|Howard Hawks on film,
politics, and childrearing by Constance Penley, Saunie Salyer, and Michael Shedlin from Jump Cut, no. 5, 1975, pp. 22-27
copyright Jump Cut: A Review of Contemporary Media, 1975, 2004
Since 1923, Howard Hawks has directed over 40 motion pictures, including at least a half-dozen masterpieces—SCARFACE, THE BIG SLEEP, BRINGING UP BABY, HIS GIRL FRIDAY, RED RIVER, TO HAVE AND HAVE NOT, ONLY ANGELS HAVE WINGS and EL DORADO. He has piloted some of the most sophisticated scripts and high energy performances in the history of the U.S. cinema.
Hawks rode the crest of Hollywood during its heyday and won nearly every battle to maintain creative control over his pictures. In his non-film life as well he is a man of High Adventure. He has been a stunt flyer, an auto racer, a motorcyclist, a marksman, a horseman, a tennis player, a baseball pitcher, a golfer, a skier. He went fishing with Hemingway and hunting with Faulkner. He has built racing cars as well as camera cars. He collects firearms and Western prints, he is a gunsmith as well as a still photographer.
Since the Fifties, Hawks has been revered by French critics (Godard listed SCARFACE as the Best American Sound Film). But until recently his career has not been taken seriously by commentators in this country, although his films have always been popular with the international public.
In the last five years, largely through the efforts of Peter Bogdanovich, Robin Wood and Andrew Sarris, Hawks’ work has finally achieved a respectable critical status. However, many of his films are still not recognized as parts of a single director’s oeuvre—“the only oeuvre the U.S. public can totally identify itself with” (Henri Langlois). TWENTIETH CENTURY, SERGEANT YORK, RIO BRAVO, HATARI, RED LINE 7000, CEILING ZERO, THE DAWN PATROL, THE CRIMINAL CODE, AIR FORCE, I WAS A MALE WAR BRIDE, MONKEY BUSINESS, MAN’S FAVORITE SPORT, GENTLEMEN PREFER BLONDES—all these were directed by the same man.
We had been asked by the Pacific Film Archive to escort the master during his two-day visit to the San Francisco Bay Area in connection with the Archive’s definitive retrospective of Hawks’ films.
“Glad to know ya,” said the white-haired action director at the airport. He was accompanied by his secretary Nancy Reeves. As we drove to Berkeley Hawks regaled us with a dozen “irrepressible Hawksian anecdotes,” including an account of his invitation to make a film in the Soviet Union and an appraisal of Marlene Dietrich’s legs. He told us about Gloria Swanson completing the direction of Von Stroheim’s QUEEN KELLY and dropped cryptic remarks about his hoard of unpublished Fitzgerald manuscripts.
Hawks speaks quietly and forcefully. He laughs often, interrupts often, listens intently and asks few questions. He is a curious mixture of taciturnity and loquaciousness. He seems to be a strong silent type and yet he talks almost continuously. During lunch we were perversely enchanted as we found ourselves hanging batedly on every scabrous John Wayne anecdote. “If I want to have fun at a party,” said the master over his chef’s salad, “I’ll tell the Duke, ‘See that guy over there? He’s a Red!’”
Later in the day we asked Hawks for a private interview. He agreed without hesitation. Nancy Reeves scheduled us for the following morning at ten.
We met an hour early to discuss strategy. In the last few years there has been an optimistic over-reaction to Hawks’ conservatism. It has taken the form of a re-consideration of Hawks’ women characters in the light of current feminist ideas, and a suggestion that he was in some ways actually a progressive social force. We wanted to see this aspect of him. On the strength of HIS GIRL FRIDAY, if nothing else, we were ready to suspend our aversion to his reactionary romanticism and hail him as a closet subversive, a repressed populist, perhaps even a rightwing anarchist.
In order to find these things out about Hawks, we realized that we would have to circumvent the usual What-Was-It-Like-To-Work-With -Humphrey Bogart approach. Most critics and audiences who have questioned Hawks have been respectful in the extreme. This is understandable. Hawks is an exceedingly dignified, steely-eyed big hombre. He wields a penetrating blue stare and a 78-year reputation for no bullshit. He is not the kind of man you niggle with.
We were, however, determined to probe into his personal philosophy and get beyond the anecdotal response. We decided to discuss our perspective straightaway and to ground all of our questions in our passions and our politics rather than attempting to set up a “comfortable atmosphere” in which he could be “drawn out.”
Hawks considers himself an apolitical artist. He pooh-poohs analysis and insists on the primacy of the untrammeled creative instinct. He told us that he thought Frank Capra got “no good” when Capra started to analyze his own pictures, to put “messages” in them.
He believes in the total omnipotence of the individual and consequently in the transcendence of art over mere social conditioning. And yet Hawks’ movies reflect, transmit and are created by U.S. history and U.S. society. His work represents the apotheosis of macho, fatalist, individualist cynicism. His heroic characters (not the adolescents of his comedies) are stoic, tough, competitive and authoritarian.
Hawks expresses the dominant ideas of the U.S. culture. His cinema is above all a male cinema—male values, male heroes, male activities, and male resolutions. Hawks believes in and glorifies such traditionally masculine pursuits as world war, trailblazing, killing Native Americans, cattle driving, gun fighting, airplane piloting, hunting and auto racing. With a few notable exceptions (HIS GIRL FRIDAY, GENTLEMEN PREFER BLONDES, BALL OF FIRE, etc.), women in Hawks’ films are entirely marginal to the operative reality except as attractions or diversions to the heroes.
Hawks’ fabled obsession with Men in Groups indeed exists. But the groups are always hierarchical and are often engaged in authoritarian or super aggressive activity. Their solidarity is falsely defined by their romantic isolation from the rest of society. They are the “doers” who have, at best, disdain for the “watchers.”
We are not suggesting that Hawks should have or could have made other kinds of films, we are simply outlining some of the codes of the dominant ideology which are inscribed in his work.
This interview was conducted on April 23, 1974, pre-Nixon’s resignation, pre-SLA liquidation.
PENLEY: Our bias is probably toward not just formal analysis of films but a somewhat political analysis—trying to figure out how films work and how they affect people and how they work to change your consciousness. So we’re always looking for those kinds of things too. Of course we’ve always been interested in the way you’ve been able to do things like portray emotion between men, and people in communal groups, and collectivity, and the strength of your women characters. Especially after Leigh Brackett wrote those articles in Take One, did you see them?
