Over at ONLY THE CINEMA there’s been an Early Hawks Blog-a-thon going on, and like a slug I’ve virtually missed it. I did pop CEILING ZERO in the old VCR, but then I got distracted and didn’t really watch it. I’ve seen it before, and my general impression was that james Cagney’s moustache was a thing of horror. He hasn’t got the face for it, somehow. And it rebounded upon his characterisation in an unfortunate way, also – Cagney’s playing a zesty, reckless daredevil mailman of the air, and he does it with all the arrogant brio he’s capable of, which is A LOT, as we know. And that would be fine, because he’s Cagney and we love him, but with the moustache he’s not only the kind of jerk who flies his plane in a foolhardy manner, he does it while sporting a disfiguring hairstrip on his upper labial concourse. And that comes close to tipping him over into the realm of the appalling.
But this time round it didn’t bother me much at all. Maybe because I wasn’t actually watching.
It did strike me how strange it is that Hawks delays J.C.’s entrance for so very very long, beyond what a normal delayed entrance would be, but since everybody’s talking about Cagney before he appears, it’s all in the name of build-up. It’s just unfortunate that until then we’re left in the company of Pat O’Brien. I’ve talked before of the terrible POB Drag Effect, the lumpen-faced star’s ability to suck the lifeblood from even the zestiest scene, and it feels both boring and cruel to harp on about it, but really — the correct use for POB is surely to keep him offscreen, fully costumed, and only bring him on when things are in danger of getting just a bit to interesting.
Be that as it may, Cagney eventually shows up, a wild man of the skies with a “skippy pump” (his amusing term for a bad heart), and everything is fine and dandy, and we can see the Hawksian worldview coming together quite nicely in this one, groundwork being laid for the superior aerial mailman flick ONLY ANGELS HAVE WINGS (that one’s magnificent, this one merely excellent), but all I can really find to say, based on a half-hearted semi-viewing of this fine work, is that it boasts a fine array of women, not all of them strictly “Hawksian”, but a nice thing about Hawks is that he doesn’t always feature the exact same female character. Even allowing for the variations created by casting, and admitting that H.H. certainly does seem to have an ideal woman in mind a lot of the time, such disparate femmes as Katherine Hepburn in BRINGING UP BABY, Carole Lombard in TWENTIETH CENTURY, Marilyn Monroe and Jane Russell in GENTLEMEN PREFER BLONDES, and Joan Collins in LAND OF THE PHAROAHS represent a genuinely varied line-up of female characterisation, not all of them progressive and positive, but all clearly interesting enough to deserve Hawks, and our, devoted attention.
June Travis — a real Hawksian woman.