"A New York Treasure" --Village Voice

Million Dollar Movie


Here’s a cool 2008 Museum of the Moving Image interview with Molly Haskell and Andrew Sarris about Howard Hawks.

Howard Hawks is a great example of a director who was rescued by film critics.

SARRIS: Well, by the French!

Could you talk about how that happened? Hawks was successful as a director in Hollywood, but not really known.

SARRIS: He was successful, but he wasn’t prestigious.

HASKELL: Wasn’t taken seriously.

SARRIS: I think he was only nominated for one Oscar, for Sergeant York. And he never won an Oscar, of course. The first time I heard about him was when my friend Eugene Archer, went to Paris in the 1950s on a Fulbright. He wrote me a letter and said, “Who the hell is Howard Hawks?” He had signed a contract for a book that he was going to do about six directors: Elia Kazan, John Ford, George Stevens, and so on. The Cahiers people said, “Ugh! What about Howard Hawks and Hitchcock?”

And so he wrote me this letter; it’s the first time I heard anybody being so high on Hawks. I had seen a lot of Hawks’s movies in revival houses, so I was really up on him. But I couldn’t quite get him, because he had so many different genres. And that’s what the French loved about him, precisely. Because for instance, Hitchcock would never do a western or a musical. And then Dan Talbot ran a Hawks festival at the New Yorker Theater, and I wrote something about it. And I was writing for little publications.

And you were reading the French critics on Hawks?

SARRIS: Yeah, in Cahiers. Truffaut and Godard were just crazy about Hawks. And especially at that time, Rio Bravo had just come out, and that was, to them, huge. And here, people just thought it was another western.

And another thing, it was sort of an accident of film history. Robert Warshow wrote “The Gangster as Tragic Hero,” and he wrote about Little Caesar and The Public Enemy but he didn’t write about Scarface, because Scarface was not in general circulation for many years. It was a Howard Hawks picture, and the French had been on Scarface’s trail since ’32. So it was not just the Cahiers people. Even before Cahiers, Hawks was admired for Scarface. And all the other 1930s adventure films. But here in America, even Warshow didn’t know about Scarface. In fact, I hadn’t seen it when I was writing all these Hawks articles; it still wasn’t available. I only saw it very much later.


1 Matt Blankman   ~  Mar 5, 2014 11:27 am

I love the part where they discuss Bogie vs. Duke. Interesting perspective.

2 Alex Belth   ~  Mar 5, 2014 11:35 am

HASKELL: It's not about introspection or internal conflict. Everything you are is out there, is externalized. Also Hawks really brings out the feminine side of the men. We've talked about the masculine side of the women, but there's the feminine side of the men. That's in Cary Grant and in John Wayne. I think Manny Farber talked about that. Or at least he talked about Hawks's feminine touch or something. That's why there's sexual tension or excitement. I think there is this awareness of the feminine side, and maybe a little nervousness about it.

3 Matt Blankman   ~  Mar 5, 2014 12:14 pm

It is funny that Haskell and Sarris were married for so long and the intro to the interview is kinda spot-on when it says that if they hadn't existed, Hawks might have invented them. What a perfect idea for a Hawks comedy - two film critics. Too on the nose, I guess, but a funny idea.

4 Matt Blankman   ~  Mar 5, 2014 12:16 pm

SARRIS: Apropos of nothing at all, I just remembered a funny thing. Hawks was talking about a scene with John Wayne and Angie Dickinson in Rio Bravo. And John Wayne says something very cutting, very full of attitude towards her. And Hawks said, "You know, Wayne can't get away with that. I mean, he can't do that. He can't really project this kind of superior feeling. But Bogart can. Bogart can really insult a woman. He can really, you know, take her apart. But Wayne just—you know, he's too repressed to do that."

HASKELL: Well, he's gentler, really.

SARRIS: Yeah, he's much gentler.

HASKELL: Yeah. That's what's so ironic. All these liberals just hate John Wayne, and...

SARRIS: And they love Bogart.

HASKELL: ...they love Bogie. But Bogie is much more macho and arrogant in every way.

5 Bluenatic   ~  Mar 5, 2014 12:21 pm

Who is the actress in that photo?

6 Matt Blankman   ~  Mar 5, 2014 1:07 pm

[5] Angie Dickinson

7 Alex Belth   ~  Mar 5, 2014 1:50 pm

I like the idea of how much harder men and women were back then, especially in romantic comedies. It's true. That's what really made those movies crack.

8 Sliced Bread   ~  Mar 5, 2014 1:59 pm

6) demonstrating the filmmaking technique, rack focus.

feed Share on Facebook Share on Twitter Share via email
"This ain't football. We do this every day."
--Earl Weaver