"I knew a man who lost a couple of fingers and he believed that when he died he would have to go to heaven whole so I used this in Tiger Shark." - Howard Hawks on Tiger Shark
Tiger Shark (1932) Boat Scene
Tiger Shark - 1932 (Original Poster)
Released: September 22, 1932 Running time 77 minutes
The dawn of talking pictures had been very kind to Howard Hawks. After the rousing success of “The Dawn Patrol,” Hawks had gone on to direct three other pictures; including the classic gangster film; “Scarface.”
With four movies completed in the span of two years, it was time for a vacation.
His wife, Athole, who had suffered a serious breakdown the previous summer, was also looking forward to finally spending some time alone with her husband. In February of 1932, they boarded the U.S.S. President Lincoln in San Francisco and headed for Honolulu.
Mrs. Hawks, no doubt, thought they were leaving Hollywood far behind them. This was not true. Howard was traveling with a twenty-three page story outline for his next film project based on a Houston Branch novel called “Tuna.” He had convinced First National production chief Daryl Zanuck to fund his exotic vacation based on the promise that he would turn this outline into a picture-ready treatment while he was away.
Athole’s hopes seemed to suffer another blow when she discovered that their hotel was infested with movie people.
Director King Vidor and producer/talent agent Myron Selznick had brought a whole film crew to town to work on a picture called “Bird of Paradise.” Knowing her husband’s work habits, Athole was certain that these unwelcome companions would soon ruin her plans for a quiet vacation. Within a day or two, her fears seemed to be coming true.
Hawks had discussed his script problem with Wells Root, a thirty-one year old screenwriter who was with the “Bird of Paradise” crew. After some additional conversation with King Vidor and Myron Selznick, Selznick placed a call to Daryl Zanuck. Before long, Zanuck had hired Root to work with Hawks to create a script based on the “Tuna” story outline. At that moment, it appeared that Mrs. Hawks had lost her husband to a screenwriter for the duration of their vacation.
The following weeks, however, pleased Athole and frustrated Mr. Root.Wells Root later remembered the whole time on Hawaii as a daily test of his nerves. “Howard said, ‘Meet me on the beach and we’ll talk about the story.’ But Howard didn’t want to talk about the story. He’d say, ‘I don’t feel like thinking about it today,’ and that would be that. Really, he felt he was there on vacation and he didn’t intend to work on a screenplay. Four weeks went by and we didn’t have a single line.”
Returning to the States, Root was beginning to panic. The day before they were scheduled to meet with Zanuck, they still hadn’t done any work on the script. That’s when Root got a chance to see Howard Hawks in action. The director called Zanuck and told him that they’d had some new ideas on the boat which changed the direction of their original (and mythical) script. He convinced Zanuck to delay the meeting for a week and locked himself away with Root to come up with a new story. By the time they were through, just about the only thing that remained of Branch’s original tale was the “Little Portugal” San Diego setting and the romantic triangle between fisherman “Mike” Mascarenas, a woman, and a younger man.
When the writer and director met with the production chief, Hawks told a colorful and expanded version of their script, adding several elements and a new title that he’d never mentioned to Root. “Tuna” was now “Tiger Shark.”
For the next four weeks, the writer worked day and night to merge the director’s new elements into the hastily written story they had composed. It was a tight deadline as their star, Edward G. Robinson, had other commitments and had to begin work almost immediately. As he worked to develop the story Hawks told him, he began to notice the similarity to a 1925 play called “They Knew What They Wanted.” Hawks was “borrowing” pieces of the play for his plot and spinning them his own way.
When they began filming “Tiger Shark,” the spinning continued. The director gave his actors plenty of room to develop their characters. The Hungarian actress Zita Johann, gave the character of Quita quiet layers of depth and empathy which effectively contrasted with Robinson’s expansive and scenery chewing portrayal of Mascarenas. Together with Hawks’ direction and Richard Rosson’s exciting fishing sequences, they breathed life into what could have been a listless melodrama.
Athole and Howard got their vacation, Zanuck got his movie, Edward G. Robinson got an entertaining role that helped him break away from being typecast as a gangster, and young writer Wells Root got his education during the creation of “Tiger Shark.” It was truly a positive experience for all of them.
Director: Howard Hawks
Producer: Bryan Foy Screenplay: Wells Root John Lee Mahin (uncredited) and Howard Hawks (uncredited) Houston Branch (story "Tuna") Music: Bernhard Kaun
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.