Cinema Station

The Hawkins Brothers: Crime Storytellers

October 28, 2010

For a moviegoer, sometimes unfamiliar names become familiar. During the credits of the Andre De Toth directed Hidden Fear, the name John Hawkins struck a bell but I ignored it. I didn’t think about the name until I started Budd Boetticher’s The Killer is Loose and there it was again in the opening credits.

The very first time I saw the name was months ago: another De Toth picture, Crime Wave. The link the between the three movies isn’t only a name; it’s a consistency in craft, in the tiny character details that elevate these three crime pictures above most others.

John Hawkins, of whom I can find little about, was a writer and producer. He produced Bonanza and other than the movies, wrote for such television shows as The Fugitive and The 87th Precinct series. Alongside his name is his brother’s: Ward Hawkins. They each collaborated on Crime Wave and The Killer is Loose. From what I can gather, both of these films where based on stories by the brothers (they were frequently published in the Saturday Evening Post).

Both films had a screenwriter other than the Hawkins (Harold Medford for The Killer is Loose and three writers for Crime Wave). Although sometimes it’s hard to pick out the parties responsible for the exceptional qualities in good work (perhaps it was the director with an idea on set, or the actor), the name Hawkins keeps repeating itself at the beginning and end of good crime pictures.

The Killer is Loose is an odd cop story. The lead, played by Joseph Cotten, accidentaly shoots the wife of a bank robber played by Wendell Correy. He’s no ordinary bank robber, and no ordinary killer as the poster suggests. He’s timid, introverted; in the army we learn that he was constantly made fun of. Still, he involves himself in crime and the punishment is not his own but his wife’s.

Wendell Corey

The outcome of the innocent murder: Cotten made a mistake and Correy goes to jail. But before he goes, he swears to take the life of Cotten’s wife and when he escapes sometime later, the picture really takes off. That’s all I’ll say about the plot. The picture, like many in the gallery of second-run crime movies, is fast, sharp, and much smarter than most A-pictures. The characters’ actions are fresh, unpredictable, and downright complex. Budd Boetticher was a great director, not only of Westerns. Whatever his strengths, I can’t help but credit the “story” men behind this one: the Hawkins brothers.

Timothy Carey, front and center

Crime Wave, which I focused on before in an article about its director, is a little crime gem too. A tale of the burden of being an ex-crook at its core, the movie comprises police-procedural, heist, and kidnapping in a killer plot. The cast highlights are Sterling Hayden and Timothy Carey. Hayden plays a tough cop about as good as anyone could and Carey plays the ultimate scene-stealing psycho (he may have been the best scene-stealer ever). Again, De Toth was a terrific director but it’s not only the starkness of the pace and lighting that make Crime Wave a great picture; it’s the root of the movie, the core, where it came from.

Unlike the previous two, the movie Hidden Fear was not based on a story by Ward Hawkins. From the available information, it seems the screenplay was written by both Andre De Toth and John Hawkins. Like the other two, this is a tight little crime movie. The basic plot involves an American cop (John Payne) trying to clear his sister’s name after she gets mixed up with a murder in Denmark. Somewhere along the way, counterfeit and other such crimes become involved.

John Payne, a Pulp machine in my mind, here with two broads in Western mode

On one level, Hidden Fear feels like an early entry in the French New Wave. The lighting is almost all natural, the cutting abrupt and ragged but effectively so, the whole thing stripped of Hollywood exaggerations. It is a lean, mean picture but what really gives it guts are the characters and dialog. Payne’s American cop is Mickey-Spillane tough. In one great scene from Hawkins and De Toth, he slaps his sister around to find out the truth. The Danish cop enters the interrogation room and tells him, “This isn’t the way we do things here.” Payne, lacking all emotion, responds, “Sometimes it’s the only way.” He parades through the picture as a tall, strong statue, a perfect machine of pulp and Hawkins’ script is his backbone. Outlined with tons of great characters: a sultry blonde played by Anne Neyland and a backstabbing ruthless villain played by Alexander Knox. Hidden Fear climaxes with a great, minimal car chase and a harsh ending that conveys the same bizarre since of victory and tragedy as Hawkins’ ending for The Killer is Loose.

