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The Crowd Roars

The Crowd Roars

When he was sixteen, and until he was about twenty-one, Howard Hawks helped build racing cars and drove them to earn a living, getting to know the sort of men drawn to this highly dangerous profession as well as the women attracted to them.  He used all these first-hand experiences to create his fourth sound film—-made right after he had directed the original Scarface—-the now little-known, rarely-seen but fast-paced, exciting, quite typically Hawksian 1932 racing drama starring a young James Cagney in only his ninth picture (in less than three years), THE CROWD ROARS (still not available for home viewing, which is a shame Warner Bros. Video or their TCM arm hopefully will soon remedy; and not to be confused with the 1938 Robert Taylor boxing picture of the same title.)

As was his unembarrassed wont, Hawks had “borrowed” the basic story line from another Warners’ picture (1928’s The Barker), changed the circus setting to racecar driving and switched the father-son triangle aspect to two (older vs. younger) brothers.  When Jack Warner first read the Hawks script, he said, “This is a good story,” to which the director replied, “It ought to be—-you own it.”

But, as was also usual with Hawks, the plot is simply a peg on which to hang the incidents and characters, a way of further investigating his favorite theme: men in dangerous occupations.  Primary to these kinds of Hawks men is their absolute refusal to in any way discuss or even acknowledge the hazards inherent in what they do.  In another context it’s not unlike the private detective (played by Humphrey Bogart) in Hawks’ The Big Sleep who, when told, “You take chances,” responds, “I get paid to.”

I commented to Hawks about his racers having a total disregard for the dangers of their job and he said, “They fall into the same category as the men in Hatari! [1962] catching wild animals in Africa.  Every day is dangerous, terribly exciting, and they exist on that.  They enjoy it and also greatly understate their feats.”  Nearly all of Hawks’ adventure stories dealt with characters exactly like that, whether they were fighter pilots, tuna fishermen, frontier sheriffs, cattle-herders, or fliers in rough climates.  They never explained, never complained—-death was something you ignored.

Cagney—-who, three years later, in Hawks’ memorable Ceiling Zero, would play an ace pilot with similar drinking and grandstanding problems to his race-driver here—-told me that everybody he worked with at Warners (to which he was under contract for years) was very closely supervised and had little freedom, but that Hawks was treated differently.  He said that on Hawks’ pictures, no one seemed to interfere and that even his schedules were longer.  This is in keeping with the amazing consistency in Hawks’ work over the years: no matter with which studio or stars he worked, his personal attitudes and signature are vividly recognizable. 

Yet he had a genius for bringing out the best in each star’s persona, and Cagney is no exception—-in both Hawks pictures, he is wonderfully Cagney. The other players do brisk, evocative work: the two tough Hawksian women enacted by Joan Blondell and Ann Dvorak; the character comedy relief of Guy Kibbee and Frank McHugh; the kid brother, callow yet likeable Eric Linden.  But among the main attractions are the superbly shot and edited racing sequences—-lean, unpretentious and gripping action being a Hawks trademark—-culminating, of course, at the Indianapolis 500. 

After the two brothers have almost been killed during a race, they end up in a speeding ambulance, but they’re both cheering their driver on as he passes another ambulance on the way to the hospital.  When I noted this never-quit attitude to Hawks, he said, “That’s the way those fellows are—-they’re crazy.”  And when I asked if he had intended a touch of irony in his title, in that the crowds roar watching the spectacle and its possible carnage, he replied, “That’s why they come—-because it’s dangerous.  If you took the danger out of it, they wouldn’t come.”

