Howard Hawks—Independent Profile
Montery Productions: The Independent Film Company of Director Howard Hawks
and Agent Charles K. Feldman
by J. A. Aberdeen
Hawks (Press photo from the Goldwyn Studio c. 1930s).
Howard W. Hawks maintained tight artistic control of his films, and was known
to walk off the set when the studio or its producers interfered. Like many of
the independent producers, Hawks viewed himself as a hit-maker, creating films
that pleased himself, but were designed to entertain the masses. He could not
consider himself a success unless his tastes were in synchronization with the
public. By carefully selecting his own projects, and methodically reworking them
on the set, Hawks naturally gravitated toward a position where he could be his
Hawks had become close friends with Charles K. Feldman, a talent agent since
1932 who had film production ambitions. Feldman negotiated on behalf of Hawks to
direct Sergeant York (1941), the Jesse L. Lasky independent production
that became a box office smash. During World War II, Hawks and Feldman organized
H-F Productions an independent company that acted more like a liaison with the
studios to provide the director more creative leverage. H-F acquired talent and
story properties, developed material, and then sold each project as a package to
a studio, usually with Hawks as producer-director. Two Hawks successes at Warner
Bros. originated in this manner, To Have and Have Not (1944) and The
Big Sleep (1946).
Hawks and Feldman formed their independent company Monterey Productions in
1945. Hawks and his wife held a majority share of the company, while Feldman
received the coveted title of executive producer. They were assisted by another
agent-turned-producer Edward Small who arranged a distribution deal for
Montgomery at United Artists. Small and his investors syndicate also financed
the first Montgomery project Red River (1948). Unfortunately
out-of-control spending pushed the budget sky-high. Originally estimated at $1.7
million, Red River suffered from severe cost overages that exceeded the
budget by an astronomical $1 million. Production stalled while Hawks refinanced
the film. In the process he ceded most of his interests in the film to Small.
Hawks (right) with another studio producer who later turned
independent Hal B. Walis.
After spending $2.8 million, and with Monterey's share going to creditors,
Hawks renegotiated with United Artists for better percentage terms, and
threatened to take the film to another distributor if they would not give in.
Deadlock ensued when UA refused to cancel Monterey's contract. Meanwhile, Small
threatened to foreclose if the delay continued.
Monterey was forced to move out of its headquarters on the Samuel Goldwyn
lot, and disbanded in 1947 while the fate of Red River was still being
fought over. Though the film became a smash hit when it was released the
following year, Hawks was unable to keep his independent company alive. Hawks
was already raising revenue by directing for Sam
Goldwyn. He then accepted an
offer from Darryl Zanuck to make films at Twentieth Century-Fox.
Monterey (Howard Hawks, Charles Feldman, and H-F): McCarthy, Howard
Hawks, pp. 401-434, 468-469; Schatz, pp.424-425.