Howard Hawks: 'Auteur' Handled All Types of Genres & Themes

Howard HawksDavid Schwartz discusses filmmaker Howard Hawks (The Big SleepGentlemen Prefer Blondes) and the auteur theory with Andrew Sarris and Molly Haskell at Moving Image Source. Here are a couple of brief quotes from Schwartz's introduction to the interview:

“If Howard Hawks didn't exist, auteurist film critics would have had to invent him. He was the epitome of the idiosyncratic, existential artist who worked undercover, disguised as a competent craftsman with a clean, direct style. Hawks was equal parts entertainer and intellectual; box office receipts rewarded the former, critical insight revealed the latter. The paradox of Hawks was that he toiled anonymously within the genres and conventions of the Hollywood system yet imbued every film with his distinctive personality and a worldview that valued professionalism and the collaborative spirit above all.

“Not coincidentally, these two traits are essential to the filmmaking process, and the connection between Hawks' view of his own professionalism and that of his characters was clear to Andrew Sarris, who anointed the director as a member of the pantheon in his seminal book The American Cinema: 'Like his heroes, Hawks has lived a tightrope existence, keeping his footing in a treacherous industry for more than forty years without surrendering his personal artistry.' Just as Sarris explained and confirmed Hawks' stature as a great director, so did the textural richness of Hawks' entertainments confirm Sarris' stature as a great critic, and validate the very premise of auteurism.”


I can't say I agree with the above trio's view of Howard Hawks' auteurism – especially since the proponents of the auteur theory tend to ignore the crucial contribution of screenwriters, producers, editors, actors, and other artists to the filmmaking process. (For instance, try looking for the word “screenplay” or “screenwriter” in the above interview.)

And perhaps I'm missing something, but I can't see a Hawksian imprint on such disparate efforts as Fig Leaves, A Girl in Every Port, Bringing Up Baby, The Big Sleep, Monkey Business, Gentlemen Prefer Blondes (right), or Rio Bravo. Though I guess I could make something up and find some kind of connection, however tenuous, among all those films. But then again, I could do the same for the oeuvre of other studio directors such as Henry Hathaway, Jack Conway, Sam Wood, William Wyler, or Victor Fleming. Where are their champions?

Strange that no one calls George Cukor an auteur, even though Cukor's work – at least from a thematic standpoint – was much more consistent than Hawks'. Perhaps if Cukor's movies had mostly focused on guys rather than gals things would have been different.

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2 Comments to Howard Hawks: 'Auteur' Handled All Types of Genres & Themes

  1. tim jackson

    In my view, Hawk's was an existential humanist helping to define personal and social relationships through character, caricature and within genres that examined American culture.
    Hawkss' should be Hawks' Sarriss' should be Sarris's or Sarris'


  2. George Uhlman

    Clarence Brown was an auteur, too. Think of all his Garbo films. I could always see Brown's touch in them.

    Maybe also Robert Z. Leonard and Michael Curtiz as well.