Movies and I don't agree chronologically. In Oxford there is one show at
seven o'clock, and the town goes to bed at nine-thirty. It's not that I
don't like the movies, but my life just isn't regulated that way.
Faulkner as Screenwriter
William Faulkner first went to Hollywood in 1932 because his income as a
novelist was woefully insufficient to maintain his increasing number of
dependents. After signing a six-week contract with Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, with
the understanding that his contract could be extended if necessary, Faulkner
began his relationship with tinseltown that lasted, off and on, for well over
Faulkner’s favorite director in Hollywood — and the director with whom he
wrote five of his six credited screenplays — was Howard Hawks, who had known
Faulkner’s work since the time of his first novel, Soldiers'
Pay. His brother, William Hawks, an agent in Hollywood, brought to
Howard's attention Faulkner’s World War I short story "Turn
About" and both agreed it would make a good movie. Howard bought the
screen rights to the story and invited Faulkner to write the screenplay. When
Joan Crawford became available and studio bosses wanted her in the film to
boost its box office potential, Faulkner invented a role for her. The film,
released as Today We Live in
1933, was Faulkner’s first screenwriting credit.
Faulkner was released from MGM in 1933 but returned to Hollywood briefly in
1934 to work with Hawks on Sutter's Gold, a western. Hawks eventually
decided against the project but asked Faulkner to collaborate on another war
movie, The Road to Glory. In
December 1935, Faulkner became a contract writer at Twentieth-Century Fox,
where he would work intermittently in 1937.
Faulkner’s only screenwriting credit for a non-Hawks film was for Slave
Ship in 1937, a project he worked on while at Fox when Hawks had moved
to another studio. Faulkner claimed his role in the film was as "a motion
picture doctor," reworking parts already written by others.
Faulkner returned to Hollywood in 1942 to write for Warner Brothers, a job he
would maintain intermittently until 1945. It was at Warner Brothers that he
wrote the two films for which his reputation as a screenwriter would be
secure: his adaptations of Ernest Hemingway's novel To
Have and Have Not and Raymond Chandler's detective novel The
Big Sleep, both of which were directed by Hawks. In addition to these
credited screenplays, Faulkner also wrote several scenes for Air
Force, a film Hawks was directing but whose screenplay had been
written by someone else.
In 1944, Faulkner also contributed to United Artists' The
Southerner (1945), directed by a French filmmaker Faulkner respected,
Jean Renoir (director of Grand Illusion). Faulkner received no screen
credit because technically he was under contract to Warner Brothers (thus
barring him from working for another studio), but Faulkner later told Malcolm
Cowley that The Southerner represented the best work he ever did on a
movie script. The film went on to win the Grand Prize at the 1946 Venice Film
The last theatrical film for which Faulkner received screen credit was Howard
Hawks's film Land of the Pharaohs,
released by Warner Brothers in 1955.
In addition to his work for the movies, Faulkner
wrote several pieces for television in the early 1950s. He wrote an adaptation
of his short story "The Brooch,"
which was produced as a half-hour segment and broadcast on The Lux Video
Theatre on April 2, 1953. Because it was performed live, no film or
videotape copy exists today, but by most accounts, it was a
less-than-exceptional production, in part because Faulkner replaced his
story's downbeat ending with a more positive conclusion to appease the show's
sponsors. Other Faulkner television adaptations of his short stories during
this time include "Shall Not Perish,"
broadcast February 11, 1954, also on the The Lux Video Theatre, and
"The Tall Men."
The last television production on which Faulkner’s name appeared as
screenwriter was The Graduation Dress, a script he co-wrote with Joan
Williams (his protégé and lover) in 1952. It was belatedly acquired by The
General Electric Theater and broadcast in 1960.