Maggie’s a Hawksian Woman

One of the surest cures for the winter blues is to settle down, pour yourself a drink and slip a screwball comedy into your DVD player. These are films that, by definition, are designed to brighten your day. Watching Bringing up Baby, His Girl Friday and Monkey Business recently, I’ve come to realise that if you want to see a good part for a woman, you’re better off with a random Howard Hawks movie than any current chick flick.
hatariWhile he often used women to appease and sexualise the tough guys in films such as Red River, Scarface and Hatari!, they were the dominant force in his screwball comedies. Hawks liked to cast some of Hollywood’s most unusual and attractive ladies in the role of the Hawksian Woman; Katherine Hepburn was a Hawksian Woman and so was Carole Lombard in Twentieth Century.
hoagie-serenades-laurenThough few modern films qualify as out-and-out screwball, some memorable ones are kindred spirits. As Pfeiffer’s haughty, harassed Melanie Parker flits from phone call to phone call in One Fine Day, she recalls His Girl Friday’s Rosalind Russell and the greatest Hawksian woman of all Lauren Bacall.hawksian-ancestorMichelle begets the line of Hawksian leading ladies– a true screwball heroine. Meg Ryan was nothing less in Addicted to Love. A venomous Hawksian hustler, streetwise photographer Maggie is a “marvellous girl, crazy as a bedbug.” Watching her is akin to laughing so hard champagne shoots out of your nose.
hot-dog-maggieIt makes you wonder what kind of career Ryan might have had if she’d been around in the 1930s. With her supernatural flair for this kind of comedy would she have riffed through the Richter scale with Cary Grant and Clark Gable? Vied with Hepburn and Lombard for box-office supremacy? It’s just a thought – and one that brings me a little joy in a world that is all too serious.



Filed under Retrospective

20 responses to “Maggie’s a Hawksian Woman

  1. Wonderful angle! That’s a great insight, Paul. You are absolutely right.

  2. Great post 🙂 Howard Hawks is a great filmmaker, who can tackle all sorts of genres. I have heard that directors like John Carpenter and Walter Hill are huge fans of his work. I love how you compare the women in Hawks films to the type of romantic comedy roles that Michelle Pfeiffer and Meg Ryan play in their films. You are totally right that as with a lot of Hawks comedies, they can come off as being every bit as smart or smarter than their male counterparts. Although it is debatable, their are moments in Married to the Mob where the relationship between Michelle Pfeiffer’s Angela De Marco character and Matthew Modine’s cop character comes off as subtly Hawksian (especially that very last scene) and that wacky climactic shootout where Angela finally punches Mercedes Ruehl’s character played with comedic effect of course. I could be wrong of course, but that is just one way I see it. One Fine Day and Addicted to Love are pure Hawks homages whether it be subtly or explicitly from start to finish in terms of the behavior of its leading characters. Anyway, keep up the great work as always 🙂

  3. I second John and Cindy, that’s a great insight into Hawks’s work and a terrific comparison to these two roles. Noice. I think Meg and Michelle would’ve done fine in any era, stars like that are timeless.

  4. This was a great read and definitely good for thought. As a vintage lover of movies with Hepburn and notably Cary Grant, I’d like to think they would have equally been on par in such classic movies. An Alfred Hitchcock thriller type comes to mind.

    I don’t tend to watch many modern romantic movies but I’ve always admired Michelle Pfeiffer in movies such as Batman Returns, Scarface, What Lies Beneath and Stardust. I think she plays being a villain of sorts quite well too. (In an animated movie called Sinbad). She has that charming seductive look that could poison you but you feel she’s still innocent with that smile.

  5. Awesome job! Yes, Monkey Business is a great one that doesn’t get much attention. And Twentieth Century…I hadn’t thought about that one in awhile. Also, Lauren Bacall is my favorite of the classic Hollywood actresses. The Big Sleep is so great…but she might be even better in To Have and Have Not. Great writing, my friend! 🙂 –Paul

  6. Good insights on Maggie (and Meg). Oddly enough I was just looking through the sudden surge of free movies being offered through my provider (must be a free preview month or I should check my billing) and found a movie starring Meg Ryan, Walter Mathau,Diane Keaton and Lisa Kudrow, called “Hanging Up” from 2000. Basically it’s about 3 sisters who are caring for their aging father, except Meg’s character does most of the work (and most of the caring). Meg looks fabulous here, almost unchanged from her Joe vs Volcano days. The role calls for her to be assertive and vulnerable at the same time, so it’s a shoe-in for her talents. Unfortunately, the script isn’t as strong as it could be. All 4 of the movie’s leads elevate the material, but they can only do so much. As expected, Meg is the most watchable and her scenes are really the only source of sparkle, I’m not totally sure about watching this all the way through.

    • I hope you do watch all of Hanging Up. It isn’t a typical Meg Ryan film, and it isn’t a typical Norah Ephron film. It’s something personal, a truthful roller-coaster about life, death, and siblings. I strongly recommend it. There are not enough films like this.

  7. Very innovative post! I wasn’t aware of an “Addicted to Love: Birthday Blogathon”
    Love Howard Hawks (Studied his work)
    Love Lauren Bacall.
    I like your comparison of Michelle Pfeiffer’s Melanie Parker to Lauren Bacall. I can imagine Bacall doing justice to that role, with perfection!!
    And speaking of Meg Ryan; if she existed in the 30’s & 40’s; she’d have done a wonderful job driving Cary Grant insane (or vice versa), especially in ‘His Girl Friday’; even though you’ve compared Michelle Pfeiffer to Rosalind Russell there!!
    Lovely Post!!

    • Thanks. I’m glad you stopped by because it’s always a pleasure to read your thoughts. You’ve studied the work of Howard Hawks? I’d love to hear more. He seemed to be a master of many genres, and had the Midas Touch with comedies like Twentieth Century and Bringing Up Baby.
      Pauline Kael once wrote that Michelle Pfeiffer had “the grinning infectiousness of Carole Lombard and the radiance of the very young Lauren Bacall.” I love Michelle, but what you say about Meg Ryan and Cary Grant in His Girl Friday makes perfect sense. Meg would have nailed the razor-sharp dialogue and made the role of Hildy her own.
      Are you interested in the Addicted to Love: Birthday Blogathon? It’s only an idea at the moment but I’d love to have you on board!

  8. BRILLIANT! Meg Ryan would have been a perfect fit for a 1930s screwball comedy. I’d never thought of her as being “Hawsian” before, but you’re absolutely right.

  9. Reading all of these wonderful replies is getting me excited for your next blog entry 🙂

  10. So wonderfully written my friend, your work is truly insightful.

  11. I like both actresses but Pfeiffer’s Scarface role is still the one that pops into my head first after all these years. Ryan, on the other hand, had a turn in Courage Under Fire that I feel was not only underrated, but one of her best roles ever. The movie overall is under appreciated. If you’ve never seen it, I highly recommend it. Also, have you had a chance to check out Pfeiffer in the recent HBO film Wizard of Lies? I have it in my cue but have not watched it yet. Thanks for the follow!

  12. You make me want to look up these movies and watch them again!

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