Nationality: Irish/American. Born: John Marcellus Huston, son of actor Walter, in Nevada, Missouri, 5 August 1906, became Irish citizen, 1964. Education: Attended boarding school in Los Angeles and at Lincoln High School, Los Angeles, 1923–24. Military Service: Served in Signal Corps, Army Pictorial Service, 1942–45, discharged at rank of major. Family: Married 1) Dorothy Jeanne Harvey, 1926 (divorced 1933); 2) Leslie Black, 1937 (divorced 1944); 3) Evelyn Keyes, 1946 (divorced 1950), one adopted son; 4) Ricki Soma, 1950 (died 1969), one son, two daughters including actress Anjelica; also son Daniel by Zoë Sallis; 5) Celeste Shane, 1972 (divorced 1977). Career: Doctors in St. Paul, Minnesota, diagnose Huston with enlarged heart and kidney disease; taken to California for cure, 1916; boxer in California, 1920s; actor in New York, 1924; competition horseman, Mexico, 1927; journalist in New York, 1928–30; scriptwriter and actor in Hollywood, 1930; worked for Gaumont-British, London, 1932; moved to Paris with intention of studying painting, 1933; returned to New York, editor Midweek Pictorial , stage actor, 1934; writer for Warner Bros., Hollywood, 1936; directed first film, The Maltese Falcon , 1941; with William Wyler and Philip Dunne, formed Committee for the 1st Amendment to counteract HUAC investigation, 1947; formed Horizon Pictures with Sam Spiegel, 1948; formed John Huston Productions for unrealized project Matador , 1952; moved to Ireland, 1955; narrator for TV, from mid-1960s; moved to Mexico, 1972. Awards: Legion of Merit, U.S. Armed Services, 1944; Oscar for Best Direction, for Treasure of the Sierra Madre , 1947. Died: Of pneumonia, in Newport, Rhode Island, 28 August 1987.
The Maltese Falcon (+ sc)
In This Our Life (+ co-sc, uncredited); Across the Pacific (co-d)
Report from the Aleutians (+ sc); Tunisian Victory (Capra and Boulting; d some replacement scenes when footage lost, + co-commentary)
San Pietro ( The Battle of San Pietro ) (+ sc, co-ph, narration)
Let There Be Light (unreleased) (+ co-sc, co-ph); A Miracle Can Happen ( On Our Merry Way ) (King Vidor and Fenton; d some Henry Fonda/James Stewart sequences, uncredited)
The Treasure of the Sierra Madre (+ sc, bit role as man in white suit); Key Largo (+ co-sc)
We Were Strangers (+ co-sc, bit role as bank clerk)
The Asphalt Jungle (+ co-sc)
The Red Badge of Courage (+ sc)
The African Queen (+ co-sc)
Moulin Rouge (+ pr, co-sc)
Beat the Devil (+ co-pr, co-sc)
Moby Dick (+ pr, co-sc)
Heaven Knows, Mr. Allison (+ co-sc); A Farewell to Arms (Charles Vidor; d begun by Huston)
The Barbarian and the Geisha ; The Roots of Heaven
Freud ( Freud: The Secret Passion ) (+ narration); The List of Adrian Messenger (+ bit role as Lord Ashton)
The Night of the Iguana (+ co-pr, co-sc)
La bibbia ( The Bible ) (+ role, narration)
Casino Royale (co-d, role); Reflections in a Golden Eye (+ voice heard at film's beginning)
Sinful Davey ; A Walk with Love and Death (+ role); De Sade (Enfield; d uncredited) (+ role as the Abbe)
The Kremlin Letter (+ co-sc, role)
The Last Run (Fleischer; d begun by Huston)
Fat City (+ co-pr); The Life and Times of Judge Roy Bean (+ role as Grizzly Adams)
The Mackintosh Man
The Man Who Would Be King (+ co-sc)
Wise Blood (+ role)
Victory ( Escape to Victory )
Under the Volcano
The Shakedown (Wyler) (small role); Hell's Heroes (Wyler) (small role)
The Storm (Wyler) (small role)
A House Divided (Wyler) (dialogue, sc)
Murders in the Rue Morgue (Florey) (dialogue, sc)
It Started in Paris (Robert Wyler) (co-adapt, sc); Death Drives Through (Cahn) (co-story, sc)
Jezebel (Wyler) (co-sc); The Amazing Dr. Clitterhouse (Litvak) (co-sc)
