Howard Hawks | Subjects | Structure and Story Telling | Visual Style | Rankings

Films: Fig Leaves | Paid to Love | The Criminal Code | Scarface | The Crowd Roars | Twentieth Century | Barbary Coast | Come and Get It | Ball of Fire | The Big Sleep | A Song Is Born | The Thing from Another World | Gentlemen Prefer Blondes | Land of the Pharaohs | Rio Bravo | Hatari! | Man's Favorite Sport? | Red Line 7000 | El Dorado | Rio Lobo

Classic Film and Television Home Page (with many articles on directors) | Mathematics and Visual Style | Color in the Arts

Howard Hawks

Howard Hawks is an American film director.

Howard Hawks: Subjects

Gizmos and items in motion: Businesses that Serve the Public: Music: Culture and Scholars: Society and Social Commentary: Women, Minorities and Work: Characters and Relationships: Drink: Danger: Injuries: France: Transportation: Water: Animals (noted as a Hawks theme by Stuart Byron): Plants: Telephones, Radio and Communication: Blackboards: Desks: Chairs: Grooming:

Howard Hawks: Structure and Story Telling

Detection: Story Structure: The Fantastic: Real People: Influences on Hawks:

Howard Hawks: Visual Style

Camera Movement: Camera Angles: Geometry: Geometry, Motion and Architecture: Architecture: Dust, Mist and Smoke: Silhouettes: Mirrors and reflection: Color: Costumes and Color: Costumes:


Here are ratings for various films directed by Howard Hawks. Everything at least **1/2 is recommended. The ratings go from one to four stars. All of these films are ones I've seen.

Early Films (1926-1935):

Middle Period Films (1936-1952): Late Films (1953-1970): I prefer early Hawks and late Hawks. But generally like middle period Hawks less.

This is the exact opposite of many critics. These critics mainly prefer Hawks' middle period films to his early and late ones.

Which Years?. While previous scholars often refer to early, middle, and late Hawks, the exact years for these periods are my choices.

In particular, previous scholars often use the term "late Hawks" to refer to Hawks' 1960's films, from Hatari! (1962) to Rio Lobo (1970). Maybe I should be doing the same, to avoid confusing people!

Color Films. Early and Middle Period Films are mainly in black-and-white, with a few exceptions. Late Films are all in color. Two have color-based titles: Red Line 7000, El Dorado.

Fig Leaves

Fig Leaves (1926) is a comedy about a married couple. Its best part is the opening, a twelve minute section that is rich in invention. Unfortunately, the rest of the film is fairly lifeless.

Anachronism and Animals: The Opening

Fig Leaves has a delightful opening, showing Adam and Eve. While in some ways these are the Biblical figures, they are set against a pseudo-primitive background, with the pair living a life like modern times, complete with "primitive" versions of alarm clocks, streetcars and newspapers. The whole thing very much anticipates such modern comedies as The Flintstones. The hut in which the characters live also recalls Gilligan's Island.

Even at this early date, we see Hawks' love of gizmos:

We see an early example of Hawks' interest in prehistoric animals. If the scientist in Bringing Up Baby is reconstructing a dinosaur skeleton, here we have actual dinosaurs, including a most charming Brontosaurus, just like the skeleton in Bringing Up Baby. The interest in evolution will return in Monkey Business, at least in its implicit comparison of humans and apes.

The Hero's Office

In the modern-day main portion of the film, O'Brien plays a plumber. His office contains a lot of Hawksian features:

The Fashion Show

The fashion show set sure looks like Art Deco. This is two years before Art Deco supposedly made its appearance in Hollywood films with Cedric Gibbons' sets for Our Dancing Daughters (1928). The design is by the famous William Cameron Menzies and William S. Darling. It looks as if they have scooped Hollywood, by being some of the first to use Art Deco.

Some of the models wear elaborate wraps. Hawks liked layered clothes.

The men in Fig Leaves also get wrapped, in dressing gowns (although not as part of the fashion show):

Women's Rights

Fig Leaves is startling in that it mentions Women's Rights. However, it does not explore these ideas in depth. It does not endorse Women's Rights either.

The opening section mentions "Women's Rights" by name. But it doesn't specify of what these rights consist.

Later, there is a brief but fascinating account of the heroine wanting to go to work. This would make a great clip, shown as part of a documentary. However, it does not exploit this idea in depth. And the woman's reason, that she wants fancy clothes, seems terribly superficial.

In general, the core idea of the comedy in Fig Leaves, that women are obsessed with buying clothes, seems dubious and sexist. It ignores the economic realities many women faced, then and now, and their need to spend money on many other things than clothes. It runs smack against the way Hawks films are filled with sharp-dressed men who are duded up in fancy costumes. This includes hero George O'Brien in Fig Leaves, who looks good as Adam, in his checkerboard dressing gown, and in the dressy three-piece suit he wears at the end. He is one of many Hawks men in sharp suits.

Generic Characters

The husband and wife in Fig Leaves are supposed to be a typical, even archetypal couple. Over and over, the title characters state that the heroine is a typical woman, and that the hero is a typical man. This is supposed to enable satire, about the behavior and attitudes of women and men.

Unfortunately, it also strips the characters of individuality. This is a generic woman and a generic man, in a generic marriage. The pair do not come alive as individuals or characters. This makes the film much duller.

In Hawks' next film, Paid to Love, O'Brien will get to play a far more individual character.

George O'Brien

George O'Brien's persona has virtues: We see Hawks following in the footsteps of John Ford, at least in his choice of star. George O'Brien had had a huge success in Ford's The Iron Horse (1925). O'Brien is back, and showing off his famous chest, shirtless in a waking-up in bed scene.

O'Brien also wears his hair long, as the primitive Adam. O'Brien seemed to change his hair style a lot, including a before-and-after hair cut in Sunrise (Murnau, 1927).

Paid to Love

Paid to Love (1927) is a satiric comedy set in a small European kingdom.

Hawks Traditions

Paid to Love is often dismissed as none-too-Hawksian. Indeed, it has a different tone and feel from Hawks' most famous sound films. Still, the checklist above shows over forty connections to subjects and techniques found in other Hawks movies. This suggests the film is a personal one for Hawks. (Please search the list for "Paid to Love" to see the references to the film.)

Paid to Love somewhat resembles Hawks' much later Gentlemen Prefer Blondes, especially the subplot in Gentlemen Prefer Blondes about Jane Russell's romance with the private eye. Both the hero of Paid to Love and the private eye start their romance by telling the heroine a lie about their job. Both then go on to be otherwise sincere in their romance.

The Paris setting and many men in uniform in Gentlemen Prefer Blondes also recall Paid to Love.

Satire: The Kingdom

Parts of Paid to Love seem like parodies, spoofs or satires of subjects popular in other films.

The small kingdom is set somewhere on the Mediterranean, and has a Casino that recalls Monaco. But the uniforms and attitudes of its aristocrats evoke the Old Vienna films of Erich von Stroheim. William Powell's Prince Eric seems like a funny version of the titled, aristocratic lechers played by Stroheim. Like them, he spends a lot of time on attempts to seduce women. He even has a mild leg-and-foot fetish, recalling the Baron in Stroheim's The Merry Widow (1925). Both The Merry Widow and Paid to Love show these men ogling a sexy woman's feet, shown in close-up.

Other aspects of Paid to Love recall The Merry Widow, with the kingdom in financial trouble, which in turn makes it necessary for the young Prince to marry. However, these plot details are arranged differently in the two films.

At first Paid to Love looks like it might be in the tradition of Anthony Hope's novel The Prisoner of Zenda (1894), which is set in a small Balkan kingdom. The kingdom in Paid to Love looks like the one in The Prisoner of Zenda, with its fancy palaces and ornate dress uniforms. And both The Prisoner of Zenda and Paid to Love have a good Prince and a scheming aristocrat villain. However The Prisoner of Zenda is full of attempted coups, murderous intrigue, life-and-death struggles and tragic romance: all subjects completely lacking in Paid to Love. No one ever tries to subvert the government in Paid to Love, or kill any one. It remains a comedy throughout, even if it is one full of off-trail characters. Prince Eric is a villain, but his villainy consists of being a real Cad in his sexual behavior, and spreading malicious gossip. He never does anything crooked or criminal.

Satire: Reality Vs. Pretense

While everyone is dressed to the nines in fancy uniforms in the Officers' Club, the title card makes clear that the men there are violating the officer's code, by spreading gossip about a woman. This too has a satirical thrust. These men want the look of officers, but not the responsibilities. Or even common decency. Of course, these men are aristocrats, big shots pretending to be officers, not "real" officers. Hawks suggests that this is lots of fun. But he also makes sure we realize that it is not real, and the men there are in violation of professional standards.

While people make jokes about the hero, who is obsessed with cars to the exclusion of all else, we learn in the opening that he is actually good at cars. He repairs the engine right away. He is for real, in the way that many of the other characters aren't.

