John Huston

John Huston

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Wise Blood Review


Excellent
John Huston's Wise Blood isn't bold-faced Americana. Rather, it is an alien planet of such thick perversity and everyday grotesqueries that one has to take pause and consider how close Mr. Huston's dystopia is to the American South. It is adapted from the fine first novel by Flannery O'Conner of the same name and it is the only time an American director has successfully translated the late O'Conner's haunting prose. Completed in 1979, it is also perhaps the most ballistic of Huston's late-period films.

Hazel Motes, played by Brad Dourif in a brilliant, physical performance, is a character John Huston would have had to create if O'Conner hadn't already written him. Aggressive and hissing like an angry cobra, Motes slithers his way into town from a stint in the army and begins yelling about a "Church Without Christ" that he will begin. He finds a believer in the young, brainless Enoch Emory (Dan Shor) who tells Hazel about the "wise blood" in his veins that tells him things no one else can hear.

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Reflections in a Golden Eye Review


Excellent
Based on a Carson McCullers novella, Reflections in a Golden Eye is a sordid Southern Gothic melodrama that peeks into the bedroom windows of the officers of a rural army base and finds... depravity! With an A-list cast and the leering directorial eye of John Huston, it's lots of dirty fun.

Huston's most interesting decision was to riff off the title and shoot the entire picture in a golden sepia tone with only occasional splashes of color. The print was pulled from theaters when people didn't get it, but on DVD you can see it the way Huston intended, and it's unlike anything you've seen before.

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Jezebel Review


OK
Jezebel's southern Civil War-era setting and its brazen female lead make it seem a lot like Gone With the Wind, but this Bette Davis Best Actress-winner can't hold a candle to the successor which would arrive the following year. Davis is the draw here, playing a bachelorette who no one seems to be able to control -- and she of course is keen to keep it that way. The histrionics come across as quaint today, and even Davis's performance can't hold the film up all by its lonesome.

Key Largo Review


Good
Bogart is always a pleasure to watch, and Key Largo is no exception, despite its rather overly dramatic -- yet simplistic -- plot structure involving a gangster (Robinson) who takes over a Florida hotel during a deadly hurricane. It ultimately pales next to other Bogart and Bacall work, though it's still a reasonably good watch that has stood up well over the last 50 years.

The Maltese Falcon Review


Excellent
The proof that some films are simply immune to satire or the wear and tear of time is fully contained in the sharp little diamond of cinema that is John Huston's 1941 version of The Maltese Falcon. (Dashiell Hammett's novel was actually filmed twice before, under the same title in 1931 and as Satan Met a Lady in 1936 with Bette Davis.) All the recognizable private detective flick elements are here, from the wisecracking P.I. himself to the femme fatale, scurrilous mugs who are too quick with their guns and too slow with their brains, and the McGuffin itself, a 400-year old statue of inestimable value. But even though these stock devices have become so well-worn over the intervening years with mockery or tribute, this remains a highly entertaining thing of beauty, done with skill and economy, not to mention smarts: none of which are things much in evidence today.

Smarts is ultimately what separates Bogart's Sam Spade as clearly from the rest of the characters in Maltese Falcon just as it separates the film itself from most of its inferior imitators. Spade is the eagle-eyed watcher, a calloused and borderline morally indifferent student of humanity who seems to get his kicks tossing verbal banana peels out for the more dim-witted to trip themselves up on. He has plenty of opportunity for such sparrings, dropped as he is into a mess of scam-artists and treasure hunters violently turning San Francisco upside down as they hunt for a long-lost jewel-studded falcon supposedly once given by the crusading Knights Hospitaller to the Holy Roman Emperor in exchange for the island of Malta. The world around Spade -- a sort of aloof knight errant in fedora and sharp suit -- is one of manipulation and lies, stupidity, and the occasional cleverness dulled by unlimited greed.

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The Return of the King (1980) Review


OK
So the story goes that, despite being generally bad, fans were clamoring for more Lord of the Rings, as Ralph Bakshi refused to do any more movies. Warner Brothers came to the "rescue" with this TV special, which recaps the beginning of the books, then finishes off the story of Return of the King, the last book in the trilogy.

The animation is typical of the early 1980s, round faces and bulbous noses, wide expressions, and oversized eyes. And lots of singing: "Where there's a whip, there's a way" is a guilty pleasure classic.

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The Hobbit Review


Grim
Given the ability of cinema to ruin almost any book, it has always been comforting that a few books were considered unfilmable. Until recently, The Lord of the Rings was apparently one of those books. Two animated versions for children were produced in the late 1970s, but both were unsuccessful and ignored even by the legions of fanatics. In spite of the new trilogy's blockbuster potential, filmmakers forbore to make a Lord of the Rings movie for decades, until finally emboldened by recent technology.

Regardless of whether the upcoming Lord of the Rings turns out to be a cinematic milestone, the point is that there are probably some books, whether unfilmable or not, which should remain un-filmed. Even the inoffensive animated version of The Hobbit by Rankin/Bass, which was a lot easier to produce than the forthcoming live-action trilogy will be, illustrates why adapting popular books to movies is rarely successful. The storyline of The Hobbit (Bilbo Baggins goes on trip, finds ring, kills dragons, etc.) is not so powerful that it demands to be retold. And in spite of a good cast of voices and decent animation, the animated film adds nothing to the book. This is usually the case, because the best qualities of books are not the best qualities of movies.

