Thursday, August 5, 2010

The John Huston Blogathon: Day 1

The Asphalt Jungle (1950)

by John Greco

"From the first shots where we pick up Dix roaming the dark deserted city streets trying to avoid the police to the approximately 10 minutes heist scene, to the final scenes where Doc and then Dix meet their fate, Huston films it all with a commanding intensity and strong atmospheric camerawork, extracting a series of fine performances from the cast."

Wise Blood (1979)

by Adam Zanzie

"All of the people in this movie are losers. They are not people you would want to know in real life: they are fakes, racists, opportunists, eccentrics and blowhards. Some of them are lonely souls who sincerely don't want to be these kinds of people at all; it's just that by not having control over their environments, their environments have taken control over them. In his 1972 classic Fat City, Huston cast Stacey Keach and Jeff Bridges as small-town boxers with parallel stories: Keach was the aging boxer struggling for a big comeback, and Bridges was the teenage boxer who ultimately gave up his career to live life as a young family man. In Wise Blood, Huston again tells parallel stories, and contrasts Hazel Mote's story with the story of Enoch Emory (Dan Shor), an eighteen-year old who pretends to be an all-knowing holy prophet when, deep down, he is scared, lonely, and in terrible need of a friend. By the time the film is over, these two men will be so disillusioned with societal rejection that they will both try to transform themselves into unnatural creatures: one man will blind and maim himself in an attempt to achieve a martyr status, while the other man will flee from the world by retreating into the miserable confines of a gorilla costume."

Victory (1980)

by Ratnakar Sadasyula

"While sports movies are more or less predictable, what matters is the way they are executed, and that is where John Huston does really well for me. In fact, the opening shot could fool you into thinking that this is a WW2 escape drama. One of the prisoners, trying to escape the camp and found out by guards, is shot dead, and the camera zooms in on his blood-stained dress, immediately cutting back to a shot of the reddish German eagle on the Nazi flag--and the limousine driving to the prison camp. In fact, John Huston seems to have been influenced by The Great Escape: the prisoner guard interactions, the fights, and most importantly Sly's character, who bears quite a resemblance to Steve McQueen's Cooler King. The movie also has a number of dramatic scenes, well brought out by Huston, especially the part where Sly tries to escape from the hotel with the French Resistance but is stopped by his teammates."

The Red Badge of Courage (1951)

by Tom Hyland

"This is one of the quietest war films ever made; battles are few, while the forced marches from one location to the other are the focus - again, so we can learn of the soldier's fears and hopes. There is a beautiful overhead crane shot of the Union troops asleep at night in camp; the camera pans from one soldier to another and composer Bronislau Kaper adds a remarkable cue, at first slow and solemn and then jarring, as he writes a short outburst of brass that communicates the nightmare one commanding officer has during his sleep. This is a haunting and eleoquent scene that tells us the uneasiness of the lives of these individuals."

^^The above piece is my favorite contribution to the blogathon so far, not just because of Tom's Red Badge review but also because he then tells a personal story of the time he had an actual personal encounter with Huston himself:

"I was flying back home from Ireland in late September 1985 and had just settled into my seat, when John Huston boarded two rows directly in front of me. I immediately recognized him, given his height and that wonderful white beard he sported for so many years. Accompanying Huston was a female assistant who took care of his needs, which included an oxygen tank that he was hooked up to - at this stage in his life, he was suffering from emphysema. But if his health was causing him any agony, he certainly didn't show it this particular day, as I soon discovered.

About 30 minutes into the flight, the lead flight attendant, standing only a few feet from Huston, announced on the intercom that the movie that day was Prizzi's Honor. I couldn't believe my ears, as here was Huston's latest film - it had been released only a few months earlier - and I was going to watch it with the director as part of the audience."

...and you deserve to hear the rest of the story from Hyland's blog. Click on the above link to read the rest of the story (as well as Tom's Red Badge of Courage review). The punchline at the end is one for the ages!

That's all the submissions for today, folks. More coming tomorrow, this weekend and next week. If you haven't done so already, please email me the links to your blogathon contributions.

And thank you to everybody for making the first day of the John Huston blogathon such a resounding success.


  1. Adam,

    I have not seen this film yet though I have been tempted many times. Will have to catch up on this one. A fantastic review which I enjoyed reading. I just read finished reading the other reviews and you are off to a great start. I am not a fan of VICTORY but Ratnakar's affection for the film comes through. THE RED BADGE OF COURAGE is a fine film, one that you have to wonder how great it could of been if devoid of studio interference.

  2. Wise Blood is definitely one of Huston's best films, John; I've gotten word that others are planning on writing about it. Agreed with you on Victory, but Ratnakar's review is very well-argued; I wish there was more conversation on that film in general. Tom of course has me sold on Red Badge, which I unfortunately wasn't able to see in time for the blogathon--but I will have Tom's piece in mind once I see the film for myself.

    My apologies to everybody that the blogathon wasn't able to begin until early afternoon! That's what I get for oversleeping.

  3. For all the interference, John, I'd still rate THE RED BADGE OF COURAGE as the finest Civil War film ever made, and a worthy adaptation of Stephen Crane's literary masterpiece. I agree with Adam on WISE BLOOD, and am greatly impressed with teh terrific capsules on display here. John Greco's full review of THE ASPHALT JUNGLE is really a masterful piece.

  4. I just joined the prohibitive majority in casting my sidebar vote for THE TREASURE OF THE SIERRA MADRE, though I mourn for THE DEAD and THE MALTESE FALCON.

  5. I cast my vote for Key Largo, a brilliant movie in the Noir genre, as well as in it's exploration of moral ambiguity, human weakness, and the symbolism of the storm.

  6. For me it was a tough call between THE MALTESE FALCON and THE TREASURE OF THE SIERRA MADRE. I ultimately went with THE MALTESE FALCON, a film I probably would consider a Desert Island Disc.

    THE DEAD is another Huston film I have not seen and I know Sam has sung its praise many times. Will have to rectify that!

  7. From the looks of it, Sierra Madre will probably win, but I'm glad to see votes for so many of the other films. I want to give a great big hug to the person who voted for Heaven Knows, Mr. Allison, as that's my new favorite Huston film of late.


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