Friday, January 3, 2014

Classic Hollywood Archetypes: The Hawksian Woman

Hawks coaches Angie Dickinson while filming Rio Bravo
In 1939 Howard Hawks wrote and directed the Cary Grant vehicle “Only Angels Have Wings”, introducing a new kind of leading lady. Jean Arthur’s Bonnie Lee character is a combination of two previously existing female archetypes of the time; the good girl; the smart and worthy one that deserves the leading man, and the femme fatale; the morally questionable chick that attracts the lead despite her certainly leading him to his demise. This new type of heroine was allowed to be sexually forward without judgment. Bonnie Lee tells Grant’s stoic Geoff; “I’m hard to get. All’s you have to do is ask me.” 
In Hawks’ “To Have and Have Not” (1944), Lauren Bacall tells Bogie; "If you want anything, just whistle. You know how to whistle, don’t you, Steve? You just put your lips together and blow.”  
The Hawksian woman not only spoke her mind, she kept up with (if she wasn’t running circles around) her male co-stars’ witty banter as well as supported herself, both financially and emotionally, if need me.

Hawk went on to feature this character type in so many of his films, that in 1971 film critic Naomi Wise attributed the archetype to him, coining the phrase “Hawksian Woman”. Wise explored how, for many years, Hollywood portrayed movie heroines in two ways: the sexless, and the sex object. In Hawks’ movies the good and bad-girl were fused into a single heroine, both “sexual and valuable”. 

Grant & Arthur in Only Angels Have Wings
Cary Grant & Rosalind Russell in His Girl Friday
Lauren Bacall
Elsa Martinelli in Hatari!
Ann Dvorak from Scarface
Katharine Hepburn from Bringing up Baby
Joanne Dru in Red River
Bogie and
Bacall in The Big Sleep