Sunday, January 3, 2010

Come and Get It

It's a treat to write something about a new Howard Hawks discovery. Hawks has long been one of my favorite directors.  I could easily count Rio Bravo, His Girl Friday, and Sergeant York among my "desert island group".  And I'm also quite fond of at least another five to ten of his films that I have seen:  Rio Lobo, El Dorado, Red Line 7000, Man's Favorite Sport?, Hatari!, Gentlemen Prefer Blondes, I Was a War Male Bride, Red River, The Big Sleep, To Have and Have Not, Bringing Up Baby, Barbary Coast, and Scarface (okay maybe it's a little more than five or ten).

Some of his earlier work is actually quite hard to locate.  But I'll have to keep looking.  There's at least another ten of his films that people talk about that I've never had the opportunity to see.

This film, Come and Get It, is an interesting one.  First off, it marks a collaboration with another directorial giant from the time, William Wyler.   IMDb says that Wyler directed 70 films in his career.  (Ah, what a glorious time the golden age was when a director could have that level of output.)  There's much of Wyler I've yet to see, but I absolutely love Roman Holiday, The Heiress, and The Best Years of Our Lives.

And Come and Get It is no exception.  The film has Hawks' ability to distill and refine.  Watching a Hawks' film for me is like when someone says about a great chef that his/her dish taste clean.  His work always feels uncluttered to me without being overly simplistic.

But Hawks, also, has always felt like an optimist to me.  It seemed like he never really wanted to leave the audience with a bitter taste in their mouth.  Wyler, meanwhile, seems much more willing to go to that place.  The end of The Heiress, for instance, I find to be one of the most disturbing finales of that entire period.  And Come and Get It ends on a note that is every bit as ambiguous, unresolved, and uncomfortable.

Needless to say, since we have two of the most accomplished directors of the period working on the film, the performances are sublime: Edward Arnold, Joel McCrea, and Walter Brennan are all tremendous. And Frances Farmer is magical.

The film might have a little too much music and an extremely basic directorial approach, but I also think it gets at some themes and emotions that most work can only hope to achieve.  Chalk up another one for Hawks and Wyler, Come and Get It is a real keeper.

*I feel I'd be remiss if I didn't mention that, about a year ago, the excellent blog, Only The Cinema, conducted an "Early Howard Hawks Blog-A-Thon" (  I encourage a look if you want to read more about this period in Hawks' career or Hawks, in general.


  1. Thanks for the link there. I just stumbled across this post and have to chime in, since I am obviously a great admirer of Hawks. I don't like this one nearly as much as you, though. Hawks directed the first half to two-thirds of the film, and the early scenes, with Frances Farmer as the lusty bar maiden, are fantastic, with all the rough-and-tumble energy you'd expect from Hawks. Then it ventures into somewhat leaden melodrama and Frances Farmer plays a much less interesting second character, and at some point Wyler takes over because Sam Goldwyn didn't like that Hawks was taking big liberties with the source novel. Of course, Hawks' liberties, like transforming Farmer's first-half character and inserting some loony action, are among the film's greatest pleasures. It's ultimately an OK film but an obviously compromised one. I would love to have been able to see what Hawks would've done with it if he'd had a free hand to do what he wanted.

    Anyway, despite my reservations about the film, I'm still glad to see some love for this largely unknown and forgotten curiosity. If nothing else, it should be better known for Farmer's performance in the first half, which she reportedly modeled, on Hawks' urging, on a real prostitute.

  2. Ed, so good to have your insight here!

    It’s funny, but I think what I responded to most may very well be the fact that it’s one of these schizoid projects (two directors). I’m afraid if Hawks had been on his own that we would have ended up with one of his more trademark upbeat endings. But instead we have an unresolved, disturbing ending in a 1936 American film, years before the noir cycle begins and this thing would become much more commonplace.

    Of course, I agree, Farmer is really special here. But I also greatly responded to the very tormented, Edward Arnold performance.

  3. I think calling Hawks' endings totally "upbeat" is a big stretch, and certainly applies more aptly to later films like the Wayne Westerns than it does to the period we're talking about here. Hawks' films seldom ended on an outright downer note, it's true, but he often included subtle shadings and complex emotions in his denouements — like the ambiguous destructive climax of Bringing Up Baby, supposedly a comic ending but also a kind of depressing one once you think about. And many of Hawks' best early films, like Only Angels Have Wings and The Dawn Patrol, are very attuned to darker emotions, to death and suffering and melancholy. I think I would've appreciated Hawks' likely more nuanced approach to the hammering, humorless melodrama of Wyler. I like Hawks so much in part because his films encompass such a broad emotional range, never entirely venturing into maudlin drama but also never flinching away from more difficult emotions. He never lost sight of either the comedy or the tragedy of his characters.

  4. Ed, very well put. I'm not sure I have a great enough familiarity with this period of Hawks' work to make a case. I've unfortunately never been able to get my hands on THE DAWN PATROL and really need to re-visit ONLY ANGELS HAVE WINGS and SCARFACE to know for sure where he left those films.

    I think after seeing COME AND GET IT, I just felt that "Wow, I never expected that ending from Howard Hawks." And that was one of my favorite parts of the whole film.

    But I completely agree with you, Hawks had a wonderful sophistication to his approach and always found a way to give his films some moments of much-needed humor, something that Wyler was not as adept at doing.