Howard Hawks

Bacall and Bogart in The Big Sleep (1946)

Bacall and Bogart in The Big Sleep (1946)

  • Born: 1896
  • Died: 1977
  • Rank: 32
  • Score: 628.30
  • Nominations: Oscar / 3 DGA
  • Feature Films: 40
  • Best: The Big Sleep
  • Worst: Red Line 7000

Top 5 Feature Films:

  1. The Big Sleep – 1946
  2. Scarface – 1932
  3. His Girl Friday – 1940
  4. Red River – 1948
  5. Bringing Up Baby – 1938

Top 10 Best Director Finishes (Nighthawk Awards):

  • 1932-33 – 1st – Scarface
  • 1938 – 5th – Bringing Up Baby
  • 1940 – 5th – His Girl Friday
  • 1941 – 9th – Ball of Fire
  • 1945 – 3rd – To Have and Have Not
  • 1946 – 2nd – The Big Sleep
  • 1948 – 3rd – Red River

A consistent director through the studio era and into the fifties, worshipped by the French New Wave (along with Hitchcock and Ford), Hawks was a consummate craftsman. He had great range and his best four films are a detective film, a Mafia film, a screwball comedy and a western. When called upon, he could do war films and dramas, action films and musicals. And he knew how to direct actors. He directed Gary Cooper to his first Oscar, got some of the best performances from Rosalind Russell, Paul Muni, Cary Grant and Katharine Hepburn, directed to first two Bogie and Bacall films and got such a performance out of John Wayne in Red River that John Ford, Wayne’s longtime director commented upon seeing the film “I didn’t know the big fella could act.”

Hawks was a solid director in the twenties and thirties, though he distinguished himself with Scarface and Bringing Up Baby, but in the forties he took off, directing many of the best films of the decade. In the fifties he continued to have success with such films like Gentlemen Prefer Blondes and Rio Bravo but he never again directed a great film. It didn’t much matter, because as he slowly faded into decent films he was discovered and worshipped by the French as the prime example of the auteur theory and he got to spend his final working years and his post-retirement years as a director who had finally had his greatness acknowledged.

The Big Sleep – #5 film of 1946

What magnificent lines.  There was never any question what film character I wanted to be – I wanted to be Sam Spade and my love for Bogart films grew out of The Maltese Falcon.  But Spade is a harder man than Philip Marlowe and one of the pure joys of The Big Sleep is that is has an edge of humor that Falcon doesn’t.  While it’s not quite as complete a film as Falcon and certainly not as tight (there is the famous story about the corpse that Bogart couldn’t figure out who killed – he asked Hawks, Hawks asked Faulkner, who had written the screenplay, Faulkner didn’t know, so Hawks called Chandler and Chandler couldn’t figure it out), there is an air of playfulness, partially because of the performance by Martha Vickers, and partially because there is a bit of comedy to Lauren Bacall that wasn’t apparent in Mary Astor.

But think of the lines – because the lines are pure Marlowe, the kind of lines that Spade wouldn’t say:  “She tried to sit in my lap while I was standing up.”  “So many guns and so few brains.”  “I don’t mind if you don’t like my manners, I don’t like them myself. They are pretty bad. I grieve over them on long winter evenings.”

Bogart seems more relaxed in this role and while it is not his best work because it does lack some of that intensity he brought to Sam Spade, Fred C. Dobbs and Captain Queeg, but he was more at ease.  Of course, he was in love.  Both in the film and in real life.  Peter Lorre had made it clear to Bogart that life is too short and if you find happiness, you go with it, so Bogart had finally left his wife, with whom he was miserable and married Bacall and so came one of the great Hollywood marriages.  They made four films together.  This is by far the best.

What makes the film is the little moments.  There is the initial scene in the film and the way the General and Marlow dance around each other in conversation, followed by similar scenes with the butler and with Bacall.  There is the scene in the club where Bogie and Bacall talk, ostensibly, about horses, with some of the greatest double entendres of the code era.  Then there is my favorite scene.  The scene with Dorothy Malone in the bookstore.  First there is the great conversation between the two.  Then there is the look she gives him and the way she takes off the glasses.  And that moment right there just makes the film.

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