Hawks is famous for his deep concern with work, seen as the source of value and worth. This extends to a man like the hero of Paid to Love, who doesn't actually work for a living, but who is genuinely skilled with the craft to which he is devoted. He gets Hawks' respect.

The heroine may be a phony. But she is doing her work in the Apache dive for a living. She is skilled at it, and get respect from Hawks too. Mixed in with satire at the phoniness of the show.

Homoerotic Elements

Paid to Love is full of heterosexual romance and encounters. But it also shows the hero involved in activities that have gay homoerotic aspects. As part of his romantic awakening, the hero begins dressing up. One scene shows his shoes being shined by another man. The shoe-shining valet then tells the hero that he is grateful that the hero is taking an interest in clothes.

Later scenes emphasize the hero is in the same spectacular white uniform as the other elite officers. It is the links to other men that seem to give him pleasure. At the Casino, he goes target shooting with another man while dressed in this uniform. Many other people present are engaged in male-female dating. An even more homoerotic target shooting contest will occur in Red River, between Montgomery Clift and John Ireland.

Later both he and all the other men are wearing the white uniform at the Officers' Club. Their common style of dressing is visually emphasized.

When entering the all-male Officers' Club, we see him at first entirely through close-ups of his boots and spurs, thus emphasizing his links to these ornaments. Previously, the heroine picked up the very heterosexual villain Prince Eric using his spurs. But when the gay-oriented hero's spurs are featured, he is in an all-male environment.

These male-male aspects seem as emphasized in Paid to Love as heterosexual ones.

Checkerboard Patterns

Floors in both the palace and Casino grounds are checkerboard. This same pattern will soon be seen on the German airplanes in The Dawn Patrol. The pattern helps suggest an Old Vienna aspect to the kingdom.

The Criminal Code

The Criminal Code (1930) is a prison melodrama.

Links to El Dorado

The opening anticipates El Dorado. In both, a man kills someone, in what he believes to be self defense. In both he soon learns that there were complicating circumstances that made the killing stupid and unnecessary. El Dorado differs in that the man understands this, and defends himself. But in The Criminal Code, the naive hero doesn't understand anything, and winds up railroaded to prison.

It is appalling that the DA is willing to railroad him. It is also disturbing that the judge does not speak up, but goes along with this.

Huston's walk through the yard, defying the prisoners who've jeered him, perhaps anticipates the scene in El Dorado where Wayne rides through the villain's compound.

There is much suspense in The Criminal Code, about an informer who is threatened with death by the other prison inmates. This anticipates the way the heroes of Rio Bravo and El Dorado are under siege and threatened with killing.

Links to Scarface

The Criminal Code resembles Scarface, in being a thriller about tough criminals. Both have a suspense scene involving shaving. The heroes of both films display their toughness by striking matches in defiance of opponents watching them: in The Criminal Code this occurs when the warden walks through the jeering prisoners in the yard.

Links to To Have and Have Not

The scene where the convicts shoot out the guards' search light, gets echoed in To Have and Have Not. In that film, it is hero Bogart who shouts out the lights of police from a corrupt government.

Both films have men stuck in a world ruled by an opposing force. In To Have and Have Not, that ruling force is evil: a Nazi-aligned government. The prison in The Criminal Code is far more morally ambiguous. Still, between a D.A. who railroads men to prison, and a brutal head guard who uses torture in his dungeon, the prison is very much an illegitimate world.

In The Criminal Code, the warden and head guard try to get the hero to speak up, and tell what he knows about a killing. He refuses: being against squealing is the Criminal Code of the film's title. In To Have and Have Not, the alleged good guys want to get information out of the Gestapo leader, and they are willing to use torture to do it. The two films have a similar situation, but their morality is reversed. In The Criminal Code, the hero who won't speak is the good guy, in To Have and Have Not, his torturers are the so-called good guys. I believe the apparent conclusion of To Have and Have Not, that "torture works and is good", is not backed up by reality. Most experts think torture doesn't work, but instead corrupts and endangers societies who use it.


Work and professionalism are often glorified in Hawks. But The Criminal Code differs, in that the hero has a breakdown while working in the prison jute mill. This scene is closer to The Dawn Patrol, in which the heroes' war work is nightmarishly stressful.

The hero does greatly benefit from his chauffeur work.

The D.A./warden's big speech near the end, about how he only only does his job and duty, rings hollow. We've seen him do dishonest things; we've seen him bow to pressure from upcoming elections.


The convicts get employed as servants in the warden's home. This leads to servants with hidden sides. a Hawks tradition. Boris Karloff has a dark comedy field day, with his role as a butler. He is polite, soft spoken and endlessly creepy, wheeling trays around and saying "Tea is Served!" The giant Karloff looks infinitely menacing, a butler right out of a horror movie about an Old Dark House. Karloff might be compared to the butler in The Big Sleep, a man who turns out to have hidden duties and unusual financial powers in the household.

The hero gets a job as chauffeur. Chauffeurs in crime stories of the 1930's were often figures of unlimited sexual potency, wearing sharp uniforms and driving huge machines. The hero's uniform does not look as tough as some of the drivers in pulp magazine tales or other movies. But it is a full dress uniform all the same, one that gives him plenty of working class appeal. The hero might be compared to Rusty Regan in The Big Sleep, a "good guy" servant who also has a personal or romantic relationship with a member of a household.

Camera Movement: Tracking Through Architecture

The Criminal Code has a fair amount of camera movement. Some of it involves that Hawks standard, men walking through architecture seen for the first time: There are similar camera movements, that go through buildings we have already seen: people leaving the night club, Karloff in the warden's office.

Most important, are a pair of visually similar camera movements, that show the hero entering Huston's office. He does this once when he enters the DA's office; and once again later, when he enters the office of Huston-as-warden for the first time. Both lateral tracks send the hero past bookcases on the wall, up to the warden's desk. The plot situations and dialogue underscore the parallels in these two scenes.

The opening shot in the police station goes through a wall, like the opening camera movement in Scarface.

Camera Movement: Other

The defiance-in-the-prison-yard scene has one of Hawks' pans, across the convicts in the yard. Hawks' pans often show obstacles faced by the hero.

There is a vertical camera movement, down a column of bunks in the prison cell.

Huston gets some camera movements. There is a track-in on him, showing him seated at his desk. And the camera accompanies him, as he moves through the yard.


Scarface (1932) is a famous gangster film.

Camera Movement: Tracking Through Architecture

Scarface is full of camera movement. These are likely the most complex camera movements in all of Hawks. Many are of that classic Hawks type, men walking through architecture seen for the first time: Camera movement on this scale will return in Rio Lobo. Such camera movements are present in many other Hawks films, but they are not usually quite so numerous or elaborate. Still, they are a signature element of Hawks' style.

There is also a camera movement following the mother and daughter walking upstairs. It differs from the other shots, in that it is not the first time we've seen such architecture.

Camera Movement: Panning Over Challenges

Most importantly, there is a completely different kind of camera movement in Scarface. This is the pan around the mobsters assembled in the first view of the Ward Club. This shot might be construed as a Point of View (POV) shot: it might be what the heroes are seeing from the door of the club, as they pass their eyes over the assembled hoods. But the shot is not explicitly marked as a POV shot. It more seems to be a panorama of an elaborate scene: like the shot sweeping over the night club early in Ball of Fire.

Such shots in Hawks sometimes show challenges facing the hero: for example, the pan in Red River at the start of the drive showing cattle and cowboys, ending with Wayne. Scarface's team have to control and "herd" the recalcitrant mobsters, just as Wayne has to drive the cattle and cowboys north. In Rio Lobo, the pan near the end shows the terrain (bridge and creek) in which the heroes will have to shoot it out with the bad guys. Even in Ball of Fire, the night club is a locale the professor hero is struggling to understand, analyze and record.


Both the newspaper office towards the start, and the barbershop, are Hawksian rooms with glass walls.

The night club set has a pavilion in the center, that revolves as patrons dance. It anticipates the revolving bar in Man's Favorite Sport?.

The taxi has a huge view through its rear window. We see a moving view of the city unfolding behind the characters, as the taxi ride progresses. Hawks will later do something similar, but more spectacular, in A Song Is Born. In A Song Is Born, the taxi view shows the lights of Broadway at night, lights whose red color echoes the heroine's red coat.

Scarface also has its city lights: the sign saying "The World Is Yours".


Scarface delights in his fancy clothes - and one suspects his director does too. Scarface gets all dressed up in spiffy double-breasted clothes, including an overcoat and a black tuxedo. These are the same two items that will be worn by John Ridgely's handsome, charming gangster in The Big Sleep. Both men look especially good in their double-breasted black tuxedos.

Being a gangster in Hawks seems to give one license to get dressed up. There is a tremendous sexual charge, in this ability.