Alexander Knox

I’ll keep an eye out for John and Ward Hawkins from now on. And because their names were once unfamiliar to me and have now become synonymous with great crime writing, I’ll look for others like the Hawkins, buried in the credits of great forgotten cinema.


Henry Bean and Two Good Crime Pictures

August 17, 2010
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Henry Bean

Before Pulp Fiction made extinct the kind of slick crime pictures of the 80’s (though Michael Mann continues to chew on their remnants in digital form), Hollywood produced two very good ones: Internal Affairs (1990) and Deep Cover (1992).  They both happened to have been written by Henry Bean. Though now, Bean has turned to independent dramas and a focus on directing, I aim to salute the crime writing of his past.

Internal Affairs

“How many cops you know, huh? Got nothing. Divorced, alcoholic, kids won’t talk to them anymore, can’t get it up. Sitting there in their little apartments, alone in the dark, playing lollipop with a service revolver?”
-Dennis Peck, played by Richard Gere

Internal Affairs, directed by Mike Figgis, stars Andy Garcia and Richard Gere. They both play cops: Garcia the internal affairs Latin do-gooder, Gere the excellent-cop with four ex-wives and his hands in drug and prostitute money. These forces collide in Bean’s screenplay, a seedy L.A. tale full of sex and deception. The character he builds in Dennis Peck is a ruthless villain as attractive as he is repulsive; he’s funny and sadistic and Gere owes screenwriter Bean his best role ever.

Still playing in the world of straightforward storytelling, what seems so refreshing in Bean’s creation is the relationships: Garcia’s lesbian partner, their interplay as well as growing affection for each other, the pathetic William Baldwin and his beat-up-not-so-innocent wife, Garcia and his wife, her sexuality tortured and ignored while he works too hard, ripe for someone like the animal that Gere plays to come in and take advantage.

There is a great scene in the last half of the picture where a fellow criminal comes home to find Gere screwing his wife. Gere smiles and unapologetically moves around the scene of the incident, the wife (a stiff European-type) is embarrassed but turned-on.  The husband says, “I could kill you,” speaking to either of them or both.  Gere throws him a gun and taunts him to shoot “the tramp”. The gun goes off. We don’t know who’s been shot. Suddenly Gere says, “That’s my foot.”

Henry Bean created something in Internal Affairs that will always linger with me, a kind of simple, hard crime picture I wish still got made.  Specifically, he constructed in Dennis Peck a character that will revel in the bliss of evil forever, even if only in my imagination.

As a side note, Figgis’ work on this film should not be ignored.  I admire him for the later, more experimental direction he took his career. But Figgis will always be Stormy Monday, Internal Affairs, and Leaving Las Vegas to me. If it was the 1940’s and I was the head of Warner, I’d confine him to the world of noir.

Deep Cover

“This is the greatest night of my life. Terrible, terrible, but great.”
-David Jason, played by Jeff Goldblum

With Deep Cover, Bean spins a drug yarn.  Honest cop Lawrence Fishburne gets recruited to go undercover.  His goal is to work his way from the bottom to the top of a narcotics ring.  Along the way he meets a dealer/businessman played by Jeff Goldblum.  Like the Garcia/Gere relationship, this is the highlight of the film, different than the other but equally complex.

Fishburne, solid, under-appreciated and misused as he often is, plays the least interesting character of the two: he gets lost in the world of crime, sees the hypocrisy of the law, and falls for a woman on the wrong side.  He is the arch but not the spice of Bean’s screenplay.

At the beginning of the film, Goldblum is just a businessman stuck in a world of rich thugs. But, in the film’s best scene, he transitions into a true criminal. When they discover that their ultra-violent boss is actually a police informant, Fishburne and Goldblum end up stuck in a limo with him in a car chase from several squad cars. I won’t say anymore; you can watch the scene.

By the end of the film, it’s hard to tell whether I want Goldblum to die or not. After the turn, he grows more and more sadistic, but his evil is too much fun to watch. Again what seems fresh in Bean’s work is not the originality of the plot but the interactions and depths of the characters.

What Henry Bean so clearly provided in these two cop classics was the opportunity for good actors to take on great roles.  Never have either Goldblum or Gere been better and it is the duality of attraction and repulsion that Bean breathed into the script that allowed them to exist.