HAWKS: Leigh’s? I don’t think I did.
PENLEY: Well, they were very illuminating. She said some really good things …
HAWKS: She’s a smart girl. I thought I was hiring a man.
PENLEY: That’s what she said. You were slightly upset when she walked in, but you got over it …
HAWKS: Well, when you expect a man and you get a girl who’s been out playing tennis, tanned up … I said, “My God, you write like a man, I thought you were a man. And she’s done very well …
SALYER: Well, since we’re coming to you as “film critics,” we were interested … Your films have been analyzed and discussed perhaps more than any other filmmaker. The Cahiers group in France … We were wondering what you thought of the enterprise of film criticism, whether you’ve ever found it effective in thinking about your own work or explaining your films to a larger group of people, maybe that you wouldn’t have the chance to talk to apart from thru your films. Have you ever in fact been helped by a film critic?
HAWKS: I think that after I made my first picture, a fellow said it was lousy, and he said, “For God’s sake make entertainment, make stuff that people would like.” And he said, “You’re never going to make it too good for them, so don’t worry.” And I’ve told a number of people the same advice. Bill Friedkin asked me if I’d seen his last picture, and I said I did. He said, “Well, what’d you think of it?” I said, “After you’ve made a few more, you’ll know enough not to ask that question.” I thought it was lousy.
SHEDLIN: THE EXORCIST?
HAWKS: No, THE BOYS IN THE BAND. I said that the thing that made me most angry about it was the fact that you showed that you had talent and then you waste your time on junk like that. So he said, “What shall I do?” And I said, “Make something that people will be entertained and amused by, that’s the sole function of motion pictures.” “Any suggestions?” And I said, “Yeah, make a good chase, they seem to be beginning to like chases. If you make something better than the ones that have been made, you’ll have a …” So he won an Academy Award. And he’s still trying. I don’t know if he’s going to have continued success … I don’t think THE EXORCIST is something awfully good. I’ve got a script written by William Faulkner that had just as much blood, just as much horror and everything. And I decided I didn’t want to inflict it on people. I’m gonna sell it and let somebody else do it.
But I’ve listened to 30 French directors in a room, German directors, Swedish directors, Italian directors … I think too many of them want to analyze films. Too many of them want to find a motive for doing it. I keep telling them, “You’re just storytellers. If you got a story, tell it, tell it good.” If you’re any good at all, you wont’t think about where you’re going to put the camera or what you’re gonna do. You’ll know that you want to get in close on this, you’ll know … And if you’re not any good, you’ll use a lot of tricks and think that they’re new. Just if I like a story, I don’t say well it’s about this and that’s been popular then … It’s more or less been the other way. When I came back from Europe I wanted to make a western. Jack Warner said, “What do you want to make one of those for?” I said, “It’s time somebody started making some good ones. There’ve been none made.” He said, “All right.” Still making money. That was almost 15 years ago.
When they started making all these sick pictures, I didn’t know exactly what the audience was going to want, so I said to Wayne, “Do you want to make a couple of westerns with me?” He said, “Yeah, like to.” So we made some westerns. With no analysis at all of what effect they would have on people, just trying to make something that is entertaining. I’m thoroughly on the side of tired people who want to go down for relaxation, and don’t want to think. I think that’s why THE STING got the Academy Award. Sheer entertainment, and damn good entertainment, well done.
SALYER: In light of what you said yesterday about the AFI filmmaker calling you up, and you said, “How could you invest in a film not having seen it,” and also said you believed in making a film with a social purpose.
HAWKS: I said that?
SHEDLIN: “A film with something to say,” you said. That there should be a purpose behind the film, it should mean something. Then you would invest in it.
HAWKS: Oh, you mean in talking not about my work, but in somebody else’s. Sure!
PENLEY: Do you think that some films can serve that function?
HAWKS: Well, I would say that the quickest way to show that you can direct is to learn how to tell a story and tell it in film. I know a few good filmmakers who can’t tell a story. And most of those filmmakers are not writers or creators, they are stage directors. They take a script and interpret it beautifully, but they practically don’t put anything of themselves into it. They don’t mark it …
PENLEY: Do you think that films affect people, that films could change their attitudes? Do you think films should do that, or can do that?
HAWKS: I think it’s pretty goddamned dangerous, because who the hell are you to decide what is good for somebody, you know what I mean? And any more than I would want my boy listening to some people I know who are quite bright people. I feel like booting them and saying, “Get out of there and don’t talk about things like that.”
I don’t know. It’s a public thing. For instance, I am certain that the media has turned people against Nixon, and they haven’t any proof yet. They merely have proof that he had bad judgment in hiring certain people. And that’s rather doubtful proof because I think that by the time the elections come around the Democrats are going to have a lot of things thrown at them by the Republicans who are holding off that will show you that the whole damn thing is lousy and rotten, you know?
And I just was saying that I don’t approve of some of the textbooks that they pass around now. I don’t approve of some of the stuff that the newspapers and television do. They exaggerate things out of all context. All they want to do is get a good headline. There are very few papers that report well. You know, I mean they’re all biased.
And if you start that going in motion pictures, in a field that’s pure entertainment, how are you going to tell the people who want to go in for entertainment, “You’re gonna be lectured tonight, you’re gonna be told that this is a policy and that is a policy” and stuff like that. So you’re out of luck.
PENLEY: Don’t you think though that all films portray some kinds of values— moral values, whether they’re intended to or not?
HAWKS: To who? To you or to another person or …
PENLEY: To everyone …
SHEDLIN: To the audience …
HAWKS: No, I don’t think so. You’re going to get an entirely different audience in the country than you get in the city, so who are you going to aim your pictures to?
SHEDLIN: But don’t you aim your films to be an expression of your deepest convictions? Wouldn’t you say that if you invest your films with anything, it’s your deepest feelings?
HAWKS: No, I think that they’re full of the things that I like. If I finish a picture where I’ve gotten, by accident, too many losers in it, I don’t like the picture at all. I didn’t like RED LINE 7000; I thought it was awful. I don’t like pictures that … It’s so easy to go in and pull some bum out of the gutter and wash him off and an hour later find him dirty and down there again. But who wants to look at that? Who do you help by picturizing that?
