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Columbia Daily Spectator (16/Nov/1973) - Two Master Filmmakers on TV




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Two Master Filmmakers on TV

As we stated in yesterday's review of PBS's The Men Who Made the Movies, one of the series recurring points of interest is the affinity between the personalities of the men profiled, as revealed in their expressed attitudes toward their films, and the films themselves. This relationship is clearest in the program devoted to Howard Hawks.

Most of Howard Hawks's films deal with the relationships of a small band of highly competent professionals isolated in a threatening universe. In their insistence on the skill of the protagonists, and the pragmatic approach of these people to the world in which they exist, his films rely heavily on the interactions of the performers with one another and with their immediate environment.

For instance, in many of his films, Hawks translates emotional rapport between characters, sometimes bordering on symbiotic interdependence, into physical gesture in his ritual cigarette-lighting sequences (as exemplified by two clips from Only Angels Have Wings, involving Thomas Mitchell and Cary Grant.) The gesture is simple, but the timing, with its suggestion of an almost telepathic sympathy, is profound.

In the interview footage, Hawks proves to be like his heroes, a tough-minded pragmatist who delights in being involved with active people. His main concerns in discussing his films are the professional rapport that existed between himself and his actors and among the actors, and the personal experiences out of which the films grow.

On the set of Red River, Hawks recounts, John Wayne expressed misgivings about the final fight with Montgomery Clift; Hawks's reply to the wary duke was, "Duke, if you fall down and I kick your jaw, I think there'd be quite a fight, don't you think so?" It is an anecdote which illustrates how Hawks used his knowledge of his performers' personalities with a skillful pragmatism to achieve.the results he desired; in its appeal to personal experience it is typical of his attitude toward the films under consideration.

Producer-writer-director Richard Schickel has limited his discussion of Hawks almost exclusively to the action films. As a result, the view given of Hawks is rather lopsided; in the short period of time that he is alloted (58 minutes) Schickel is unable to convey much of the complexities of a career that spans almost fifty years.

As Robin Wood has pointed out, there are two Howard Hawkses — the Hawks of the action films and the Hawks of the comedies. Unfortunately, Schickel does not deal with the second, although he does well by the first.

Insufficient time also proves detrimental to Schickel's analysis of the Hitchcock work. As in the Hawks program, Schickel displays perceptiveness concerning certain facets of the artist's work, while leaving much that is important undiscussed. He deals intelligently with the issue of complacency, the fact that in Hitch's universe the thin fabric of civilization may be rent at any moment by alien forces.

Schickel fails, on the other hand, to deal significantly with the way in which Hitchcock's concern with the perversity of appearances carries over into his male-female relationships, which are among the most complex in American cinema. Although there are suggestions of this in a clip from Notorious, Schickel fails to follow them up.

On the other hand, Schickel has been fortunate in the interview sequences in getting more self-conscious and serious discussion of his work from Hitchcock than previous interrogators. We were flabbergasted to hear Hitsch stressing the importance of form over content, in an analogy with painting. Furthermore, the Hitchcock program is the first in which one is aware of Schickel and director, as he cuts wittily and provocatively from clips to Hitchcock's benignly glowering demeanor (from Arbogast's death in Psycho to Alfred, "Some people think I'm a monster.") We have criticized Schickel for his sins of omission, but these are perhaps the inevitable result of any attempt to present these men both as individual artists, as personalities, and as participants in the creation of a national mythology — to do simultaneously, justice to Rauol Walsh, both as the creator of a series of memorably doomed heroes, the discoverer (sez him) of John Wayne, and the guy who dumped Jack Barrymore's corpse in Errol Flynn's living room. The programs succeed as well as they do is a tribute to Schickel's dedication in the face of a truly difficult task, and to his technical skills. Perhaps, at any rate, we are the wrong ones to review these programs, which are aimed at a general audience rather than at crotchety cultists like ourselves. But even we anticipate the later four, programs eagerly.

The Men Who Made the Movies programs on Howard Hawks will be shown on Sunday, November 18, at 8 p.m. and Thursday, November 22 at 9 p.m.; on Hitchcock on December 16 at 10 p.m.