One wonders why honest men can't wear such clothes, too. One such man in Hawks does: Cary Grant's newspaper editor in His Girl Friday. However, while Grant is financially honest, he has the personality of a con-man. He has lots of anti-social energy that also finds expression in Hawks' gangsters. In all of these men, the anti-social elements give the men a sexual charge and thrill.

The announcer in The Crowd Roars also gets to wear such clothes, as part of his profession. In an age that idolized radio and sound technology in general, the well-dressed, glamorized announcer was a figure of public admiration.

Still, most honest men in Hawks' modern day films are much more plainly dressed. Case in point: the awful looking suits worn by the cops throughout Scarface. These are the dowdiest, worst dressed men imaginable.

After sabotaging the cops' appearance throughout the whole film, there is a sudden reversal at the end. For the first time, we see policemen in uniform. And these are the dressiest uniforms imaginable. They are a full fig expression of macho style. They are worn with complex harnesses, and white shirts and ties. The police caps are especially pointed in front, giving an ultra-stylish and ultra-aggressive appearance. We also see motorcycles, searchlights and sirens, all elements of the police mystique, for the first time.

While the dowdy looking actors playing cops in most of Scarface badly need a trip to the gym, the actors in the finale are superb physical specimens.

The Theater

Scarface includes a trip to the theater: a performance of the play Sadie Thompson. Hawks will soon make a comedy about life backstage in the theater, Twentieth Century. It too will reference Sadie Thompson, but its main theatrical focus will be a jaundiced, satirical look at another over-heated melodrama, this one set in the Deep South.

Scarface seems to regard the theater, as a place where men dress up in costumes - Marines or "the collar" - and women then decide which is more sexually attractive. This recalls the use of male costuming in Scarface itself.

The Crowd Roars

The Crowd Roars (1932) is a racecar melodrama.

The numerous cameos by famous racecar drivers, might have inspired the athletes in small roles at the end of Big City (Frank Borzage, 1937), or the artists in Artists and Models (Raoul Walsh, 1937). All of these now form a precious record of these real-life achievers.

Hawks Subjects

There are lots of discussions, about the heroine wanting to get married. Marriage proposal intrigue plays a big role in Ball of Fire, although in quite a different way.

The hero owns his racecar and has a mechanic working for him. This anticipates To Have and Have Not, whose hero owns a fishing boat he rents out, and who employs an assistant to help him run it (Walter Brennan).

The hero's brother (Eric Linden) is very young and boyish, like Ricky Nelson in Rio Bravo.

Animals show up in The Crowd Roars, early on when a racer comically crashes into a farm full of chickens.

Racing and Red Line 7000

Years later, when Hawks would film a second racecar thriller Red Line 7000 (1965), the races would have many common features with those in The Crowd Roars: Maybe all this means is that the real-life basic structure of racing was similar in 1932 and 1965. One difference: the announcers are alone in the booths in 1932; they are in a group in 1965.


The politics of The Crowd Roars is strange. Much of the country was unemployed in 1932, due to the Depression. The hero loses his racing job towards the end of The Crowd Roars. He is shown in frightening scenes of looking for work, and trying to get enough to eat. But the reason he has no job, is that he is drinking and "on the skids": it's a psychological problem! The hero is going through the same unemployment problems as much of the audience - but for completely different reasons.

The shots of Cagney looking for work, and receiving help from his old girlfriend at the lunch counter, are powerful and emotionally involving. They anticipate Rio Bravo. and the attempt of his friends to help Dean Martin.

Camera Movement

The Crowd Roars has a number of pans: Most of these shots show characters walking through architecture. In this, they resemble a bit the opening long take in Scarface, although they as not as flamboyant. They are also pans, not a track as in Scarface. The first garage pan is full of posts, like the track in Scarface.

There is also a push-in on the announcer at the first race track, perhaps designed to generate a little dynamism for a character who simply stands and talks.

Crews, Wrecks and Rio Lobo

The Crowd Roars has scenes of the crew taking a racecar off a train. These anticipate the opening train robbery in Rio Lobo. Rio Lobo shows one group loading the train, and others preparing the robbery. Both groups resemble the crew in The Crowd Roars.

The Crowd Roars later has shots of wrecks occurring on the racetrack. This also resembles the big robbery in Rio Lobo, which involves the elaborate stopping of the train.

The heroine gets a job serving food at a lunch counter at the track. This also anticipates a woman in Rio Lobo, who serves food in a cantina.


The mechanic wears his white coverall, over a full suit and tie. Hawks' likes such layered clothes. In the movie Ceiling Zero, the pilot at the start wears a leather coat over a separate leather jacket, which itself is worn over a shirt and tie. Not to mention the fisherman's waders in Man's Favorite Sport?.

Twentieth Century

Hawks' technique in Twentieth Century (1934) is apparently simple: The terminology above "medium shots", and "medium close shots" comes from film historian Barry Salt. His statistical analysis in his Film Style and Technology: History and Analysis (1983, 1992) shows that they are the dominant camera lengths in many Hawks films.

There is little reverse angle cutting. Instead, Hawks shoots the scenes as if someone were looking on and watching. There is an invisible viewer in Hawks who watches everything.

Occasionally the single actor shots change an angle, for example, the shots of the characters entering or leaving train cars. These are set at around a 60 degree angle to the previous frontal shots. The angle seems "natural": it is the best view an onlooker could get of the character entering the car.

Barbary Coast

Barbary Coast (1935) is a drama set in Old San Francisco.

Barbary Coast is unusual among Hawks' work in having a female protagonist. More typically, Hawks films often have a heroine who joins a group of men. These women are viewed as equal and highly competent. But they are usually not the protagonist of the film. And Carole Lombard in Twentieth Century, Katherine Hepburn in Bringing Up Baby, and Barbara Stanwyck in Ball of Fire are co-equals of their leading men. But none of them are so unequivocally the star of their pictures as Miriam Hopkins is here.

Social Commentary: Anticipating The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance

Barbary Coast anticipates The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance (John Ford, 1962). Both: A difference: In The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance, the dictatorship is met with vigorous but non-violent political action. In Barbary Coast, the vigilantes are sometimes violent.

I like the opposition to dictatorship in Barbary Coast, and the strong support for Freedom of the Press. But the violent vigilantes make me nervous.

Camera Movement

There are some "general purpose" camera movements, that are not linked to a character walking:

Come and Get It

Come and Get It (1937) is a historical drama, set among the lumber trade of Wisconsin.

Social Commentary

Come and Get It offers a look at rapacious capitalism. The lumber baron destroys a natural resource, trees, and is opposed to any kind of re-planting or conservation. Later in El Dorado, a rich crook will try to steal water rights.

McCrea's speech about the invention of paper by the Chinese, and his high praise for the Chinese as inventors in general, is typical of a thread running through Hawks showing East Asians as technically skilled.

It is easy to interpret the marriages in Come and Get It as the sort of marriages gays entered into to achieve social success. The Edward Arnold character gives up his true love, to marry a rich man's daughter. This is similar to the way gay men have abandoned their love relationships, to enter into loveless heterosexual marriages.

Hawks Imagery

Come and Get It is full of Hawks imagery:

Camera Movement

The casino scene has two of Hawks' camera movements of people walking through architecture: As is typical for Hawks, both introduce new locales.

Ball of Fire

Ball of Fire (1941) is one of Hawks' best comedies.


Hawks includes some striking panoramas, shot at slightly elevated angles over large sets: Both the night club and the foundation shots emphasize that group activities are going on, enterprises pleasantly shared by large groups of people.

Film Noir

Ball of Fire came out the year when Hollywood was first beginning to produce film noir in quantity, 1941. It has features that look back to the earlier Hollywood paradigm for crime movies, the gangster film: On the surface, this film fits in to the traditional gangster film genre.

But Ball of Fire also has elements that look forward to the new genre, film noir:

Hawks Themes

The ending of the film, in which the group of scientist heroes struggles against the gangster villains, anticipates Hawks' great final Westerns, Rio Bravo (1959) and El Dorado (1967). In both films, the good guys seem weak and powerless against the bad guys. But the good guys show brains, determination and pluck, and eventually triumph over their sinister opponents.

The most effeminate of the professor heroes (played by the delightful Richard Haydn) is the one that shows the most courageous resistance to the gangsters here. This is an unexpected and imaginative development. It is part of Hawks' celebration of gayness, something that runs throughout his filmmaking career. The bonding between the professors here, like that of the good guy groups in the Westerns, is also deeply gay in nature.

The Big Sleep

This film is based on the 1939 detective novel by Raymond Chandler.

The Two Versions

The original, pre-release version of The Big Sleep (1945) seems to me to be vastly superior to the 1946 version, the only one that has been available for most of the time since 1946. It is not that there is anything wrong with the new scenes Hawks added to beef up Lauren Bacall's role. Rather, the extensive cuts made in the original continuity rendered the story nearly incomprehensible. I am not the only person who found the 1946 version hard to follow - a long list of critics have recorded their complete bafflement. By contrast, the 1945 version tells a complete, logical story.