SHEDLIN: Are you saying that you portray positive values in your films? I feel that a lot. And I feel that one of the strongest ones is a tremendous sense of individualism. I mean, yesterday many of your responses to things were, “Well, I’m offered something—can I do it my way?” That’s the same kind of control over one’s own life that people are seeking today, and that these liberation movements that have grown up in the 60s and 70s are about. I sense a tremendous feeling of strength and need to have control over your life. And characters in your films to be able to choose the way they want to, free of outside coercion.
HAWKS: If people want to get that out of my films, they’re very glad to get it out. I feel myself that I’m not going to cram it down their throats, I’ll tell you that.
SHEDLIN: But people have written about those values in your films, and people have drawn them out. Would you say that you do feel that way yourself?
HAWKS: Well, that’s a hell of a question to answer. I mean, I’ve read so much stuff written about me, and a lot of them make me laugh ‘cause I didn’t intend that at all. It’s just very simple. I believe in telling a story, and I like to tell it about something that I know about. And in many, many cases I know the person that I put in there. I know a drunk or a bum or a liar or a cheat or something like that, and I put him in a picture.
But it’s so easy to have a villain that makes faces, or the music comes up like one of the old melodramas that they used to play on showboats. I get more fun out of a villain that is a little different. I had a lot of fun with Chris George in EL DORADO. He was a good sport, he had a sense of humor, and he didn’t do one bad thing in the whole picture. He died, and he said, “You never gave me a chance.” And Wayne said, “You’re too good to give a chance to,” and he died happily, because a man better than him had said, “You’re good.”
I like the character in TO HAVE AND HAVE NOT, the fellow who played the big fat fairy. He’d never done anything before; he was awful good. No motive at all other than to find a different kind of a heavy, just to try to do something that’s amusing. I don’t do it for any purpose whatsoever beside that.
SALYER: Well, when you talk to someone or read something that someone has written and they say that they like a film that you like, and you read that they got a sense of enjoyment out of it in the same way that you enjoyed making it, and thought it was a good story the way you thought it was a good story—is that in any way inspiring to you to know that you have communicated to someone?
HAWKS: I like it. I don’t know if it inspires me more. It depends on who’s saying it. It depends on whether I have any desire to inspire that person. If I like him, I have. If I don’t like him, then I don’t give a damn about inspiring him. Actually it’s hard to say.
I don’t believe in analyzing my own work. I just don’t do it. I know people who have gotten completely off base by trying to analyze their own work. I played a lot of tennis, with the world’s champion. A brother of mine—I was 16 and he was 14—we played ten sets a day with the two world’s champions. We went on tour with them, and we were two of the best hustlers you’ve ever seen. He’d warm up left-handed, and he had knee pants on, and I bet $50 he could beat the state champion. Then he’d turn around right-handed and beat him: 6-love, 6-love. We’d be $50 richer. He’d analyze his service. After that, any girl could serve better than he could. He could still hit any other shot, but as soon as he analyzed it, he couldn’t do it.
And I know a lot of people who … Frank Capra, until he went into the army, was one of the greatest directors we ever had. Made great entertainment. After that he couldn’t make anything. He started to analyze his pictures, and put messages in them. He put messages into his other pictures, but he didn’t think about it. He did it naturally. When he got to thinking about his messages, oh brother, he turned into really … ah, no good …
If writers get to believing all the stuff that’s analyzed and written about their books, then they get no-good. So it’s a dangerous thing. Because they’re given a talent, they better use it and not try to use the thoughts that some other person has about their work.
PENLEY: I’d like to ask you just one more question along these lines. Several times, yesterday and today, your disenchantment with politics in this country [HAWKS: affirmative grunt and “Sure …” ], especially now. You said that you feel that politicians are the slimiest people around. Don’t you feel that it is the place of film, of movies, to try to counter that in any way, or to try to have some effect on the corruption of political life in this country … even though it does bother you?
HAWKS: No, I don’t think it’s movies. I think probably television has the right to do that. For the simple reason that you can turn it off, and you don’t have to go out of your own room to get it … If you go out and pay your money to get into a theater, you’re entitled to get what you want. If they have special theaters set aside to run foreign pictures, you know you’re gonna get to see a foreign picture. But when you go to see the average picture, the average person is knowing they’re not to be taught, not to be instructed, but just to be amused and entertained. And that’s why I say that television has a better chance. I think some of the television things are good. They’re on very unpopular channels usually. You have to turn them on special because only a few people want ‘em. But they do a damn good job of what they do.
PENLEY: And you wouldn’t feel that that was too manipulative? You said earlier that you thought television had shaped people’s attitudes about Nixon.
HAWKS: Oh yes, I think so … without a doubt. Television and the papers …
PENLEY: Then you think that there are possibilities for television to get across news about politics and social conditions in an unmanipulative way?
HAWS: I think they’ve got a chance. I doubt if they do it. I supported one politician about ten years ago. For state’s attorney—Evelle Younger … He was a lawyer. We rode out to a football game. Somehow, having a drink after the football game, some people I knew were talking about who would make a good district attorney. I said, “What about that young fellow I rode out with, Evelle Younger?” “Well, my lord, he’d be a good one,” they said. “Will you help?” I said, ‘I’ll help, but after I talk to him.” I talked to him, and I said, “I’ll back you, and these people will back you, if you won’t get up there and make election speeches and tell everybody what stinkers politicians are, and rank yourself with the same bunch of stinkers, you know. If you will just stop calling names or doing any of that kind of stuff, I will back you.” I get a letter from him every year saying, “I’m still doing what you told me to do.”
I wouldn’t want my boy to be a politician, because if he ran against anybody, there’d be 18 dirty skunks who’d start saying what a louse he was. And the only reason they’d say it is’cause they’re one themselves. So I don’t know what you’re gonna do about that. I really don’t know. But I think that if you can get a set that you can turn off, then that’s the best thing about television.
SHEDLIN: Um, it’s hard to explain this, but we see your films as being very political. For instance Rosalind Russell in HIS GIRL FRIDAY is such a strong female character in a century when women have not been portrayed like that at all—that’s an intensely political thing to us.
HAWKS: Yeah, but it’s accidental. It just happens to voice some of the stuff that I happen to, you know, enjoy. Or else portraying—and it’s not done with the intention of curing the ills of the thing or doing anything like that. If they do like it … I wish a lot more women would act like the women that I portrayed because they’re the attractive ones to me. And I like them when they’re honest and when they’re direct, and it seems as though other people do too. They like to watch the girls in the pictures.
