a guy through his desk, turns the tables on the baddies and escapes with the girl. He’s sort of an untouchable superhero version of his Casablanca character, and he’s got a sexier, younger and more independent woman.
Bacall sings with Hoagy Carmichael in the “Sam” role. Hoagy wrote “Georgia On My Mind” (for real, not in this movie).
Frenchy – the clockwork-loving party host of Rules of the Game – works the hotel bar and helps protect and organize the resistance.
Johnson, Bogie’s customer, is rear-projection fishing. Looks like fun – and it’s six decades before the Nintendo Wii was invented.
Walter Brennan manages to be a funny drunk without being a typical W.C. Fields-ish classic Hollywood drunk. In fact, he’s the most believable guy in the movie.
Rio Bravo (1959)
I guess I’m spoiled, since the only westerns I’ve watched in five years are this one, The Searchers, and those Budd B. pics from last week – none of the standard-quality workman stuff which everyone watching this in ’59 would’ve seen, nor the 50’s hits this was supposedly reacting against (3:10 to Yuma and High Noon). The Searchers had a darker edge to it, while this one has a giddy, explosive shootout ending in which the heroes are hardly in any danger, just a buncha bonkers western fun. Wasn’t expecting that.
One of the last films by Hawks, less prolific in his old age. Six years after Gentlemen Prefer Blondes, same year as The Crimson Kimono, North By Northwest and Ride Lonesome. Apparently his beef with High Noon was that the sheriff runs around town asking everybody for help. Hawks and Wayne thought that wasn’t right, and wrote themselves a less wussy lawman, someone who’ll take on a hundred men if he has to, and won’t even accept help from most people, let alone ask for it.
I liked this movie even better than the other. Wayne, wearing a series of colorful shirts, arrests the brother of a real badass for killing a guy in a drunken brawl, with the help of disgraced, drunken former deputy Dean Martin (best acting I’ve ever seen from him). A few years after Artists & Models, Dean had blown off Jerry Lewis and gone serious – but Ocean’s Eleven was just a year away, probably put a small dent in his perceived seriousness. Ol’ Walter Brennan from the other movie is a wacky deputy who minds the jail. Walter’s the life of the party, as usual.
Dean checks out Walter’s John Wayne impression:
Now Joe’s in jail and every bad dude in town is angry about it. The stage rolls into town carrying Wayne’s old buddy Ward Bond (a John Ford regular), hot chick Angie Dickinson (China Gate, Point Blank, elevator victim in Dressed To Kill) and quickdraw Ricky Nelson (teen idol and TV star). Ward offers to help, Wayne turns him down but a few hours later Ward is shot anyway.
The late Ward, and Wayne who has a colorful shirt for every occasion:
Ricky and Angie:
Eventully badass Burdette (John Russell of The Sun Shines Bright) shows up to help his brother (Claude Akins of The Killers, Merrill’s Marauders). Plans to raid the jail are derailed when they hear Walter will happily blow away the brother if anyone tries anything.
L-R: Walter, a jailed brother, a badass
Action! Dean is kidnapped, Helpful hotel owner Carlos and his wife are kidnapped, shootouts on the street and in the hotel, Walter Brennan gets to use that shotgun, Ricky and Dean each sing us a song, movie ends with a suspenseless comic scene, our heroes all tossing dynamite at the building where Burdette has holed up, shooting and laughing – not the kind of grim, fateful finale you usually get in a violent western. So right, I don’t know what kind of Hawksian analysis the critics apply to scientifically prove this film’s greatness, but I sure thought it was a tootin’ good time.
I always feel like I’m missing something when I watch a movie by one of the Great Classic Hollywood Auteur Directors like Hawks. But I didn’t worry about it much this time… worried instead about the mild sexual undertones of a movie where the leading man is helping search for the leading woman’s kitty, while she is helping search for his bone. No wonder they fall in love completely unprovoked in the final scene.
Grant is a timid professor working on his dinosaur skeleton, engaged to marry an uptight girl, and Hepburn is a completely free, intelligent but breezily unaware-acting rich socialite determined to keep Grant occupied enough that he can’t get married. They were both wonderful in this, and the writing is super, and it’s a joy to watch, but as Katy pointed out, it’s a little TOO screwball. Grant stutters nervously and Hepburn talks over everybody and there’s just no stopping or even slowing down. It’s a blessing that there’s no incidental music cluttering up the soundtrack further. So it’s a bit tiring to watch, but still a magnificent comedy.
IMDB says the movie was a flop, and Hawks and Hepburn both lost jobs because of it. A missed reference to The Awful Truth, and I can’t believe neither Katy nor I noticed that George was the same dog as Mr. Smith in that movie. Grant and Hepburn were both terrific, and Charlie Ruggles (again playing a major) was funnier than in the Lubitsch pictures. Also good: a monocled german named Fritz (Fritz Feld played bit character parts in hundreds of movies) and Aunt Random (80 year old May Robson). Among the Hawksian favorite themes (via Senses of Cinema) found in the movie: nicknaming (KH starts calling CG Mr. Bone), screwing with gender conventions (KH has the more masculine, take-charge character) and social norms.
Wikipedia says it was (arguably) the “first work of fiction, aside from pornography, to use the word gay in a homosexual context.”
Didn’t learn a terrible lot from P.Bog’s audio commentary, but gained a greater appreciation for the movie just by watching (actually listening) to it again, with Peter going on about how great everything is. One gem: “It’s easier to watch on a big screen because you see it bigger.”