In 1973, critic Richard Schickel moved into the writer/director/producer chair with a series of hour-long documentaries on major Golden Age Hollywood directors. With Howard Hawks, the interview segments were conducted during the director's period of 'involuntary retirement,' and were filmed at Hawks' home and at a motorcross race where his son was a contestant.
Clips from pivotal films are organized into the director's key periods: his debut in sound (The Dawn Patrol), action films (Scarface, The Crowd Roars), war films (Sergeant York, Air Force), comedies (Twentieth Century, Bringing Up Baby, I Was a Male War Bride, Monkey Business), westerns (Red River, Rio Bravo), and literary classics/noir (To Have and Have Not, The Big Sleep).
As an interview subject, Hawks is as direct and no-nonsense as the characters and dialogue in his films, and Schickel is somewhat obliged to add narration (by Sydney Pollack) and clips to bridge points, and smoothen thematic transitions, which isn't really a drawback, since the clips expand on Hawks' anecdotes about the development of his rapid, overlaping dialogue style; what makes a good comedy, masculine female characters, the proper archetypes of a western (he loathed High Noon's weak hero), working with actors to fix dull scenes, and some of the literary giants he worked with and befriended (William Faulkner, and Ernest Hemingway).
Hawks also addresses the weird mystique he had gained by the early seventies due to loyal French critics who used him as a perfect example of the director as film auteur. Grateful for the accolades, Hawks nevertheless expresses a bit of bafflement from the persistent queries he's had to answer about ‘Why’ he did this and that. (His answer is quite simple: 'Because I liked it.')
Pity there was no follow-up episode on Hawks' cult films - the Howard Hughes western The Outlaw, the sci-fi classic The Thing from Another World, the kitschy Land of the Pharaohs - nor any details about why Hawks was 'involuntarily' retired. In any event, Schickel's documentary is important for containing rare interview material of the director before his passing in 1977, and while most of the excerpted films are available on home video, the doc remains a good intro to the director's canon.
The doc, apparently revised in 2001 by TCM, is available on DVD as part of the bonus material for Warner Bros.' 2-disc Bringing Up Baby, and is part of a 8-episode series of director portraits Schickel made in 1973, which included William A. Wellman, Vincent Minnelli, Raoul Walsh, King Vidor, Howard Hawks, George Cukor, Frank Capra, and Alfred Hitchcock.
© 2010 Mark R. Hasan