And as far as men go, I don’t care about the size of them or anything, but I like the strength of them. I mean Bogart was a giant, but he was a little man physically … Cagney is another one. What I don’t like are the kind of—not effeminate—but sort of effete, kind of lackadaisical people, you know what I mean. It’s no fun makin’ pictures with that type in ‘em. I don’t know whether you’d say that you could teach people a lesson or not. I think if you’re gonna get something out of a picture, it’s because they like the movie, don’t you think so? You wouldn’t bother to analyze the stuff I make if you didn’t like it.
SHEDLIN: Well, that’s true. But I also sense, for example in a film like SCARFACE, that you had a so-called message behind it, and that it wasn’t the kind of thing that would make people feel light.
HAWKS: Well, that is in the best novels or theater … I don’t know … something that has existed thru ages of evil—the Borgian family, isn’t that true? Hasn’t that gone thru many, many generations? Well, all I was trying to do was say that the Borgian family today is Al Capone and his family. And we had a portrayal that showed just what gangsters are really—a crumb bunch. They’re evil, double-crossing poisoners, that’s what they are. So the picture turned out pretty good. I wish it had come out in a day when THE GODFATHER did, because it’s a better picture. I’d have made an awful lot of money too. I didn’t find anything new in THE GODFATHER—that wasn’t in SCARFACE. It’s a depiction of a phase in the country …
And you know one of the strangest things—there was a gangster in Chicago, a rather nice man, a very attractive man. Well-educated daughters. He came out and he sent his name in and he wanted to look thru the studio. And I was interested in talking to him. The girls were well-schooled, good manners, and he was well-dressed. He said, “Howard, where’d you get some of that stuff that you got?” I said, “What do you want to know for? You mad?” He said, “Hell no, I’m not mad. That’s way past and gone. I was just interested in how you found it out.” So I told him. He said, “Well, I’ll be damned. People talk, don’t they?” And I said “Yup.” He said, “Why hasn’t the picture played in Chicago?” I said, “No one will let it.” He said, “You want it to play there?” I said “Yes.” He said, “Can I use your telephone?” Came back and said, “You can run it in Chicago anytime you want to.” Well, that’s part of an evil system, isn’t it? If a gangster can walk in and change the whole thing.
But politics has gotten to where they want to control and tell you what kind of movies, what kind of books, what kind of everything. Who the hell is qualified to do it? I don’t know how thru movies you’re ever gonna get to tell people how this corruption works in the country. Because the whole media is just quoting all these people. It’s a story for them. You know, I write a story and then somebody comes along and they say, “You’re changing that.” Well, I wrote the goddamned thing. “I know, but what are you changing it for? It’s printed on there. Why not keep it …” You know, they read stuff in the newspapers, they see stuff on television. I don’t know what you’re gonna do, but you’re not gonna be able to do it thru movies, I don’t think.
SALYER: In one sense, though, I think you’re doing it. I mean, its …
HAWKS: Well, maybe, but without knowing or trying to, you know, because I am making pictures that please me. The reason that I think that Bogdanovich and Friedkin are gonna make good pictures is because they’re making pictures that please them. And they’re not doing it for any other motive than to make entertainment. I told Friedkin that if he made two or three pictures like THE BOYS IN THE BAND that he’d find he’s not making another picture. Or if it was, it’d be something that he didn’t have anything to say about. I said,
“If you want to make pictures and enjoy making them, you better go out and make something that a lot of people want to see. And then they’ll turn you lose and let you make what you want. And then maybe you can do some of the things that you want to do. But as a beginner, you haven’t got a chance.”
“The best thing to do is to learn how to tell a story. Be careful that it isn’t just something that you want to do, and then, when people’ve got confidence, they will give you money and backing to do it … No sense in trying to make a picture that will be any form of propaganda unless you’ve got somebody good in it, so that you can get an audience in to look at it … Because if you’ve only got 50 people in the movie theater, you’re not getting anywhere. You have to get a full house. Then you have a chance of convincing them … Better than that, if you’ve got a full house, and the other theaters are looking to run it and you’ve upped your viewing audience to the biggest thing going …”
I was very lucky. The average picture is quite satisfied if they get almost 50% outside of the United States. I get 65-67% of the money outside of the United States. And it makes me very glad that the people in Japan laugh at the comedies that I make, the people in France think that they’re great—they like the best the one that I think is the least good. They like ‘em in Spain, in Italy. And that means an awful lot of people are getting some message that you say you got, isn’t that right?
SHEDLIN: Given your feeling of the corruption and general deception and horribleness of the government, of the authorities, I would think that a rebellion against them would be a more fully developed theme in your work. I would think that you would turn some of your scorn for these authorities who try to tell you that you can’t make certain books and movies … that you would put more of that into your characters.
HAWKS: You mean set myself up as God, and I’m the judge of the whole thing? Well, I haven’t got any right to just say that my ideas about something are gonna help the world out, ‘cause maybe they’re gonna do a lot of harm to the world. So the best way to do it is to just go away and do what I think is best and not try to get down to that other kind of thing. Maybe you can call it fear, I don’t think it’s fear …
Not to be egotistical, I mean I’ve started an awful lot of things, been first in a lot of things, and other people have followed … Just in an endeavor to give people a different side of things. For instance, until 1930 all dialogue was the old-fashioned, melodrama emoting kind, in everything. And when I did DAWN PATROL, it was the first picture of understatement, you know—you didn’t let people go … And Irving Thalberg, who was one of the few geniuses that the picture business produced, said, “You son of a bitch. Everybody’s gonna try to do it and they don’t know how. You’re gonna mess us up.” Well, in two or three years, they began to do it. Everybody began doing understatement. People began writing it. Then Kazan came along and made one picture where a guy went sky high—I think it was Dean—and everybody thought, “Well, that was marvelous … here was a fellow blowing his top.” You know what I mean, really going back to the old fashioned acting. But he didn’t know when to quit. He made a picture that had everybody doing it, and they turned it down, they thought it was lousy. So now he’s evened off again. I try in a picture to have somebody blow off —if I can find somebody who can get hysterical. I’ve tried all kinds of different kinds of comedy, all kinds of different kinds of pictures, tried not to get stuck with one kind. Right now people seem to think I’m a western director. I’ve only made four of ‘em. And I’ve made quite a few pictures. But—it’s pretty dangerous when you set yourself up …
Frank Capra unconsciously taught people a lot of great things when he made MR. SMITH GOES TO WASHINGTON. That was the greatest Hurrah opinion of politics that was ever made. Well, when he got out and started to do it consciously, he didn’t get enough people in to look at the picture to pay for making the prints. So I couldn’t advise anybody to try to do it.