Juarez (Dieterle) (co-sc)
The Story of Dr. Ehrlich's Magic Bullet ( Dr. Ehrlich's Magic Bullet ) (Dieterle) (co-sc)
High Sierra (Walsh) (co-sc); Sergeant York (Hawks) (co-sc)
The Killers (Siodmak) (sc, uncredited); The Stranger (Welles) (co-sc, uncredited); Three Strangers (Negulesco) (co-sc)
Quo Vadis (LeRoy) (pre-production work)
The Cardinal (Preminger) (role as Cardinal Glennon); The Directors (pr: Greenblatt, short) (appearance)
Candy (Marquand) (role as Dr. Dunlap); The Rocky Road to Dublin (Lennon) (role as interviewee)
Myra Breckenridge (Sarne) (role as Buck Loner)
The Bridge in the Jungle (Kohner) (role as Sleigh); The Deserter (Kennedy) (role as General Miles); Man in the Wilderness (Sarafian) (role as Captain Henry)
Battle for the Planet of the Apes (Thompson) (role as Law-giver); Chinatown (Polanski) (role as Noah Cross)
Breakout (Gries) (role as Harris); The Wind and the Lion (Milius) (role as John Hay)
Sherlock Holmes in New York (Sagal) (role as Professor Moriarty)
Tentacles (Hellman) (role as Ned Turner); Il grande attacco ( La battaglia di Mareth ; The Biggest Battle ) (Lenzi) (role); El triangulo diabolico de la Bermudas ( Triangle: The Bermuda Mystery ; The Mystery of the Bermuda Triangle ) (Cardona) (role); Angela (Sagal) (role)
Il visitatore ( The Visitor ) (Paradisi) (role)
Jaguar Lives (Pintoff) (role); Winter Kills (Richert) (role)
Head On (Grant) (role); Agee (Spears) (role as interviewee)
To the Western World (Kinmonth) (narrator)
Cannery Row (Ward) (narrator)
Lovesick (Brickman) (role as psychiatrist)
Frankie and Johnny , New York, 1930.
The Maltese Falcon , New York, 1974.
The Treasure of the Sierra Madre , edited by James Naremore, Madison, Wisconsin, 1979.
The Asphalt Jungle , with Ben Maddow, Carbondale, Illinois, 1980.
An Open Book , New York, 1980.
Juarez , with Aeneas Mackenzie and Wolfgang Reinhardt, Madison, Wisconsin, 1983.
Reflections in a Male Eye: John Huston and the American Experience , edited by Gaylyn Studlar and David Desser, Washington, 1993.
Interview with Karel Reisz, in Sight and Sound (London), January/March 1952.
"How I Make Films," interview with Gideon Bachmann, in Film Quarterly (Berkeley), Fall 1965.
"Huston!," interview with C. Taylor and G. O'Brien, in Inter/View (New York), September 1972.
"Talk with John Huston," with D. Ford, in Action (Los Angeles), September/October 1972.
"The Innocent Bystander," interview with D. Robinson, in Sight and Sound (London), Winter 1972/73.
"Talking with John Huston," with Gene Phillips, in Film Comment (New York), May/June 1973.
Interview with D. Brandes, in Filmmakers Newsletter (Ward Hill, Massachusetts), July 1977.
Interview with P.S. Greenberg, in Rolling Stone (New York), June/July 1981.
"Dialogue on Film: John Huston," in American Film (Washington, D.C.), January/February 1984.
Interview with Michel Ciment and D. Allison, in Positif (Paris), October 1987.
Davay, Paul, John Huston , Paris, 1957.
Allais, Jean-Claude, John Huston , Paris, 1960.
Agee, James, Agee on Film: Five Film Scripts , foreword by John Huston, Boston, 1965.
Nolan, William, John Huston, King Rebel , Los Angeles, 1965.
Benayoun, Robert, John Huston , Paris, 1966; revised edition, 1985.
Cecchini, Riccardo, John Huston , 1969.
Tozzi, Romano, John Huston, A Picture Treasury of His Films , New York, 1971.
Kaminsky, Stuart, John Huston: Maker of Magic , London, 1978.
Madsen, Axel, John Huston , New York, 1978.
Giannetti, Louis D., Masters of the American Cinema , Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey, 1981.
Hammen, Scott, John Huston , Boston, 1985.
Ciment, Gilles, editor, John Huston , Paris, 1987.