Seeing the complete version has profound effects on how we view the characters. Humphrey Bogart's detective now seems like a person of substance. He works hard and achieves what he sets out to do: find the whereabouts of the missing good guy Sean Regan, and protect blackmailed daughter Carmen Sternwood from the hoods who are threatening her. These are worthwhile tasks. Accomplishing them is a grown-up moral victory, something anyone can admire and be proud of. It also justifies Bogart's defiance of the police: he is on a mission to help the powerless, and his independence is a form of gallantry. Bogart's detective also becomes one of Hawks' long line of professionals: someone who sticks to his job in an admirable fashion. Similarly, the Lauren Bacall character is a person who is similarly admirable and stalwart in trying to aid first her sister, then Bogart as well.

All of this is chopped to mincemeat in the 1946 version. The story seems absurd in the literal sense of the term: just a series of meaningless, incomprehensible events stuck together. Nothing in it seems to have any significance. It is virtually an abstract dance the characters go through. Bogart seems to be posing as a detective or going through the motions, but nothing meaningful or coherent is occurring. Some critics deeply admire this abstraction, reading all sorts of existential profundities in it, suggesting it conveys the alleged meaninglessness of life. They also view it as a satire a detective fiction, a genre they plainly hate. This is a point of view that deeply grates on me.

The 1945 version has other positive effects as well:


Hawks filmed two of the most famous mystery novels ever written: E.C. Bentley's Trent's Last Case (1913) and Raymond Chandler's The Big Sleep (1939). And one of the theater's best-known crime plays, Ben Hecht and Charles MacArthur's The Front Page (1928). (Hawks commendably took out all the racism that disfigures the original play The Front Page. I am emphatically NOT recommending the play The Front Page. It's a disaster!)

A different character is the killer in the movie from the book. Changing the identity of the murderer might well have been done to placate the censor. Still, it also makes the film more idealistic. The hero and heroine of the film are trying to aid and protect an innocent person. It makes their actions more meaningful.


Respect for Dorothy Malone's book seller is established, when she shows she knows her subject well. She has a strong professional knowledge of rare books, unlike the clerk in the book store across the street. This echoes Hawks' constant respect for professionals who are good at their jobs.

The butler also becomes more interesting, when it is learned that he has duties beyond those of a conventional butler. He seems to do these tasks well.

Architecture: Kinetic

Revolving or circularly swinging architecture keeps appearing: The crane that hoists the car from the water can be considered a form of kinetic architecture. It keeps raising the car, as if the car were a mobile, rising platform.

Architecture: Doors

Eddie Mars' office has two elaborate doors. One is the regular door, the other is a special exit that comes out behind the gambling tables. These are discussed, and later we see Mars using the second door, from the other side. The doors are both unusually styled: neither looks like a conventional door.

One recalls another mobster in Scarface, whose doors and windows were heavily armored: see that film's final siege.


The dials on Bogart's car dashboard are prominent circles.

The fireplace at Geiger's house is circular.

Art Huck Auto Repair has a strange-shaped gas pump. It is a narrow conical base.

The table with drinks in Bacall's suite is circular, has a circular tray on top, and is full of round bottles.


The car with the murder victim, is pulled out of the water. The submerged car anticipates the spaceship buried in the ice in The Thing from Another World.

Water pours off of the hoisted car. Draining water is an image in a number of Hawks films.


While the dialogue (taken right from Chandler's novel) talks about orchids in the greenhouse, orchids are not emphasized, after an initial view of orchids on tree branches, shown when Bogart first enters the greenhouse. Instead, the most conspicuous plant is a tall tree fern. Hawks seems to like large plants with unconventional architecture, such as tree ferns: ocotillo shrubs show up in his Westerns.


Mirrors are common film noir: one of its key motifs. One duly sees them on the walls of several homes in The Big Sleep. However, their treatment is rarely elaborate, at least by film noir standards.

More notable: the hero drives Carmen Sternwood. We see her face in the car's rear view mirror. This mirror is small, recalling the hero of A Girl in Every Port seeing himself in the small jail mirror.


As in Ball of Fire, snazzy double-breasted clothes are worn by gangsters (John Ridgely in The Big Sleep, Dana Andrews in Ball of Fire). These include Ridgely's overcoat, and later his double-breasted tuxedo. Crook Joe Brody (Louis Jean Heydt) is also in a good double-breasted suit.

By contrast, the honest heroes of both films (Gary Cooper, Humphrey Bogart) are dressed in a plainer, less ostentatious style. However, for one sequence midway through Bogart is in a dressy, spectacular pinstripe double-breasted suit. It is as if he is temporarily becoming part of a group, formed by the crooks.

The handsome police Captain Cronjager is also in a good pinstripe suit. Cronjager is allegedly an unsympathetic character, who wants to "get" Bogart's private eye. However, Cronjager is simply doing his duty: the hero has indeed been withholding evidence from the police. Cronjager is thus doing his job: he's the sort of professional Hawks always respects. In Hawks, people are measured by their work.

Among the people watching the roulette game, is another man in a spectacular double-breasted suit. These casino patrons also include a man in fancy cowboy clothes, including ornamental boots and a satin cowboy shirt. This sort of "Western costume worn by a city dweller in a modern day city" is not seen much in Hollywood films of the era. Hawks films sometimes include sociological portraits using crowd scenes at night clubs. We learn a lot about the black citizens of Martinique, from the numerous cameos of patrons at the night club in To Have and Have Not. The country club members in Bringing Up Baby are also vivid. These are all people definitely having fun, and out for a good time.

Carol Lundgren is in a leather jacket. It is unusually tight fitting in its lower parts, from his waist up through his chest. It is almost form-fitting. The only tighter leather jacket I've seen is one worn by hero Matt Bomer on White Collar, in a scene where he robs a safe as a cat-burglar. This was extremely form-fitting. Such clothes look unusual, special and erotic.

And what ever happened to actor Timothy Rafferty anyway? He was highly effective as Lundgren. Rafferty only made four movies, then disappeared from film history.

A Song Is Born

A Song Is Born (1948) is a musical remake of Hawks' own comedy Ball of Fire. A Song Is Born does not have a very strong reputation: many people (and Hawks himself) regard it as mediocre. But it has its moments.

One odd aspect: Danny Kaye functions as a straight man throughout the film, doing very little comedy. He instead plays a romantic lead. This made sense when Gary Cooper starred in the original: Cooper was a romantic lead. But it deprives the remake of Kaye's comic skills.


Two of the night clubs Kaye visits are circular rooms. These spectacular places anticipate the revolving bar in Man's Favorite Sport?, which is also circular.


Percussion instruments run through Hawks, and never more so than in A Song Is Born. Danny Kaye and the professors have a big number with drums early on. And Lionel Hampton shows up with his marimba.


The opening scenes at the foundation are among the most repressed in terms of color in Hawks. They are almost all earth tones. El Dorado also starts out with brown and gray. But A Song Is Born pushes this to the limits.

Backstage at the heroine's nightclub, green walls are complemented by a red fire hatchet.

Hawks' fondness for yellow cars (a taxi in A Song Is Born) and yellow flowers (on the nightclub table) appears.

The Thing from Another World

The Thing from Another World (1951) is a science fiction movie. While credited to director Christian Nyby, producer Howard Hawks is widely seen as contributing to the film.


The alien is an intelligent plant. Large, unusual plants run through Hawks' films, including the tree fern in the greenhouse in The Big Sleep, and ocotillo shrubs in Westerns. The alien is perhaps the largest and weirdest of such plants. The Thing from Another World also includes a greenhouse, seen as the natural setting of the alien.

The alien looks male: he is played by giant Jim Arness. But the alien can reproduce through seeds. There is no sign of pollination or sexual activity in the alien. Instead, the alien seems to be a male who can reproduce without females. This is perhaps an extension of the male groups that resemble families in Hawks' films.

Hawks showed Adam and Eve in the prologue to Fig Leaves. These are the archetypal male-and-female progenitors of humanity. The alien who can reproduce without women is the diametric opposite.

The scientist hails the aliens' asexual reproduction as superior to humans' sexuality. The idea that scientists are opposed to sex reflects deep-seated views of science as coolly rational and opposed to emotion. The scientist especially opposes the "pleasure and pain" in sexuality.

Hawks likes animals. Here the sled dogs are loyal allies of the humans. A dog is the only one not scared during the trip to the landing site: he remains standing, when all the humans throw themselves on the ground.


The Thing from Another World is another of Hawks films featuring pilots and planes. As usual in Hawks, leather pilots' jackets are prominent.

A Group Under Siege

The pilots become a group under siege, trapped together in rooms at the base. They anticipate the good guys holed up in Sheriff's offices in Hawks' final trilogy of Westerns.

The reporter is both part, and not quite part, of the air crew. He is not quite fully accepted by them. He shows bravery and solidarity in the final fight, thus causing him to be accepted by the crew. He faints after the fight, while being brave during it: something associated with women elsewhere in Hawks: Rio Bravo, Rio Lobo.

