There has been a lot of debate surround whether or not influential film director Howard Hawks is a certified ‘auteur’ or not. First, let’s define what an auteur is.
How most critics have defined it is an auteur’s films reflect the director’s personal vision, it is an extension of themselves, and there is a common trait that can be found in each film created by this director. A commonly discussed example of an auteur would be Alfred Hitchcock, who makes a casual cameo appearance in each of his films. This is a personal touch that emphasizes the film as an extension of the director and reinforcing the fact that he is in control of the execution of his vision.
Now, in the case of Howard Hawks it becomes a little tricky. French film critic, Andre Bazin, labeled Hawks as one of the top American auteurs, but many tend to argue this statement because it is difficult to find a ‘personal’ element in a Hawks film. What differentiates his films from others produced during the Classical Hollywood era? What makes Hawks an auteur? He is indeed a brilliant director, there is no debate over that, but being confined by the restrictions of the Hollywood system some might find that it would be rather difficult to implement ones own personal touch to their work when they are so closely guarded. Also, Hawks created films in basically every genre, from Western, Film Noir, Comedy, Drama, and Musical, so how are these films connected? Where is his personal touch? Maybe it is just that he was able to create such seamless films that makes him an auteur, or maybe it can just be narrowed down to the fact that if someone else were to direct The Big Sleep (1946) or Rio Bravo (1959), the outcome would have been entirely different.
Film critic Jacques Rivette wrote about Hawks that, “each shot has a functional beauty, like a neck or an ankle. The smooth, orderly succession of shots has a rhythm like the pulsing of blood, and the whole film is like a beautiful body, kept alive by deep, resilient breathing.” I find this quote to be true about all the Hawks films that I have seen, like the two mentioned above, as well as His Girl Friday, Gentlemen Prefer Blondes, Brining Up Baby, and Scarface. However, when I first watched these films I was unaware that they were a product of Hawks. I just thought, “Wow! This is a great film from the Golden Age of Hollywood.” Now looking back, I can definitely see how flawless the films are and how nicely they flow together. Maybe this is what makes him an auteur, the creation of multiple perfect films.
Leonard Maltin wrote that Hawks is “the greatest American director who is not a household name,” unlike DeMille, Welles, and Ford, and I think I prefer it this way. It is nice to enjoy a film and appreciate the brilliant execution rather than focusing on who made it. I doubt there is anyone who would not enjoy a Hawks film, even in today’s culture where we all desire the uninspired directing of Michael Bay (Transformers) because we have no patience to enjoy witty character pieces.
I will leave you will a trailer for Rio Bravo and The Big Sleep to inspire your desire to seek out a Hawks film to enjoy.