Biography of Howard Hawks

Born in 1896 in Indiana to a wealthy family, Howard Hawks became a filmmaker after graduating from Cornell University and befriending the great Hollywood cinematographer Victor Fleming. Victor Fleming had entered the film business rather serendipitously after working as an aviator and a mechanic, and Hawks' story is similar. Fleming gave Hawks a job as a props boy on a Douglas Fairbanks film, and his career began from there. He went on to assist on a Cecil B. DeMille film as well as others, before a brief experience in the army. After returning from the army, Hawks' big break came when he loaned family money to a studio head, Jack L. Warner, who in return gave him a producing job that would launch his career.

After some producing gigs, Hawks decided he wanted to become a director and directed several silent films, before moving into "talkies." His silent films include The Road to Glory, Fig Leaves, Paid to Love, Cradle Snatchers, Fazil, A Girl in Every Port, The Air Circus, and Trent's Last Case. When Hollywood shifted into "talkie" films, many silent film directors were left out of work, but Hawks was able to navigate the massive transition and successfully begin directing talkies. His first talkie was called The Dawn Patrol, which he developed in collaboration with John Monk Saunders. He then directed The Criminal Code, the gangster film Scarface (upon which the famous Al Pacino movie is based), and a few other films. Hawks' first screwball comedy was called Twentieth Century and starred John Barrymore and Carole Lombard. In 1938 he directed Katharine Hepburn and Cary Grant in Bringing Up Baby, which would be the start of a long working relationship with Cary Grant who would go on to appear in his films Only Angels Have Wings and His Girl Friday. Hawks' only nomination for Best Director was in 1941, for Sergeant York, which starred Gary Cooper.

Hawks's first collaboration with the iconic duo Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall was also their first film together, 1944's To Have and To Have Not, based on an Ernest Hemingway novel. In 1946, Hawks, Bogart, and Bacall would join forces again for the adaptation of the Raymond Chandler noir novel, The Big Sleep. With a script co-written by Leigh Brackett, Jules Furthman, and novelist William Faulkner, the film received mixed reviews upon its release, with many noting its highly confusing plot. However, over the years it has accumulated quite a lot of acclaim, and it is now considered one of the greatest American film noirs.

Following The Big Sleep, Howard Hawks directed Red River, I Was a Male War Bride (with Cary Grant), The Big Sky, Monkey Business, Rio Bravo, Hatari!, Red Line 7000, and his final film, Rio Lobo, with John Wayne. Hawks is praised to this day for his versatility, grand vision, and prolificness. He was known for being a pragmatist—"Three great scenes, no bad ones," is what he allegedly said made a good movie—and prided himself on his straightforwardness. While he was hardly a self-declared feminist, he was also famous for popularizing a different type of female hero, known as the "Hawksian woman." Characterized by her ability to keep up with men and say what she wants, with a sexual frankness and lively bearing, the Hawksian woman was perhaps best typified by Lauren Bacall.


Study Guides on Works by Howard Hawks

The Big Sleep is a 1946 film noir directed by Howard Hawks, an adaptation of the novel of the same name by Raymond Chandler. The movie stars Humphrey Bogart as Chandler's iconic hero-detective Philip Marlowe and Lauren Bacall as Vivian Rutledge. ...