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Myra Breckinridge Review


Terrible
The appropriate response to Myra Breckinridge is wide-eyed bafflement; anybody with anything resembling taste will recognize it as an awful movie within ten minutes. Released in 1970 and under practically Soviet-style repression until now, it is clumsily edited, horribly acted, and practically plotless. It is lascivious without being provocative, and it did damage to the public images of both Mae West and John Huston. No movie has worked harder to try one ironic gag after another and fail every single time; it is idiocy disguised as camp. Yet there's something transcendently misbegotten about Myra Breckinridge that makes it worth studying; the differences between the excellent book and a horrible movie has a few interesting things to say about Hollywood as it stumbled from the '60s into the '70s.

The film is based on Gore Vidal's bestselling 1968 novel, which gave us Myra as a magnificently over-the-top symbol of changing sexual mores, greed, revenge, Hollywood, and how they all intersect. In the hands of director Michael Sarne, the story became a messy sex farce; Vidal stepped away from the project, and for good reason. In the book, Myra romanticizes the great movies of the 1930s, arguing, in fact, that it was the best decade ever for movies. This inspires Sarne to raid the 20th Century Fox vault and cram in seemingly dozens of clips from Laurel & Hardy and Shirley Temple films, sometimes ironically, but mostly sitting there like a bad joke told at a dinner party. (It may be that Myra's sole usefulness is that it inspired a similar idea in the HBO TV series Dream On, actually done well.)

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Beat The Devil Review


Weak
This understated comedy is often a love-it-or-hate-it affair with viewers, a very dry satire that often flies over the heads of its target (Bogart-style mysteries) and, just as often, its audience. Which just goes to show it's really difficult to spoof yourself, as Bogart proves when he plays the lead in Beat the Devil.

Essentially a revision of a dozen or so Bogie movies, all mashed together, Beat the Devil follows a group of miscreant adventurers on a quest to secure a parcel of land in Africa which is rich in uranium. Naturally, events and foes conspire against them, culminating in their arrest.

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Winter Kills Review


Excellent
A real cult classic, this reimagining of the Kennedy assassination asks what might have gone down in an alternate and very similar universe. Based on the book by Manchurian Candidate author Richard Condon, the story gives us Nick Kegan (Jeff Bridges), the half-brother of a president assassinated 19 years earlier. Suddenly, evidence reveals there was more than one shooter that day (sound familiar?), sending him into a wild -- and often wildly funny -- hunt for his brother's actual killers. Dryly comedic, William Richert takes his directorial debut into impressive places -- and wow, check out that cast! Too bad it gets a little kooky in the end, but that doesn't detract much from a very fun movie.

Key Largo Review


Good
Bogart is always a pleasure to watch, and Key Largo is no exception, despite its rather overly dramatic -- yet simplistic -- plot structure involving a gangster (Robinson) who takes over a Florida hotel during a deadly hurricane. It ultimately pales next to other Bogart and Bacall work, though it's still a reasonably good watch that has stood up well over the last 50 years.

The Night of the Iguana Review


Grim
Not about an iguana nor taking place at night, this adaptation of the Tennessee Williams play is heavy on melodrama and earnest performances, but weak on dialogue and lasting meaning. Richard Burton is justly celebrated for his role as a defrocked priest (from, ahem, "St. Jame's Church") now making a living as a Mexican tour guide, but the three banshees he has to deal with (and which form the basis of the rudimentary plot) are nothing you might consider message-bearing. In fact, if the good priest had simply run the other way instead of meddling with any of these three ladies, he'd have been better off. And the movie would have been a heck of a lot shorter.

The Asphalt Jungle Review


Extraordinary
Sterling Hayden gets the shaft again in The Asphalt Jungle. This guy goes on caper after caper but he just never ends up with the loot. It always slips right through his hands. Every time.

Jungle is one of Hayden's finest hours, earnest and searing as he finds himself wrapped up in the perfect crime -- a jewel heist which is (unfortunately) a rather simple safecracking affair. This time out, Hayden's desperate gambling addict looks about ready to do anything in order to get back to the pastoral farm where he grew up -- and we believe it.

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Chinatown Review


Extraordinary
I do my homework. All right. So I don't always do my homework, but when it comes to film critiquing, I'm pretty good at doing my homework. So, since The Ninth Gate is being released later this week, I figured I should check out the Chinatown DVD, in order to get background on Roman Polanski's career.

Ain't homework painful?

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Jezebel Review


OK
Jezebel's southern Civil War-era setting and its brazen female lead make it seem a lot like Gone With the Wind, but this Bette Davis Best Actress-winner can't hold a candle to the successor which would arrive the following year. Davis is the draw here, playing a bachelorette who no one seems to be able to control -- and she of course is keen to keep it that way. The histrionics come across as quaint today, and even Davis's performance can't hold the film up all by its lonesome.
John Huston

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