My Favourite Howard Hawks films

Howard Hawks is the unsung hero of the Hollywood studio system. Whereas many of the other so-called auteurs working within the studio system tended to carve their respective domains in particular genres, like John Ford's Westerns or John Huston's film noirs, Howard Hawks worked in just about every genre there was, put his stamp on each and every one and, in many cases, even managed to contribute some of the defining classics of their categories.

It's not always easy to point out what makes a Hawks picture so unique. For the most part, his style comes through in the atmosphere and the interactions between characters. There is an uninhibited, almost conversational tone to his dialogue scenes and it always seems like the characters know the perfect, wittiest thing to say at just the right moment. His female leads tend to be strong-willed and ready to walk all over their male costars. His male leads combine good old-fashioned coolness with unprecedented humanity and sensitivity. Concerned less with flamboyant visuals and flashy post-production tricks, Hawks' films are all about heart and sheer entertainment.
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Rio Bravo (1959)
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 8.0/10 X  
A small-town sheriff in the American West enlists the help of a cripple, a drunk, and a young gunfighter in his efforts to hold in jail the brother of the local bad guy. (141 mins.)
Director: Howard Hawks
“ If not the greatest representative of its genre, Rio Bravo certainly epitomizes the spirit of the Western. It is also, fittingly, the quintessential Hawks picture. For a two and half hour long film built mainly on a slow, dialogue-heavy build-up of conflict and sexual tension, there are few pictures that can rival Rio Bravo's sense of fun. And, with Dean Martin and Ricky Nelson at the top of the bill, there's even room for a truly sublime musical sequence right before the inevitable climactic shootout. It just doesn't get much better than this. ” - gagekdiabo
Sergeant York (1941)
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 7.8/10 X  
A hillbilly sharpshooter drafted in WW1 despite his claim to be a pacifist, who ends up becoming a war hero. (134 mins.)
Director: Howard Hawks
“ I adore Sergeant York for the same reason I love The Bridge on the River Kwai: it doesn't tell you what to think. Oddly enough, you could still argue quite convincingly that the film is nothing more than wartime propaganda designed to teach conscientious objecters that, even though war, murder and bloodshed are indeed forbidden by God, the need to stand up for one's country is ultimately the greater priority. Still, the way the film arrives at this conclusion is far from blatant or didactic: one really gets a sense of what makes Cooper's character tick and why, in the end, he allows himself to accomplish what he does. And, for all intents and purposes, it's quite an accomplishment. This is a lovely film. ” - gagekdiabo
Red River (1948)
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 7.8/10 X  
Dunson leads a cattle drive, the culmination of over 14 years of work, to its destination in Missouri. But his tyrannical behavior along the way causes a mutiny, led by his adopted son. (133 mins.)
“ Red River, among other things, introduced Montgomery Clift to the world and reminded many (John Ford, for instance) that John Wayne could indeed put on a great performance when given the right role by the right director. It is also a classic father-son story which, unfortunately, doesn't follow through on its initial promise by settling for a rather unsatisfying happy ending (I've always felt that the spaghetti western Day of Anger did exactly the opposite: the spectacular pay-off to the father-son conflict but with none of the build up to justify it. If they had somehow managed to combine the strengths of the two, perhaps we would have ended up with two near-perfect films instead of a couple of flawed ones). ” - gagekdiabo
The Big Sleep (1946)
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 8.0/10 X  
Private detective Philip Marlowe is hired by a rich family. Before the complex case is over, he's seen murder, blackmail, and what might be love. (114 mins.)
Director: Howard Hawks
“ The Big Sleep was not the first collaboration between the real-life husband and wife team of Bogart and Bacall, but it was arguably the best. It was so good that the studio famously re-cut the movie to add even more of that explosive chemistry and sexual tension at the expense of the coherence of plot, which makes absolutely no sense (not that it made much more sense in the original novel, by most accounts). Lauren Bacall was practically born to play the ever-present Hawksian female lead and nowhere does she get to flaunt it better than in this film. ” - gagekdiabo
His Girl Friday (1940)
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 8.0/10 X  
A newspaper editor uses every trick in the book to keep his ace reporter ex-wife from remarrying. (92 mins.)
Director: Howard Hawks
“ Anyone who says that old movies are too slow and full of boring dialogue should immediately be directed to His Girl Friday, the craziest, most motor-mouthed screwball comedy ever made. Based on a play, but switching the lead role to another of Hawks' beloved headstrong, fast-talking women to inject it with some romantic tomfoolery, most of the film takes place within a newspaper office where, by the end of the film, characters are running off and on and even jumping out of windows so quickly that it can (and will) make your head spin. It's hilarious, it makes my brain hurt and I love it. ” - gagekdiabo
To Have and Have Not (1944)
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 8.0/10 X  
During World War II, American expatriate Harry Morgan helps transport a French Resistance leader and his beautiful wife to Martinique while romancing a sexy lounge singer. (100 mins.)
Director: Howard Hawks
“ So Howard Hawks gets to direct an adaptation of the crappiest Ernest Hemingway novel and what he ends up with is Casablanca-meets-The Big Sleep. Go figure. It has next to nothing to do with the book (which, if you ask me, is a good thing), but it certainly does have lots of that old Bogart-Bacall magic in its place. There's also Hoagy Carmichael both acting and providing the music, a pitch-perfect supporting role for Hawks mainstay Walter Brennan and a chance to hear Bacall sing with that... yeah, let's call it 'sexy' voice of hers. ” - gagekdiabo
Bringing Up Baby (1938)
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 8.0/10 X  
While trying to secure a $1 million donation for his museum, a befuddled paleontologist is pursued by a flighty and often irritating heiress and her pet leopard, Baby. (102 mins.)
Director: Howard Hawks
“ Baby, if you didn't know, is a tiger. Cary Grant, Katherine Hepburn and a tiger. What could possibly go wrong?

