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.
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.
Films by Walter Huston: