Screenplay: John Bright, Niven Busch, Kubec Glasmon Seton I. Miller and (story) Howard Hawks
Music: Bernhard Kaun
Cinematography: Sidney Hickox and John Stumar
Editor: Thomas Pratt
Art Director: Jack Okey
Warner Bros. Pictures
"Cagney was so much fun to work with because you never knew what Cagney was gonna do." - Howard Hawks on James Cagney
“I’ve seen plenty of men cry. When I get somebody good enough - I tried it with Richard Barthelmess in The Dawn Patrol and he sounded like a cow mooing. So I said this isn’t going to work very well, you’re not a good cryer, but Cagney was great… Jim Cagney worked with movement, he didn’t work with lines. It’s the way he does the line that makes him so good.” - Howard Hawks on James Cagney in the Crowd Roars, the first of two pictures they made in the 30s.
After the critical and box office success of Scarface, Hawks was ready to return to Warner Brothers, where he made his first sound film, The Dawn Patrol. Now calling his own shots, he proposed changing a Walter Huston play about a carnival barker to the world of auto racing, allowing himself to indulge in a lifelong hobby and passion. For help with the story he once again contacted Seton Miller who collaborated with Hawks for the eighth and final time. After their first treatment, new Warner Brothers production chief Darryl F Zanuck turned to Kubec Glasmon and John Bright, who worked on the previous four Cagney films for the studio. Zanuck’s notes on the production indicate a good fit for Hawks, as Zanuck was after lots of fast paced action, with the first rewrite still needing significant work to avoid clichés.
Filming began with Hawks flying to Indianapolis with his cameraman for some background racing footage, staying at the mansion of Fred Dusenberg who loaned Hawks many classic racing cars for use in the film. The first day of production back in Hollywood was the first of three shoots at Ascot Motor Speedway, and additional racing was filmed at Ventura Race Track.
As dialogue scenes began, Zanuck hired 28 year old Hollywood neophyte Niven Busch, who said he went to Howard Hawks’ home every night after shooting where he was told the scenes to be shot the following day. Returning home, Busch wrote every night until midnight to have dialogue ready for Hawks. Who contributed what will never be fully determined, but when Busch once dared to contradict Hawks, Hawks’ stopped him dead in his tracks with what Busch claimed was “his reptilian glare…and the coldest of manners.”
While Hawks was very pleased to work again with old flame Ann Dvorak, now under contract at Warner Brothers, he was soon unhappy with Dorothy Mackaill, cast as Cagney’s mistress, having her replaced with Joan Blondell, who had proven chemistry with Cagney. Like many of Hawks’ films, by all accounts, everyone had a splendid time during the 26 day shoot. Unfortunately, that didn’t translate to the finished product. Blondell and Dvorak are extremely watchable personalities but the finished script doesn’t play to their strengths and they fail to make a lasting impression. Problems exist with the males as well. In the finished film, Cagney and the weaker second male lead, Eric Linden, are brothers, but the relationship is lopsided and uninteresting. At this point in his career and on a strict 26 day schedule, Hawks simply had no time to craft A Girl in Every Port into the world of auto racing with Blondell and Dvorak as the girls.
Hawks would have to wait four years before he matched James Cagney with a more suitable male, Pat O’Brien, in Ceiling Zero. He waited another 25 years before returning to the world of auto racing.
Nevertheless, Howard Hawks never made a bad action scene in his career, the three leads and most of the support are first rate, and the pace seldom lags for its 85 minutes. Audiences of the day were thrilled by the racing. Several women became hysterical on opening night, and the New York Graphic warned “This is no movie for weak hearted people.”
By following the life and art of Howard Hawks one can capture the true essence of the Golden Age of Hollywood, as if slipping on special lenses that suddenly pull away the grain and glare to reveal an unforgettable time of Movie Magic.