SALYER: When you referred earlier to “sick pictures,” what exactly did you mean by that?
HAWKS: Well, I mean that it’s rather hard to make good drama, but awfully easy to make bad drama out of sick people. Sick pictures: pictures of psychopaths, pictures of strange people, pictures that are nauseating, people that you don’t like to look at or follow—those are sick pictures. Some dope comes out with the idea that he’s gonna make something … They got a whole bunch of those pictures lying down in Hollywood, that they can’t cut or make a picture out of or release. I’ve seen some of these boys come out from New York, who’ve made stageplays and little off-Broadway plays, and try to make a gunman a psychopath, a western gunman. Nobody’s paid any attention to the pictures. They’ve stayed away in big herds.
And I’ve heard people say that the westerns that we make aren’t true-to-life. Well, they’re not dressed exactly the same … but all it is is a dramatization of the things that happened. All of the fellows who were good directors and made good pictures, like George Stevens making SHANE, were particularly impressed with the settler who came out and ran into trouble. Then violence started picking on him. He did that story and he did it awfully well. In RED RIVER, I did the story of people who wanted to get together a big herd of cattle and how they did it. They rode right over everybody. I almost made the story of the King Ranch. They asked me to make it. Then I told ‘em something about the history of the King Ranch and they couldn’t hardly believe it. And they said, “You’re not gonna do that, are you?” And I said, “No, I’m not,” and I threw it away and I made RED RIVER instead.
I don’t know. You people can have your ideas and everything, but I don’t know how you’re gonna be practical, how you’re gonna get ‘em across …
PENLEY: Well, there is quite a bit more independent filmmaking now. A lot of Third World countries, small European countries like Hungary and Czechoslovakia, have been finding ways to make films in such a way that you don’t have to be dependent on having to make a million dollars … I think there’s some hope in that …
HAWKS: Well, I don’t know what you mean by that. They’ve got an awfully small audience. They haven’t gone very far, or else they’d be making some money. The growth of pictures in places like Hungary or Sweden has been great. But it’s been a normal growth, it’s grown up with the interest of the people there. I don’t think there’s any more independent pictures being made in America than there used to be. My lord, there were hundreds of little studios working full blast … John Wayne made 50 westerns before he made RED RIVER. As a matter of fact, I thought that small production had gone down a great deal.
PENLEY: We’re not so much talking about independent companies that make films for the mass audience, but making films that could communicate to one sector.
HAWKS: Where do those pictures run?
PENLEY: On college campuses, museums, special theaters …
HAWKS: Well, yeah, I know, but then you’ve got an extremely small comparative audience. Because for every student that goes in to see those, they go to 15 films in big theaters outside. It all depends on what you want to make. If you want to make pictures for that, well go to it.
Did any of you see THE DONOVAN PLATOON, directed by Pierre Scheondorffer? Well, you missed something. It’s the best short subject I’ve seen in years. I saw it in Paris. I said, “What are you doing with this?” He said, “I can’t do anything with it.” I said, “Let me have it,” and I showed it. CBS has run it four times on primetime. Now he’s got money enough to try other stuff. He’s also learned an awful lot. He’s also gonna shoot second unit for me, and if that’s good I’m gonna let him make a picture.
And he had a purpose when he made that thing. He got out there, he got shot at. Got beautiful stuff, but … It has a fabulous beginning: Vietnam countryside, everything is just peaceful and very idyllic. Then you get closer. You hear someone singing an old folk song. It’s a soldier, a Negro soldier. And all of a sudden all hell breaks loose. You’re in a war. And he told stuff and told it beautifully. Now there was a short subject that turned into perhaps a half a dozen more things, and then it’ll turn into pictures. And if he can tell ‘em as good as he told that one, and I know he can, he’ll be good.
I’m trying to teach him not to just make local stuff. I wouldn’t count too much today on your local stuff. And campuses change. They think different at another campus than they do here. We got two in Los Angeles—USC and UCLA—where they think entirely differently. I’m kinda betting on USC right now …
HAWKS: I think they’re gonna teach people how to make films and I think they’re gonna teach them better, not only films but commercials, all kinds of things. I think they’re going to be pretty damn well instructed. But they’re lucky. A woman put up an awful lot of money. It got them equipment, opportunities to work. Whereas the group up at … AFI, I think they came to kind of a standstill. They got too special about their own stuff …
PENLEY: About two years ago, in a San Francisco interview, you were asked about your women characters. You were asked if you thought that women could ever develop as strong friendships as men. You said no, you didn’t believe they could. Because women never had to get out there in the world and get involved in conflicts and struggles that would make them bond together the way that men do. Then, in the past few years of peoples’ struggling with their sex roles, with role reversal, and people thinking about that … Do you still feel that way?
HAWKS: Some of the great friendships, or at least the friendships that I’ve used, have been true. One of my greatest friends—I ran him through a fence in an auto race. I won the race, and I thought, “Oh oh, here he comes, I’m gonna have a fight.” Instead of that he grinned and said, “That’s pretty good, but don’t do it again.” I knew exactly what he meant. He’d run right into me if I tried it again. So we had a few drinks.
He had a girl he was trying to get rid of, and she was over in Europe. I heard she was coming back, and he was on location, So I said, “Why don’t you step up to my house?” He stayed there five years. We fought and argued about everything. We were really good friends. I had another good friend who saved my life.
I don’t think there are quite as many opportunities for women to form that kind of an attachment. In men it brings you closer … That’s the only reason I said that I haven’t even heard of more than a few reasons given by women as to why someone is their great friend. Mostly it’s, “I like ‘em.” But there’s nothing that formed or cemented a bond, no incident.
SALYER: Could that bond be cemented just by a common work project, like working on a film together?
HAWKS: I don’t know, I don’t know …
SALYER: Or is it only where you’re risking your life, which is something that …
HAWKS: I don’t know. I would say that the risk thing and the other has a little more strength, but that’d probably be the man’s viewpoint … I don’t know. It’d be hard to answer that. What do you think?
