Sunday, September 23, 2012

Hollywood lost a giant in John Huston – Sept. 4. 1987

John Huston
It is remarkable to me that in the waning years of John Huston's life, as he was stricken with emphysema and other ailments, that he continued to make films --great films -- as if the process of continuing to direct motion pictures would keep him alive forever.

It's too bad the work wasn't enough to sustain him, because the motion picture industry lost a giant when, Huston died in his sleep last week. He was a hard-living man who had experienced a great deal of pain and heartache -- he was married five times -- along with his amazing success. He made films that were honest and entertaining, mostly, but he directed his share of bombs, too. He was an imposing figure, standing tall and equipped with a booming voice, and actors respected him because he respected them.

He was also respected by screenwriters, since he was a writer himself. He won two Oscars for "The Treasure of the Sierra Madre" in 1948, for the script and direction. The Los Angeles Daily News quoted Huston as saying in a 1985 interview, "The script is ever so important," Huston said. "You can make a bad movie out of a good script, but you can't make a good movie out of a bad script. I believe Confucius said that."

Huston's first film, "The Maltese Falcon," is widely regarded as one of the best detective films ever made. And the list of films that followed his 1941 debut -- after the war, during which he made films for the Armv – includes some truly great ones: "Key Largo," "The Asphalt Jungle," "The Red Badge of Courage," "The African Queen," "Moby Dick," "The Misfits," "The Night of the Iguana," "Fat City," "The Man Who Would Be King" and "Prizzi's Honor."

As is evident from this list, Huston's films were wildly diverse. At his best -- my favorites are "The Maltese Falcon," "Fat City" and "The Man Who Would Be King" -- Huston made films about tough men that were rich in characterization and that had the air of authenticity, or at least the ability to make one want to believe they could be true.

As an actor, Huston's performances were largely unmemorable. He made cameo appearances in a number of his films, sometimes to comic effect, and even starred in his film "The Bible." But the one performance that stands above the rest was as the sinister and deviant father in Roman Polanski's "Chinatown."

Huston's last directing effort, "The Dead," is scheduled for release this fall. He was a giant, and he will be missed.

Another prominent figure in the industry died last week, too. Lee Marvin, like Huston, had a reputation as a man's man – a hard drinker, a womanizer and one who spoke his mind. Although relatively few of his starring roles can accurately be regarded as classics, he did films like "The Caine Mutiny," "The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance," "The Professionals," "Point Blank," "The Big Red One" and "Cat Ballou."
Lee Marvin

In fact, he won an Oscar for his dual role in "Cat Ballou," one of the few times the Academy has seen fit to honor an actor in a largely comic role.

In later years, with a few exceptions, Marvin was reduced to making TV movies like the sequel to "The Dirty Dozen." But most will remember him as he was in the mid- to late '60s, as one of the industry's hottest actors.

He often played villains during his career, but few will forget his roles as a singing husband to a polyandrous woman in "Paint Your Wagon," a scarred war veteran in "The Big Red One" and a ruthless killer in "Gorky Park."

In a celebrated interview with Roger Ebert of the Chicago Sun-Times, Marvin slammed his "Gorky Park" co-star William Hurt, saying he was one of "the profound." The actor, Marvin said in no uncertain terms, was too caught up in mystical ponderings to be a pleasant human being.

Marvin was of the old school: You show up on time, say your lines, then go home. Period. Hats off for Liberty Valance.

In the continuing saga of "Three O'Clock High," the film shot here in Ogden last fall, it appears the release date of the picture -- Oct. 9 -- will be a crowded one at the box office.

There was brief discussion about pushing the release date back one week, to Oct. 16 – that was the word from Universal during the middle of this week -- but late Wednesday afternoon the studio changed its mind and went back to the Oct. 9 release. It's no surprise that executives are concerned, since 12 other films are slated for release that weekend nationwide. Among the contenders are potential heavy-hitters like "Baby Boom" with Diane Keaton and Sam Shepard, "Dancers" with, Mikhail Baryshnikov, John Huston's "The Dead," Taylor Hackford's "Hail, Hail Rock 'n' Roll" starting Chuck Berry, "Hello Again" with Shelley Long, Rob Reiner's "The Princess Bride," "Someone to Watch Over Me" with Tom Berenger, and the romantic comedy "Surrender" with Michael Caine, Sally Field and Steve Guttenberg.

That would be enough to frighten any sensible studio. At any rate, the world premiere of the film will take place in Ogden, at the Cinedome Theater, on Oct. 6 and 7. State and local VIPs will attend the screening on Oct. 6, and students will get to fight and scratch over tickets to fill the 796 seats for the Oct. 7 screening.

And, lastly, I'm interested to I know what your favorite movies of the summer were. Next week I'll take a look back at the summer months with my choices for the best and worst movies released from May through August. So begin thinking about what your favorites were, and next week I'll include a complete list of the summer's releases in this column. If you've already decided, let me know by mailing in your top-five picks -- and why you've selected those films – to Don Porter, Ogden Standard-Examiner, 455 23rd St., Ogden, Utah, 84402. On Sept. 18, I'll compile the results and quote a few readers' comments.

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