Howard Hawks: What makes a movie good?

Howard Hawkes, famed American director, producer and screenwriter, asked the question: What makes a movie good?

His answer: Three good scenes; no bad scenes.

This seems like an odd answer. Why not say all scenes should be good, or ‘at least’ three scenes should be good? Why use the number three? And why can’t a movie be good despite one ‘bad’ scene?

Hawkes’ answer is inexplicable, until we look at a strikingly similar expression in Catholic moral theology.

Now Hawkes was not Catholic, but he worked in the film industry through the 30’s, 40’s, and 50’s when Catholicism had much influence over that industry. The Hays censorship code was initiated by a Catholic lay woman and a Catholic priest. So perhaps Hawkes had some familiarity with one of the most fundamental principles of Catholic ethics: the three fonts of morality.

What makes an act good? Three good fonts; no bad fonts.

Hawkes was apparently playing off of that expression in Catholic moral theology. Perhaps it was a wry commentary on the influence of Catholicism over the movie industry at that time in the realm of censorship.

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