SALYER: I think that the actual risking of one’s life, say in auto racing or wildlife hunting, can be sort of just a metaphor. For me, risking my life is more involved in a sense of risking my integrity, or for me to compromise or to be dishonest or not be responsible is risking my life, where it’s not losing my life or dying.
HAWKS: Well, then you’d have to say you disagree with the remark that I made in San Francisco.
PENLEY: No, uh …
HAWKS: OK, then write me a good relationship. I’ll put it in a movie. I can’t just make one up, I’ll tell you that, but I don’t have to make them up between men, I know why people become friends and why people become enemies. And I’ve used friendship so many times in plots.
REEVES: Do you know why that bond forms? Is it to some extent because you are working on a common project?
HAWKS: Well, write it down. Write a thing that kind of comes to a head that’s strained by a certain thing, and why it’s picked up again …
SALYER: But it’s even true that, say, during WWII, when most of the men in this country were off to fight the war, a lot of the women filled the jobs that were vacated by the men, and did a lot of the kinds of work that women don’t usually do. And even today, like women are working … excelling in sports. And the Vietnamese women are fighting absolutely on an equal basis with men against the United States … I mean that is even on your own terms, where a woman is risking her life, and yet you still say you don’t …
HAWKS: And yet she’s not willing to risk her alimony, is she?
REEVES: I think that’s a new field that you’re talking about, and it’s a changing field. I think what Howard was saying before was that that opportunity has not been available to women because we have always stayed home and washed clothes and took care of husbands and had babies. And they weren’t out engaging in that … kind of relationship.
HAWKS: I know a girl who was modeling, and then she got sick and tired of modeling and became a photographer. My God, the stuff that she does as a photographer is just as good as any man’s. She gets herself in worse trouble ‘cause she can talk her way out.
REEVES: If you’re gonna look at the differences between men and women, there are many things that women can do, and relationships that they can form that men can’t because of their attributes … as a man. And I think it should be utilized. I mean you utilize your femininity just as a man utilizes his masculinity. Why deny that? In the past, not only have women not used their positive attributes as women, they haven’t even recognized that they were there.
HAWKS: I think the women I put into pictures, or at least the characters, are a whole lot more along what you’re talking about than the average.
PENLEY: … In TO HAVE AND HAVE NOT last night, you know immediately Lauren Bacall is going to distrust other women …
HAWKS: Well, I know, but I’ll make you a bet right now that I can find ten jealous women for two who can overlook a thing …
REEVES: Women were kept in a place where they had to distrust. They had to be jealous because they had not developed their own character to the point where they could navigate on those terms.
SALYER: Well, we really can’t begin to realize what the positive attributes of being a man or a woman are until we’ve gone beyond the conditioning, and we haven’t yet ….
HAWKS: There were three women, three of the most beautiful women you could ever imagine, who were so chased and run after by men that they got just sick and tired of it and they turned to each other. That lasted for a certain time, and then all three of them got married and lived very happily. It just was an adjustment of the thing. I don’t want to quite try that in a movie though …
PENLEY: That might be really interesting …
HAWKS: If I could get Lillian Hellman to write it, it would be …
PENLEY: Just think how much more rich and complex films would be when we have whole, full friendships and relationships between men and women, among women, among men …
HAWKS: Fine, but unless women start, in writing and various ways, letting the world know about some of this thing, how are you gonna guess what it is? They don’t talk about those things, do they?
SALYER: One of the problems … Howard, you said you could help somebody get a film distributed, but there aren’t that many people like you, and one of the problems is … there’ve been several very interesting films made like this by women in France.
PENLEY: Feature-length color films with professional actors, professional everything …
SALYER: And the big distributors in this country, like United Artists, won’t distribute them, because they don’t like the kind of bonds women are forming. They said that to a woman who made one of these films.
HAWKS: Well, I don’t think that there’s any motion picture company that’s got enough sense to say that.
SHEDLIN: Apparently the male distributors were offended by the rebellious women in the film …
HAWKS: OK, well they handed it to the wrong people. They didn’t handle it right. If the Japs can bring a karate-picture in here that all the distributors can laugh at—a whole organization can laugh at it, but one fellow says, “Well, I don’t give a hoot whether you don’t like it or not.” … They just grossed $12 million with a picture.
PENLEY: But the very strange thing about this is that one of the films we’re talking about had been very successful in France, and had been distributed there, and was a very funny film, but there was something … these images of women were so threatening …
HAWKS: Aw, I don’t believe that at all. How many pictures made in France have been successful in the world? In the last ten years?
ALL: A lot …
HAWKS: Oh no. Three or four pictures in ten years, that’s all.
SALYER: Yeah, but the reason why U.S. films get greater distribution is because the United States controls a lot of the distribution in foreign countries …
HAWKS: I have never seen a picture so good that it couldn’t get distribution. They get awful sick and tired of running a picture that only a few people are in there to take a look at.
SHEDLIN: Wasn’t SCARFACE suppressed?
HAWKS: Suppressed into making an awful lot of money. They take a picture out, generally, and try it. If they can’t get an audience, they say, “What’s the use in bringing this out, it just costs us money.” There’s a picture called WALKING TALL. In the advertising there were typical scenes of violence, all that kinda stuff. They put it out, it didn’t do enough business to pay the operator. But the fellow who made it said, “This is a good picture.” So he took it in and he made entirely new advertising. Very clever, smart advertising … How long has it been since you’ve seen an audience stand up and cheer for a picture?
SALYER: Z was the last time I saw an audience stand up and cheer for a picture …
HAWKS: Well, that was just advertising, and they’re gonna gross $30 or $40 million, and everybody’s gonna go to see that movie. Just on a difference in advertising. Sometimes they’ll try and sell a picture to women, and find out they’re mistaken, they’ll turn around and write ads directed at men. And sometimes the opposite way. And it’s hard to tell what to do or anything …
I gave a boy some money to make a picture of a horse and a mare and two young lovers, and the life parallel. And he made a movie. I wish all of my movies would do as well as that one did. Never played in a big town, but just played and played and played in the country, where they understood it. So all I’m saying is that you have to get something that will allow you to keep the theater open. I don’t know if you know the new kind of theaters. They come in modules. They can set ‘em up on parking lots. They can have four theaters running from the same place, all connected … Plenty of popcorn, pop … and they’re doing a whole lot better than the big theaters. So maybe there’s a chance for a theater in there to take a chance on running this kind of stuff. You can’t do it in the big theaters; costs too much money.
But, you see, what you’re advocating really is a minority advocating, you know. In all of the United States, there are about 12, 14 maybe 20 theaters that run foreign films. Because they’ve found out that unless they had an audience, they lost money faster than they could put it in …
SALYER Howard, to change the subject a little bit, but not to touch on something that we haven’t touched on before, I’d be interested in what you think of the process whereby we go from the bonded friendship, right, which has an integrity, an honesty, and is a reason for living … How we get from that kind of good and how we spread that through society. At the opposite end of the spectrum is government in a sense. The sleazy, corrupt, sniveling politician. I mean, in circles of government, you can’t even talk about friendship in the same way. It’s who owes who a deal, who owes who a favor. Your friend is someone who can manipulate a situation for you, in order to give you more power. And it involves oppressing and hurting other people. How do we take a couple of individuals and move out from there?
HAWKS: Go out and shoot ‘em all and put some new people in. Take ‘em five or six years to get the same bad habits. (Laughter)
PENLEY: So you think that people, innately, cannot have any sort of community on a larger level?
HAWKS: No, I think that when a great many of the younger people start in politics today, they start with good ideas. They find out that if they don’t do certain things, they’re not going to be elected again. And pretty soon, a gradual erosion takes place until they begin to think like the people that you see, for instance, in the Watergate. I haven’t any idea how you stop that. You have to be a master planner to do it. Because you’ve got a generation that voted for somebody because they expect favors. Everybody up there is trying to do something for his constituency. He trades favors—he votes for somebody else if they’ll vote for him. How’re you gonna stop that? The only way I know is shoot ‘em all and start a new bunch and then it’ll take ‘em five-or six years to learn how to do it.
SALYER: Who shoots’em …?
HAWKS: Oh, you go out and do it … (Laughter)
HAWKS: No, I don’t have any idea how you do it.
SALYER: What about the Symbionese Liberation Army? Here’s a group of people -men and women—who, in a very specific sense, are very strong, and are fighting for what they perceive that they want. What do you think about that?
HAWKS: You think it’s good to break all the laws that exist?
SALYER: In a certain sense you seem to advocate that.
HAWKS: No, I don’t at all. I don’t advocate that at all. I think they’re breaking the law, and I think they’ll catch up with them. And then I think as soon as one talks they’ll know who the rest of them are. And they’ll make sure that somebody talks.
SALYER: But if I went out and shot everybody I’d definitely be breaking the law …
HAWKS: Oh no, I was kidding when I said that. I didn’t mean that. You know you can’t do that.
SHEDLIN: We were speculating that the Symbionese Revolutionary Army may be a conspiracy of the police or the Central Intelligence Agency. What interests me about the whole thing is that there is a true story. Yet there’s all this information out in the culture from the papers, from the media, from everybody’s own ideas of what it is … There’s no way of telling what it really is at this point …
HAWKS: Do you believe, for instance, that a girl like that can keep hidden a relationship so that she could have been part of that all the time?
PENLEY: I don’t think she was.
HAWKS: Do you think that outside of brainwashing that they could have turned her over? Don’t you think that she made that statement … They’ve got her worn down to where she’d just about do anything …
PENLEY: You know what I think about it? I think it has more to do with something that you’ve been interested in all your films. My idea about how Patty Hearst has become involved in the SLA, as a serious member of it—given what her lifestyle was previously—is that maybe when she was with them, it might have been the first time in her life that he felt that she was part of a group. I mean no matter how crazy that might be, I think that she’s always been pretty much isolated ….
HAWKS: It’s a pretty quick transition. I could’ve much easier think that they are giving out these things, that they’ve ye got a plan to get a revelation (sic) by saying that she is part of it …
PENLEY: But it’s pretty clear that the Hearsts did choose their money over their daughter, and if I was her, I think I would …
HAWKS: I think you’re nuts. I think you’re nuts.
PENLEY: Because I think they could have done a lot more …
HAWKS: Your method of thinking would allow anybody to grab somebody, and all of a sudden somebody would be broke. I don’t think they’re broke, but they spent $2 million. I don’t think that they’re terribly wealthy …
SALYER: They also got a lot of contributions. It wasn’t all their money …
HAWKS: Not out of the $2 million. No, they didn’t. They turned it back. The other $4 million was going to be done by the Hearst Corporation. They don’t own the Hearst Corporation. They could probably benefit from it, but I don’t think that Old Man Hearst was gonna give that bunch of nitwits a lot of money. He just fixed it so that … I doubt that they have any more than they gave …
SHEDLIN: So you have no respect for the adventurous spirit of these nitwits?
HAWKS: I have absolutely no respect for kidnappers or anybody else who tries to get something that way, ‘cause I don’t think they’ve got a chance in the world of getting it. I’ve yet to see that these protesters who come into a place and tie themselves up are gaining anything by doing it.
SHEDLIN: How would you suggest that people express their hatred for the authorities?
HAWKS: I don’t know. Don’t ask me. You think of a way. But not that way, not by breaking the law … Otherwise, pretty soon we wouldn’t have a country. Look, I have a youngster 18 years old. I asked him to trim his hair. He says, “I don’t want to.” I said, “OK, fine.” I took his car and his motorcycle away from him. He said, “Why’d you do that?” I said, “I wanted to. I don’t want you to have ‘em.” I said, “I have a perfect right to think just as you do. You can do what you want to, but I don’t have to go along with it.”
SHEDLIN: But what was he withholding from you by not cutting his hair?
HAWKS: Any desire to do anything I asked him to do. I didn’t like the way he looked. I just said, “You don’t want to do it. That’s quite all right. I don’t want to help you. You sail along.” Didn’t take him very long before he said, “I’d rather cut my hair and have some of the things that I get from you.” I said, “Good. I think you’re smart.” If you know the way to get ‘em, I think you’re doing the right thing. I think really the fellow that turned him on was a very nice guy, a friend of his, who showed up with a very trim, neat haircut—it wasn’t short, but it wasn’t…
They say that Patricia Hearst is old enough to take care of herself. What if it had been some five or six year-old? Would you admire them then? What the hell do they want? They have never made that clear.
