Friday, August 6, 2010

The John Huston Blogathon: Day 2

Report from the Aleutians (1942), The Battle of San Pietro (1945) and Let There Be Light (1946)

by Tom Hyland

"In early 1942, just as John Huston was wrapping up principal photography of Across the Pacific, he was given a commission as a Lieutenant in the Army Signal Corps and assigned to a meaningless job in Washington. After a short while, he managed to get himself transferred to the Aleutian Islands and once there, made the first of three documentaries for the Army. Seen together, they represent very different views of the war and the effects combat had on the soldiers. They are fascinating chapters in the director's register."

The Treasure of the Sierra Madre (1948)

by John Greco

"Huston read the novel in 1936 and was interested in filming it; Warner Brothers owned the film rights. It took ten years to get off the ground. After Huston returned from his World War II duty the green light was finally given. Huston had two major obstacles to overcome in adapting the screenplay. First was B. Traven’s beautifully unique though unrealistic, for the screen, writing style. Second was the book’s strong anti-capitalist sentiment and its blatant attack on materialism both of which had to be toned down. The novel also has a downbeat ending and the film’s star is not portraying a likable person, still the post war cynicism that gave rise to the popularity of film noir, also fit in here with the dark mood of this story."

The Asphalt Jungle (1950)

by Ivan G. Shreve, Jr.

"In his invaluable movie reference tome Guide For the Film Fanatic, film historian Danny Peary observes that the reputation of John Huston’s The Asphalt Jungle (1950) “has diminished somewhat. Because Huston strove for realism, he deglamorized the characters involved in the crime: the result is that we find the characters and their story interesting but don’t feel any empathy for them.”

While Peary’s taste in films and my own movie preferences are often in perfect harmony as a general rule, I disagree with his assessment; I had an opportunity to revisit Jungle not too long ago and remain convinced that it’s still an important and seminal film noir — providing the essential blueprint for the “caper” film by showing how professional crooks get the job done…and how on occasion a guy named Murphy (he has a law named after him) will get involved to the point where he gums up the works."

Moby Dick (1956)

by Roderick Heath

"If lead actor Gregory Peck’s performance as Captain Ahab was a bit less studied, I’d put it ahead of Treasure of the Sierra Madre (1948) as my personal choice for Huston’s masterpiece. Stylistically, it explored new territory in attempting to fuse the traditional effects of classic Hollywood filmmaking with a fresh hue of realism and metaphysical grandeur. Huston sat himself at the crossroads between cinema and literature, and in his greatest works, negotiated a rare alchemy. His simultaneous respect for the source text and the expressiveness of his camera are in fine balance throughout most of Moby Dick, and it’s a film that seems both authentically historical and ahead of its time."

The Misfits (1961)

by Tom of Motion Picture Gems

"Later in the film, director John Huston shows us some magnificent scenes of the wide open canyon, wild horses running freely. But the men plan to capture and sell the horses in exchange for several hundred dollars. Still in love with Gable, Monroe decides to come along with the group during their round up.

Gable, Clift, and Wallach first chase a group of mares, then they go after the stallion. This sequence can be unpleasant to watch: we see how they all get lassoed, then their legs tied to a tire, anchoring them to the canyon floor where they are to stay through night until they're picked up by the dealer in the morning."

Sinful Davey (1969)

by Adam Zanzie

"Time has not been kind to the film. It's hard to watch Sinful Davey today without immediately noticing that the production was a rather lame attempt to cash in on the success of Tom Jones (1963). Whether or not Huston himself ever borrowed anything from Tony Richardson's Academy Award-winning film is of course up for debate, but nevertheless the film--allegedly based on a true story--is practically the same movie all over again: 18th-century European has a series of misadventures, 18th-century European becomes a ladies' man, and 18th-century European is nearly hanged at the end of the film before somehow living happily ever after. Not to mention he gets the girl at the end, too."

Wise Blood (1979)

by Jake Cole

"Huston, however, hints that this may be the start of the new religion, with one person, the one person who loved him, no less, taking up the charge for Hazel's Church Without Christ and using him as the martyr necessary to win converts. Naturally, she will speak glowingly of her idealized vision of Hazel, and if word can take root, Hazel may morph through the generations into a vision of purity to guide humanity. Ergo, Huston darkly and ingeniously postulates that this is the story of Jesus himself. No other figure suffered so terribly to fulfill the strict wishes of his patriarch, and who's to say that Christ wasn't a madman who gripped passers-by and screamed against the current state of spiritual being, heeded by only a small group before his death. It took centuries for word-of-mouth to make Christianity such a force that persecution could not hold them back, and the ending of Huston's Wise Blood turns the entire story on its head: what if Hazel didn't refashion himself into a Christ figure so much as Jesus once grew out of a man like Hazel? Auteur or no, find me another man in his seventies who would make such a film for his 33rd feature."

At this time I would like to acknowledge Jake Cole's above review of Wise Blood, which marks the first attempt in the blogathon to search for any signs of auterism in Huston's work--hence the blogathon's mission. Way to go, Jake!

I now must apologize for what is going to be a short delay in the blogathon: tomorrow's post won't be uploaded until much later in the afternoon. I'm afraid my work schedule will be interefering with my activities, so I will not be available for the entirety of the morning--consequently, as said before, tomorrow's post won't be uploaded until around four or five PM.

Don't worry, though! The blogathon is not going anywhere. You can always use the extra time while I'm away to look over any of these wonderful posts you haven't yet read (or those you already have!), and also, feel free to submit more contributions!

Man, Day 2 was an even bigger hit than yesterday. I like where this is going!


  1. I really must say that Wise Blood alone has excited me to check out this director further, so for me at least this blogathon is already a success. I haven't watched The Maltese Falcon in a year and I only saw The Treasure of the Sierra Madre and Casino Royale so long ago that I couldn't be called to say anything meaningful on them (though CR is one of a few Huston flicks on Netflix streaming, so I might pen one or two more before the week is done). But to see a man in the late stage of his career take this big a risk with the work of an unfilmable author just blew me away.

  2. I've never seen Casino Royale from '66, although it should probably be noted that Huston was one of several directors who worked on that movie. He doesn't even talk about the movie in his autobiography. Maybe I shouldn't have even added it to the poll over on the sidebar, since it could barely even be called a Huston film. But sometime during the blogathon I'll be uploading a post on my favorite Huston films, and I can hint that Maltese and Treasure will both be very near the top.

    O'Connor wasn't the only "unfilmable" author (though I wouldn't know, since I've sadly read none of her stuff) that Huston adapted: he tackled Melville with his Moby Dick adaptation, for example--and Rod's post on that movie is a must-see. Or James Joyce, with The Dead, and Huston made that film during a time when he literally had to be hooked up to an iron lung. Quite the trooper.


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