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Saturday, March 02, 2013

Howard Hawks' Speed Breed

Colonel Forehand parked a race car in front of the Liberty to herald Red Line 7000's arrival in November, 1965. My home town was quick to get the new Paramount Howard Hawks feature, it having world-preemed in Charlotte a few weeks before. Who was more deserving of early access than we who occupied the epicenter of NASCAR? It was advance-known that parts were filmed at Charlotte's Motor Speedway, and what delight to see our own pride-and-joy Holly Farms Poultry emblazoned on the side of James Caan's speedster. Red Line 7000 was like a movie made local, and I'll bet the Liberty clocked more ticket sale for it than anything else they'd play that autumn. I went upstairs after our view and Colonel Forehand gave me the pressbook. It and the posters emphasized Howard Hawks: we associated him with good pictures long before acquaintance with the auteur theory. But was Red Line 7000 good? Well, maybe not as a Hawks movie, but it's sure a corking race car movie (beats tar out of Fireball 500). I said so then and maintain it upon forty-eight year later revisit afforded by Epix HD's run of an unfortunately full-frame print (the pic shot open-matte). Cropping that to 1.85 made for easy fix however, and what surprise and delight to find Red Line not only a still-good fast car show, but a terrific (to my mind) Howard Hawks helping.

Whilst on topic of "good," I'll mention Red Line's fix on the word, that in accord with Hawks' career-long measure of men. You never have to wait long for HH to bring it up. Are you good? Yeah, I'm good. How good? Plenty good. Good enough? ... and so on along  Hawksian inventory of his characters' skill. If one of them dies, it's usually because he wasn't good enough. That happens early in Red Line 7000. Hawks wrote the story, and though another guy is credited for the screenplay, I'd guess this was another of "yellow tablet" pics that Howard messed with on day-by-shooting-day basis. His was a habit of discarding stuff that was advance writ and scratching out dialogue to serve needs of the moment, doing so on said tablet he'd bring to the set.

Red Line 7000 is 1932's The Crowd Roars minus goggles and open road-missiles. The game looked more dangerous back then, but Hawks updates to 60's-era flaming wreckage and end-over-end flips. Otherwise, his people behave same as they had thirty-three years before, for which HH got grief when Red Line was new. His thing was still action and men under stress, and that was essentially timeless. What matter if trimmings creaked as an old man harked back? (Hawks was nearing seventy) Raoul Walsh was elsewhere being just as retro (A Distant Trumpet), but postures of vets like these, while dimming fast among a greater populace, still had enough relevance to squeak their late work by, the truest 60's revolution not fully caught up to them. Noteworthy is fact that the Production Code was still in effect and being enforced when Red Line 7000 was made, a thing unimaginable but a few years later when a ratings system was in place and movies went all-out abandon.

Hawks used a largely un-seasoned cast for Red Line 7000, which is better for me than Hatari! where he had one superstar, John Wayne, plunked down amidst duds of a support group. It's easier to get used to a cast of ciphers when they're all ciphers. I looked up Red Line's cast on IMDB: several were in just this movie and none others. Where is Gail Hire now? --- or John Robert Crawford? They evidently did no features before or after Red Line. Hire was a tall model that well-known starmaker Hawks saw on a billboard that would serve as 7000's Paula Prentiss, voice/carriage similar enough to make one think the director sat his discovery through multiple views of Man's Favorite Sport (see if you can be as good as her). The young men represent varying degrees of colorless, but sometimes even that can be engaging in context of a 60's struggle Hollywood had in developing screen personalities, Hawks being far from the only one who would falter at this.

Then there is the music. Others have decried Red Line's rock and roll band playing likes of The Old Gray Mare and I've Been Workin' On The Railroad, attributing that to dotage on the director's part. I see it quite different on review of the score as a whole, as composed by Nelson Riddle. His cleffing of Red Line 7000 is one of the great overall things about the show, a cocktail flavoring not unlike what Henry Mancini brought to quieter moments of Hatari!. Those ancient, and reviled, tunes are Red Line-confined to rock and rolling, a device to my guess quite deliberate on Hawks' and Riddle's part. Chances are that neither cared for R&R, but were obliged to use it in obedience to changed times. What better means of showing disdain than to have your rockers flail away at the most insipid songs imaginable? No way was this anything other than Hawks' playful dig at a music form his generation thought strictly for the birds.

