January 2014, arsenal cinema

Retrospective Howard Hawks


Howard Hawks (1896–1977) is one of classical Hollywood cinema's great directors. He is regarded as the consummate Hollywood professional, creating narratively and directorially accomplished entertainment full of fast-paced thrills, humor and tension. His oeuvre spans the period from 1926 to 1970 and takes in nearly all the genres of the time: comedies, westerns, musicals as well as war, adventure and gangster films. Our comprehensive retrospective continues until the end of January, presenting presents famous classics alongside some less well-known discoveries.

A SONG IS BORN (USA 1948, 1.1.) An ensemble of unworldly music scholars who have been shut away for years to work on an encyclopedia are brought into contact with contemporary music by two Afro-American window cleaners. Suitably inspired, their leader Professor Frisbee sets out on a journey of discovery though jazz clubs and night bars and invites various musicians to take part in his studies. Singer and gangster moll Honey Swanson takes advantage of his invitation to get out of an imminent police interrogation and sets up home in the villa that houses Frisbee and his seven colleagues. Howard Hawks' first film in color is a remake of his own film "Ball of Fire" (1941) about a group of linguists. Hawks uses the shift from linguistics to musicology as the excuse to direct a whole wealth of jazz greats as actors and musicians: Benny Goodman, Louis Armstrong, Lionel Hampton, Tommy Dorsey, the Golden Gate Quartet and many more.

BARBARY COAST (USA 1935, 2.1.) San Francisco during the 1850's gold rush: dancer Mary Rutledge finds out on her arrival that her husband-to-be has been killed in a gambling fight. She does not remain alone for long in the new city however: powerful casino owner and underworld king Louis Chamalis (Edward G. Robinson) takes her on without actually giving her any choice in the matter. When Mary meets a young gold seeker with a fondness for poetry, the drama soon takes its course. An underrated, often unfairly ignored film with a sustained atmosphere distinguished by a level of characterization unusual for the genre.

MONKEY BUSINESS (USA 1952, 4.1.) Howard Hawks' intelligent, timeless critique of the cult of youth and the desire to stay young takes the form of a turbulent, highly charged farce. Professor Barnaby Fulton (Cary Grant) is working on an elixir of youth and is so involved in his work that he hardly even notices what's going on around him. When one of his test chimpanzees escapes from its cage, it manages to achieve what the professor has not yet been able to: to create a highly potent mixture that it then adds to the drinking water containers in the lab, thus turning the lives of the previously sober scientist, his wife (Ginger Rogers) and secretary (Marilyn Monroe) totally upside down.

HATARI! (USA 1962, 5.1.) A group of colorful characters led by the young owner of an animal farm and the team's mellow "technical head" Sean Mercer (John Wayne) are catching animals in East Africa for a zoo. Young photographer Anna Maria "Dallas" (Elsa Martinelli) would like to document this dangerous hunt but is initially rejected by Mercer… HATARI! shows man and animal, civilization and nature all in strange harmony: the hunters do not actually kill, while "Dallas" becomes the "mother" of three baby elephants and consequently joins a local tribe following the respective initiation. Hawks' high-spirited adventure comedy is surely one of his most relaxed works and one of the few examples of a late career masterpiece. Despite some outstanding acting performances, the true star of the film is Russell Harlan's camera. The rousingly filmed hunting sequences are some of the best ever committed to film.

RIO BRAVO (USA 1959, 7.1.) Sheriff John T. Chance (John Wayne) arrests the brother of rancher baron Burdette for shooting dead an unarmed man in the saloon. The Burdette clan do everything they can to try and free the prisoner, but Chance will not be intimated by their threats. Supported by his alcoholic deputy (Dean Martin), an eccentric old man (Walter Brennan), a card-playing woman in transit and a young cowboy, he defies the siege put in place by Burdette's revolver men. A Western without the expanse of the prairie, a chamber drama that plays out between the saloon, main street and sheriff’s office. Hawks' ode to friendship, which reaches its highpoint during a joint sing-song in the besieged sheriff's office.

