Study Guide

His Girl Friday Director


Howard Hawks

Hawks Who?

Howard Hawks may be the most famous and influential American director you've never heard of. During his lifetime, he was thought of as just another ol' Hollywood hand: a guy who worked in lots of different genres and had no particular style to call his own.

Hawks never won an Academy Award on any of his pictures, even though he worked with many of the greats in cinema. Besides Cary Grant (on His Girl Friday and Bringing Up Baby) he famously launched Carole Lombard's career with Twentieth Century (1934) and worked with Marilyn Monroe and Jane Russell on Gentlemen Prefer Blondes (1953).

He also directed the first pairing of uber-super-duper-superstars Lauren Bacall and Humphrey Bogart in To Have and Have Not (1944), and he worked with the great novelist William Faulkner, who adapted The Big Sleep (1946). His most famous collaborator, though, was actor John Wayne, who worked with Hawkes on Rio Bravo (1959), El Dorado (1966) and other pictures.

So, Hawkes knew everybody important and had enough cards in his Rolodex to fill a crowded saloon (if he was making a Western) or a newsroom (if he was making a screwball comedy.) But nobody respected him.


Hawks, That's Who

…other directors started to talk about how awesome Hawks was.

Brian DiPalma, a Hollywood bigshot, remade Hawks' 1932 Scarface, with Al Pacino in 1983, just to show how awesome the original was. John Carpenter redid Rio Bravo as Attack on Precinct 13 in 1976, and remade his horror film The Thing in 1982.

Martin Scorsese, Quentin Tarantino, and Robert Altman said he was great. Critic Leonard Maltin called him "the greatest American director who is not a household name." And the accolades went on. And on.

And hey—if all the brightest stars in the Hollywood galaxy think Hawks was hot, who can argue with that? Not even the Academy—they gave him a special honorary award in 1975 to show that they'd screwed up by not lauding the awesome films he'd made way back when.

Bromance Or Romance?

Though Hawks was a subtle storyteller rather than a pyrotechnic stylist, he did have particular themes that interested him. Many of his most famous films, like Rio Bravo and The Thing From Another World, focus on men bonding together and facing a common foe.

His Girl Friday's interesting because it seems to do the opposite of that. The original script was about two guys bonding and doing guy things, like writing newspapers, fighting corruption, and making butt jokes.

But Hawks suggested making Hildy a woman—and suddenly found he had a love story.

This film ain't mushy, though. In fact, much of its appeal comes from the fact that it sounds a lot like a buddy movie: the dialogue is mean, the jokes are about butts, and the characters are snide. In other words, it frames its romantic comedy in the competitive, joshing male buddy dynamic. And Hildy's such a dynamic character in part because she gets to be competent, funny, and abrasive… in a way that women often weren't allowed to be in Hollywood films.

Hawks got his themes in there quietly, sideways, and made an awesome movie because of it. Hey—maybe, like Hildy—they'll even name a cigar after him.

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