McCarty, John, The Films of John Huston , Secaucus, New Jersey, 1987.
Grobel, Lawrence, The Hustons , New York, 1989; updated, 2000.
Studlar, Gaylyn, and David Desser, editors, Reflections in a Male Eye: John Huston and the American Experience , Washington, D.C., 1993.
Cooper, Stephen, editor, Perspectives on John Huston , New York, 1994.
Luhr, William, editor, The Maltese Falcon: John Huston, Director , New Brunswick, New Jersey, 1995.
Brill, Lesley, John Huston's Filmmaking , Cambridge and New York, 1997.
Cohen, Allen, and Harry Lawton, John Huston: A Guide to References and Resources , New York, 1997.
"Huston Issues" of Positif (Paris), August 1952 and January 1957.
Mage, David, "The Way John Huston Works," in Films in Review (New York), October 1952.
Laurot, Edouard, "An Encounter with John Huston," in Film Culture (New York), no. 8, 1956.
Archer, Eugene, "John Huston—The Hemingway Tradition in American Film," in Film Culture (New York), no. 19, 1959.
"John Huston, The Bible and James Bond," in Cahiers du Cinéma in English (New York), no. 5, 1966.
Koningsberger, Hans, "From Book to Film—via John Huston," in Film Quarterly (Berkeley), Spring 1969.
"Huston Issue" of Film Comment (New York), May/June 1973.
Bachmann, Gideon, "Watching Huston," in Film Comment (New York), January/February 1976.
Jameson, R.T., "John Huston," in Film Comment (New York), May/June 1980.
Drew, B., "John Huston: At 74 No Formulas," in American Film (Washington, D.C.), September 1980.
Millar, G., "John Huston," in Sight and Sound (London), Summer 1981.
"John Huston," in Film Dope (London), January 1983.
Hachem, S., "Under the Volcano, " in American Cinematographer (Los Angeles), October 1984.
Combs, Richard, "The Man Who Would Be Ahab: The Myths and Masks of John Huston," in Monthly Film Bulletin (London), December 1985.
"Huston Issue" of Positif (Paris), January 1986.
Taylor, John Russell, "John Huston: The Filmmaker as Dandy," in Films and Filming (London), August 1986.
Edgerton, G., "Revisiting the Recordings of Wars Past: Remembering the Documentary Trilogy of John Huston," in Journal of Popular Film and TV (Washington, D.C.), Spring 1987.
McCarthy, T., obituary, in Variety (New York), 2 September 1987.
Schulz-Keil, W., and B. Walker, "Huston," in Film Comment (New York), September/October 1987.
Buckley, M., obituary in Films in Review (New York), November 1987.
Combs, Richard, "John Huston: An Account of One Man Dead," in Monthly Film Bulletin (London), December 1987.
Literature/Film Quarterly (Salisbury, Maryland), vol. 17, nos. 2 and 4, 1989.
American Film (Washington, D.C.), June 1989.
Grobel, L., "Talent to Burn," in Movieline , March 1990.
Denby, D., "A Good Man Is Hard to Find," in Premiere , July 1990.
Richards, Peter, "Huston's Killer Comedy," in Film Comment (New York), May/June 1991.
Hagen, W.M., "Under Huston's 'Volcano,"' in Literature/Film Quarterly (Salisbury, Maryland), vol. 19, no. 3, 1991.
James, C., "John Huston: The Director as Monster," in New York Times , 9 August 1992.
Edelman, Lee, "Plasticity, Paternity, Perversity: Freud's 'Falcon,' Huston's 'Freud,"' in American Imago , Spring 1994.
Magny, Joël, "Huston et les mythes," in Cahiers du Cinéma (Paris), no. 495, October 1995.
Kronick, William, On Location: The Night of the Iguana , for TV, U.S., 1964.
Graef, Roger, The Life and Times of John Huston, Esquire , Great Britain, 1967.
Joyce, Paul, Ride This Way Grey Horse , Great Britain, 1970.
Huston, Danny, The Making of The Dead , U.S., 1989.
* * *
Few directors have been as interested in the relationship of film to painting as has John Huston and, perhaps, none has been given as little credit for this interest. This lack of recognition is not completely surprising. Criticism of film, despite the form's visual nature, has tended to be derived primarily from literature and not from painting or, as might be more reasonable, a combination of the traditions of literature, painting, theater, and the unique forms of film itself.
