This movie is not ranked on the top of AFI’s "Greatest American Movies" of all time for nothing. Every single aspect and element of this film - from its direction, cinematography, script development, performances, editing, to its art direction - is outstanding. When you take a director such as Roman Polanski, add a writer like Robert Towne, and have actors such as Jack Nicholson and Faye Dunaway, it’s almost a done deal. What leads this film to excel beyond excellence is its profound content and complex, multi-leveled storyline. Its underlying historical significance concerning the 1930s water rights in Los Angeles has also earned the film to be selected for preservation by the United States National Film Registry by the Library of Congress in 1991.
The story is set in the 1930s. J.J. “Jakes” Gittes, played by Jack Nicholson, is a Los Angeles private investigator hired by Evelyn Mulwray to spy on her supposed cheating husband, who is the city’s chief engineer for the water department. Soon after the initial investigation, Gittes finds that this woman is an impersonator of Evelyn Mulwray. He plunges into the case to discover the complex twists and turns of a murder involving incest and municipal corruption, which somehow all relate to the city’s water supply. How far do people in power go to keep themselves in that position? Follow Gittes’ investigation to find out.Continue Reading
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
The Maltese Falcon
Like John Ford & John Wayne or Scorsese & De Niro, John Huston & Humphrey Bogart's work together as director and star will be forever linked in audiences' subconscious. After years of being a happening screenwriter, Huston got his chance to direct his own adaptation of Dashiell Hammett's crime novel, The Maltese Falcon. The film would help make Bogart a leading man, would lead to a 50-year career for Huston, and set the standard for detective films to come.
Like many detective and crime films of the 1940s, The Maltese Falcon is often improperly lumped in with the Film Noir genre. At best, The Maltese Falcon could be deemed a kick-starter to the genre that actually peaked in the post-WWII years. With the exception of a femme fatale or a detective it has little in common stylistically with the best of Film Noir (The Postman Always Rings Twice, Out Of The Past, etc.). That's not to say that the film (and the book) were not hugely influential, they were.Continue Reading
William Richert’s first feature was every young filmmaker’s dream. He was to direct Winter Kills, a big budget thriller based on a novel from best-selling author Richard Condon, starring Hollywood stars Jeff Bridges, John Huston, Eli Wallach, and Anthony Perkins as well as international luminaries Toshiro Mifune and Tomas Milian. He assembled a crew of professionals including Vilmos Szigmond, the cinematographer of McCabe & Mrs. Miller, Deliverance, and Close Encounters of the Third Kind, and Robert Boyle, the production designer on three Hitchcock films. And he started dating the film’s female lead, model Belinda Bauer. On its release Winter Kills received rave reviews from The New York Times and The New Yorker, yet after a week it was pulled from theaters. What sinister force didn’t want the public to see it?
In the film Bridges plays the only scion of a wealthy and well-connected family with an enduring involvement in politics. 19 years ago his brother was the President of the United States, until he was shot by an unknown sniper. Now, the location of the murder weapon is uncovered and Bridges must use the money and power that he has distanced himself from. Huston plays his eccentric, megalomaniac father and Perkins is the enigmatic “man behind the curtain” who might be the only one who knows the truth. The pace of Winter Kills is unrelenting, yielding more secrets and false leads with every twist, then swiftly doubling back and denying them. In its desire to reconcile the characters’ contradictory testimonies, the film quickly becomes a black comedy satirizing the ineffectual inquiry into the JFK assassination and its consequent conspiracy theories, but the rising body count and spasms of sudden violence keep Winter Kills a riveting thriller as well.Continue Reading