As a precursor to our film project, 12 Western Feature-Length Films in 12 Months, produced by our company Running Wild Films and 5J Media which will begin production in 2016, I have decided to share my thoughts on films from the genre as I study Westerns in preparation to make our own.
This series of short blogs is titled “Western Impressions”.
3 Godfathers (1948)
I was surprised at this one, somehow I had avoided it, turned off by the “baby” plot and the impression that it wasn’t a “serious” work of Ford’s. But it has much more weight than I guessed and also far more than it gets credit for. While the film may lean towards “comedy”, people die in this film. Tragedy rides alongside comedy from beginning to end and thus the film has a deep resonance. In some ways, these deaths feel more like the death of Howard Hawks professionals, doing their best until they just can’t anymore.
Lasting impression: Harry Carey Jr. singing “Shall We Gather at the River” with all three godfathers in silhouette on the top of a sandhill during their funeral for the baby’s mother. Beautiful moment that stands among Ford’s best.
A bittersweet passion of mine is the unfinished projects of filmmakers. Some of these were half-filmed like the lost projects of Orson Welles. His film The Deep, based on the same novel by Charles Williams that Dead Calm was, is apparently close to finished, yet still unavailable and perhaps always so. The same goes for his The Other Side of the Wind while his Don Quixote project and others were partially shot, never to be completed by the master.
Within this discussion, I also consider the dream projects of directors. These were conceptions, desired pictures that never came to be. Stanley Kubrick’s Napoleon project, huge in scope with tons of pre-production material designed for the movie that never came to be, is one of these. Howard Hawks, my personal choice as the greatest of American directors, had many of these in his career. From reading Joseph McBride’s Hawks on Hawks I have recently been able to learn about some of them. I wanted to share a few that inspired visions of phantom cinema from the director of Rio Bravo and The Big Sleep.
Ernest Hemingway and Robert Capa
At one point, Howard Hawks wanted to make a movie about these men, not as lone figures but together. He said, “The story of one man gets kind of boring, but the story of a friendship is something that lets you make better scenes.” And apparently he had some good ideas for scenes based on real experiences of the famous writer and photographer.
“At Anzio beachhead, [Capa] made those marvelous pictures of everything shaking. Ernest got over by flying over three or four days later. He got mixed up in some way, and Capa found him shot in the leg or something. Capa left him for about three hours and went on to get his camera so he could get a picture of Ernest’s leg.”
Later, Hawks describes a scene right out of one of his comedies, “Capa was going out in Paris with a very good-looking Eurasian model, but he had a hell of a time every time he visited her place because the girl had a great big boxer dog that didn’t like Capa. Ernest came over, and after a few drinks he told Capa he had a sleeping pill that was a suppository. So Ernest poked it in the dog. Capa got brave and stayed, and he woke up in the morning, and the dog was going ‘Grrr’ right in his face. ”
These two, figures of a generation, seem perfect vehicles for Hawks’ usual themes: professionalism and friendship between men. He said of Ernest, who he knew, “Hemingway was… we were good friends. He interested me. Strange guy.”
Hawks at one point pursued adaptations of both The Sun Also Rises and For Whom the Bell Tolls.
A project many of the giants of cinema tend to take on, Hawks too wanted to bring Cervantes to the screen. He said, “I wanted to do Don Quixote with Cary Grant and Cantinflas.” He mentioned that along with his affection for Charlie Chaplin, he felt Don Quixote was the “basis” for the tramp character.
The idea of a Hawks Quixote, especially one with Cary Grant in the lead, is a daring feat of imagination for me. Still, Hawks, even when me made a bad film, never made a dull one and I’m sure whatever he came up with would’ve been quite an adventure.
Another project he intended with Cary Grant was a Western. Yes, Cary Grant in a Western. He would’ve played a “consumptive dentist”, Hawks told McBride. He also joked that John Wayne would’ve never let him make a Western without writing him a role.
“I wanted to do the Bond series,” Hawks admitted. A Howard Hawks 007, what a fantastic thought. Who would have been his Bond? Again, would his notions of professionalism have somehow melded with Fleming’s novel to create something uniquely Hawksian?
Whatever the case, it belongs to dreams like the rest of these, but I feel certain it would have been nothing like any of the other Bonds. It’s too bad the man who tackled Philip Marlowe didn’t get a chance at the Martini-drinking British agent.
Some of the Others
I must mention in brief some of the other things that did not come to be:
-he was the original director of Gunga Din
-a horror film called Dreadful Hollow, scripted by William Faulkner (this would’ve tackled the one genre that Hawks never did)
–Yukon Trail: another pairing of Dean Martin and John Wayne
-an untitled story of two Americans escaping the Russian police in the USSR
Howard Hawks directed some of my favorite stories. There is no other filmmaker who created worlds I’ve wanted so much to live in and characters I longed to know. Though there is little information about these unrealized dream projects, and they of course will never come to life, it is a personal delight to read about them and to imagine cinema that never was.