Film studies: Two Howards, one history

It has always seemed to me material for a great American comedy. There is a moral that goes along with it, too: something to the effect that, while it's normal and forgivable for men to doodle over female anatomy, aircraft can really go to their heads.

The time is 1941. Pearl Harbor has just had its spectacular Sunday morning, and in some Los Angeles mansion, a barefoot stringbean is hurrying around getting nothing done. "Air power!" he keeps saying to himself, until his distraction is arrested by a glossy photograph on his cluttered desk. It shows a young, rather sulky woman, very sensual, her gaze a little lowered and - for balance's sake - her bosom one extra notch upthrust.

Call him Howard. He's a genius of a kind, and now that the US is in the war, he's calling the White House with plans for terrific new aircraft. He is tall, lanky, a little absent-minded, insistent yet withdrawn - he could be a nut. But the White House takes his calls, and soon he's sending blueprints for amazing planes back east. Air power, he reckons, is the US's tool for moral cleansing.

Howard Hawks takes his calls, too. Lugubrious, screwball calls.

"That you, Howard?"

"Hi, Howard, yeah, it's me."

"Look. On the Billy the Kid picture."

"Right, Howard."

"The girl. Remember the girl?"

"Kinda."

"I've got her. Some kid from Minnesota."

"Our type, Howard?"

"Howard, you gotta see her."

"I'm ready."

"A verified 38D."

And so it turns out that this Howard of ours - well, believe me, the US was glad to have him - is not only designing planes that will command the skies; he is also prepping a picture called The Outlaw. Howard Hawks will direct. Victor Young has the music in hand. The photography chore is going to Gregg Toland - Citizen Kane was his last job. Thomas Mitchell will play Sheriff Pat Garrett. Walter Huston will be Doc Holliday.

They are so pleased to have two such fine actors in their cast that they first overlook, then forget, the fact that Holliday and Garrett, apparently, omitted to meet each other in real life. Is this a problem, they wonder. Could have, sighs one Howard, and the other murmurs, Should have. All of this, late night, over the phone. So history is wiped and polished. And Jane Russell, from Bemidji, Minnesota, will be the girl - Rio - in love with Billy the Kid.

The point of all this is not just air power - still on our minds. But in a couple of weeks, Mark Cousins's Scene by Scene show has Jane herself as interviewee. Cousins worships his subjects, and they seldom question that. And Jane Russell, God knows, has things to get off her chest.

After all, The Outlaw went on three years. Set at $450,000, it cost $3m. Hawks was fired, and our Howard- Howard Hughes - decided to direct the film himself.

The unit came back from Arizona and filmed in LA at night - Howard was designing planes during the day. It turned out to be a terrible picture - as slow as syrup on a cold morning. But it was a sensation in those wartime years, because Hughes and his publicists went to work - long in advance of the movie itself - with brazen pin-ups of Russell and her 38 inches that aroused moral guardians everywhere. For two years, Cousins says - and Jane nods - Howard just took publicity pictures of her to go with the slogans, "Would you like to tussle with Russell?" and "There are two reasons for seeing The Outlaw." (It was a just war, fought for such freedoms and monuments.)

Well, Cousins spends equal time on the rest of her career - which is carrying generosity to a fault. He doesn't stick to those Hughes years. Maybe he was too polite. Maybe Jane told him, up front, that she wouldn't take questions about whether she ever slept with Howard - in her book she vows she didn't. That's not enough, Mark. I'll make up my own mind about the sex, and I doubt if Howard the driven man ever slept. But I want to know about the brassiere he designed for her, and how Jane instead adapted one of her own garments. I want to know what it was like for the kid to be stared at for two years by eyes that were helping win the war. And I want to know why, if it was all such a grotesque, dirty joke, Jane stayed loyal to Howard and under contract, for another 15 years or so. Howard had to have had something, some charm, even if it was more what you'd expect in an engineer than a lover.

Because, in my comedy, you see, Howard is so in awe of Jane's 38 inches, he never touches her - except in the professional cause of focus or framing. And she's the alluring fancy that keeps him up nights designing what will be the "Spruce Goose" - the vast seaplane that only ever flew a few hundred yards, but which in its hull and fuselage, its tanks, its turrets and fins, its protuberances, is the engineering extension of his supreme fantasy. It's guys like that who make the US no pushover when it comes to air power - and who leave a smoky, wistful look in the dark eyes of such women as Jane Russell.

'Scene by Scene': BBC2 15 May.

Arts and Entertainment
Taylor Swift won Best International Solo Female (Getty)

Brits 2015
Arts and Entertainment

Brits 2015
Arts and Entertainment
Paloma Faith arrives at the Brit Awards (Getty)

Brits 2015
Arts and Entertainment
Anne Boleyn's beheading in BBC Two's Wolf Hall

TV review
Arts and Entertainment
Follow every rainbow: Julie Andrews in 'The Sound of Music'
film Elizabeth Von Trapp reveals why the musical is so timeless
Arts and Entertainment
Margot Robbie rose to fame starring alongside Leonardo DiCaprio in The Wolf of Wall Street

Film Hollywood's new leading lady talks about her Ramsay Street days

Arts and Entertainment
Right note: Sam Haywood with Simon Usborne page turning
musicSimon Usborne discovers it is under threat from the accursed iPad
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment
A life-size sculpture by Nick Reynolds depicting singer Pete Doherty on a crucifix hangs in St Marylebone church
arts + ents
Arts and Entertainment
Escalating tension: Tang Wei and Chris Hemsworth in ‘Blackhat’
filmReview: Chris Hemsworth stars as a convicted hacker in Blackhat
Arts and Entertainment

