The Cincinnati Kid (1965) Written by Ring Lardner Jr. and Terry Southern Directed by Norman Jewison
Norman Jewison was not the first director to work on this production. Edward G. Robinson wasn’t the first choice for the main antagonist either. But through a series of circumstances & disagreements during filming, the film changed and became something else. Sam Peckinpah was the first director in charge of The Cincinnati Kid. Apparently, the producers believe Peckinpah “vulgarized” the film and fired him after a few days of shooting. Spencer Tracey had pulled out due to poor health, and Robinson stepped in. Peckinpah had planned to shoot the picture in black & white due to its Depression setting. That was changed to color when Jewison was brought on board. Would the Peckinpah version have been better? We’ll never really know but what we did end up with was a very enjoyable movie about poker.
Limitless (2011) Written by Leslie Dixon Directed by Neil Burger
If you could take a pill that would make you a super smart guy, would you do it? This month’s patron pick was explicitly chosen to irritate me, and I love it for that. Would I have ever voluntarily chosen to watch Limitless? Hell no. Am I looking forward to writing this review? Of course, I am! This film is what a stupid person thinks an intelligent person is like. It’s Michael Bay’s concept of what a genius would be. The people that fawn over Elon Musk and think he’s a god among men while ignoring that he’s the child of privilege probably rank this picture as one of their favorites. It is absolutely hilarious in how much it gets wrong and in its perception of succeeding is.
Late Spring (1949) Written by Kogo Noda & Yasujirō Ozu Directed by Yasujirō Ozu
Japan was in the middle of a significant cultural transition when Late Spring was in production. American forces occupied the country in the wake of World War II and aggressively fought back against the Japanese’s traditional feudalistic customs. One of these was arranged marriages, and it was rigidly enforced in Japanese popular culture by Americans. I don’t think Americans today fully comprehend how much we interfered in Japan’s development after the atrocity of dropping two nuclear bombs on them. Yasujirō Ozu’s body of work was all about examining Japanese traditions in the context of his own time, so blanket censorship like this proved to be a major obstacle in his way.
Annie (1982) Written Carol Sobieksi Directed by John Huston
The 1970s were a fruitful period for Huston, with several acclaimed films and an expansion of his aesthetics to fit a modern style. Huston also worked in front of the camera as the iconic villain Noah Cross in the neo-noir Chinatown. He voiced Gandalf in the Rankin-Bass animated production of The Hobbit. Huston even starred as the lead in Orson Welles’ final & delayed film, The Other Side of the Wind. On the bleaker side of life, Huston was diagnosed with emphysema in 1978, which would plague him for the rest of his life. He’d been a heavy smoker since he was a young man, so it was only a matter of time until it caught up with him. In the early 1980s, Huston was approached by producer Ray Stark to direct an adaptation of the Broadway musical Annie. Huston had never made a musical in his forty years directing, so he decided to give it a shot.
The Man Who Would Be King (1975) Written by John Huston & Gladys Hill Directed by John Huston
In a 180 from the bleakness of Fat City comes this large-scale adventure film with a message. Based on Rudyard Kipling’s novella, The Man Who Would Be King was a story that Huston had wanted to make for twenty years. I assume Humphrey Bogart was initially in mind for one of these characters as the themes and plot feel very similar to The Treasure of the Sierra Madre. This is a picture about treasure hunters going off into a land foreign to them only to learn that their quest for a fortune is doomed from the start. I don’t think there is another director who could have made this picture as perfectly as Huston.
Fat City (1972) Written by Leonard Gardner Directed by John Huston
After directing The Misfits, John Huston continued his work with Montgomery Clift in Freud: the Secret Passion. Huston was an avid supporter of psychotherapy, and the film is narrated by the director. It’s a somewhat Messianic portrayal of Freud as enlightening humanity. Huston would adapt the Tennessee Williams’ play Night of the Iguana in 1964, followed by The Bible: In the Beginning in 1966. That latter film produced by the legendary Dino de Laurentis was one of the last big overblown Biblical epics of the era. Huston appeared in the picture as Noah. These movies were not well received by critics & audiences, which was disappointing. Fat City would turn the tide as the director surveyed the changes happening in American cinema and adapted his style.
The African Queen (1951) Written by John Huston, James Agee, Peter Viertel, and John Collier Directed by John Huston
Despite his track record of dark, crime-centric movies, John Huston was also a romantic. That was on full display in The African Queen. This wasn’t Huston’s last film with Humphrey Bogart, but it is considered his last great film working with the actor. He was working with a lighter, comedy type of film. Huston also shot on location in Uganda and the Congo. The African Queen was a Technicolor picture that added difficulty to the production. The cameras needed for the Technicolor process were large and somewhat unwieldy. But in an effort for authenticity, Huston refused to shoot most of the picture on a soundstage.
The Asphalt Jungle (1950) Written by Ben Maddow & John Huston Directed by John Huston
John Huston was fascinated with the state of the urban in post-War America. We saw in Key Largo that there was a looming fear that the old Prohibition-era mobs would return to power. In The Asphalt Jungle, Huston takes a much more nuanced look at the criminal element, refusing to present them as one-dimensional and no good. The Asphalt Jungle was a challenge to get made as MGM studio head Louis B. Mayer did not like it. He was overridden by the head of production, Isadore “Dore” Schary. Schary was a Jew born in New Jersey who eventually worked his way up to run MGM after Mayer left when his direction was losing the studio money. Mayer favored dazzling wholesome spectacles, while Schary wanted darker movies that had a message.
Key Largo (1948) Written by Richard Brooks and John Huston Directed by John Huston
Back during the 1930s & 40s, it was common for a director to have two films out per year. These days that would be a surprising accomplishment, but you were expected to churn out a larger workload at the height of the studio system. John Huston was working under this type of contract at Warner Brothers, so 1948 saw the release of The Treasure of Sierra Madre in January, followed by Key Largo in July. Huston had such an eye for detail & quality he wasn’t going to let one film suffer to make the other better. He’d ensure both movies were fantastic. And that he certainly did.
Movie Review – The Treasure of the Sierra Madre (1948) Written & Directed by John Huston
John Huston served in the U.S. Army during World War II, making films for the Signal Corps. He directed several films, both narrative & documentary, about soldiers and the war during this time. Despite the acclaim these pictures received, they were ultimately banned because some of them focused on failures of the U.S. military. The brass labeled them as “demoralizing to the morale of the troops.” He seemed to develop a fascination with war documentaries for the rest of his life as his daughter, Anjelica, said that when the family moved to Ireland, that was most of what they watched at home. I think something about men put in desperate situations surrounded by violence must have appealed to Huston, and it was the basis of his next film.