SHEDLIN: Well, in some ways I feel that they’ve been more clear than any other leftist group about their demands, and that they’ve been forceful in making the papers print their stuff. However, I’m not in favor of them kidnapping a non-combatant. I don’t think that’s a good plan …
HAWKS: I think they’ve turned the whole wrath of the people against a group like that, that attempts to dictate … you know, I don’t think you can get away with that …
SALYER: Well, then, it’s a very delicate line, or limit, that you have to perceive about breaking the law. Like, in a sense, Bogart in TO HAVE AND HAVE NOT was breaking the law because the law was the fat fairy—he was the law of the land …
HAWKS: Well, you differentiate between laws. This group that did the kidnapping caused mental anguish. I don’t think there was any mental anguish … That was part of a big movement of the Free French. Which laws were they breaking?
SALYER: In other words, Bogart had popular support, the people were…
HAWKS: Well, he didn’t like that fat man who came in and pestered him, so he went against him …
SALYER: Well, Cinque, by the same hand, apparently didn’t like Marcus Foster [in the SLA] …
HAWKS: No, but it’s just one of those things. I don’t take part in it. This is the first discussion of politics that I’ve had, and I might say it’s going to be my last. (Laughter)
I’m gettin’ too old to try and figure out what to do about that. But if you people want to do it, I think it’s fine, it’s great, I like to see interest taken. But you have to figure out some way of doing it.
PENLEY: To get a popular movement, to get popular support so that you’re not just out there on your own trying to …
HAWKS: You’re certainly not going to get it by those campus disorders. That really turned the trick against them, didn’t it?
SHEDLIN: Well, in some ways, those “disorders” helped to end the Vietnamese war.
HAWKS: I don’t think so at all. I think that when Nixon came in he knew that there was going go be no finish to that war. They didn’t know what the hell to do with it. How long did the French fight over there? Years and years. Well, we’ve been doing the same thing. It’s a kind of fighting … You have the choice. You drop a couple of atomic bombs and it could’ve been over, boom, just like this, but they weren’t gonna do that.
Now, meantime, America lost all over the world by fighting there. And they’d have lost more if they just turned the country over to Russia. So who makes the choice? I think that whoever started it in the first place was wrongly advised. They should have said, “Go over there and drop a couple of big bombs, and if you don’t feel like doing that, stay out of it.”
SHEDLIN: But wasn’t it in great part the public pressure, the campus disorders, that kept the government from using nuclear weapons?
HAWKS: I don’t think they did anything but anger the people against them. That’s my feeling about it. You hear an entirely different thing than we would hear. I think they angered people … They found out that they were doing no good, so they stopped it, didn’t they? They were smart to stop. And it had different phases, different effects, all over the country. There’s some people trying to rehash that shooting on that southern campus … Seems like a ridiculous thing. What are they gonna rehash?
PENLEY: Those National Guardsmen at Kent State. In a way they broke the laws, they took laws into their own hands …
HAWKS: Well, you say that, but you know, they were being pelted with rocks and they were breaking things and they were being shot at by snipers … All the history shows that …
PENLEY: No …
HAWKS: Well, you’ve been readin’ the wrong stuff. Not only were the people breaking the law and attacking … and I don’t approve of the firing, but … I know that if I had a gun and was out there, and people started throwing rocks and bottles and slingshots and every kinda thing at me, I’d shoot ‘em. Would you stand …
SHEDLIN: But would you be a National Guardsman with a gun out there on a campus?
HAWKS: I don’t know. I doubt it.
PENLEY: Well, that’s a political choice …
HAWKS: But once you’re in it, and sworn to obey, you better obeyy. Otherwise, you’re just gonna get into trouble. I think the provocation that needs to call out the National Guard is wrong, is completely wrong.
SHEDLIN: But you talked about your son’s obedience, and the obedience of these people who have sworn to the Armed Forces. Yet I don’t get the sense that you’re interested in obeying anyone but yourself …
HAWKS: I’m not interested in my son obeying me. Holy smoke! But I have exactly the same right as he has. If he doesn’t want to do something for me, why the hell should I want to do something for him? That’s where I stand as an individual. And he knows that there isn’t any rank or anything between us. I didn’t do anything to discipline him or to make him do anything. I just said, “If you don’t want to please me, if you don’t want to do something, why should I try to please you? I get no fun out of your automobile or your motorcycle, except you riding it. And if you don’t want to please me, then I get no fun out of looking at you ride a motorcycle that I had to pay for.”
It’s very simple logic. I don’t think I was wrong, I don’t think he was wrong. But he decided that he would—rather than show his independence—agree that he was a little bit dependent for some things on me. He didn’t have to be, he could’ve gone out and earned it. I doubt if he would’ve gotten the car very quickly, or the kind of motorcycle he had to race with, or anything like that. But certainly if I provided those things, I have the right to ask him to think about me. We get along a hell of a lot better now than we did before.
I think those things are very, very simple. I haven’t anything against anybody doing their own stuff, as long as they don’t insist that other people do their stuff. I’ll tell you the way I feel. They talk about the Establishment. And I said to Greg: “What does an Establishment mean?” He said, “Well, everybody thinking the same way.” And I said, “The greatest Establishment I’ve seen in all the time that I’ve been living is you people. You wear the same clothes. You do your hair the same way. You think the same way. When I went to college, all you had to do was put on a jacket to go to dinner at the fraternity house. You had to be clean and neat or else the guys told you that you’d better … really. But you run around and you’re so deathly afraid that somebody else is gonna tell you that … you know … if you want to rebel against this thing … So you’re the Establishment. Don’t ever call us the Establishment.” He turned around and said, “I guess you’re right.”
SALYER: But we’re just a small minority. Government and big business and the military are by far the largest percentage of the population … And they’re the people who have the power, who have control of the media …
HAWKS: But you’re not gonna do it by having riots on campus, I don’t think I could be wrong about it.
SALYER: I agree with you …
HAWKS: By using common sense. By going into politics and sticking with it and, getting somebody to follow you. I told you what I think politicians are …
SHEDLIN If politics is such a horrible scene, and I agree that it is, how can you recommend that we go into politics, and that we not look for some other way ….
HAWKS: You ought to change it …
PENLEY: But you said that fresh new people with great ideas could go in, and five years later they’d be just like everybody else …
HAWKS: Until you get enough goin’ on so that you take their place, and keep boosting those fellows out. How’re you gonna do it any different? You’re certainly not gonna have lightning teach—like Gary Cooper got religion in the middle of the road in SERGEANT YORK. If you could only get politicians to get hit by lightning in the middle of the road and all come out singing songs, why everything would be fine. It isn’t very practical … I don’t know … I don’t know.