Alongside the early war film "The Dawn Patrol", ONLY ANGELS HAVE WINGS (USA 1939, 6.1.) is Hawks' most outstanding flying film. It is based on an autobiographical short story by Hawks ("Plane Four from Barranca"), who, himself an enthusiastic pilot, lost his brother in 1930 in a plane crash. In Barranca, a South American retreat on the edge of civilization, Jeff Carter (Cary Grant) heads a small private post airline with a reputation for adventurousness. In order to secure a contract with the government, the pilots are forced on a daily basis to fulfill their targets under the most difficult of conditions. The flights over the Andes are often very dangerous due to the unstable weather conditions, with crashes frequently occurring. The appearance of a self-confident "Hawksian woman" in the form of Bonnie Lee challenges both the behavior of this tightly knit group of death-defying male pilots as well as their understanding of professionalism. A melodramatic adventure story with polished dialogue and comedy elements.

COME AND GET IT (Howard Hawks, William Wyler, USA 1936, 8.1.) Lumberjack Barney Glasgow decides to try and better his social position even against his own judgment. He leaves saloon girl Lotta in order to marry his boss's wife. After rising through the ranks to become an unscrupulous timber tycoon, he falls in love with Lotta's daughter many years later, who looks almost exactly like her dead mother. He thus becomes his own son's rival for her affections. Following an argument with producer Samuel Goldwyn, Howard Hawks was replaced as director by William Wyler. According to Hawks, Wyler only shot the last ten minutes of the film, while other sources indicate that Wyler directed a significant amount of new material. The result is an adventure/melodrama with two different artistic signatures, even if the first part unmistakably shows the special Hawks' touch.

BRINGING UP BABY (USA 1938, 9.1.) The life of paleontologist David Huxley (Cary Grant) has always followed the same clearly defined pattern. For years now, he has been reconstructing the skeleton of a giant brontosaurus, with only one small bone needing to be added for it to be completed. The day before he is due to marry one of his loyal colleagues, Huxley meets the eccentric heiress to a multimillion dollar estate (Katharine Hepburn). Making her acquaintance changes Huxley's life in a flash. A plot whose twists can hardly be topped and an equally fast-paced directorial style characterize what is probably the most famous of all the screwball classics.

THE DAWN PATROL (USA 1930, 15. & 25.1.) France in the First World War: The commander of an English flight squadron has to send ill-equipped airplanes manned by inexperienced pilots into battle on a daily basis, knowing full well that only few of them will return. Perhaps the most famous part of Hawks’ first sound film is its air battle scenes, which appeared highly spectacular at the time and were subsequently reused for the 1938 remake with Errol Flynn. Hawks himself flew one of the planes with a camera mounted on the front. Six years later, he went on to shoot THE ROAD TO GLORY, a variation on the same story he'd originally written

A GIRL IN EVERY PORT (USA 1928, 17.1., with a live piano accompaniment by Eunice Martins) The story of two sailors with a girl in every port who are always up for a fight. After spending a night in prison, they become thick as thieves and sail the seven seas together until they catch sight of Mamsell Godiva’s (Louise Brooks) legs in Paris and suddenly start to dream of settling down and having a family. Just as their love for the same woman becomes a test of their friendship, this jaunty comedy morphs into a subdued drama, a precise study of a love triangle.

RED RIVER (USA 1948, 22. & 30.1.) After taking part in a settler's trek, Thomas Dunson (John Wayne) arrives at the Red River and builds a ranch, taking on young Matthew Garth (Montgomery Clift) as his effective son in the process. Ten years later, Dunson now rules over a huge cattle herd. As he is unable to shift any of their number in Texas, he decides to take 10,000 animals on the 1000-mile trip through rough terrain to Missouri. It soon becomes clear that the enterprise requires backbreaking exertion, with Dunson overseeing proceedings with an iron first and a despotic, authoritarian manner. His unrelenting strictness leads to resentment amongst the cowboys and forces his adoptive son Matthew Garth to take sides. Hawks' visually powerful film contains striking crowd scenes, including the start of the trek and the cattle stampede, and is seen by many as his best Western. (hjf)