33. Howard Hawks
It’s easy to overlook director Howard Hawks’ talent as a director given how remarkably unflashy his films are. But for a few carefully chosen instances, Hawks shot his film in a uniform medium or wide shot to properly cover the scene. If you watch the films, you’ll almost never notice what the camera is doing because it doesn’t draw attention to itself. This, however, is precisely what made Hawks such a master. He never got in the way of the story he was telling. He made a number of classic films in a number of genres, from the seminal gangster movie Scarface (1932) to the somber war film Sergeant York (1941) to the Film Noir staple The Big Sleep (1946). He is perhaps best known for making some of the quintessential entries into two separate and quite different genres: screwball comedies and westerns. The patter of the dialogue in his screwball comedies was rivaled only by the likes of Frank Capra and Preston Sturges. Hawks’ films Bringing Up Baby (1938) and His Girl Friday (1940) were some of the silliest, smartest, and snappiest comedies to come out during the period, and went on to influence countless romantic comedies that followed. Hawks liked his women brassy and so always demanded lead characters who, though very feminine, would talk like men, exemplified in His Girl Friday when he changed what in the original play was a man into the no-nonsense Rosalind Russell part. Hawks made a number of westerns, though the best were with John Wayne, and they never lost the sense of humor that made Hawks’ screwballs so enjoyable. The 1948 film Red River, depicting a cattle drive, offered plenty of western action and intrigue amid the glorious backdrop of America’s wilderness. Rio Bravo (1959) was Hawks and the Duke’s response to High Noon and is one of the most influential films to the action genre of all time, giving birth to the traditional “base-under-siege” plot. The film was remade by Hawks in 1966 as El Dorado, which upped the humor even further, and again in 1970 with the somewhat lackluster Rio Lobo. Throughout all the many stories Hawks told, his camera was always precisely where it needed to be.
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