In This Article Howard Hawks

  • Introduction
  • Biography
  • Hawks on Hawks
  • Archives
  • Anthologies and Special Issues
  • Single-Author Volumes
  • Early Critical Appreciations
  • The “Hitchcocko-Hawksians”
  • The First Wave of Anglo-American Critical Scholarship
  • Against the Auteurists
  • Anglo-American Cinephilic Criticism
  • Hawks in Collaboration
  • Formalism, Neoformalism, and Close Textual Analysis
  • Latter-Day Assessments

Cinema and Media Studies Howard Hawks
by
Michael J. Anderson
  • LAST REVIEWED: 28 April 2017
  • LAST MODIFIED: 28 October 2011
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199791286-0104

Introduction

Critical and scholarly writing on Howard Hawks (b. 1896–d. 1977) has oscillated historically between moments of comparative neglect and extraordinary abundance. Writing in one of the seminal appreciations of the director, Andrew Sarris 1969 proclaimed that “Howard Hawks is the least known and least appreciated giant of the American cinema.” Noting Hawks’s exclusion from a number of the key film historical texts, Sarris nevertheless added that “Hawks has been greatly admired in France since Scarface (1932).” While Sarris’s view overlooked the director’s more perceptive earlier American critics—most of all Farber 2009b (cited under Earlier Critical Appreciations), which placed the director at the center of his “Underground Films” taxonomy five years earlier—it is essential to note that Sarris was writing in the immediate aftermath of the director’s canonization by the “Hitchcocko-Hawksian” auteur critics of the journal Cahiers du Cinéma, who more than any group deserves credit for Hawks’s consequent stature (see especially Rivette 1985 [cited under The Hitchcocko-Hawksians). Indeed, it was as the auteurist example par excellence that Hawks would move to the fore of film criticism and scholarship amid the “auteurist wars” that followed Sarris 1969 (cited under The First Wave of Anglo-American Critical Scholarship) and Wollen 1969 (cited under Single-Author Volumes). A decade later, Sarris’s partner Molly Haskell (see Haskell 1980, cited under The Hawksian Woman and Hawks’s Feminist Reception) was more than justified in claiming that Hawks had attracted “more buff attention in the last ten years than almost any American director.” Of course, it was not only as a touchstone for auteurist debates, but as one of the more fruitful targets of feminist film criticism—exemplified by Haskell and Wise (see Haskell 1974, Haskell 1996, and Wise 1996, cited under The Hawksian Woman and Hawks’s Feminist Reception)—that Hawks had loomed so large over the 1970s. At about the same time that Haskell wrote, interest in reading the director’s work against American history and culture (see Sklar 1996[bibItem-0095], the work of a social film historian) increased, against more interdisciplinary perspectives (Cavell 1981, cited under Single-Author Volumes), and against psychoanalytic and queer theory (Wood 1981, cited under Hawks and Homosociality, Homosexuality, and Psychoanalysis). All of these perspectives offered fruitful new channels for Hawksian scholarship. So, too, would the neo-Formalist approaches most often associated with Bordwell and Thompson 2010 (cited under Formalism, Neoformalism, and Close Textual Analysis). Hawks, in fact, remained central to the most current trends in film scholarship until at least the middle of the 1980s, with academic interest in the director running in parallel to those in the discipline as a whole. Nevertheless, in the two-plus decades since, Hawks never seemed to reclaim his former stature entirely—even if McCarthy 1997 (cited under Biography) subsequently produced one of Hawks scholarship’s most indispensable texts—as film history increasingly moved into studies of early cinema and later reception, and as film theory shifted toward subjective-based and postmodern approaches. (Neither would inherently favor the director as had the discipline’s earlier emphases on directorial authorship, feminism, and queer theory.) At the end of the 20th and in the early 21st centuries, it once again has become possible to opine that cinema buffs are forgetting Hawks, and to wonder, as has Hill and Davis 1997 (cited under Latter-Day Assessments), whether his position within the canon might just be less than secure.

Biography

Because he left “no contemporary record of what he was thinking, feeling, and doing throughout his life,” and because of the director’s “Sphinx-like” personality, Hawks has long been treated as one of the more enigmatic major figures in the classical Hollywood cinema. In fact, up to the time that McCarthy 1997 was published, the comparatively few attempts at engaging with Hawks’s life were either greatly abbreviated (Wellman 1970), highly subjective in tone (McBride 1978), or tangential to a larger project (Keith and Tappert 1990). However, McCarthy 1997 has given Hawks what appears to be a definitive biographical treatment—even if certain gaps in the historical record guarantee that it does not quite qualify as exhaustive.

  • Keith, Slim, with Annette Tappert. Slim: Memories of a Rich and Imperfect Life. New York: Simon & Schuster, 1990.

    E-mail Citation »

    Hawks’s second wife Nancy “Slim” Gross, who by her own account was the very embodiment of the “Hawksian woman,” discusses her life with the director and, most notably, her role in “discovering” and then shaping the screen persona of Lauren Bacall.

  • McBride, Joseph. “Hawks.” Film Comment 14.2 (March–April 1978): 36–41, 70–71.

    E-mail Citation »

    Written when Hawks died, this article discusses the author’s initial reservations about and ultimate warming toward the “enigmatic” Hawks.

  • McCarthy, Todd. Howard Hawks: The Grey Fox of Hollywood. New York: Grove, 1997.

    E-mail Citation »

    Beginning with the claim that “Howard Hawks is the most important of the classical Hollywood directors of whom there has been no biography,” McCarthy provided the first and to date only major work in this category, supplying much of the background that has long been lacking in the field.

  • Wellman, William, Jr. “Howard: Hawks: The Distance Runner.” Action 5.6 (November–December 1970): 8.

    E-mail Citation »

    A brief, early biographical sketch that emphasizes Hawks’s outdoor life, his engineering acumen, and his failure to earn even a single Oscar during his lengthy career in the film industry.

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