The opening shows the reporter as being excluded from the air crew group:

The effect is a bit like the roadhouse-casino in The Big Sleep: just as hero Bogart was an intruder in a casino full of well-dressed gamblers, so is the reporter an outsider in an elite club where the sharply-uniformed officers gamble on poker.

But soon afterwards, the pilot is privately recommending to his superior that the reporter accompany them to the Arctic. After the pilots' ritual exclusion of the reporter, they act privately to include him.


The scientists do much reasoning, in the early parts of the film. First they reason out that the mysterious object cannot be a meteor, but must be a spaceship. Then at the crash site, they reconstruct the landing events of the ship.

All of this reasoning is like detective work. While the scientists are not the film's heroes, they do good detective work, a behavior of good guys in other Hawks films.

The lead scientist is a Nobel Prize winner, and one of the world's leading scientists. His credentials are enumerated in a piece of dialogue. This recalls the outstanding credentials scholar Gary Cooper recites when he is proposing to Barbara Stanwyck in Ball of Fire. Partly, one suspects this reflects Hawks' interest in profesionalism: these men are good at their jobs.

The Short Story: Who Goes There?

The Thing from Another World is based on a famous science fiction novella (long short story), "Who Goes There?" (1938) by John W. Campbell. (Please follow the link to Campbell, for a discussion of "Who Goes There?".)

The film ignores key aspects of "Who Goes There?", such as the ability of the alien to change shapes and impersonate people. It has been much criticized for leaving out such elements.

Hawks has instead turned "Who Goes There?" into a Hawksian film, by introducing and augmenting favorite Hawksian subjects and themes.

Many of the most Hawksian features of The Thing from Another World are not present in "Who Goes There?". They have been added for the film:

Other Hawks-like features have simple antecedents in "Who Goes There?", but have been greatly expanded for The Thing from Another World:

Technology: The Present vs The Future

Hawks greatly augments the use of radio, compared to "Who Goes There?". Radio was seen in the 1930's and 1940's as THE high tech innovation of modern times, by many people. By contrast, "Who Goes There?" is full of "marvelous inventions" based on advanced super-science, used by the aliens. These have been eliminated in The Thing from Another World. Hawks thus exalts current high technology, radio, but deletes any look at possible futuristic invention.

This tends to make The Thing from Another World a look at the present, including its technology and conflicts, rather than the future. While science fiction as a whole often focuses on possible futures, The Thing from Another World does not seem interested in exploring any such future. Nor can I recall looks at the future in other Hawks films.

Hawks' other science fiction film Monkey Business, is firmly anchored in the present, too.

Thrown Items

The buckets of kerosene thrown on the alien, are examples of the thrown items in Hawks. Fairly typically for Hawks, they are part of a fight.

They also recall the buckets of water in other Hawks films. Earlier, a man gets a glass of water thrown in his face.

In the climatic battle, a crewman throws a piece of equipment, to get the alien to move back into position towards the trap.


The base has intercoms, that can communicate from room-to-room. This recalls The Criminal Code.

The elaborate electrical trap at the end, can be seen as another of Hawks' gizmos.

Radio is used extensively for communication including the finale.

Circular Architecture

The officer in the opening wishes he had a revolving door in his office, to keep the Alaskan cold out. This is an example of the revolving architecture in Hawks.

The men stretch out and make a circle, over the flying saucer shaped spaceship. This emphasizes how circular the alien spacecraft is. In Man's Favorite Sport?, the characters will go inside a huge revolving circular bar. The men standing in a circle is one of the best images in The Thing from Another World. It measures a large object in human scale, with dimensions compared to the human body.

The scientist is introduced looking at circular screens.

The Officers' Club at the start has circular porthole-like windows in its doors.

By contrast, human architecture in the film is mainly rectilinear.

Camera Movements Introducing Architecture

A fairly long take follows the reporter at the start, as he enters and walks through the Officers' Club.

Later camera movements follow men, as they move through the interior of the North Pole base for the first time.

Layered Clothes

Hawks films often feature layered clothes: clothes worn on top of other clothes. The pilots in The Thing from Another World strip off their heavy outdoor coats, to reveal they are wearing their leather flight jackets underneath.

One of the scientists is wearing a leather apron over his other clothes. This apron is a partly female image, but it also has masculine suggestions, being made out of leather.

Gentlemen Prefer Blondes

Gentlemen Prefer Blondes (1953) is a musical comedy. Hawks directed the non-dance sequences, but reportedly left the dance numbers largely up to choreographer Jack Cole.

Gentlemen Prefer Blondes is one of several Hawks films set in France or French territories such as Martinique (To Have and Have Not). Hawks seems especially interested in French officials: police, Army officers, judges and courtrooms.

In her early shipboard scenes, Jane Russell's character seems mannish. She wears a jacket like a man's sport jacket, and has a blunt, tough, direct way of talking. She reminds one of other Hawksian women who seem man-like, such as Paula Prentiss' character in Man's Favorite Sport?. Like Prentiss and her fishing contest, Russell hangs out and is right at home in a sports context: all the Olympic athletes and sports facilities on ship.


The dressing room and corridor outside (near the start) are in green. This is contrasted with the heroines' red dresses. The green walls and overall look of the area reminds one of the backstage region in A Song Is Born. So does the red-and-green color scheme.

When Jane Russell sings with the Parisian crowd on the street, a woman flower vendor has more of the yellow flowers that run through Hawks.

Land of the Pharaohs

Land of the Pharaohs (1955) is set in Ancient Egypt, and shows the building of a pyramid.

Social Commentary

Robin Wood, in his book on Howard Hawks, points out how much social commentary there is in Land of the Pharaohs.

Some epic films set in Ancient times are surprisingly rich in social comment. Epics are often depicted by critics as pure spectacles, entertainment for low-brow audiences who want to see gladiators and casts of thousands. But actual epic films can comment on war, religion, race, government, slavery, non-violence and other social topics. See: Demetrius and the Gladiators (Delmer Daves, 1954), Esther and the King (Raoul Walsh, 1960), The Fall of the Roman Empire (Anthony Mann, 1964).

Land of the Pharaohs continues the anti-dictator theme that runs through Hawks. The Pharaoh is an absolute ruler. He rules by a combination of force, brutal treatment, and religious propaganda.

Land of the Pharaohs is an anti-slavery film. It makes clear the horrors inflicted on slaves. And how unjust societies based on slavery are. Americans in 1955 were deeply troubled by the rise of slavery in contemporary times, in Nazi concentration camps, and slave labor camps in Siberia in Stalin's Soviet Union.

The Pharaoh is a military conqueror. He gets his wealth by conquering other nations, looting their treasure, and enslaving the people as captives. This is anti-war. The Pharaoh's behavior also recalls the brutal gangster anti-hero of Scarface.

Religion is seen negatively in Land of the Pharaohs. Priests are shown as crooks and frauds, using hoaxes to make the masses believe the gods exist. The afterlife is shown as a cruel lie, designed to make the masses work for low pay. Nominally, this is criticism directed at the religion of Ancient Egypt, the only religion depicted in the film. But in fact such criticisms could be directed at contemporary religions just as well, to the degree that such religions promote belief in the supernatural or the afterlife. This is the unspoken subtext of the film.


American society in the classical period (1890-1966) detested the supernatural. Books, films and comics were full of lessons about the dangers of superstition, how there were no such things as ghosts, etc. The expose in Land of the Pharaohs, showing worshippers tricked into believing they are hearing the voices of the "gods", is an instance of this anti-supernatural teaching in American culture.

Pre-modern societies (such as Ancient Egypt) were frequently depicted as being mired in superstition. And the superstition/supernatural was seen as giving power to evil leaders, such as Pharaoh and his high priest, and being used to oppress the masses. This is exactly the point of view being expressed in Land of the Pharaohs. This point of view was also common in high school and college history and civics classes, novels, and non-fiction books. Ultimately, it has it roots in Enlightenment ideas, stressing the replacement of evil superstition-and-monarchial societies by scientifically enlightened modern democratic ones.

A key film on this subject: Blaise Pascal (Roberto Rossellini, 1972).

Food and Hunger

When the architect from Kush is given a gift or food, he immediately shares it with his fellow captives from Kush. This is one of a number of scenes in Hawks in which food is shared with a hungry person.

The problems of hunger is also a theme in John Ford:

Influence from Greed

Land of the Pharaohs shows subjects recalling the silent classic Greed (Erich von Stroheim, 1924). Both have:

Influence on Esther and the King

Esther and the King (Raoul Walsh, 1960) is a Biblical epic. It has features that broadly recall Land of the Pharaohs:

Percussion Instruments

Hawks likes percussion instruments.

Drums play a role throughout the film: the opening procession, the dance, used to coerce slave labor.