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Blake Lucas

As you say, not on DVD yet. I deeply hope when the day comes that is remedied that the elements of the original release (85 minutes) will be found and that's the version we will see. We have been seeing a cut version (about 70 minutes) on TCM and I'm pretty sure in most other screenings for years now, and I don't know anyone personally who has the complete film. But I do know that I have seen it–once–and in that version it's clear what a major Hawks movie this is. It's superb. It is especially the Cagney/Dvorak relationship in the opening reel or so that benefits–seeing this makes Cagney's attitude to his brother Linden's relationship with Blondell much more compelling and interesting. I plead if anyone at Warner Archive reads this to take this to heart. This is a major director, and 15 minutes out of an 85 minutes movie is too much. Finally, although I'm hesitant to do this I want to put in a word (I don't you don't like it much and Hawks rejected the realized film as a failure–but I don't think we always have to agree with the director) for Hawks' much later racing picture, RED LINE 7000 (Paramount, 1965), also not yet on DVD and it really should be. For me, it's a brilliant work, the freshest and most creative of Hawks' last five films after RIO BRAVO, and I like it even more than THE CROWD ROARS. Interestingly, Hawks picked up the sexual puritanism of the Cagney character from the earlier film and used it in an even more interesting way with James Caan in the later one.


Thanks, Blake, for pointing out the running time issue. I think I saw it once in the correct
version and once in the truncated, and as you've said, there's no comparison. Why or when
it was shortened, I don't know, but 85 minutes is a good easy length so I don't understand the
cut. Hopefully, someone at Warners will care to find and release the proper version!

Mark Latwik

As a filmmaker you should know what NOBODY is telling you, that…..there was a lawsuit against Sundance, ( fraud and theft of submission fees) They don't watch the films, ( 12,000 films , 6 head programmers) the judge ruled they don't have to. That indiewire and Filmmaker magazine refuse to report this news, because they receive money from Sundance.
That 7000 film festivals in the U.S. are operating fraudulent business's that are all connected to "without a box" which LEGALLY steals all filmmakers rights, once you have submitted to these film festivals.
Filmmakers films are selling on Amazon, which they never legally allowed them to sell.
If you believe in Sundance and that they are in fact interested in "discovering indy films" you had better awaken out of your bubble. Kevin Smiths film is already chosen for Sundance 2013, as are many other films, they have already been chosen. Sundance doesn't watch the films, they steal filmmakers money AND they award their own films! Another Earth, and Beasts of the Southern Wild, are both Sundance films, that won awards AND money!

For more information about this fraud go to

Simone Starace

I have seen (and enjoyed) this film last year at Il Cinema Ritrovato, in Italy. They had a marvelous Hawks retrospective I loved very much. However, according to their catalogue, it was the 70 minute version, as preserved by the Library of Congress.

Blake Lucas

Hey, Mak–your comment posted at the bottom of these and saw it very belatedly. I don't know if you'll see this. If you do let me know; assuming you may not I'll try to keep it brief. I don't think there were any pre-code issues with THE CROWD ROARS–the relationships between Cagney/Dvorak and Linden/Blondell are clear even in the cut version. I believe it's what you suggest–that Warners cut some films (even short ones) for re-issue on double bills. As you pointed out, it could happen even with a prestigious movie like THE SEA WOLF, and there is a reissue version of HIGH SIERRA cut by maybe ten minutes–the scene where Lupino watches Bogart restlessly talking in his sleep as he dreams is missing in that, much to my chagrin when I saw it. I won't try to defend RED LINE 7000 here–hope to write something substantial on it some time, but I'll just say that of Hawks' five movies after RIO BRAVO, this is definitely the most interesting to me but I like at least four of them very much, and even have a soft spot for the other, RIO LOBO, a relatively weak last movie but has something here and there. For me something like the first 40-45 minutes of EL DORADO is great (especially the sequence where Cole first encounters both Mississippi and Nelse) and the rest of it is pleasant RIO BRAVO variations. Hawks is a great director and it shows in all phases of his career, even a little in the silents and definitely since THE DAWN PATROL; for me, his masterpieces come up pretty evenly through the course of his whole body of work, and while of course there are misses, they are relatively few. He seemed usually to know what he wanted his cinema to be and is very consistent in achieving it most of the time.

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