World of Westfahl | Encyclopedia Introduction | All Entries | Acknowledgements
A | B | C | D | E | F | G | H | I | J | K | L | M | N | O | P | Q | R | S | T | U | V | W | X | Y | Z

H Entries
Earl Hamner, Jr.
Tom Hanks
George Harrison
Ray Harryhausen
Byron Haskin
Howard Hawks
Ben Hecht
David Hedison
Robert A. Heinlein
Charlton Heston
Sir Alfred Hitchcock
Inoshiro Honda
Ron Howard
Rock Hudson
Gale Anne Hurd
Martha Hyer
 
HAWKS, HOWARD
(1896–1977). American director and producer.

SCIENCE FICTION, FANTASY, AND HORROR FILM CREDITS
Directed: The Thing (from Another World) (uncredited; credited to Christian Nyby) (and produced and co-wrote, uncredited) (1950); Monkey Business (and provided voice for, uncredited) (1952).
 
More so than any other Hollywood director who currently comes to mind, Howard Hawks loved people, and he devoted his life to studying people and struggling to better understand people. Thus, when he briefly dabbled in the then-novel genre of science fiction film, he immediately figured out how to make such films appealing to a broad audience: firmly base the story on a familiar generic formula; emphasize strong characterization and entertaining dialogue; and conclude with a comforting restoration of the status quo. However else they differed, these are the qualities shared by both of his memorable contributions to the form.

The lesser achievement, to be sure, is Monkey Business, a screwball comedy in the classic mode animated by a science-fictional McGuffin: chemist Cary Grant, aided by a mischievous chimpanzee, develops and ingests a formula which restores one's youthful energy, leading to some adolescent escapades with secretary Marilyn Monroe and more fun when wife Ginger Rogers drinks her own dose and regresses to childhood. The serious conclusion to all of this exuberant nonsense, of course, is that people should learn to enjoy themselves without the assistance of miraculous chemicals.

In sharp contrast, The Thing (from Another World)—which, by all accounts, he directed while choosing to credit long-time editor Christian Nyby—was a riveting horror film, an inspired simplification of John W. Campbell, Jr.'s novella "Who Goes There?" (1938) involving soldiers at an isolated Arctic base menaced by a stalking, humanoid vegetable from outer space. The early scene in which soldiers investigating a mysterious crash slowly form themselves into a circle, signaling the arrival of a flying saucer, is deservedly cited as a brilliant touch, and Hawks realized, as did Ridley SCOTT in directing Alien (1979), that a monster is scarier when it is observed as infrequently and fleetingly as possible. Yet the film's overall attitude is disappointing, as the base scientist with the novel idea that perhaps we should attempt to study this first alien being to visit Earth is ridiculed and marginalized by worldly-wise tough guys who know that the only way to deal with such an alien is to hunt it down and kill it, and the film's unforgettable closing line—"Keep watching the skies!" warns people to keep their powder dry in case another flying saucer should happen to land. By this film's logic, then, the soldier who gunned down Klaatu in Robert WISE's The Day the Earth Stood Still (1951) was only doing his patriotic duty.

Having demonstrated his versatility with these and other distinctive films during the 1930s and 1940s, Hawks largely devoted the rest of his career to more conventional fare, including three elegiac westerns co-written by science fiction writer Leigh BRACKETT, who might have suggested to Hawks that an adaptation of one of her own, atmospheric planetary romances would provide an intriguing alternative to such adventures. But the proposal would probably have been in vain, since the aging Hawks had very much become a man resistant to change, and hence a director, whatever his other virtues, who was not really suited for science fiction films.

To contact us about encyclopedia matters, send an email to Gary Westfahl.
If you find any Web site errors, typos or other stuff worth mentioning, please send it to our Webmaster.
Copyright © 1999–2014 Gary Westfahl All Rights Reserved Worldwide

Hosted & Designed By:
SF Site spot art