Oscar voter speaks out

film
Arts and Entertainment
The Oscars race for Best Picture will be the battle between Boyhood and Birdman

Oscars
Arts and Entertainment
Anne Boleyn (Claire Foy), Thomas Cromwell (Mark Rylance)
tvReview: Wolf Hall
Arts and Entertainment
Tom Meighan of Kasabian collects the Best Album Award
music
Arts and Entertainment
Best supporting stylist: the late L’Wren Scott dressed Nicole Kidman in 1997
film
Arts and Entertainment
Dakota Johnson and Jamie Dornan as Anastasia Steele and Christian Grey in Fifty Shades of Grey

Film

Arts and Entertainment
Mick Carter (Danny Dyer) and Peggy Mitchell (Barbara Windsor)
tv occurred in the crucial final scene
Arts and Entertainment
Glasgow wanted to demolish its Red Road flats last year
architecture
Arts and Entertainment
Matthew Gravelle on trial for Danny Latimer's murder as Joe Miller in Broadchurch series two

Review: Broadchurch episode 7

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Barry Norman has predicted a Best Actor win for Michael Keaton at this Sunday's awards

oscars
Arts and Entertainment
The right stuff: 'Ukip: the First 100 Days'

Review: UKIP: The First 100 Days TV
Arts and Entertainment
Anastasia Steele with Christian Grey in his offices in Fifty Shades of Grey

film
Arts and Entertainment
Class act: Julia McKenzie and Keeley Hawes in 'The Casual Vacancy'

JK Rowling's story is a far better drama than it is a book

TV
Arts and Entertainment
A scene from Channel 4's Indian Summers

TV
Arts and Entertainment
The BBC's version of 'The Crimson Petal and the White'

Books

Arts and Entertainment
We will remember them: 'Blood Swept Lands and Seas of Red' at the Tower of London

Art Police investigate abuse sent to Paul Cummins over Tower of London installation

Arts and Entertainment
Nicole Kidman was named worst actress for her performance as Grace Kelly in Grace of Monaco
film
Arts and Entertainment
Benedict Cumberbatch as Alan Turing in The Imitation Game; the film’s producer, Harvey Weinstein, said the UK government ought to honour its subject
film
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    HIV pill: Scientists hail discovery of 'game-changer' that cuts the risk of infection among gay men by 86%

    Scientists hail daily pill that protects against HIV infection

    Breakthrough in battle against global scourge – but will the NHS pay for it?
    How we must adjust our lifestyles to nature: Welcome to the 'Anthropocene', the human epoch

    Time to play God

    Welcome to the 'Anthropocene', the human epoch where we may need to redefine nature itself
    MacGyver returns, but with a difference: Handyman hero of classic 1980s TV series to be recast as a woman

    MacGyver returns, but with a difference

    Handyman hero of classic 1980s TV series to be recast as a woman
    Tunnel renaissance: Why cities are hiding roads down in the ground

    Tunnel renaissance

    Why cities are hiding roads underground
    'Backstreet Boys - Show 'Em What You're Made Of': An affectionate look at five middle-aged men

    Boys to men

    The Backstreet Boys might be middle-aged, married and have dodgy knees, but a heartfelt documentary reveals they’re not going gently into pop’s good night
    Crufts 2015: Should foreign dogs be allowed to compete?

    Crufts 2015

    Should foreign dogs be allowed to compete?
    10 best projectors

    How to make your home cinema more cinematic: 10 best projectors

    Want to recreate the big-screen experience in your sitting room? IndyBest sizes up gadgets to form your film-watching
    Manchester City 1 Barcelona 2 player ratings: Luis Suarez? Lionel Messi? Joe Hart? Who was the star man?

    Manchester City vs Barcelona player ratings

    Luis Suarez? Lionel Messi? Joe Hart? Who was the star man at the Etihad?
    Arsenal vs Monaco: Monaco - the making of Gunners' manager Arsene Wenger

    Monaco: the making of Wenger

    Jack Pitt-Brooke speaks to former players and learns the Frenchman’s man-management has always been one of his best skills
    Cricket World Cup 2015: Chris Gayle - the West Indies' enigma lives up to his reputation

    Chris Gayle: The West Indies' enigma

    Some said the game's eternal rebel was washed up. As ever, he proved he writes the scripts by producing a blistering World Cup innings
    In Ukraine a dark world of hybrid warfare and murky loyalties prevails

    In Ukraine a dark world of hybrid warfare

    This war in the shadows has been going on since the fall of Mr Yanukovych
    'Birdman' and 'Bullets Over Broadway': Homage or plagiarism?

    Homage or plagiarism?

    'Birdman' shares much DNA with Woody Allen's 'Bullets Over Broadway'
    Broadchurch ends as damp squib not even David Tennant can revive

    A damp squib not even David Tennant can revive

    Broadchurch, Series 2 finale, review
    A Koi carp breeding pond, wall-mounted iPads and a bathroom with a 'wellness' shower: inside the mansion of Germany's 'Bishop of Bling'

    Inside the mansion of Germany's 'Bishop of Bling'

    A Koi carp breeding pond, wall-mounted iPads and a bathroom with a 'wellness' shower