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Howard Hawks: The Measure of Man

Friday, February 24, 2012
8:45 p.m. Barbary Coast
Howard Hawks (U.S., 1935)

San Francisco, 1849: where there’s gold, there will be golddiggers, and so we find Miriam Hopkins arriving in the fogbound harbor without pick and shovel but with plans to marry rich. When her first stake doesn’t pan out, she takes up with corrupt boss Edward G. Robinson, resplendent in ruffles and gold earring, who runs the muddy young metropolis from his Bella Donna casino. Then a chance meeting with poetical prospector Joel McCrea stirs something softer within Hopkins’s character. The script by Ben Hecht and Charles MacArthur gives the stars plenty to chew on, but some of the best bits go to toothless swindler Old Atrocity (Walter Brennan, in his first performance for Hawks). This self-described “no-good terrible old man with the heart of a coyote” suggests the film’s central question: whether people are as bad as they seem, or as they think they are.

—Juliet Clark

• Written by Ben Hecht, Charles MacArthur, Edward Chodorov. Photographed by Ray June. With Miriam Hopkins, Edward G. Robinson, Joel McCrea, Walter Brennan. (91 mins, B&W, 35mm, From Samuel Goldwyn Trust)