In a 1931 profile in The American Mercury that accompanied a short story by John Huston, the future director said that he wanted to write a book on the lives of French painters. The following year, unable to or dissatisfied with work as a film writer in London, Huston moved to Paris to become a painter. He studied for a year and a half, making money by painting portraits on street corners and singing for pennies. Even after he became an established film director, Huston continued to indulge his interest in painting, "retiring" from filmmaking from time to time to concentrate on his painting.
Each of Huston's films has reflected this prime interest in the image, the moving portrait, and the use of color—as well as the poetic possibilities of natural dialogue. Each film has been a moving canvas on which Huston explores his main subject: the effect of the individual ego on the group and the possibility of the individual's survival.
Huston began exploring his style of framing in his first film, The Maltese Falcon. Following his sketches, he set up shots like the canvases of paintings he had studied. Specifically, Huston showed an interest in characters appearing in the foreground of a shot, with their faces often covering half the screen. Frequently, too, the person whose face half fills the screen is not talking, but listening. The person reacting thus becomes more important than the one speaking or moving.
Huston's first film as a director presented situations he would return to again and again. Sam Spade is the obsessed professional, a man who will adhere to pride and dedication, to principle unto death. Women are a threat, temptations that can only sway the hero from his professional commitment. They may be willfully trying to deceive, as with Brigid and Iva, or they may, as in later Huston films, be the unwitting cause of the protagonist's defeat or near-defeat. In The Asphalt Jungle , for example, the women in the film are not evil; it is the men's obsession with them that causes disaster.
Even with changes and cuts, a film like The Red Badge of Courage reflects Huston's thematic and visual interests. Again, the film features a group with a quest that may result in death. These soldiers argue, support each other, pretend they are not frightened, brag, and, in some cases, die. In the course of the action, both the youth and the audience discover that the taking of an isolated field is not as important as the ability of the young men to face death without fear. Also, as in other Huston films, the two central figures in The Red Badge of Courage , the youth and Wilson, lie about their attitudes. Their friendship solidifies only when both confess that they have been afraid during the battle and have fled.
Visually, Huston continued to explore an important aspect of his style: the placement of characters in a frame so that their size and position reflect what they are saying and doing. He developed this technique with Bogart, Holt, and Walter Huston in The Treasure of the Sierra Madre and Audie Murphy and Bill Mauldin in The Red Badge of Courage. Early in The African Queen , for instance, after Rosie's brother dies, there is a scene in which Rosie is seated on the front porch of the mission. Charlie, in the foreground, dominates the screen while Rosie, in the background, is small. As Charlie takes control of the situation and tells Rosie what must be done, he raises his hand to the rail and his arm covers our view of her. Charlie is in command.
Thematically, Moulin Rouge was a return to Huston's pessimism and exploration of futility. The director identified with the character of Lautrec who, like Huston, was given to late hours, ironic views of himself, performing for others, sardonic wit, and a frequent bitterness toward women. Lautrec, like Huston, loved horses, and frequently painted pictures of them.
The narrative as developed by Huston and Ray Bradbury in Moby Dick is in keeping with the director's preoccupation with failed quests. Only one man, Ishmael, survives. All the other men of the Pequod go down in Ahab's futile attempt to destroy the whale. But Huston sees Ahab in his actions and his final gesture as a noble creature who has chosen to go down fighting.
The Roots of Heaven is yet another example of Huston's exploration of an apparently doomed quest by a group of vastly different people, led by a man obsessed. In spite of the odds, the group persists in its mission and some of its members die. As in many Huston films, the quest is not a total failure; there is the likelihood of continuation, if not success, but the price that must be paid in human lives is high.
Huston's The Misfits again featured a group on a sad and fruitless quest. The group, on a search for horses, find far fewer than they had expected. The expedition becomes a bust and the trio of friends are at odds over a woman, Roslyn (Marilyn Monroe), who opposes the killing and capturing of the horses.
With the exception of Guido, the characters represent the least masked or disguised group in Huston's films. Perhaps it is this very element of never-penetrated disguise in Guido that upset Huston and drove him to push for a motivation scene, an emotional unmasking of the character.
