Immersion: John Huston Ch3

Sunday, August 05, 2007

Immersion: John Huston Ch3
Current mood: accomplished

Well, if you go to Italy and make a film for David O. Selznick, starring his girlfriend, and not a particularly large budget, you are almost certainly going to get some Neo-Realism on you, and Huston did. The film is called “Beat the Devil”. Definitely a lesser work, made on the cheap, but fascinating because Huston demonstrates again his ability and desire to incorporate changing styles. This round of European exposure will figure in the upcoming “Unforgiven”, as well as the French Nouvelle Vague. Huston is always looking, always trying new things as a Director. Since his apparent strengths are: 1) Incredible writer with an ear for dialogue and a gut for story. 2) Painterly eye in compositions, yet with a very unintrusive camera style. Stylizations are always motivated and used sparingly. He is an old school Director who operates along Ovidian lines. 3) Unparalleled ability to translate literature to the screen and have it retain its literary gravitas.4) Definitely lets the crew around him put their stamp on it, which is why his internationally produced movies do not seem very American craftwise, and are always much closer to the country’s cinema they were produced in.

“Beat the Devil” is kind of limp. It has a fun ending, but it seems, lifeless. This was the last time that Huston and Bogart were able to work together, Bogart died soon afterwards of lung cancer, I believe. Smoked till the end, too. This picture was mostly put together as a last hurrah, and it feels that way. Peter Lorre is along, as is the minister brother from The African Queen. Toss in Jennifer Jones(for financing from Selznick) and Gina Lollabrigida (to make it easy to work in Italy) and you have a good time to be had by all. The story revolves around a con man taking some criminals to Africa from Italy to scam some mineral rights supposedly on Uranium rich land. Everything goes wrong, a series of comic mishaps allow some mildly interesting inter-relational things to happen and voila, tie it up with a surprise ending and you got a picture and everyone gets to go to Italy, hang out and get drunk. MORE than enough reason to do a picture. But it won’t be a very good picture, probably – it depends on the booze to film ratio- and this isn’t.


So begins one of the all time greatest books ever made by an American hand, and so too does John Huston begin his movie translation. Gregory Peck for once is the absolutely PERFECT man for Captain Ahab, the blaspheming maniac who challenges God and is cast down for his pride and his sin. If you don’t like the book, you won’t like the movie, let that be said right now. Huston translates the book with all its warts and all its glories. The characters breathe life even in tiny roles like pip the cabin boy, or Mate Stubb. Huston sticks to the pluralist nature of the book, and every race creed and color is represented in the ship’s crew, highlighted are the ship’s harpooners: Queequeg – the son of a cannibal chief and heathen polynesian from a fictional island, Tashtego-a former plains Indian tired of spearing buffalo now harpooning whales, and Dagoo – An African of noble bearing. The first mate, the wise and religious and moral Mr. Starbuck contemplates mutiny at Ahab’s blasphemies, but, well, you’ll see if you haven’t read the book or seen the movie – A crazy or evil whaling boat captain whose has been mauled by a white whale is hellbent on revenge and hunting down the mystical whale. What is REALLY going on is a man is trying to defy nature at every turn, to conquer or kill it, and in so doing launch a direct attack on God himself. You know what happens to those who challenge the throne. It ends badly. The movie however has a KICK ASS ending! It looks incredible, and the boat is REALLY full sized. Watch this one time and you will cringe every time some “pirate of the caribbean” hops into his tiny little ship and sails it away like its a fucking car! It takes DOZENS of men climbing all over all that rigging to get it to do ANYTHING. Those fucking boats are HUGE. 100+ men on the crew of a simple whaling ship, pirate ships and the like had crews larger than that! Well, who cares and who would even know any better anyways. Stupid people get what they deserve.

Moby Dick did not do well at the awards that year, which is a shame. The tone of the picture is at times a bit strident, but hey, it’s MUCH more accessible than the book, considered by some a difficult read (I had to read it as a little kid and I loved it. One of the “classics” that my parents insisted I had to read to ever be “Cultured”). The costumes, the ship, the whale, are all tip top in my book. If you can handle a shitload of straight up for real old school sea shanty nautical crazy sailor whale hunting speech and slang, you will love this movie. Just know that it is a pretty pure translation of the book.

The Unforgiven is a bad movie. I’m sorry, but there it is. It just is bad. It is badly paced with the primary deciding conflict coming up and being pretty much fixed around the end of the first act, making the third act really pointless. It doesn’t make sense either. The wierd superdelineated and later made “ok” bloodwise, relationship between alleged Indian baby Audrey Hepburn, and top tough guy rancher cowboy Bert Lancaster, just does not work. The ending Does NOT get them back to where they once were, nor does it actually resolve anything other than slaughtering a shitload of Indians, and sort of reuniting with the rabidly Indian-hating-and-wanting-to-kill-em-all brother (ironically played by Audie Murphy, real live bad ass war hero (Congressional Medal of Honor-LOOK HIM UP)). The look and sound of it is TOTALLY spaghetti western 4 years before the man with no name first appears. It was also produced in Italy. Perhaps Huston is the real father of the Spaghetti Western “Look”?

