Learning How To Whistle: Introduction

Hi everyone! It’s Elaine here, joining Ethan on Best Films of Our Lives. As our post-graduation denial increases, Ethan and I have decided to embark upon a summer project. As some of you faithful readers might remember, last summer, inspired by the charm of “Midnight in Paris,” Ethan attempted to watch as many of Woody Allen’s very, very numerous films as possible. This year, we’ve decided to take this idea in a different direction, choosing a very different director and making it a collaborative effort (mostly to ensure that Ethan doesn’t go crazy and/or give up in the attempt). Now, who is the man (alas, very few female directors) lucky enough to be chosen for our seasonal scrutiny? Drumroll please…

Howard Hawks!

Though Howard Hawks (1896-1977) never won an Oscar, he was one of the most in-demand directors of the classic Hollywood era. His Honorary Academy Award referred to him as “a master American filmmaker whose creative efforts hold a distinguished place in world cinema.”

Now you’re probably arching your eyebrows or moving your cursor towards the quit button because you’ve never heard of this person (or mistook him for Howard Hughes, as yours truly did yesterday, to great shame). But though the name doesn’t sound familiar, chances are you’ve seen or at least heard of some of his films. See if I’m right: “The Big Sleep,” “Gentlemen Prefer Blondes, “His Girl Friday,” “Bringing Up Baby,” “Red River,” “Scarface” (the original). At least one of those must have rung a bell. If his filmography isn’t enough to convince you of Hawks’ importance, the list of actors and actresses who made or furthered their careers in his films is any director’s greatest dream: Bogey and Bacall (in her first film), Cary Grant, Marilyn Monroe (and the iconic “Diamonds Are A Girl’s Best Friend”), Katherine Hepburn, John Wayne, Montgomery Clift, and Gary Cooper–many of whom remain household names even today. “Scarface” and “The Thing From Another World” have both inspired popular contemporary remakes, and what girl doesn’t know that diamonds are her best friend?

Yet what intrigues us about Hawks is that though his films undoubtedly live on, he himself is forgotten. Perhaps it is the very diversity of his work, from noirs to Westerns to screwball comedies, that we fail to link a single person behind all these iconic works. What Ethan and I want to know this summer is if there is a connection between all of these seemingly disparate movies, if there is something “Hawksian” we can pinpoint, be it a certain technique with the camera or a thematic preference. Fortunately for us, many of his films seem to pair off, with two well known Westerns, two Bogey/Bacall noirs, and multiple Cary-Grant-woos-pretty-lady-with-arrogant-charm movies. So we’ve divided up a list of his movies and are going to make our way through them to try and identify the chameleon man behind the camera. Then, after we’ve come to a verdict with hopefully minimal tears and bloodshed, we’ll bring those conversations to you. We’d love to hear from you guys as well, so if any of you are interested in following and watching with us, here’s a list of the movies we’ll be seeing. Happy watching!

“Scarface,” “Bringing Up Baby,” “Red River,” “His Girl Friday,” “Only Angels Have Wings,” “The Big Sleep,” “Rio Bravo,” “The Thing From Another World,” “Gentlemen Prefer Blondes,” “Sergeant York,” “To Have and Have Not,” “Monkey Business”

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