John Huston’s massive career as a director spanned almost fifty years (1941-1987) and it’s full of classics and misfires, ranging from the high of his genre masterpiece, The Maltese Falcon (his first in '41), to the bizarrely unwatchable psycho-thriller, Phobia, in '80 (starring Paul Michael Glaser!?). Today he is mostly revered for his WWII docs and some of his work with Humphrey Bogart (Falcon, Key Largo, The Treasure of The Sierra Madre and The African Queen), while The Asphalt Jungle, The Misfits, Under The Volcano, Prizzi’s Honor and many more have their champions. The main body of his work is mostly made up of imperfect but ambitious exercises in different styles, Moby Dick, Freud, Reflections in The Golden Eye being just a couple of examples. But without a doubt his mostly fascinating, not perfect, but utterly unique film might be his biography of the disfigured French artist Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec, Moulin Rouge. Released in '52, it's a sorta lost classic (not to be confused with Australian director Baz Luhmann’s hyperactive exercise in ear drum damage).
Respected Puerto Rican born actor José Ferrer, fresh off his Oscar winning performance in '50 for playing Cyrano de Bergerac, takes on the role of the painter who is remembered just as well for the childhood accident that stopped his legs from growing as he is for his post-impressionism painting of the seedier side of the decadence of Paris’s colorful nightclub world of dancers, outcasts and prostitutes at the Moulin Rouge. Filmed with a colorful “Technicolor” style to match the painting of Toulouse-Lautrec (with echoing tilted angles to match other '50s visionaries like Nicholas Ray), Huston and dynamic cinematographer Oswald Morris (Sleuth, Lolita, The Spy Who Came in From The Cold, etc. etc.) use every trick in the Wellesian book to tell their story (flashbacks, shooting through mirrors, every color carefully placed) and are aided by the vivid sets and costumes by Marcel Vertès, who won two Oscars for the film.Continue Reading