Howard Winchester Hawks (May 30, 1896 – December 26, 1977) was one of the most versatile directors of The Golden Age of Hollywood.
Starting out in silent films as an assistant director and other production jobs, Hawks soon moved up to director, and was one of Hollywood's top directors for the next several decades. Among the genres he handled successfully were gangster films, romantic comedies, screwball comedies, westerns, detective movies, and even musicals. Unlike other directors at the time, he wasn't tied to one particular studio. Also, though he worked with a number of well-regarded writers on his films (among them Ben Hecht and William Faulkner), he was also known for changing the script as he was shooting it, with a number of examples of Throw It In in each of his films. He also was legendary for the number of tall tales he told about himself.
Though Hawks directed a number of hits throughout his career, he fell out of favor with critics in the '50s, but was Vindicated by History, thanks to "auteur" critics like François Truffaut who helped restore his reputation. A later generation of directors would cite him as a major influence, second only to John Ford, due to his versatility in moving between genres, with the likes of John Carpenter, Martin Scorsese, Robert Altman, Quentin Tarantino, Wes Anderson, Gregg Araki, and Jim Jarmusch testifying to his influence on their work.
- The Dawn Patrol (1930) - film about World War I flying aces.
- The Crowd Roars (1932) - James Cagney plays a race car driver
- Scarface (1932) - The original version. The Trope Codifier of the gangster film genre and still just as bold and daring as the remake.
- Twentieth Century (1934) - One of the earliest examples of Screwball Comedy.
- Bringing Up Baby (1938) - Perhaps the screwiest of Screwball Comedy, it was a box-office failure but it is Vindicated by History.
- Only Angels Have Wings (1939) - A drama about thrill-seeking aviators starring Cary Grant, Jean Arthur and Rita Hayworth.
- His Girl Friday (1939) - Yet another iconic screwball comedy. Cary Grant and Rosalind Russell (whose performance here inspired the character of Lois Lane) try to free an innocent man from a Miscarriage of Justice, but really it's Will They or Won't They?.
- Sergeant York (1941) - A biopic of World War I hero Alvin York.
- Ball of Fire (1941) - A screwball comedy starring Gary Cooper and Barbara Stanwyck, loosely based on Snow White.
- Air Force (1943) - A war film about aviators who, while ferrying an unarmed bomber across the Pacific, get caught in the attack on Pearl Harbor. Based on an actual incident.
- To Have And Have Not (1944) - The first teaming up Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall.
- The Big Sleep (1946) - The second teaming of Bogart and Bacall, and considered one of the best detective movies ever made.
- Red River (1948) - An important Western and the first serious role for John Wayne note
- I Was a Male War Bride (1949)
- The Thing from Another World (1951) - A classic sci-fi monster movie that relies on suspense rather than special effects. His normal assistant director Christian Nyby is the credited director, even though it plays like one of Hawks' films, causing controversy to this day over how much was Hawks and how much was Nyby, mimicking his tutor.
- Monkey Business (1952) - Screwball comedy involving a youth potion.
- O. Henry's Full House (1952) - Segment "The Ransom of Red Chief"
- Gentlemen Prefer Blondes (1953) - Features Marilyn Monroe's iconic number, "Diamonds Are A Girl's Best Friend!" Again, Hawks did not direct, but rather his choreographer, Jack Cole leaving some controversy over the extent to which he is responsible.
- Land of the Pharoahs (1955) - His foray into the Epic Movie, a box-office failure but interesting for its exploration of Ancient Egypt.
- Rio Bravo (1959) - A major box-office hit in its day, and a Western with more focus on camaraderie and True Companions than on the plot. Also (depending on when you ask him) Quentin Tarantino's favourite film.
- Hatari! (1962) - A movie with no plot, John Wayne and actual animals in Africa. A huge box-office hit.
- El Dorado (1966) - A remake of Rio Bravo, but faster-paced, with more plot complications and more angst about growing old.
- Rio Lobo: A second Rio Bravo remake focusing more on the build-up to The Siege (the events setting the plot into motion, the capture of the prisoner) than the siege itself.
Some tropes associated with Hawks's work are:
- All Work vs. All Play: His movies are unique for blurring these lines, in his films, work is play, and characters who work together have a lot of fun, and the kind of fun that you can only have with people who watch your back.
- Angst? What Angst?: Hawks' movies tend to flaunt this. Only Angels Have Wings opens with the death of a pilot named Joe, and immediately the pilots go around asking "Who's Joe?" and celebrate anyway though they mourn privately. For Hawks, death and tragedy are not the central features of life, but merely interruptions of real living.
- Central Theme: Act like a man.
- Competence Porn: He was credited with making movies about professionals who approach their work with confidence, spirit, fun, and resourcefulness. Movies like Only Angels Have Wings, His Girl Friday, To Have And Have Not and Rio Bravo all had hypercompetent professionals and team-mates banter with each other as the plot focused on how they approached a job.
- Consummate Professional: His films celebrate characters who are this in their chosen field. Rio Bravo is about John Wayne worrying that Dean Martin is undergoing Badass Decay while Ricky Nelson is the young plucky rookie who convinces the professionals that he's so good, "he doesn't need to prove it!" His Girl Friday is about Da Editor Walter Burns (Cary Grant) manipulating his ex Rosalind Russell back into his life, not only because he loves her but because he values her work as a journalist.
- Five-Man Band: His movies tended to be about groups and they tended to fall into roles like this, with Humphrey Bogart, Cary Grant and John Wayne playing The Hero of their own crew in films like To Have And Have Not, Only Angels Have Wings, and Rio Bravo.
- Flashback: Averted; he hated flashbacks and never used one in over 40 years of directing films.
- Genre-Prolific Creator: Howard did war movies (The Dawn Patrol and Sergeant York), screwball comedies (Twentieth Century, Bringing Up Baby and His Girl Friday), westerns (Red River and Rio Bravo), a historical epic (Land of the Pharoahs), noir (The Big Sleep), a musical movie (Gentlemen Prefer Blondes) and science fiction (The Thing from Another World)...maybe. He also codified gangster movies (Scarface (1932)).
- Has a Type: While the "Hawksian Woman" is mainly characterized by her attitude and level of competence, she does have a visual side. She is usually not a statuesque beauty, but physically looks tough enough to succeed in an "un-ladylike" environment and dresses accordingly. Also some critics noted that Hawks' female leads tended to be brunettes and not too busty.
- Magnum Opus Dissonance: The films Hawks tended to be associated in his later years were Rio Bravo, His Girl Friday or To Have And Have Not and he was seen as a director of The Western and the Screwball Comedy. His own favorite was the first Scarface, a classic gangster film for sure, but an atypical work compared to his later films. He stated that it was a movie he had complete freedom to achieve what he wanted.
- Rated M for Manly: A central theme for much of his work—particularly his Westerns and war films—involves looking into the meaning and implications of "being a man". Though funnily enough, auteurist critics actually celebrated his films for having prominent women characters and even being quasi-Feminist, citing Rosalind Russell, Lauren Bacall and Angie Dickinson's performances in these films.
- True Companions: His films were celebrations of this.
- Vitriolic Best Buds: His favorite kind of friendship in his films.