When the Pharaoh dies, a large instrument is sounded ceremoniously. It is an unusual combination, half-way between a bell and a gong. It is shacked like a giant ancient Egyptian symbol.

The dancers have bells on their ankles.


Many of the procession marchers at the start, feature contrasts between red-orange on the one hand, and blue on the other. This is an eye-catching color scheme.It gives a fiery, dynamic quality to the colors in the procession.

Later, the scene where the slave attempts to assassinate the Pharaoh is mainly in a similar color scheme.

The Pharaoh's copper-colored robe is striking. Copper clothes return in Rio Lobo.


Much is made of Joan Collins' cloak. It is stripped from her, in a lurid scene. Hawks films frequently show layered clothes. The cloak is indeed a layer worn over her other garments. The fashion show in Fig Leaves featured wraps and coats worn by fashion show models. When Hawks shows layered clothes for women, they include cloaks, wraps and other outer garments.

Rio Bravo

Rio Bravo (1959) is the first of three related Westerns directed by Howard Hawks.

Pro-Government, Anti Rich Crooks

Rio Bravo is about a group of government officials (John Wayne, Dean Martin and crew) who are attempting to "regulate" a group of rich villains and bring them under the control of the rule of law. This is about as anti-libertarian as one can get. The contemporary US figure who most resembles John Wayne in Rio Bravo is Elizabeth Warren, the financial regulator.

Today we are deluged with anti-Government propaganda from right-wing libertarians. It is worth remembering how pro-Government many old Hollywood films are. The sympathetic treatment of government officials in Rio Bravo, and their battle against rich crooks, is a key example. US popular culture of the "classic" period 1891-1967 is far more left-wing than is generally acknowledged. Books, radio, comic books, film and TV often were drenched in liberal attitudes.

The TV Western series Gunsmoke is about Matt Dillon, a US Federal Marshal. He's a Fed, just like many modern day lawmen in film noir crime thrillers. See my Chart on Semi-documentary Crime Films that documents such Government heroes.


Rio Bravo has one of the most positive portraits of disabled characters in a studio-era Hollywood film. It gets to the heart of prejudice against the disabled: the famous exchange between the bad guy and Wayne has the villain dismiss Stumpy as worthless, while hero Wayne staunchly disagrees. The film shows Stumpy's real worth and value in detail.

Rio Bravo attacks ageism. It shows that both very young people (like Ricky Nelson) and older people (like Walter Brennan) are often undervalued, despite having much to contribute to society.


The town's undertaker is a sympathetic, non-stereotyped Chinese man. Soon, Hawks would have another Asian actor in a technical role: George Takei as the racecar pit boss in Red Line 7000. Takei would become much better known a year later as the navigator Sulu in the original Star Trek (1966 - 1969).

Gender-Neutral Nicknames

Many of the hero characters in Rio Bravo have nicknames. And most of these nicknames are not linked to a gender: they don't indicate whether the person is male or female: Colorado, Feathers, Stumpy. Closely related: John Wayne is known as Chance, also a gender-neutral name. Chance is actually his last name, not a nickname, strictly speaking. But it functions very much like the other characters' nicknames. Only Dean Martin has a nickname with mildly male features, Dude.

By contrast the villains have male names, not nicknames: Nathan Burdette, Joe Burdette.

Today, many red states are trying to forbid young people from giving themselves "non-binary" names. It is amazing: people in red states today are less free than people in a 1959 John Wayne Western.


Rio Bravo might have been influenced by the TV show Maverick. Especially the pilot episodes, which were directed by Budd Boetticher. In War of the Silver Kings (1957), the hero helps a drunken judge reform, and the bad guys cruelly try to lure him back into drinking. And in According to Hoyle (1957), we meet a beautiful woman gambler, who travels around the country. In both episodes, the hero tries to clean up a crooked town.

A later episode of Maverick directed by Walter Doniger might also be an influence. The Jail at Junction Flats (1958) ends with the hero Maverick hog-tied on the ground: something that reportedly proved controversial with viewers. Martin is similarly hog-tied after he is captured by villains. Then again, Bogart is throughly tied-up at the end of Hawks' The Big Sleep, long before Maverick.

There are other aspects of Rio Bravo that recall Boetticher films. A shoot-out in the stable recalls Decision at Sundown (Boetticher, 1957). And the main plot of Rio Bravo, the heroes being under siege by bad guys, recalls a bit the way the heroes are trapped in the stable in Decision at Sundown. The prisoner exchange at the end recalls Buchanan Rides Alone (Boetticher, 1958).

The funeral in the streets recalls a similar procession in the film 3:10 to Yuma (Delmer Daves, 1957).

Rio Bravo has an opening sequence without dialogue. This is not too unusual in Hollywood sound films. Other examples include The Informer (John Ford, 1935), although it includes a song, and Man Hunt (Fritz Lang, 1941).

The Water Trough and Cocteau

Martin is attacked after he has cleaned up his appearance, and is admiring himself in the water trough. The myth of Narcissus is evoked, and also sexual narcissism. Martin seems vulnerable, because he is showing too much pride in his appearance. (He will later be attacked while cleaning up in the bath tub.)

The bad guys push Martin right into the water trough. The effect recalls the mirror imagery in the films of Jean Cocteau: the hero moves into and through what at first looks like a solid mirror, but which turns into liquid. See Cocteau's The Blood of a Poet (1930).

Martin is reflected in the horizontal water in the trough. In Ball of Fire, Barbara Stanwyck is reflected in the horizontal surface of a polished table.


Rio Bravo has an episode of genuine detective work: when Martin traces the man he has shot into the saloon. He uses a full range of clues and reasoning: Such tracking trails of suspects in very much in the classical detective tradition, as found in many prose detective stories. The detective work is sustained: it stretches from the start of the episode, to its conclusion.

By contrast, the film has Wayne do a poor job, figuring out the cheating in the card game. He has to be helped out by Ricky Nelson, to get the right culprit. This seems done deliberately, to establish flaws in Wayne's skills.

Throughout the film, it is Martin who has to do the heavy thinking. He figures out the strategy with Stumpy after Wayne and Martin are captured. And Martin's actions break the prisoner exchange at the end.

There are elements of detection in Hawks' The Big Sleep. Marlowe does a good job, figuring out road house scene with Lauren Bacall and John Ridgely is a fake set-up.

Genuine detection is most associated in films with Joseph H. Lewis. It runs through many of his movies.

If Martin is the source of thinking and ideas, Colorado (Ricky Nelson) is the film's keen observer. In his introduction, he notices that Stumpy has a gun on him: the only character who notices this. Later, he is the most observant about the crooked card game. And the one who understands the meaning of the song. He keeps sharing his observations with John Wayne.

Links to To Have and Have Not

Ricky Nelson collects what the dead Ward Bond owes him in wages, from Bond's money. This recalls To Have and Have Not, where Bogart similarly collects from his deceased customer. In both films, the authorities step in and prevent this. Oddly, in To Have and Have Not, such authorities are sinister (the Gestapo), while in Rio Bravo, the authorities are the town's legitimate Sheriff (John Wayne). Wayne does say that the court will decide whether to award the money to Nelson: a democratic, rule-of-law authority. While in To Have and Have Not, the money will only be returned, the authorities make clear, at the whim of the Gestapo: probably never. This makes a contrast between a democratic and totalitarian society.

In To Have and Have Not, hero Bogart shoots out the searchlight of a pursuing Nazi ship. In Rio Bravo, good guy Martin stops a bad man by shooting the reins of his horse. Both clever actions involve an attack on technology, and are essentially non-violent ways of achieving the heroes' goals. Both relate to Hawks' love of mechanical gizmos, perhaps, although neither strictly speaking is a gizmo itself.

Architecture and Sets

The rope stretched across the stairs is another of Hawks' gizmos. Wayne is slowed down and stopped by a rope: something that later will be done to a locomotive in Rio Lobo.

The jail has a door with an opening panel. This is another of Hawks' unusual doors, like the armored doors and windows at the end of Scarface.

Wayne is shown working at his Sheriff's desk. This recalls Bogart studying the coded book at his desk in The Big Sleep.

The hero and heroine have rooms across the hall from each other at the hotel, as in To Have and Have Not. We even see the heroine standing near the door of the hero's room, as in the previous film.

Hawks' gets much staging mileage, having people go up and down the hotel stairs. This also recalls To Have and Have Not.

Camera Movement

Several important camera movement scenes or shots in Rio Bravo show "characters walking through or past architecture". This is an important kind of Hawks camera movement: When Martin stops Bond's wagons during the funeral, there is a simple camera movement following Martin's brief walk. The motion underscores Martin's action, making it seem important.


When Dean Martin cleans up, he is in a shirt of blue-green, and a brown vest. Green-and-brown are colors associated with Robin Hood, especially in the 1937 film.

