I just got a clickbait article from NightowlTV listing the top 7 John Huston-directed films, which are:
7. THE MAN WHO WOULD BE KING
6. MOBY DICK
5. KEY LARGO
4. THE ASPHALT JUNGLE
3. THE AFRICAN QUEEN
2. THE MALTESE FALCON
1. THE TREASURE OF THE SIERRA MADRE
I agree with these except for #3 and maybe #6.
But the list shows why top ten best lists, from year-end summations to personal favorites, are kinda dull. No surprises here. Each of the movies on this list just happens to get a write-up on Huston’s Wikipedia page.
For a director known for being such an adventurer and maverick, that’s a pretty dull list.
And so, my alternative* which, being nothing like the list that inspired it isn’t any sort of alternative, it’s just A Thing. OK:
Top Thirteen John Huston Movies You Won’t Find On Any Other Top John Huston Movies List (and for good reason)
UNDER THE VOLCANO
The book is grueling, but ultimately rewarding for its view of the last day in the life of a drunk. The movie is an example of one of those movies that didn’t need to be made–it can’t equal the book. No movie not made by the (dead) Malcolm Lowry (if he could direct) would equal the book. The book isn’t just about a drunk, it makes you feel like YOU’RE a drunk, not the fun Hollywood type but the type who wakes up in the morning feeling like shit, your mouth tasting like ass, and you hate life but haven’t the energy to end it all.
Albert Finney’s performance is either awful or one of the greatest drunk performances ever. He bellows, he goes on, and he puts across the self-pity of the drunk. He gets across that he is still in love with his estranged wife (Jacquelin Bissett), but it just doesn’t matter. Nothing matters. Just as Lowry drank himself to death, Geoffrey is doing the same, and the movie is just sitting back and letting it happen.
The ending is fine, but I prefer how Nicholas Cage’s drunk ended up in LEAVING LAS VEGAS. I think Huston was reaching for something he didn’t quite get with his ending, with the imagery from the Mexican Day of the Dead.
Not a great movie, but interesting for its single-mindedness.
A black comedy that seems to have fallen between the cracks but got a lot of acclaim at the time. Kathleen Turner and Jack Nicholson as hit people trying to make a marriage. Nicholson’s accent is great, and he has some great one-liners. Hearing Turner going on and on about her dead ex, he responds, “Marxie Heller’s so fuckin’ smart, how come he’s so fuckin’ dead?” Inevitably, the two end up on opposite sides, bringing an ending that I doubt would be allowed by a Hollywood studio today.
Notable for Angelica Huston’s outstanding performance as Nicholson’s ex, who wants to get back with him.
THE LIFE AND TIMES OF JUDGE ROY BEAN
All the bluster and violence you’d expect from a John Milius script directed by John Huston. The story of an outlaw who ends up the judge in a desolate border town, it’s cousin to Peckinpah’s THE BALLAD OF CABLE HOGUE. Your enjoyment for corny westerns will decide what you think of this. It’s intolerable if you’re looking for something serious, dull if you’re expecting to laugh. But Huston’s love for the outdoors, unconventional outsiders and blarney.
Paul Newman is good playing a real bastard of a human being. Yes, this is indeed a Milius script, but Huston’s a little too tasteful to push it over into Milius’s quasi-anarcho craziness. The movie rambles along as Bean deals with weirdos, a bear and his affection for Ava Gardner’s Lilly Langtree, a famous actress. There is a lot of casual bloodiness, very much of its time.
JUDGE ROY BEAN is one of those soft movies with a director’s favorite bits and interests in place of a strong story. Not for everyone, but entertaining if you like Milius and actors getting dirty. I have to agree with Milius, who wanted Warren Oates for the lead: “Judge Roy Bean has been turned into a Beverly Hills western.”
But I still enjoyed it.
My favorite movie on this list. Stacy Keach is a never-was boxer who struggles along, doing crappy day jobs and training in the ring, losing bouts and blaming his manager. He’s never made it as a boxer; he’s never going to make it as a boxer. He keeps trying. He meets Jeff Bridges, an up-and-comer who may have indeed got The Stuff. One thing I liked about this is that instead of it turning into an easy story about jealousy, Keach becomes inspired to keep working out. He tries to get along with Susan Tyrrell, who should’ve won an Oscar for playing the most hateful nightmare girlfriend in film history.
I’m going to have to write a whole post on just this movie. The final shot of Keach sitting at a bar has haunted me for years. You should see this.
Coming Soon: The Thrilling Continuation
- Originally, this was one post, then two, but now it’s up to four. I’ll break it up over a week. I could have made it just one, but I’ve got stuff to do right now, and you’ll need time to guess what else makes the list.