John Huston, FilmStruck's Director of the Week, had a way with actors | Bleader

Wednesday, May 23, 2018

John Huston, FilmStruck's Director of the Week, had a way with actors

Posted By on 05.23.18 at 06:00 AM

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click to enlarge Brad Dourif in John Huston's Wise Blood
  • Brad Dourif in John Huston's Wise Blood
Considering that director John Huston was related to three noted actors (his father, Walter Huston; his daughter, Angelica Huston; and his son Danny Huston) and acted in more than 50 films himself (including Chinatown and The Misfits), it's no surprise that his films offer consistently strong performances. The streaming channel FilmStruck is currently featuring a selection from Huston's nearly 50-year career, and we've picked five with some particularly fine acting.

Key Largo
A little windy and rhetorical for my taste, but still one of John Huston's best efforts (1948), a melodrama of ethics that soundly represses the Maxwell Anderson play it was based on (the ending is actually a lift from To Have and Have Not). Humphrey Bogart, Lauren Bacall, and Lionel Barrymore are held in a run-down Florida resort by hoods Edward G. Robinson, Thomas Gomez, and Marc Lawrence. The hard-to-take element is Claire Trevor, doing her damaged-goods number (naturally she won an Oscar). Richard Brooks worked with Huston on the screenplay; the atmospheric cinematography is by Karl Freund. 100 min. —Dave Kehr

The Asphalt Jungle
John Huston's bleak, semidocumentary account of a jewel heist and its moral consequences. One of the first big caper films, this 1950 feature contributed much to the essence of the genre in its meticulous observation of planning and execution. But Huston's interest remains with his characters, who dissolve as tragically as the prospectors of The Treasure of the Sierra Madre and the adventurers of The Man Who Would Be King. The film has been remade at least three times, as The Badlanders, Cairo, and Cool Breeze. With Sam Jaffe, Sterling Hayden, Louis Calhern, Jean Hagen, James Whitmore, and an early appearance by Marilyn Monroe. 112 min. —Dave Kehr

The Night of the Iguana
Defrocked clergyman Richard Burton lands a job as a tour guide in Mexico, where he becomes the lust object of three women: repressed spinster Deborah Kerr, lusty capitalist Ava Gardner, and teenage nympho Sue Lyon (1964). No one but Tennessee Williams could have concocted it, but anyone other than John Huston should have directed it. Williams's allegorical structure and subterranean wit turn to pure lead in Huston's hands; he seems to have the impression that he's working on the Kinsey report rather than Williams's wry fantasy of sexual subjugation. With Grayson Hall and Cyril Delevanti; photographed by Gabriel Figueroa. 125 min. —Dave Kehr

The Man Who Would Be King
Another John Huston parable about greed, ambition, and the bitter fruits thereof (1975), acted this time by two adventurers (Sean Connery and Michael Caine), late of Her Majesty's Indian Army, who travel to a remote corner of Afghanistan to set themselves up as kings. Huston had been trying to film the Rudyard Kipling story for 25 years (at one point, it was to star Humphrey Bogart). Finally realized, the film has genuine wit, an appealing sense of grandeur, and very little of the overt "philosophizing" that marred much of Huston's previous work. His eye for the strong, clear lines of landscape had never been sharper, and Oswald Morris's photography has a fine sun-saturated brilliance. With Christopher Plummer and Saeed Jaffrey. 129 min. —Dave Kehr

Wise Blood
Along with The Man Who Would Be King and The Dead, this is arguably John Huston's best literary adaptation, and conceivably his very best film—a very close rendering of Flannery O'Connor's remarkable first novel about a crazed southern cracker (a perfectly cast Brad Dourif) who sets out to preach a “church without Christ,” and winds up suffering a true Christian martyrdom in spite of himself. The period, local ambience, and O'Connor's deadly gallows humor are all perfectly caught, and apart from the subtle if highly pertinent fact that this is an unbeliever's version of a believer's novel, it's about as faithful a version of O'Connor's grotesque world as one could ever hope to get on film, hilarious and frightening in equal measure. O'Connor conceived her novel as a parody of existentialism, and Huston's own links with existentialism—as the director of the first U.S. stage production of No Exit, as well as Sartre's Freud script—make him an able interpreter. With Harry Dean Stanton, Amy Wright, Daniel Shor, Ned Beatty, and Huston himself as the hero's fire-and-brimstone grandfather. The producer is Michael Fitzgerald, whose family's friendship with O'Connor guaranteed the fidelity and seriousness of the undertaking (1979). 106 min. —Jonathan Rosenbaum

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