The Misfits. John Huston makes a French New Wave movie. In the sense of  a lot of cheap gimmicks like Godard? No. In the sense of a ruptured structure examing an underworld of cast off’s ala Truffaut? Yes. This movie was written by Arthur Miller specifically for Marilyn Monroe, as he sat in a motel awaiting the resolution of his divorce from his first wife. By the time it was made, Miller and Monroe were in tatters and about to get a divorce. Born in Lust, turn to Dust – Born in Sin, Come On In. This movie is littered with absolutely autobiographical lines for everyone of the burned out, burning out, or dying stars in it. Montgomery Clift is drunk 24/7 with Monroe on set, who is having a nervous breakdown about starring with her absolute male idyll, a man who she previously had told people was her father. Arthur Miller as mentioned before is past the end of his rope with Marilyn. Gable is old and dying. The eye of this Hurricane is John Huston, who is the ONLY person that everyone loves and admires. From this deep well of sorrows in real life, Huston pulls out the finest performance of Gable’s career, and far and away the greatest performance by Monroe. It will be their last picture alive. Waiting hours for her to get to set, when she finally got there, Huston mined gold. Together this team of Misfits made simply one of the best movies ever. Sorely underrated, often overlooked, not only did this PROVE what was suspected after Niagara, that Marilyn Monroe actually could ACT, but we FINALLY get to see Clark Gable play someone OTHER than CLARK GABLE! Eli Wallach and Thelma Ritter, Theater Veteran BADASS character actors round out the tight little cast, and this movie sizzles. It is SO ahead of it’s time for an American movie. It’s camera angles, use of handheld and first person photography, even POV shots that are outside the “subjective objective” style of Hollywood (MS character looks, CU insert what character looks at, MS character reacts “seeing it”) and totally keeping with the Cahiers du Cinema stylistic arguments. It is an exceptional movie all the way around. WATCH THIS FILM AND GET DRUNK DOING IT. LIKE REAL DRUNK. LIQUOR NOT BEER OR WINE.

The List of Adrien Messenger takes Huston to England and Ireland and the film once again, LOOKS BRITISH. It is a disguised celebrities in bit parts try and name them gimmick movie pasted onto a British detective picture. We are at least spared too many “british reveals” with Camera placement and movement still along American lines. The story is really quite good. Think “Kind Hearts and Coronets” meets Sherlock Holmes as played by George C. Scott, He’s quite good actually. Black and White photography, a  jolly good who done it with a good bit of catching him out! We are treated to Huston’s infatuation with Fox hunting. He eventually became Master Of The Hunt in Ireland, where he had an estate. Huston was an avid hunter his whole life, and after 22 years in the business as a Director, he became more and more fond of working his lifestyle into his pictures. Drinking, Hunting, Travelling, these are Huston’s guiding lights. He makes a string of off kilter to just plain bad movies in the 60’s. Perhaps self-indulgence and self-rot were a larger malaise than just the “counterculture” in these times?

Night of the Iguana, however, FUCKING ROCKS! This is so tense and so dark and so smart and so INTENSE!! Tennessee Williams wrote this Play and Huston translated it, this is when he is at his best. This movie is HOT, it’s so hot you can SEE where the censorship is, because the progression is so true, when the payoff is missing, YOU NOTICE. HOT HOT HOT AVA GARDNER! So Carnal only Kim Novak could surpass her. The kind of woman who looks like she could fuck you in half. In real life when she was married to Frank Sinatra, someone asked how a 100 pound waif like Sinatra could satisfy a woman like her she responded “He’s a hundred pounds, sure, but 90 of that is Cock.” Wow, I have to say that this performance stacks up to Mogambo, I think her acting in Mogambo is better (she said it was the best she ever did), but I LIKE her so much more in The Night of the Iguana. Richard Burton is fantastic as a faithless expriest, Sue Lyon is the dirtiest little girl (I believe she went on to play THE Lolita) you ever wanted to throw out on her ass -arrgh! What a FREAK!, Deborah Kerr as the voice of reason. If you know Tennessee Williams, the man and his work, this movie is like, 10 times better, if you don’t it is still hot.

Synopsis: Richard Burton is an expriest who is now a tour guide trying to keep his job down Mexico way, he is also having a nervous breakdown.He has a tour group consisting of a bunch of hefty ugly American women, 1 15 year old temptress blonde spoiled brat(Sue Lyon) led by a crazy vindictive and hysterical repressed Lesbian. In an effort to keep them incommunicado so they can’t complain and cost him his job, Burton hijacks their bus and takes them to a resort run by his friend Ava Gardner and staffed by her two half naked beautiful maraca playing “boys” who she goes “night swimming” with. The resort has been left to her by her dead husband who was a cuckold and impotent, and they were a happy couple. While they are there, the oldest living poet at 97 years shows up with his watercolor painting granddaughter (Deborah Kerr). Stir well, Shake, and pour over the rocks of a “Rum Coco”. “Or do you want some pot, you look like you could use something special.”

H   O    T   . Check this out with a snootfull of liquor, not beer or wine, and get cerebral. Some of the best dialogue EVER written. CRACKLING. It proves that you CAN have a movie where people talk a lot and it works. Of course with Tennessee Williams on set doing rewrites and cuts with John Huston, you gotta expect that. Jody observed that John Huston probably has more dialogue in one scene than John Ford has in One MOVIE. She could be right, but it’s so GOOD!

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