Red Line 7000 might better be titled The Romance Of The Pepsi Machine. Any more product placement and it would look like pre-show in a 2013 theatre. A soundstage-built Holiday Inn courtyard smacks of a travel guide sprung to life, and yes, that Pepsi dispenser makes me yearn for yore days of vending. James Caan and Marianna Hill conduct their romance in its warm glow --- could even a log fire be more inviting? Every room we enter is salted with some Red Line investor's merchandise, a real Easter Egg hunt for consumer studiers, all very much part of Red Line 7000's charm. Seeing this movie was more about stuff you'd buy after seeing this movie. Were neighborhood teens riding Hondas in the wake of Red Line 7000's Liberty play a mere coincidence?

Red Line 7000 took $1.9 million in domestic rentals, less than was needed to cover negative costs of over two million (would foreign have gotten it into profit?). There was a 1968 reissue with Sons of Katie Elder, the pair meriting new accessories, poster art, etc., from which Red Line emerged with an additional $137K in domestic rentals. Paramount sent out numerous combos through the 60's wherein similar oldies were linked for a double-feature. Red Line and Katie Elder would together have been quite an endurance sit, their combined running time a daunting four hours. Red Line 7000 came late to TV, but at least scored a network run, on ABC in 1973, then to syndication (12/75) with twenty-nine other Paramount pics, including Hawks' El Dorado and Hatari!. True Grit was also in the group, so "Portfolio VII" likely sold very well. I wonder if Howard Hawks had sold out interest he shared with Para in the negatives by then, or if he continued to receive cash from these features as they played off on television. Considering what evergreens they've become, he, and later his estate, would have been better served hanging on to partial ownership.


Blogger Dave G said...

Marianna Hill was at the Destination: Star Trek London convention I attended a few months back (she guested opposite Shatner in 60s ep "Dagger of the Mind").She was very busy, owing to a late arrival on her part, but I did get to chat a couple of minutes with her about working with Hawks. She diplomatically recalled that not all of the cast rose to the opportunity Hawks gave them, but recalled the man himself with fondness. Wish I could have talked longer with her; she seemed happy that I knew her from something other than Trek!

1:39 PM  
Blogger John McElwee said...

Craig Reardon has some cogent points about Howard Hawks and "Red Line 7000" (Part One) ---

One thing that comes through loud and clear in the later Howard Hawks movies is that he was content with them and wasn't going to change the habits of a lifetime. This was more than underscored by "Rio Lobo", which is yet a second reworking of "Rio Bravo"! I've been looking forward to what you would have to say about "Red Line 7000" after mentioning sometime back that you'd scheduled it for one of your pieces. To this day I haven't seen it. I never knew James Caan existed 'till our family saw "El Dorado", which we were bound to do because my dad reflexively attended John Wayne's movies! I think all of us liked the cocky young actor. (It's amusing to see, today, that they had to straighten his almost kinky-curly hair...or, somebody thought they had to.) Naturally, since "El Dorado" is the first remake of "Rio Bravo", he had to have his own 'cute' nickname, and it was Mississippi. The thing about Hawks is that I should think he would've been embarrassed to beat a good thing to death. But that impression didn't sink in until years later when I became more aware of him and his movies. In 1966, when "El Dorado" came out, I'd never even seen "Rio Bravo" (which is by far the best of its three versions!)

