#235 (tie) – Red River (1948), dir. Howard Hawks & Arthur Rosson

Red River (1948)

Denial ain’t just… John Wayne stars as a ruthless rancher willing to kill his ranch hands if it means keeping his own form of order on a cattle drive from Texas in Howard Hawks’ Red River.

Howard Hawks is a mainstay of the Sight & Sound list, contributing more entries (six) than any other American director. This will be the fifth Hawks film we’ve tackled here at Fan With a Movie Yammer, and it is readily apparent that the director is a master of many styles. So far we’ve seen an adventure drama, two screwball comedies, a noir whodunit, and now with our latest film — Red River (1948) — a Western. And a very expansive Western at that, as the movie finds cowboy film legend John Wayne and the tightly wound Montgomery Clift (in his first major film role) at the head of a massive herd of cattle as they seek to drive their way to fortune and glory in post-Civil War America. Red River is an unusual Western, passing over the black-and-white morality of so many of these films by presenting a deeply flawed hero/villain in Wayne’s iron-hard rancher. It also serves as an interesting snapshot of a transitional moment in American cinema as a new breed of actor was starting to emerge that eschewed the heightened (some might say stagy) performing styles of Golden Age Hollywood in search of something more real and emotionally resonant. This, of course, comes in the form of Clift, whose twitchy performance as Matt Garth stands in sharp contrast to the old school styles of his fellow actors, and set the stage for the likes of James Dean and Marlon Brando in the decade to come. (133 min.) Continue reading

#202 (tie) – The Big Sleep (1946), dir. Howard Hawks

The Big Sleep (1946)

Somebody’s always giving me guns. Humphrey Bogart stars as the iconic private eye Philip Marlowe in The Big Sleep, director Howard Hawks’ shadow-drenched adaptation of the classic detective novel of the same name.

In 1939, at the age of 51, former businessman Raymond Chandler published his first novel, The Big Sleep, a dark, complex mystery following hard-boiled private detective Philip Marlowe as he wends his way through a series of murders and disappearances tied to a blackmail and pornography racket. Chandler is one of the great stylists in American literature and a giant in the genre of detective fiction, but there is no doubt that a solid measure of his fame stems from director Howard Hawks’ film noir adaptation of The Big Sleep (1946). The film capitalizes on the tough, anti-hero charisma of Humphrey Bogart in the role of Philip Marlowe and spices up the mix by pairing Bogie with Lauren Bacall. The two were then in the midst of a torrid affair and that chemistry is splashed all across the screen — in some ways it actually saved the movie from potential box office disaster (we’ll get into that below). In many respects The Big Sleep is a tangled mess of a film. It’s not really the best place to go for a coherent narrative or earned plot twists, but it is blessed with some of the best dialogue of any noir fiction. And while the film as whole might not make much sense, individual scenes sparkle with sexual tension or slang-ridden bravado. It’s the rare murder mystery where it doesn’t really matter a damn who done it. Being along for the ride is more than enough. (115 minutes) Continue reading

#171 (tie) – His Girl Friday (1940), dir. Howard Hawks

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Follow my lede. Rosalind Russell and Cary Grant star as two conniving newspapermen (and former huband and wife) covering the upcoming execution of a murderer in the bullet-quick black comedy His Girl Friday.

Director Howard Hawks returns to the yammerverse for his third Sight & Sound list movie in as many years. His Girl Friday (1940) also marks the third time Hawks has made use of the talents of Cary Grant, who stars as Walter Burns, the unscrupulous editor of a popular, but very tabloidy, New York newspaper. But Grant takes a backseat in this vehicle to Rosalind Russell, whose Hildy Johnson is a hardnosed journalist and Walter’s ex-wife. Hildy is about to get remarried and leave the newspaper — two things Walter won’t stand for. His Girl Friday falls very much into Hollywood’s screwball comedy form, although the characters aren’t as loopy or pratfall-prone as one would find in Hawks’ Bringing Up Baby or Preston Sturges’ The Lady Eve. Rather, this is a movie of very competent — and intensely chatty — characters who are trying to out-scheme each other to get what they want, be it money, love, or that exclusive story. And as it happens, His Girl Friday is actually a remake of an earlier film (The Front Page, 1931), which goes to show that not every remake is a sign of creative bankruptcy. Sometimes a story really needs a second chance, and His Girl Friday is all about seizing onto those second chances. (88 min.) Continue reading

#110 (tie) – Bringing Up Baby (1938), dir. Howard Hawks

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Since my Baby left me… Cary Grant, Katherine Hepburn, and George serenade a roof-bound leopard in Howard Hawks’ madcap comedy Bringing Up Baby.

In the 1930s a new fast-paced and borderline insane form of movie laugh-making came to the fore in Hollywood: the screwball comedy. Rather than falling into the established pattern of wild comedic characters and suffering straight men, everyone is ridiculous in screwball comedy. For you non-baseball fans out there, a screwball is a little-used pitch that moves in the opposite direction to the more commonly thrown curveball, which lead to the term being taken up to refer to eccentricity. Often considered the peak of the screwball form is Howard Hawk’s Bringing Up Baby (1938), featuring Cary Grant and Katherine Hepburn. And the situation in Bringing Up Baby is indeed eccentric, with Grant playing a nervous paleontologist trying to secure a grant for his museum and Hepburn as a confident but supremely ditzy heiress who tricks Grant into helping her transport the tame leopard Baby to her aunt’s house. The film is even more ludicrous than that sounds, with Hepburn’s lovestruck loon, in particular, serving as one of the most brazenly ridiculous characters to be found in classic comedy. That’s a pretty impressive feat, considering that she co-stars with a very naughty dog and a real, live jungle cat. (102 min.) Continue reading

#154 (tie) – Only Angels Have Wings (1939), dir. Howard Hawks

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Pea-nuuuuuuuuuuuts!!! Cary Grant and Jean Arthur star in Only Angels Have Wings (1939), Howard Hawk’s action-packed adventure melodrama about mail pilots flying dangerous mountain routes in South America.

A young woman gets mixed up with a group of hard livin’, hard drinkin’ expatriate pilots who careen through a life of reckless adventure in Howard Hawks’ Only Angels Have Wings (1939). Cary Grant plays the manager of a small airline contracted to carry the mail through dangerous South American mountain passes. Equipped with small, out-of-date planes, the pilots don’t have the equipment needed to fly above the mountains or navigate safely in bad weather, making every flight a chance for high drama. Our window into this insane business is a plucky American woman (Jean Arthur), who steps off a boat for what is supposed to be a few hours and finds herself unable to resist Grant’s churlish appeal. This is the first movie by Howard Hawks we are going to discuss, but it is certainly not the last, as Hawks has more films on the Sight & Sound 250 list than any other American director. (121 min.) Continue reading