Martin also gets polished black boots: something we saw John Wayne put on earlier. Wayne getting dressed for the day, putting on his black boots, recalls a similar shot in A Lawless Street (Joseph H. Lewis, 1955), where Marshall Randolph Scott puts on his boots.

Our initial view of a bedraggled, drunken Martin contrasts with a handsome, nicely dressed cowboy sitting in front of him, at a table in the saloon. This man has a shirt in a striking yellowish tone, and a gray vest. The distinctive yellowish color really attracts the eye.

Villain John Russell is another of Hawks' handsome, well-dressed mobsters, as in Ball of Fire and The Big Sleep. He is simply the Western equivalent of such men. Like them, he is in a good suit. He also has conspicuous, huge spurs on his boots.

Ricky Nelson is first seen in a buckskin shirt. He is one of several young Western men in Hawks in leather clothes. However, he soon changes to another outfit.

Later, Nelson is framed against a brown door, making a color harmony with the brown in his costume.

The bartender, in the bar where Akins is first arrested, wears a vest with paired diagonal stripes. The effect is somewhat like chevrons: recalling the chevron designs on the slate with messages to Cagney, in the final race in The Crowd Roars.


Hatari! (1962) is a film about animal trappers in Africa.

Genre: The Trapper-for-Zoos Films

Hatari! belongs to a small but persistent genre of films about big game hunters. Like other films in this genre, it is: Real life trapper Frank Buck was a pioneer. His book Bring 'Em Back Alive (1930) was turned into the first of a series of Frank Buck films in 1932. Buck became a huge celebrity, and was especially popular with kids. Much later it becomes a TV series (1982-1983) with Bruce Boxleitner.

Prestige directors also worked in this mode. John Ford shot Mogambo (1953) in Africa, with Clark Gable as the trapper-for-zoos.

The genre continued after Hatari!, with the popular TV series Daktari (1966-1969) - although this is less about a trapper, and more about a veterinarian. While the genre is small, and clearly not as developed as such prolific genres as the Western, science fiction or film noir, it still has its own niche.

Costumes and Color

The breakfast is in a color scheme of blue mixed with white and light tones.

Wayne's safari vest has big patches of brown.

The bathroom has brown walls and a brown tub.

When Kruger and Blain have their fist fight, Kruger is in khaki, and Blain is in black.

Man's Favorite Sport?

Man's Favorite Sport? (1964) is a comedy about a fishing contest. Hawks had previously dealt with fishing in Tiger Shark and To Have and Have Not. The contest aspects recall such car racing films as The Crowd Roars and Red Line 7000: these are individual, not team sports, and scoreboards appear in these racer films, as well as Man's Favorite Sport?.

Hudson upside down in his waders, with water streaming out of them, recalls in a comic way the car pulled from ocean with water draining out in The Big Sleep.

Kinetic Architecture

Some of the locales and objects involve Kinetic Art or Architecture. These include: Even the elaborate convertibles driven by the two leads in the opening, have elements in common with Kinetic Art.

The final search by lantern over the lake at the end recalls Sunrise (Murnau, 1927).

Camera Movements Through Architecture

Hudson enters the fishing goods store the first time, in one of Hawks' patented "camera movements following a character moving through architecture". Like other such camera movements in Hawks, this one reveals region after region of the building Hudson is in. This particular movement is a track, with occasional elements of panning. It is a slow, stop-and-start movement. Hawks immediately follows it with a second camera movement shot, following Hudson as he moves to a further room in the store.

Pans accompany Hudson's entrances into his boss' lobby and his boss' office: more entrances and architecture.

Some of Hawks' most complex movements involve the revolving bar. Here, it is not that the camera moves per se, but rather that it is on the bar as it turns. One such movement passes a mirror on the wall, in which see the reflections of Hudson's and Prentiss' backs.

Other Camera Movements

In the office, the camera pans right as Hudson walks over to the women, then pans back left as Hudson walks back to his boss. A similar oscillating camera movement will eventually occur in the lodge dining room.

Tilted Camera Angles

Hudson and Prentiss first meet in a pair of tilted angle shots, where she is below him in her car. This recalls the first encounter of Wayne and Dean Martin in Rio Bravo. In both films, the low angle shots of Wayne and Hudson really make them look big and imposing.

Yellow, Red Colors of Machinery: links to Red Line 7000

The heroine's car is yellow, and so is a taxicab. This anticipates the yellow racecar in Red Line 7000.

The interior of the hero's convertible is red, and so is his scooter. We also see bright red gas pumps, which color coordinate with these. This anticipates the red racecar and toolbox of Red Line 7000.

Costumes and Color

The brown sports coat Hudson wears at the start is far from the dressiest outfit he can wear. It is a sports coat, not a suit. And brown is a "low prestige" color for men. Hudson would be more dressed up, if he were in a gray or dark blue suit. He is immediately confronted with a cop, who is in an authoritative navy blue uniform: dressier than Hudson. The film is comically sabotaging Hudson, in its choice of clothes for him.

Hudson's brown clothes do harmonize with the brown walls and beige accessories of the sporting good store. It suggests he is at home in this environment. They also match the brown clothes of his customer. Later, Hudson's clothes match the brown walls of his boss' office, and harmonize with the gold walls in the revolving bar. The Piano Museum is an off-red inside: it too harmonizes with the characters' brown clothes, but more distantly and dramatically.

Later, Hudson's waders will look brown too, especially when soaking wet (they are more beige when dry).

Paula Prentiss and her friend at the start are also in brown suits. Hawks strongly favored suits for women. Prentiss carries a phallic cane, recalling villain John Russell's whip in Rio Bravo.

Much later, Prentiss one evening is in a red blouse and white skirt. She is part of a red-green complementary color scheme: she is seen against the green walls of the dining room-bar, and then the green forest. The scene also includes red-and-white Native American art on the wall of the lodge, at the end. This is linked to Prentiss, who is wearing the same colors.

The green shirt and brown leather belt worn by John Screaming Eagle when we first see him, recall the colors of Dean Martin's blue-green shirt and brown vest, when he gets dressed up in Rio Bravo.

Artificial World

The sporting goods store, the revolving bar, the Piano Museum: all are artificial worlds. The bright yellow circle into which the fishermen cast in the store is a striking image.

So are the stylized gold "trees" by the entrance to the revolving bar. They are covered with spherical gold "fruits". One suspects these are the ancestors of the stylized "trees" in Perceval (Eric Rohmer, 1976).

Red Line 7000

Red Line 7000 (1965) is a stock car racing tale.

A race using model cars adds a comic touch. This recalls the sailor heroes helping the little boy play with his toy boat in A Girl in Every Port.


One of things that causes Red Line 7000 to lack appeal are the clothes. The many men wear a series of almost identical gray suits off the track: summer weight, solid color, Brooks Brother-ish early 1960's gray suits. Everyone is dressed almost identically. It gives a conformist feel, of a society drowning in demands that its men be all uniform and cut from a single mold. The women's clothes at least come in a variety of colors - but they too seem to fall within nearly as narrow a range. The whole effect can seem oppressive. It suggests a society in which the viewer would find it impossible to fit in.

The announcer is the only man that gets to wear jazzier clothes.

The racing coveralls are more examples of layered clothes in Hawks: they are put on over shirts and trousers. We see a man getting dressed in coveralls right at the start of the film.

Color: Red and Yellow

Much of Red Line 7000 is in those two favorite colors of late Hawks: red and yellow. Important racecars in the plot are in these shades. The film's title comes from a red gauge in the cars.

At the restaurant, the wall behind the bar is yellow, the wall behind the musicians is red. The wait staff is in red jackets, some booths are red, and many of the women customers are in shades of red, yellow or related colors such as orange or pink. Walls of the hotel rooms seem yellow, at least in the night light.

Camera Movement

The opening shot shows a silver racecar making its way through the racing track. Hawks' camera moves along with the car, showing us the race track for the first time. It is very similar to a standard kind of Hawks shot: a "camera movement following a person walking through architecture, seen for the first time". However, this shot differs in that it features a car driving, not a man walking - and that it shows the whole environment of the track, not a single piece of architecture. Its closest analogue in late Hawks might be the camera movements following the heroes riding horses through a desert environment in El Dorado - the shots where Caan recites the title poem.


A love scene takes place in a lattice outside the motel at night. The lattice can be seen as consisting of hundreds of "X shapes". In this it recalls the X's in Scarface.

El Dorado

El Dorado (1966) is a Western, and a loose remake of Rio Bravo. Many characters and situations from the earlier film return, always varied and transformed. It also draws on a key scene of The Big Sleep: where the bad guys are forced out a door, where they have set a trap for the hero.


Like Rio Bravo, El Dorado shows the influence of Budd Boetticher. Mississippi (James Caan) is introduced at the end of a quest to kill the murderers of a loved one: like Randolph Scott in Seven Men from Now (Boetticher, 1956).

Other filmmakers are also drawn on. The church shoot out recalls the finale of Silver Lode (Allan Dwan, 1954).