There's something about these later movies that undermines the strength of earlier infusions of that 'masculine code' thing, probably best exemplified in the still-touching "Only Angels Have Wings". By the time of "Rio Bravo" and "Hatari", I think it's getting adolescent and hot house, and more so as he kept riffing on it. In the midst of these films where there's always a feeling of "Step over this line!", or, "I dare you to knock this chip off my shoulder!", or---you said it!---"Are you good enough?" (this from a guy, mind you, who routinely claimed to have written screenplays that surviving screenwriters insisted he never had a thing to do with, one of them being John Lee Mahin---"good enough"!), the almost deliriously daffy "Man's Favorite Sport?" (and this may be one of only "?" films which have a question mark in the title!) today seems like an innocuous and unpretentious oasis. But unrelentingly silly it is, so much so that something I read indicated that when Cary Grant---for whom it was intended (Hawks really did have his head locked in the '40s!)---read the screen play, he walked away and did the (infinitely better) "Charade" for Stanley Donen, instead. But, I enjoy "Man's Favorite Sport?", which is like a filmed MAD magazine comic strip. Plus, I've gone mad about Paula Prentiss in these things. (I saw "Where the Boys Are" with my family when I was a kid and I think I took exception, as an already opinionated little brat, to her strong mannerisms then; but as an adult I find her mostly endearing and charming, and very sexy.) It's only surprising that Hawks cast her on account of the fact that she also has talent and personality, since by then he seemed just as comfortable putting hot babes with no particular acting talent at all in his films. However, he'd always had a keen eye for the ladies, and how. "Red Line 5000" is no exception. I never heard of Gail Hire, but Laura Devon was quite familiar in television in the early '60s, and Marianna Hill had a kind of feral beauty (along the lines of Michelle Carey who was in his next one, "El Dorado".) Yeah, he liked them not only bonita, but also muy caliente!

12:30 PM  
Blogger John McElwee said...

Part Two from Craig Reardon:

One thing I loved about your review, put in very tactful terms as always, was your allusion to the musical score, with its rock-'n-roll type arrangements of outlandishly inappropriate songs, and that this apparently provoked kneejerk reactions along the lines of, "Ha, he can't even get with it when he tries!" I think your conclusion is much more convincing, i.e., "Who says I'm 'trying'? I'm saying 'Fuck YOU!'" That'd be much more consistent with the Hawks whose attitude everywhere in his movies is, if you don't like it, tough.

There was one account by a rather spoilsport witness one-off, I think it was John Ireland's son, who by his second-hand account said that Hawks would actually cast these gorgeous young dames in his movie fully intending to seduce them. He said that was the case with the gorgeous young Joanne Dru, in "Red River", and that he was highly incensed when she preferred John Ireland. He got his revenge by paring down 'Cherry Valance' (the colorfully-named character Ireland played in the film.) He was by other accounts similarly P.O.'d when his discovery, yet another magazine model 'Lauren Bacall' (b. Betty Persky) fell in love with Humphrey Bogart. Though how this squares with him being willing to work with both of them again almost immediately (from "To Have and Have Not" to "The Big Sleep") would otherwise provoke skepticism. The thing is, Angie Dickinson, yet another nubile beauty when Hawks fingered her (ahem) for "Rio Bravo", states outright in the commentary track she recorded for that film for WB Home Video that he was, in her feminine view, just a "gorgeous" (?!) guy. I speculate it was that confident, quiet, laid-back quality, which I personally have seen some women go nuts for in certain guys I remember way, way back in my school days. Girls love mystery even if they don't 'like' it. Conversely, they like to talk to guys who are open and honest, but they love guys who are close-mouthed, 'male', and mysterious. These are simplistic conclusions but driven by experience and observation, and they serve to confirm something about Hawks's lifelong success with women. He also had loyal pals, including Wayne and Cary Grant. Peter Bogdanovich, probably the brighest and most interesting "hanger-on" in the history of Hollywood (!), said that Grant would say to him (as Bogdanovich has proven on many DVD interviews, he's an excellent mimic), "Do Howard!" Bogdanovich would oblige him with a dead-on baritone drawl, and he says Grant would often say, "I miss Howard." Of course, Grant was also close to the 'other' famous Howard of Hollywood, Howard Hughes.


12:31 PM  
Blogger Dave K said...


Love Craig's shout out for my favorite late era Hawks pic MAN'S FAVORITE SPORT? (hey, don't judge me!!!) Always got just a little queasy about the whole macho just-prove-yourself-and-do-your-damn-job thing, even in his classics like ANGELS and BRAVO. But SPORT is pretty much a goofball swipe by Hawks on Hawks; Rock Hudson's character is the best at what he does (selling stuff!) in spite of the fact that he's a fake, a liar and a total washout at anything outdoorsy or manly. Prentiss isn't just infuriatingly irrational like so many Hawks heroines... she's an outright lunatic! (And, yes, way cute and sexy!)

12:58 PM  
Blogger Mike Cline said...

May I assume that today's KONG banner was NOT from the Janus reissue?

7:16 PM  
Blogger John McElwee said...

It's from 1938.

7:21 PM  

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