Movie List
Loading ...
Find Theaters and Movie Times
Search Movies

Reflections on a golden filmmaker

John Huston at the Brattle
By STEVE VINEBERG  |  September 27, 2006

REFLECTIONS IN A GOLDEN EYE: Perhaps the least known of Brando’s great performances.

John Huston had such a long, illustrious career as a film director — just a few years short of half a century — that any series in his honor that isn’t comprehensive has to feel truncated. At 14 pictures, the Brattle’s tribute is generous; still, you wince at the omission of The African Queen, and you wonder why, selecting from among his final films, anyone would opt for Under the Volcano rather than Prizzi’s Honor or The Dead. It would be nice to see The Bible on the big screen again, but then again, the double bill of Moby Dick and The Red Badge of Courage isn’t a conventional choice, and both are magnificent to look at, the second in its richly brooding ocean colors (shot by Huston’s favorite cinematographer, Oswald Morris), the first in black and white, lit by Harold Rosson to suggest Matthew Brady and 19th-century tintypes.

When most people think of Huston’s movies, it’s probably in Hemingwayesque masculine terms. He made half a dozen pictures with Bogart, including Bogart’s three best — The Maltese Falcon, which marked Huston’s astonishing debut in 1941, The Treasure of the Sierra Madre, and The African Queen. The series offers movies about boxers (Fat City), colonial adventurers (The Man Who Would Be King), Civil War soldiers (The Red Badge of Courage), whalers (Moby Dick), Wild Westerners (The Life and Times of Judge Roy Bean), modern-day cowboys (The Misfits). You see how he directed such men’s men as Clark Gable, Paul Newman, Sterling Hayden (in the tight, efficient heist picture The Asphalt Jungle), and, as the self-doubting protagonist of Red Badge of Courage, the most highly decorated veteran of the Second World War, Audie Murphy.

But if you look carefully at the material he was drawn to, it also shares a tone — irony, often of the extravagant, romantic kind. The end-of-the-line cowboys played by Gable and Montgomery Clift in The Misfits sell mustang meat for dog food. Henry Fleming in Huston’s beautiful (if infamously edited) treatment of The Red Badge of Courage is a coward before he becomes a hero in battle; heroism sneaks up on him and his companions, and then some other regiment gets the glory. The fade-outs of The Asphalt Jungle, Moby Dick, Reflections in a Golden Eye, and The Man Who Would Be King — not to mention the celebrated ones in The Maltese Falcon and Sierra Madre — are rife with irony. So is Huston’s treatment, over and over, of the men who possess the old-fashioned male virtues of pride, loyalty, bravery, physical prowess, stick-to-it-iveness, stoicism, and solitariness. Which isn’t to say that he doesn’t admire the hell out of those men.

1  |  2  |   next >
Related: Review: Year One, Review: Battle for Terra, Faithless Rendition, More more >
  Topics: Features , Celebrity News, Entertainment, Walter Huston,  More more >
| More

Most Popular
Share this entry with Delicious
  •   BAFFLED IN BOISE  |  October 09, 2012
    Samuel D. Hunter's A Bright New Boise, receiving its Boston premiere in a production by the Zeitgeist Stage Company, has no dramatic structure.
  •   SAD BOY  |  October 02, 2012
    The Irish playwright Brendan Behan, known for his plays The Hostage and The Quare Fellow and for his memoir Borstal Boy, was a raucous, charismatic, hard-drinking Irish Republican who began to write after he got out of prison for shooting at English detectives during a public event.
  •   GOOD PEOPLE COULD BE BETTER  |  September 24, 2012
    Good People , which opens the SEASON at the Huntington Theatre Company, is a schizoid experience.
  •   CAR TALK IS NO MUSICAL  |  June 26, 2012
    The notion of a musical inspired by Car Talk is bizarre.
  •   COWARD'S 'PRIVATE LIVES' ROARS AGAIN  |  June 05, 2012
    It wouldn't be a stretch to call Noël Coward's 1930 Private Lives the funniest play of the 20th century.

 See all articles by: STEVE VINEBERG