Actors Johnny Crawford and Paul Fix, stars of the TV series The Rifleman (1958-1963), appear in small but vivid roles in El Dorado. One might associate them with Sam Peckinpah, who wrote the episodes of The Rifleman that introduce their characters. Or with Joseph H. Lewis, who directed 49 episodes of The Rifleman. Unpleasantly, both actors play characters in El Dorado who are far less competent than those they played on The Rifleman.

One can see what might - or might not - be references to episodes of The Rifleman, directed by Lewis. Dialogue refers to a "Shivaree", which is the title of one of Lewis' best episodes of The Rifleman. And Caan first holds a gun up high, then lowers it to the horizontal: a close echo of the duelist's gesture at the end of Lewis' episode "Duel of Honor" (1958).

The sheriff sleeps in a jail cell for safety, recalling A Lawless Street (Joseph H. Lewis, 1955). Such Lewis imagery as tasseled curtains in doorways, and lamps with hanging cut glass prisms, also occur in El Dorado - they are common in Westerns as a whole, as well, so this is not necessarily a Lewis reference.


The characters in El Dorado seem much less skilled compared to their counterparts in Rio Bravo, perhaps deliberately so on the part of the filmmakers: Despite all this, I like the characters in El Dorado.


There is dust in the air, in the opening shot of the town street. Dust is a recurring Hawks image.

When Joey rides out in anger from the farm, her horse leaves a big trail of dust behind.

The Poem

The poem is recited in a rich desert landscape. It is full of archetypal desert plants. We see several shrubs of Hawks' beloved ocotillo (Fouquieria splendens), a plant prominently featured in Hawks' late Western trilogy. There are also tall Saguaro cacti (Carnegiea gigantea), and what look like palo verde trees (Parkinsonia florida). This is similar to the desert ecosystem around Jack Elam's cabin in Rio Lobo. (Pictures and information on all of these plants can be found through Internet searches.)

The ride through the desert features three long take lateral tracks. These are the biggest and longest camera movements in El Dorado. They recall a bit the lateral camera movements in other Hawks, which show "characters walking through architecture". Only here, the characters are riding horses, and more importantly, what is being revealed in the background is not an architectural set, but an outdoors ecosystem. Just as Hawks always shows his sets in beautiful clear detail in his typical camera movements, here in in El Dorado we see every detail of the plants.

Caan's recital of the poem seems odd. He has a rough delivery, that destroys the poem's sense of meter. The poem is also cut down to a few phrases, which tends to eliminate some of the rhymes.

Camera Movement

El Dorado has some of Hawks' "camera movement past architecture". But these shots tend to be shorter and simpler than those in some other Hawks movies: Wayne's ride into the villain's ranch at the start, contains a POV camera movement. This is somewhat atypical for Hawks. It is a largely lateral move past a building, linking it to a standard kind of Hawks shot - but it does not show a man walking, instead being Wayne's POV when he rides past. POV camera movements are associated with Alfred Hitchcock.

Costumes and Color

Mitchum at the start wears a fancy shirt, in a color part way between gray and brown. Soon, he is color coordinated with the walls of the bath tub room.

Christopher George eventually wears a fancy vest. It is double-breasted, like the gangsters' clothes in The Big Sleep, and shiny, like the cowboy shirt worn by a modern-day man at the casino in The Big Sleep.

Unlike many Hawks heroines, none of the women in El Dorado wear suits.

Near the end, Mitchum wears a purple shirt, with a contrasting yellowish vest. Purple-and-yellow are complementary colors. It is a color scheme often suggesting machismo in men, used for boxers, for example. It also a color scheme associated with virile men in the films of Vincente Minnelli.

The dining scene near the end has a red-green color scheme. Each of the four diners wears some sort of red, pink or purple shirt (as well as some neutral color, often). The tablecloth is red, the large hanging lamp is a matching red, and there are green glasses on the table, to offer a touch of complementary color to all the red. This dinner unites the film's good guys. It shows them inside a unified visual spectacle, as well, one with its own striking color scheme.

Rio Lobo

Rio Lobo (1970) is a beautiful movie. Much of it takes place in the countryside. There is a renewed emphasis by Hawks on pictorialism. Rio Lobo does not have an "invisible style", as people sometimes describe Hawks.

In The Country

The countryside setting recalls Man's Favorite Sport?. So do the prominent female characters - three major ones are "on the team" in Rio Lobo. Both films have scenes where the characters move out into shallow water.

Animals - a persistent Hawks metaphor - show up, with hornets used in the raid, and a memorable shot of a thrown chicken.

More surprisingly, plants play a big role. There are two contrasting ecosystems:

The heroine's name, Shasta, is that of a kind of plant: a daisy.

Counter Culture

Rio Lobo has counter cultural themes, perhaps a reflection of 1970 politics and the Era of Relevance in films and comic books. The characters are in revolt against a corrupt establishment and police force. There are three Mexican good guys, and an evil deputy called Whitey (he has white hair, but it is hard not to see a racial reference.) Hawks has joined the Civil Rights movement, at last.

The heroine also gives some Women's Lib speeches.

Dawn Patrol is memorable, well made, a good film, but awfully grim. The characters keep cooperating with the awful war system of WWI. They probably feel they have no choice. Red River startles because the characters actually rebel against the repressive social system of the movie. I wasn't expecting this at all! Rio Lobo is another Hawks film about people in revolt.


The flirting between the Captain and Shasta recalls the meeting between Caan and his girlfriend in El Dorado. It is far more elaborate, and more egalitarian.

The Captain by this time is one of Hawks' Western heroes in leather gear, like Dewey Martin in The Big Sky and James Caan in El Dorado. He has to get dressed, in a key meet-cute scene.

The Train Robbery

The fancy scheme to rob the train, recalls a bit the scheme at the end of Ball of Fire, to shoot the coin. Hawks likes this sort of Rube Goldberg plot. The ropes, greasing the rails, and listening to the rail are all part of Hawks' fondness for gizmos.

The robbery includes such tossed items as the hornet's nest, and smoking brand.

The engine is #17. Throughout the history of films and comic books, phallic symbol numbers like 1, 4, 7 and 9 frequently appear. This is documented in my article Sports Numbers and Their Symbolism. Rock Hudson's parking space at the start of Man's Favorite Sport? is 19. James Cagney's racer at the start of The Crowd Roars is #1. A major racer in Red Line 7000 is #71.

There are huge clouds of dust after the robbery: dust being a Hawks image. The engine also produces big clouds of black smoke, before the robbery. (When the heroes are walking through the town before the final shoot-out, there is also much wind and dust.)

The robbery cross-cuts between three locales: two areas with Union soldiers, one with Confederates. It is one of the longer and larger scale cross-cutting scenes in Hawks.

Percussion Instruments

Hawks often favored percussion instruments. The credits show a guitar being played. After Hawks' name comes on at the end, the guitarist stops playing the strings. The hand instead starts rhythmically striking the guitar, treating it as a percussion instrument.

In the hotel dining or, a big drum is seen on stage. There are no musicians: this is the day time, and the instrument is just sitting there on the empty stage.


After the robbery, Wayne and the Union soldiers track the stolen gold. They use such classical detection devices as studying tracks, looking at how deep the tracks are to determine weight carried, and looking for bits of clothing torn off by branches. This is an extended sequence. It keeps cutting the Union forces in two, as they divide to look at forking trails.

Soon, the Confederates do a bit of detection themselves, as they deduce Wayne is leading them northward.

Before the robbery, both sides gain information from numerous telegraph messages. This resembles the information by phone in Hawks' modern-day movies.

Camera Movement

Rio Lobo has many camera movements, especially pans, of a frequent Hawks type. These show men walking through an architectural region, usually our first glimpse of that architecture: There is also another type of Hawks camera movement. Before the final shoot-out, the camera pans over the landscape of the creek and bridge. Such pans establishing locales run through Hawks.


The saloon has a bath in the background, the way the saloon in Rio Bravo has a barber chair in back.

The honest sheriff's office has large windows: virtually some of Hawks' glass walls.

The hotel steps are used for staging: a common Hawks strategy. The Captain makes an impressive entrance on them.


The engine and its cow catcher are bright red; the railway car with the gold is yellow. These colors are familiar from automobiles in other Hawks, such as Man's Favorite Sport? and Red Line 7000. The yellow is echoed by the yellow yarrow flowers.

The medicine show wagon has a red curtain in front, and a red awning. Otherwise, it is more pink. It still fits in to a large part to Hawks' red vehicles.

The Captain at first wears pink underwear, then red pants, along with his copper (near brown) colored leather shirt. Similarly, the heroine wears pink accessories to her brown clothes, when we first meet her. The pink cloth tied around her hat, recalls in shape the light brown cloth around Paula Prentiss' brown hat, at the start of Man's Favorite Sport?.

The Captain's copper-colored leather shirt is briefly color coordinated with the brown walls of the hotel dining room, after the shoot-out.