It’s Oscar season and my friends and fellow bloggers over at Once Upon a Blog, Paula’s Cinema Club and Outspoken and Freckled are hosting their annual 31 Days of Oscar blogathon. And before we go any further I should point out that, while I love watching the Oscars and think it’s super fun to talk about them, in no way do I think the Oscars have any real merit or are reflective of anyone’s talent or body of work. I think it’s a lot more impressive to build a legacy that will outlive you than to win some awards. And if you need any proof of this, just remember that these people never won an Oscar: Alfred Hitchcock, Fritz Lang, Cary Grant, Thelma Ritter, Robert Mitchum, Barbara Stanwyck and the subject of my post for this blogathon, Howard Hawks.
Arguably the most versatile of all directors of Hollywood’s Golden Age, Howard Hawks was nominated only once, for Sergeant York (1941). Even more astonishing is the fact that he continues to be slightly overlooked and not that massively well-known. He’s not really a household name, not in the way he should be, anyway. And I think that has to do with the fact that it’s hard to pinpoint him. He did so much, so well, in so many different genres, so unpretentiously and so unassumingly, that it is hard to associate him with something, in the way that you’d associate John Ford with Westerns or Alfred Hitchcock with thrillers. Howard Hawks has no genre. He did it all. Screwballs (Bringing up Baby, His Girl Friday, Twentieth Century, Ball of Fire), Westerns (Rio Bravo, Red River), Action-adventure (Only Angels Have Wings), Film Noir (The Big Sleep), Gangster (Scarface), Musical (Gentlemen Prefer Blondes)… He was so versatile, it’s incredible to think that all of these films were made by the same person. In fact, I’d say that, apart from Billy Wilder, he probably made the biggest number of classics out of Hollywood’s Golden Age. And yet, he never really got the credit he deserved, even during his lifetime. He was always, perhaps fittingly, called a commercial director, but look what that produced! And even though there are some elements that you’ll usually find in a Howard Hawks film, such as the importance of male friendship or the so-called ‘Hawksian woman’, it’s still hard to immediately identify him with such trademarks, perhaps because he was so extraordinarily versatile. Maybe that was it. Was Howard Hawks just too darned good? Could he do everything so well that people took him for granted? I know I have. I didn’t even realise he was my third favorite director of all time until about two years ago when I was doing one of my ‘desert island’ situations quizzes and it turned out that I would gladly take at least four of his films with me. He’s always been there, and I never realised it. Shame, shame, shame. And speaking of Oscars, he did eventually win an Honorary Award in 1975, but we all know what those things really mean. I don’t know what film he should have won for instead and I think it’s ludicrous that he only received one nomination. But if it’s any consolation, he’s now in the grand pantheon of ‘What? Never won an Oscar?!’ people and, honestly, I think that’s probably even better.
Click here to read the other entries for the Oscar blogathon.