Bringing Up Baby is the film that set the standard for the screwball comedy, just one of the many genres in which Hawks excelled on a regular basis. It's also (although you wouldn't notice it) very much a special effects picture, full of matte shots and trick photography to simulate putting the tigers and the actors in closed spaces that, as a matter of common sense, could not have been at all safe for anyone involved. Apparently it was not nearly as popular when it came out as it is today, which means that audiences back then had to have been, for lack of a better word, dumb. ” - gagekdiabo
Hatari! (1962)
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 7.2/10 X  
A group of men trap wild animals in Africa and sell them to zoos before the arrival of a female wildlife photographer threatens to change their ways. (157 mins.)
Director: Howard Hawks
“ Now this is a film I never thought I'd enjoy. Like Rio Bravo, it pushes two and a half hours but unlike that film, with its steady build-up to a violent conflict, Hatari has almost no plot at all. What it does have is that inimitable Howard Hawks atmosphere. It's all dialogue and character interaction mixed in with the odd song, comic relief or safari sequence but, miraculously, it never seems boring. If anything, I'd call this the great underrated Hawks film. You wouldn't think, but Hatari has got some great material working for it. ” - gagekdiabo
I Was a Male War Bride (1949)
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 7.1/10 X  
Captain Henri Rochard is a French officer assigned to work with Lieut. Catherine Gates. Through a wacky series of misadventures... (105 mins.)
Director: Howard Hawks
“ Like Hatari, I Was a Male War Bride doesn't get talked about as much as films like His Girl Friday or Bringing Up Baby. That's probably because the title is godawful. But, if you actually look at the film, it still holds up well against his other comedies and war films.

I Was a Male War Bride is also quite a subversive film, when you think about it. The target is the stuffy procedure-obsessed military, and Hawks milks the absurdity of army bureaucracy for all its worth right through the entire picture, culminating in the titular scheme where Cary Grant is forced to dress in drag and pose as a war bride in order to board the same ship as his wife during their honeymoon. If you don't find the mental image alone hilarious, then there's no hope for you. ” - gagekdiabo
The Thing from Another World (1951)
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 7.3/10 X  
Scientists and American Air Force officials fend off a blood-thirsty alien organism while at a remote arctic outpost. (87 mins.)
Director: Christian Nyby
“ Did Howard Hawks even direct The Thing from Another World? Nobody really knows for sure, but it's definitely got his fingerprints all over it. Once again, dialogue is king and naturalistic, conversational performances reign, resulting in a film that is not necessarily intense or genuinely frightening (at least not today) but creepy in its atmosphere and sense of reality. And, for those who think that Hawks was not a visual director, this film features some of the most memorable images of the science fiction genre, like the tracing of the spaceship's outline on the ice and the famous torching of the monster in the doorway. So what if Hawks may or may not have even directed it? It's great! ” - gagekdiabo
Scarface (1932)
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 7.8/10 X  
An ambitious and near insanely violent gangster climbs the ladder of success in the mob, but his weaknesses prove to be his downfall. (93 mins.)
“ Speaking of visuals, what about Scarface? For an earlier film (and a relatively early sound film too) Hawks displays a very definite sense of visual style and fluidity in this film that, oddly enough, doesn't seem to be pushed as much to the forefront in his later films. Could it have the presence of the infamous Howard Hughes as producer that did it? In any case, Scarface is an indisputable classic of the gangster genre and one of Hawks' more cinematically adventurous films. ” - gagekdiabo
Gentlemen Prefer Blondes (1953)
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 7.3/10 X  
Showgirls Lorelei Lee and Dorothy Shaw travel to Paris, pursued by a private detective hired by the suspicious father of Lorelei's fiancé, as well as a rich, enamored old man and many other doting admirers. (91 mins.)
Director: Howard Hawks
“ They say that MGM made the artsy musicals and Fox made, well, musicals like Gentlemen Prefer Blondes. If the title and poster art don't give it away enough, it's bawdy as all hell and about as racy as films from the fifties can get but still with that unmistakeable Hawks touch in the way the characters speak and interact. The colours are gorgeous, the women are absurdly beautiful, the men are all bodybuilders and the musical numbers are fun but it doesn't really add up to much in the end (although they did make a sequel). It's no An American in Paris or The Band Wagon, but at least it's something. ” - gagekdiabo
Monkey Business (1952)
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 7.0/10 X  
A chemist finds his personal and professional life turned upside down when one of his chimpanzees finds the fountain of youth. (97 mins.)
Director: Howard Hawks
“ Monkey Business is pure silliness. Think Bringing Up Baby, but with monkeys and an absent-minded professor slant. And Marilyn Monroe, in a much smaller role than the DVD cover art would have you believe. Still, it's always fun to see Cary Grant play the fool and the loveable nerd instead of the suave manly man for a change. ” - gagekdiabo