Cinema Station

The Hawks Principle | August 10, 2010

Howard Hawks said that a good movie was three good scenes and no bad scenes. Sometimes he would even rush actors through scenes, telling them that these weren’t important and they shouldn’t try too hard. I’ll call this the Hawks Principle for now, one that could be used to judge and measure films all across the board, but especially as a lens to view his work.

I will start with Monkey Business, starring Cary Grant, with an early role for Marilyn Monroe.

Good Scene

Cary Grant, a scientist (on the brink of inventing a formula that makes the old young again), visits his boss’ office.  The secretary, sexy blonde Monroe, leaps from her desk and wants to show him something.  He agrees.  She pulls up her dress and there it is. Her long full leg in all its perfection. It’s the nylon, she explains, one of this earlier minor inventions. He stares closely through his thick glasses at the leg and agrees that he has done a remarkable job.

Good Scene

Grant stumbles into the formula when one of the lab chimps mixes it correctly.  It turns him into a racing, chasing playboy.  It turns his wife into a dancing, high-pitched pig-tailed bouncing ball.  In one scene, the board of directors chase Grant and his wife (Ginger Rogers) around trying to figure out what the formula is.  Rogers snaps rubber band’s at Monroe’s ass.  First she slaps the head director because she thinks he’s getting fresh.  Then she slaps Grant as the rubber band snaps her behind from the other side.  Rogers bounces up, screaming victory over the younger, prettier blonde.

Good Scene

When his wife’s childishness turns into a pout, Grant observes a phone call she makes to friend/lawyer Hugh Marlowe.  He decides in a boyish jealous rage that he must “scalp” Marlowe when he comes to pick his wife up. He paints his face, steals some garden clippers and bands with a group of neighborhood children (already dressed for Cowboys and Indians).

As they scheme, a low-voiced child reminds Grant that you can’t scalp someone without doing a war dance first.  Grant complies and leads the bunch in a rising chant.  When Marlow arrives, he’s suckered by the kids and tied to a tree.  Grant jumps out of the bushes and howls.

“You can’t scalp someone until you do a war dance.”



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