HOWARD HAWKS by Todd McCarthy


The Grey Fox of Hollywood
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 A pleasingly thorough, if not critically groundbreaking, retrospective of the works and life of Hollywood's most versatile (and, to some cineasts, best) director. Hawks was born into a successful midwestern mercantile family. Detailing the level and range of their business successes, film critic McCarthy (King of the B's, 1975) suggests how the confidence bred in Hawks by his family's position strengthened his determination when he came to Hollywood: He wanted to work in a number of different genres, and he wanted to remain independent of the big studios. Despite the odds, he did. McCarthy focuses with great and admirable detail on Hawks's films. His life was rowdy and colorful (he was a womanizer and a gambler), and McCarthy communicates the essentials without ever losing focus on the director's artistry. Especially fascinating is the chapter on Red River, a blend of the requisite quotes on the previously untapped acting ability of John Wayne (e.g., Ford's ``I didn't know the sonofabitch could act!''), tales of sparring between Wayne and costar Montgomery Clift and Hawks's dissatisfaction with Joanne Dru, a concise analysis of the movie's importance to Hawks's artistic freedom, and not too much about the film's already much- discussed homoerotic intonations. Highlights from other chapters include fresh discussions of overlapping dialogue in the romantic comedies, recaps of the sometimes surprising public response to his films (too-cynical Twentieth Century was a box office dud), and end-of-chapter roundups of critical views of each film, notable for including not only reviews of the time but the opinions of film historians like Jeanine Basinger and little-known critics like Jean-Pierre Coursodon. Though the most enjoyable book on Hawks remains Joseph McBride's Hawks on Hawks, this is an essential complement to it and to studies by Wood, Wollen, and others. It portrays in wide-screen format a life until now presented only in sketches. (16 pages photos, not seen)

Pub Date: June 1st, 1997
ISBN: 0-8021-1598-5
Page count: 721pp
Publisher: Grove
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 15th, 1997