Sunday, February 11, 2018

Walter Huston and the Huston filmmaking clan

The 2018 O Canada Blogathon is an event devoted to Canadian actors and films, hosted by Speakeasy and Silver Screenings. For a list of participating bloggers, visit the links at either site.

I'm eager to talk about Walter Huston for this year's blogathon because I think he's one of the most underrated actors of the Hollywood Golden Age, not to mention the fact that he's the progenitor of a filmmaking family as prolific as the Barrymores.


The Treasure of the Sierra Madre was the first film of his I saw, although of course I had no idea who he was at the time, nor did I know the director was his son John. 

You don't need me to tell you what an outstanding movie it is. The elder Huston's character is part of Bogey's quest for gold, though he's not as obsessive about it as Bogey or Tim Holt. His role is more like the provocateur, the one who pokes fun at the others even as he leads them on their quixotic hunt, as eager for the prize as them. Like many of his roles, it's contradictory. He's lively, quick-witted, yet ruthless, in his way, and he almost steals the movie right out from under Bogey.

For a long time, I'd see him in other films and I could never make the connection  with him in Treasure: was that really the same guy? Huston would've been a successful actor in any era: his was a powerful presence on screen, energetic, daring, and above all, versatile.

The Toronto native was born in 1883 and first acted in stage, in 1902, after going to acting school. He moved into vaudeville and eventually Broadway, in 1924. Five years later he appeared in the Gary Cooper western The Virginian, and his career in film took off, alternating between lead and supporting roles in films like Rain, Yankee Doodle Dandy, The Furies, The Devil and Daniel Webster, the macabre Kongo, and the exquisite Dodsworth.

Son John was born in 1906, to Walter and his first wife Rhea Gore. John initially pursued a career in writing; Walter appeared in two early films of his, A House Divided and Law and Order. John was given the chance to direct after hitting it big with films like Sergeant York and High Sierra. His debut was the noir classic The Maltese Falcon.

John originally imagined Walter in the Bogey role when he first read the book in 1935. World War 2 changed his and Warner Brothers' plans for the film, but after it was over, the studio wanted their top gun, Bogey, for the lead. Walter didn't want a supporting role at first, but John talked him into it. Walter even performed without his dentures. Both father and son would win Oscars.

During the war, Walter did voice-over work on a number of informational  propaganda shorts, while John made films for the Army Signal Corps, as told in the Mark Harris book Five Came Back. Ironically, the Canadian Walter portrayed Uncle Sam in December 7, a Pearl Harbor documentary. Father and son teamed up for Report from the Aleutians, a notable doc about a US military operation at sea against Japan. John directed and Walter narrated.

The Huston clan eventually produced more filmmaking offspring in Walter's grandchildren: screenwriter Allegra, actor-director Danny, actor-writer Tony, and of course, actress Anjelica, the third generation of Hustons to win an Oscar; plus great-grandson Jack, an actor.

Back in 1938, Walter appeared in a Broadway show called Knickerbocker Holiday, in which he sang a sentimental tune called "September Song." 



It went on to become an American standard (I remembered this as one of the songs I learned while taking lessons on the Hammond organ as a child). Many years later, Anjelica would perform it on television.

So yeah, Walter Huston. Up there with the greats, as far as I'm concerned.

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Films by Walter Huston:
Dodsworth
The Furies

Previously:
Sarah Polley
John Candy
William Shatner

Saturday, February 3, 2018

New release roundup for January '18


Aargh. I was gonna do regular-sized posts on these movies, but I've been preoccupied with the novel, plus, y'know, procrastination, so I'll just do a quick summation here.


- The Post. Spielberg made the right movie at the right time. Amazing how so much of what we're seeing with the current presidential administration is just history repeating itself, which is exactly what happens when we forget the lessons of the past. Meryl Streep as Washington Post publisher Katherine Graham is a reluctant heroine who finds the strength within herself to take a stand against an oppressive regime, ultimately becoming a women's lib heroine as well. Oscar number four? Maybe! I would vote for it for Best Picture, but it's not as dominant a nominee as I had expected. We'll see.


- Film Stars Don't Die in Liverpool. Meanwhile, Annette Bening continues to do excellent work without racking up even one statuette. As former film noir bad girl Gloria Grahame, in a love affair with a much younger British actor, this seemed like a slightly unusual choice for her at first, but I totally bought the romance. Jamie Bell, the dancing Irish lad from Billy Elliot, now grown up, was quite good also. This was the last film I saw at the Lincoln Plaza Cinemas. It was close to a sellout, but I suspect that was more because of people wanting to say goodbye to the venerable theater than anything else.

Thursday, February 1, 2018

Links and a fare-thee-well

Let the record show that the final movies shown at the Lincoln Plaza Cinemas were the following: A Ciambra, The Insult, Darkest Hour, My Coffee with Jewish Friends, Film Stars Don't Die in Liverpool, Happy End and Wonder Wheel. The final day of this beloved indy movie theater saw a packed house, with patrons and staff sharing memories and offering best wishes for the future.

I was one of a handful of people taking pictures of the joint, as you can see. It was tempting to pick a "souvenir" of some sort to take with me, but it wasn't like I could walk out with one of their framed movie posters under my arm — hence the pictures. I had never really noticed how much original non-film related art was in the lobby.

Vija was sick and couldn't make it; most of the others had already paid their last respects earlier this month, and some weren't interested in seeing Liverpool (I liked it), so it was just me and Sue from our film group who helped preside over the end, but we were part of a huge crowd for the movie. (More on it soon.)

Earlier in the day, there was a ceremony held in memory of the Lincoln and the late co-owner Dan Talbot attended by, among others, filmmaker Michael Moore (who blamed corporate greed for the closing).

It has been quite encouraging to see the love and support shown for this local, independent movie house, as well as for the Sunshine downtown (being replaced by this monstrosity), not just here in NYC but throughout the film industry in general. Even in this Netflix era, the movie-going experience still counts for something.

That's no small thing, especially when it's built on a foundation of quality films in a pleasant environment run by people with taste. If you have a theater like the Lincoln or the Sunshine where you are, consider yourself fortunate — and support them when you can. They're rare birds these days.

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That's Katha & Don in the front row.
In other news, I attended the kickoff party for the Queens World Film Festival a couple of weeks ago. Good news: it was held in the Astor Room, the chic supper club located at the Astoria Kaufman Studios. Bad news: they had to move us to the basement because of repairs.

That didn't diminish the spirit of the gathering, though with QWFF head honchos Don & Katha Cato in the house, diminished spirit is never a problem. By the time you read this, the updated website, with this year's lineup of films, should be live. If you're in the New York area in mid-March, consider coming out to Astoria for the show.

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I'm grateful for the turnout for the Time Travel Blogathon hosted by myself and Ruth from Silver Screenings. This is shaping up to be a very eclectic lineup, which is always cool to see. Plenty of time to get in on the fun if you want, but if not, you can always hop in your DeLorean or slingshot around the sun and, you know... It all goes down the weekend of March 9-11.

Links after the jump, plus more Lincoln Plaza photos.