Thursday, 25 October 2012

The Treasure of the Sierra Madre (1948)

1948. John Huston hasn't made a movie since the ill-fated 1946 documentary "Let There Be Light". The last narrative film he made was 1942's Across The Pacific. So when Huston chose B. Traven's bleak novel to be his next project, studio heads were noticeably worried. Adding to the worry was the fact that Huston refused to shoot his film in the studio. He wanted to shoot it entirely on location, and he refused to budge. Add into the mix a balding Bogart and a faded star in Walter Huston, and it seems almost incredible that the film was made at all.

But it was.

Fred Dobbs, a down on his luck American drifter in Mexico, gets by by begging passerby's for money. He sleeps on the streets, and in a homeless shelter when he can. It is there that he meets Curtain, a fellow down on his luck drifter. Together they hear of old prospector Howard's tales of gold and fortune out in the desert. Hatching a plan with Howard, the three set out for the Sierra Madre, hoping to strike it rich.

Dobbs and Curtain learn the tricks of the trade from Howard. It isn't long before local outlaws begin to cause trouble, and at the same time they manage to find a vein of gold, but nearby prospector's come into balance. The weather plays a part in setting them further and further away from their goal. Then of course there is greed.

I'll be honest, this film is overrated. I don't like as much as a probably should, but it is a very intriguing film. Bogart is excellent, and I did feel that he became kind of hammy at the end, but that was typical of the time. His performance strikes a great balance of being innocent, yet smarmy at the same time. That is until, he completely throws out the balance and beats it to a bloody pulp. That is not a criticism, but it can't surprise you that much, thanks to the layers to Bogart's performance.

Tim Holt, as Curtain isn't amazing. He provides the calm in between necessary, but he doesn't have much of a commanding presence, which doesn't help him, but it does suit the character.  However, the main acting achievement on display is that of Walter Huston. Huston owns every scene he's in, and he totally dominates the film. His son John's decision to cast him isn't nepotism, he is a great actor, and he proves it. In every scene.

The visuals are bleak and as desolate as can be. The scenes in the desert have a certain rugged beauty to them, and this makes the setting perfect for the scenes of greed and corruption that follow. Speaking of greed, that could have been the film's title. Greed is what drives the plot, and is what dooms the characters from the start. In the beginning, Bogart keeps asking the same white suited American (played by John Huston, of course) for money. He doesn't stop this, and eventually the man in the white suit confronts him.

If you watch Bogart's eyes, you see him not paying attention to what the man is saying, but the coin he is holding in his hand. Greed drives Dobbs to the treasure, and also to his end. Huston's direction is terrific, he lets his observe the scenes passively, yet never being showy. However, as I stated above, the film is overrated. It is very interesting, but easily boring at the same time. It is great for discussion, but hard for enjoyment.

I will say one thing for the film, it has a terrific ending. From all the Huston's I've seen so far, I've noticed that they all have great endings. From The Maltese Falcon to The Misfits, with The Night Of The Iguana being perhaps the only exception, so far, the endings have been standouts. I won't ruin it, but it is a great ending to a good film.

The Treasure of the Sierra Madre,
Starring: Humphrey Bogart, Walter Huston and Tim Holt
Directed by John Huston
7/10 (B)

1. The Misfits
2. The Treasure of the Sierra Madre

Tuesday, 16 October 2012

The Misfits (1961)

Made in 1960-1961, The Misfits is a very unique production. It was both Clark Gable and Marilyn Monroe's last completed film. It was written especially for Monroe, by her last husband Arthur Miller, at the end of their marriage. It also starred Montgomery Clift, who was notoriously unstable following his car accident, and relatively unknown character actor Eli Wallach. Perhaps the only stable part was Thelma Ritter, a well-known, reliable character actor. Even the director, John Huston, was a wild card. The production seemed doomed.

The Misfits opens in Reno, Nevada, where young divorcee Roslyn is staying, while waiting for her divorce to come through. She is with her friend, Isabelle, and they stop in a cafe. There, they meet Gay Langland, a cowboy who has seen better times. Roslyn decides, in the spur of the moment, to accompany Gay to his ranch, in the desert.

To avoid giving away too much, I'll describe the rest of the plot in much broader strokes. They spend the rest of the film mainly in the desert, where we also meet Guido, a younger ranch hand, with an instant infatuation to Roslyn. The film also includes Pierce, a Rodeo man, who's gone way past his prime, but continues despite this.

I`ll begin with the actors. Marilyn Monroe was not a great actress, but she fit certain roles. This was not a `typical` Monroe role, but she does well. I can`t help but feel that her performance was desperate, and it works well at times, while failing at others. It is an average performance, but it certainly ranks among her greatest. However the main acting achievement on display here, was that of Clark Gable, in his last performance.

Gable was always cast as a matinee idol, and he indeed has great looks and a wonderful screen personality. Unfortunately, he always played the same character, almost. Even Gone With the Wind dosen`t fully break the mold. Here, from the start, it`s something different. The charm and wit are still there, but buried underneath are layers of sadness. You get a sense that his time is passed, and he can`t cope. The scene that shows this best, is when Gable, elated at seeing his kids, comes back to bring Roslyn to see them.