As a Huston film, Freud has some particular interests: Huston serves as a narrator, displaying an omnipotence and almost Biblical detachment that establishes Freud as a kind of savior and messiah. The film opens with Huston's description of Freud as a kind of hero or God on a quest for mankind. "This is the story of Freud's descent into a region as black as hell, man's unconscious, and how he let in the light," Huston says in his narration. The bearded, thin look of Freud, who stands alone, denounced before the tribunal of his own people, also suggests a parallel with Christ. Freud brings a message of salvation which is rejected, and he is reluctantly denounced by his chief defender, Breuer.
Of all Huston's films, The List of Adrian Messenger is the one that deals most literally with people in disguise. George, who describes himself as unexcused evil, hides behind a romantic or heroic mask that falls away when he is forced to face the detective, who functions very much like Freud. The detective penetrates the masks, revealing the evil, and the evil is destroyed.
Huston's touch was evident in The Night of the Iguana in a variety of ways. First, he again took a group of losers and put them together in an isolated location. The protagonist, Shannon, once a minister, has been reduced to guiding tourists in Mexico. At the furthest reaches of despair and far from civilization, the quest for meaning ends and the protagonist is forced to face himself. Religion is an important theme. The film opens with Richard Burton preaching a sermon to his congregation. It is a startling contrast to Father Mapple's sermon in Moby Dick. Shannon is lost, confused, his speech is gibberish, an almost nonsensical confession about being unable to control his appetites and emotions. The congregation turns away from him.
This choice between the practical and the fantastic is a constant theme in Huston's life and films. There is also a choice between illusion and reality, a choice Huston finds difficult to make. Religion is seen as part of the fantasy world, a dangerous fantasy that his characters must overcome if they are not to be destroyed or absorbed by it. This theme is present in The Bible, Wise Blood , and Night of the Iguana. Huston's negative religious attitude is also strong in A Walk with Love and Death , which includes three encounters with the clergy. In the first, Heron is almost killed by a group of ascetic monks who demand that he renounce the memory of Claudia and "repent his knowledge of women." The young man barely escapes with his life. These religious zealots counsel a move away from the pleasure of the world and human love, a world that Huston believes in.
There are clearly constants in Huston's works—man's ability to find solace in animals and nature, the need to challenge oneself—but his world is unpredictable, governed by a whimsical God or no God at all. Each of Huston's characters seeks a way of coming to terms with that unpredictability, establishing rules of behavior by which he can live.
The Huston character, like Cain or Adam, is often weak, and frequently his best intentions are not sufficient to carry him through to success or even survival. The more a man thinks in a Huston film, the more dangerous it is for his survival. Conversely, however, his films suggest that those who are carried away by emotion, or too much introspection, are doomed. Since the line between loss of control and rigidity is difficult to walk, many Huston protagonists do not survive. It takes a Sam Spade, Sergeant Allison, or Abraham, very rare men indeed, to remain alive in this director's world.
Reflections in a Golden Eye raised many questions about the sexuality inherent in many of the themes that most attracted Huston: riding horses, hunting, boxing, and militarism. The honesty with which the director handles homosexuality is characteristic of his willingness to face what he finds antithetical to his own nature. In the film, the equation of Leonora and her horse is presented as definitely sexual, and at one point Penderton actually beats the horse in a fury because he himself is impotent. Huston also includes a boxing match in the film which is not in the novel. The immorally provocative Leonora watches the match, but Penderton watches another spectator, Williams. Reflections becomes an almost comic labyrinth of voyeurism, with characters spying on other characters.
Huston's protagonists often represent extremes. They are either ignorant, pathetic, and doomed by their lack of self-understanding (Tully and Ernie in Fat City , Dobbs in The Treasure of the Sierra Madre , Peachy and Danny in The Man Who Would Be King ) or intelligent, arrogant, but equally doomed by their lack of self-understanding (Penderton in Reflections in a Golden Eye and Ahab in Moby Dick ). Between these extremes is the cool, intelligent protagonist who will sacrifice everything for self-understanding and independence (Sam Spade in The Maltese Falcon , and Freud). Huston always finds the first group pathetic, the second tragic, and the third heroic. He reserves his greatest respect for the man who retains his dignity in spite of pain and disaster.
Many of Huston's films can de divided between those involving group quests that fail and those involving a pair of potential lovers who must face a hostile world. Generally, Huston's films about such lovers end in the union of the couple or, at least, their survival. In that sense, A Walk with Love and Death , starring his own daughter, proved to be the most pessimistic of his love stories, and Annie , his most commercial venture, proved to be his most optimistic.
—Stuart M. Kaminsky