American Film


Howard Hawks, who directed classic films with Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall (THE BIG SLEEP), Cary Grant and Katharine Hepburn (BRINGING UP BABY) and John Wayne (RIO BRAVO and RED RIVER) gave a seminar at the AFI Conservatory on February 11, 1970. Here, he remembers inventing some memorable business for Hollywood newcomer George Raft in 1932.

"You've to choose a story and then know how to attack it. I don't try to get a finished piece of writing as far as dialogue and theme goes. A scenario is terribly important as a basis, but it doesn't have to be followed exactly. Even a play is made by constant changes, alterations during rehearsals. I can give you an example.

I made a picture called SCARFACE. We had a new actor called Georgie Raft who had never acted before; he was a pretty lousy actor. I didn't know what to do with him, so I said if he could only be doing something while he was reading his lines, maybe people wouldn't realize how bad he was. So we gave him a half dollar to flip and he dropped it a few times, and then he flipped it and said his lines and was pretty good. So we used the flipping of the coin all the way through the picture. But it didn't change the story."

As the enforcer of the Motion Picture Production Code, Will H. Hays urged director Howard Hawks and producer Howard Hughes to add an anti-gun statement to the film SCARFACE (1932). Their suggestion was inspired by the contemporary national focus on implementing legislation that would restrict the sale of firearms, with the intention of keeping the weapons out of the hands of gangsters. In New York, then Governor Franklin Delano Roosevelt and Police Commissioner Edward P. Mulrooney supported a law which would prevent a civilian from purchasing a machine gun; Pennsylvania instituted the Witkins Firearms Act; and a national summit was called to discuss uniform state laws to govern the sale of firearms. By September 30, 1931, Colonel Jason Joy of the Studio Relations Committee, had viewed the virtually complete film (Version A) "20 times" and in a letter noted, "and still it has the power to move me." He further described that "the theme [of anti-gun policy] strikes directly at the current thought of the country...What Hawks has done is to insert in about ten places in the picture scenes and dialogue pointing up the idea that 'Scarface' is a killer as long as he has his guns...These new sequences, together with a strong, forceful much to change the aspect of the picture and make it worthwhile propaganda as well." Joy noted in a later memo to Hays that the insertion of these elements met with Hughes' "personal consent and apparently his entire approval."

For more on SCARFACE visit the AFI Catalog of Feature Films.