They`ve already left, and he breaks down in drunken agony. It`s his best performance. Also we have Thelma Ritter, bringing her usual amount of wit and pathos to the film. Eli Wallach is very slimy and completely one-minded in his obsession for Roslyn. Montgomery Clift is unstable and shaky, playing an unstable and shaky rodeo clown. It`s his last great performance.

Now to the writing. It is not Arthur Miller`s best, he wrote it with the purpose to provide his wife with a good role. The plot is interesting however, and the film itself is well done, so this is not a major problem. The cinematography is equally as desolate, and captures the feeling of time lost, and a world that has moved on, and left you behind. Now, for my last criticism, I turn to the direction.

Here, Huston tones it down slightly, and gives us a more subdued film, which is perfect for the subject. He was really a man who knew when to make his film experimental, and when to make it conventional. Here he goes the safe route, while still retaining the beauty of a film about loss. It works. In Huston`s career, this may rank as a minor achievement, but the talent on display is undeniable. It is a beautiful film, that ends with one of the most moving moments in Huston`s entire catalog. I`m going to describe that moment now, so I put up a big SPOILER alert.

Gable and Monroe are driving home, they have found love in a strange way, but Monroe wants to know if they`re going in the right direction. (I copy of IMDb`s quote section).
[Last lines]
Roslyn: Which way is home?
Gay: God bless you girl.
Roslyn: How do you find your way back in the dark?
Gay: Just head for that big star straight on. The highway's under it. It'll take us right home.

That`s pretty much all I have to say.

The Misfits,
Starring: Clark Gable, Marilyn Monroe and Montgomery Clift.
Directed by: John Huston
8.5 out of 10 (A-)

1. The Misfits

Tuesday, 9 October 2012

John Huston: The Man Himself

I realized yesterday that I had forgotten to talk about John Huston, as a man. To begin, he was born in Missouri, his father was character actor Walter Huston. The Huston's traveled quite a bit, and John was a very sickly child. He was committed to a sanitarium at one point, but after a miraculous recovery, he sought out his passion, boxing.

He traveled from job to job,  until he settled in movies. He gained street credit for helping with some scripts. This helped him to make his first film, The Maltese Falcon, which catapulted Humphrey Bogart to stardom. His career would be completely erratic, ranging from typical war films like Across the Pacific to musicals, like Annie. He began to act in the 60s, and his performance choices were almost as strange as his directorial ones.

He remains today an enigmatic figure, and his films live on, the great ones are always there, but that is not the point of this site. The point is, I want to use his films as a way of trying to understand the man, to come find some forgotten gems, and some overrated ones as well.

Monday, 8 October 2012


Prologue to a Project

I think it only normal to explain my intentions. I was online yesterday, and I was looking through a list of the greatest directors of all time on IMDb. I noticed someone was missing, but I couldn't quite place who. Five minutes later it occurred to me that that person was John Huston. It naturally searched up Huston on IMDb, and found his projects to be interestingly varied. I am not quite sure where the idea for a blog came from, but here I am.

My first step is to lay a couple ground rules:

1. Only watch and review movies that John Huston Directed, not Starred.

2. Only watch and review movies that John Huston was credited as directing.

3. Only watch and review his full length feature films.

My intent with this blog is to watch and review every John Huston movie, and rank them from best to worst. Now that I have explained my intentions, here is a list of all John Huston films that fit my criteria.

The Maltese Falcon, 1941.
Is This Our Life, 1942
Across the Pacific, 1942
Report From The Aleutions, 1943*
The Battle of San Pietro, 1945*
Let There Be Light, 1946*
The Treasure of the Sierra Madre, 1948
Key Largo, 1948
We Were Strangers, 1949
The Asphalt Jungle, 1950
The Red Badge of Courage, 1951
The African Queen, 1951
Moulin Rouge, 1952
Beat the Devil, 1953
Moby Dick, 1956
Heaven Knows, Mr. Allison, 1957
The Barbarian and the Geisha, 1958
The Roots of Heaven, 1958
The Unforgiven, 1960
The Misfits, 1961
Freud, 1962
The List of Adrian Messenger, 1963
The Night of the Iguana, 1964
The Bible: In The Beginning..., 1966
Reflections in a Golden Eye, 1967
Sinful Davey, 1969
A Walk With Love and Death, 1969
The Kremlin Letter, 1970
Fat City, 1972
The Life and Times of Judge Roy Bean, 1972
The MacKintosh Man, 1973
The Man Who Would Be King, 1975
Wise Blood, 1979
Phobia: A Descent into Terror, 1980
Victory, 1981
Annie, 1982
Under the Volcano, 1984
Prizzi's Honor, 1985
The Dead, 1987

It's a lot of films, and it will take a lot of time, but I'll make it.

*Huston directed three movies for the war effort. They are all under an hour, but considering their impact on his career, I've decided to include them in this project anyways.