Howard Hawks

Sog., Scen.: Charles MacArthur, Ben Hecht, Edward Chorodov (non accr.); F.: Ray June; Mo.: Edward Curtis; Scgf.: Richard Day; Co.: Omar Kiam; Mu.: Alfred Newman; Su: Frank Maher; Int.: Miriam Hopkins (Mary “Swan” Rutledge), Edward G. Robinson (Louis Camalis), Joel McCrea (James Carmichael), Walter Brennan (Old Atrocity), Brian Donlevy (Knuckles Jacoby), Frank Craven (Col. Marcus Aurelius Cobb), Clyde Cook (Oakie), Harry Carey (Jed Slocum), Matt McHugh (Bronco), Donald Meek (Sawbuck McTavish), Rollo Lloyd (Wigham), J. M. Kerrigan (giudice Harper), Roger Gray (Sandy Ferguson), Otto Hoffman (Peebles), Donald Meek (McTavish), Fred Vogeding (capitano), David Niven (l’uomo buttato fuori dal saloon, non accred.); Prod.: Samuel Goldwyn per Goldwyn Productions; Pri. pro.: 27 settembre 1935
35mm. D.: 91′. Bn

T. it.: Italian title. T. int.: International title. T. alt.: Alternative title. Sog.: Story. Scen.: Screenplay. F.: Cinematography. M.: Editing. Scgf.: Set Design. Mus.: Music. Int.: Cast. Prod.: Production Company. L.: Length. D.: Running Time. f/s: Frames per second. Bn.: Black e White. Col.: Color. Da: Print source

Film Notes

“America was born in the streets” or so Herbert Asbury said: the writer-journalist published Gangs of New York in 1928, which Scorsese would loosely be inspired by, and Barbary Coast: An Informal Story of San Francisco Underworld in 1933, which Hawks was equally inspired by (when he first got his hands on Barbary Coast, however, his original plan was much more ambitious, an adaptation of L’Or by Blaise Cendrars). But if gold makes the world and the underworld go round, the streets of 1850 San Francisco were made of mud, and the journalist committed to the cause of the law and freedom gets into it up to his knees. It’s a hard life for journalists (“we newspapermen are either drunkards or idealists” were the words of Hecht and MacArthur who wrote the screenplay) in 1850 San Francisco ruled by a domineering boss with a sweet smile who forbids freedom of the press, hates judges, runs the corrupt world of entertainment and takes the law into his own hands with cruel or fearful thugs. But the poor man also falls in love, which is not reciprocated. The icy lady from New York who works as a croupier at his saloon Belladonna (the reference is more to drug than sex) prefers a decidedly handsome gold miner and poet. In other words, the situation gets complicated, the tawdry founding myth is intertwined with melodrama, and the boss redeems himself with a noble gesture. But something creaks in the network of characters and actors (Miriam Hopkins is not a Hawksian woman, Joel McCrea was not yet the great actor that Sturges and Stevens would make of him – on the other hand, Edward G. Robinson’s boss and Walter Brennan’s toothless Old Atrocity are absolutely perfect), but Hawks’s ability to concretely evoke that world is at its height: roulette, rotary and the fog that shrouds it all are all that is needed to tell a mini-history of capitalism. Graham Greene defined this barbarous Gold Rush San Francisco as “vividly sinister, (…) the low voices, the slosh of the mud round their boots, the rhythmic stride are terrifying because they have been exactly imagined, with the ear as well as the eye.”

Paola Cristalli

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