In a retrospective that spans five decades, the Film Society of Lincoln Center will present Let There Be Light: The Films of John Huston, December 19 – January 11. The series will feature Huston's iconic work, mostly as director, but also as a screenwriter and actor.
Huston was one of the greatest filmmakers of Hollywood’s golden age: an artist of great toughness, conviction, and eloquence; a master storyteller; a hardened cynic; a reluctant romantic; a stellar director of actors, and a brilliant actor himself. Discover, or rediscover, some of his most popular films as well as his rarely seen works on the big screen during this three-week comprehensive retrospective.
[Tickets for Let There Be Light: The Films of John Huston will go on sale Thursday, November 20. Visit filmlinc.com for more information.]
Long before striding in front of the camera to show Jack Nicholson’s character in Chinatown what men at the right place and time are capable of, John Huston established himself as one of the 20th century’s most accomplished film artists. With over a decade of writing credits by the time he assumed the director’s chair, he would later add producing and acting to his arsenal, racking up 15 Oscar nominations. His father, Walter, and daughter Anjelica both earned statuettes under his baton as director, making for one of the medium’s most formidable and collaborative dynasties. They are the only family to win Oscars in three successive generations.
Dennis Lim, Director of Programming for the Film Society, said: “John Huston was a titan of Hollywood’s golden age, but he long outlived it. His storied career spanned multiple decades, styles, and genres, and he was also the rare artist who grew more daring with age. This retrospective allows for a full appreciation of his prodigious gifts and ambitions. There are many films here that are now popular favorites but many more that are overdue for rediscovery.”
John Huston bio follows:
John Huston was born in Nevada, Missouri, on August 5, 1906. His father, Walter, was a Canadian stage star who appeared in early talkies, multiple Broadway productions, and many classic Hollywood films. John grew up around the theater and dropped out of school as a teen to pursue a boxing career, but after breaking his nose, left the ring, going on to work as a street performer and artist in London and Paris, before eventually enrolling in art school in Los Angeles to be a painter. He decided shortly thereafter to become a journalist, and then a screenwriter at Universal Studios, where he worked on Murders in the Rue Morgue and A House Divided (which starred his father).
Huston received his first Academy Award nomination for writing Dr. Ehrlich’s Magic Bullet in 1940, and in 1941 he directed his first feature, the film noir masterpiece The Maltese Falcon, quickly securing his place among Hollywood’s great directors (as well as turning Humphrey Bogart into a leading man; Bogart would routinely be cast in Huston’s next few films). In 1948, he won Academy Awards for writing and directing The Treasure of the Sierra Madre (which also netted his father a Best Supporting Actor Oscar), and in 1951 earned two more Oscar nominations and a Best Actor Oscar for Bogart in The African Queen.
Across his career, Huston directed over 40 films, wrote more than 20, and acted in nearly 30, including his notorious turn as villain Noah Cross in Roman Polanski’s crime masterpiece, Chinatown, in 1974. He experimented with different genres and in 1982, at the age of 76, he directed his spirited first musical, Annie. His magisterial final work, The Dead (1987), starred his daughter Anjelica (two years after she won the Best Supporting Actress Oscar for his crime caper Prizzi’s Honor).
Huston has been called “cinema’s Ernest Hemingway… never afraid to tackle tough issues head on,” and though he was by no means a “message man” like Stanley Kramer, a glance at his filmography reveals incisive treatments of racism, sexual identity, religion, alcoholism, psychoanalysis, and war. A renaissance man unbound to genre, Huston was also a painterly stylist attuned to the look of each scene. His films continuously circle back to questions of faith and doubt, concealment and revelation, failure and victory, empathy and the limits of consciousness. And though one of Huston’s great talents was for finding robust, flexible cinematic vocabularies for literary texts, his films were consistently imbued with a wise, reflective, open-minded voice entirely his own.
In the 1980s, Vincent Canby of The New York Times applauded Huston for “the amazing endurance of his first-rate cinematic intelligence, the variety of his films and the consistency with which he has recoupled his fortunes with a good film after turning out some bad ones… It may now be time to call him a master.”
[Tickets and a discount package with special holiday prices for the series will go on sale Thursday, November 20. Special Holiday Prices: Tickets as low as $5 with purchase of a 5+ Film Discount package! Single screening tickets only $10; $7 for students, seniors (62+), and Film Society members. The discount package price applies with the purchase of tickets to five films or more. Visit filmlinc.com for more information.]
Films, Descriptions & Schedule follow. All screenings will take place in the Walter Reade Theater (165 West 65th Street) unless otherwise noted.
Across the Pacific
John Huston, USA, 1942, 16mm, 97m
Huston’s third feature reteams much of the Maltese Falcon cast and crew, but it never actually crosses the Pacific—the locale changed from Pearl Harbor to Panama when the plot’s scenario became a reality before it could be filmed.
*Thursday, January 8, 1:45pm & 6:15pm
*Venue: Elinor Bunin Munroe Film Center, 144 West 65th Street
The African Queen
John Huston, USA, 1951, 35mm, 105m
Arguably the director’s most popular film pairs Bogart and Katharine Hepburn as a crude Canadian skipper and the uptight missionary who helps him steer the titular vessel downriver to torpedo a German gunboat.
Thursday, December 25, 8:00pm
Sunday, December 28, 3:10pm
John Huston, USA, 1982, DCP, 127m
When Huston agreed to bring the incredibly successful Broadway adaptation of Harold Gray’s comic Little Orphan Annie to the screen, the result was one of his most expensive films, one of his only musicals, and the biggest hit of his late career.
Wednesday, December 24, 1:00pm
The Asphalt Jungle
John Huston, USA, 1950, 35mm, 112m
Huston returns to his noir roots with another tale of unlikely partners, delivering what may well be the great American heist movie.
Friday, December 19, 8:45pm
Sunday, December 21, 6:00pm
The Barbarian and the Geisha
John Huston, USA, 1958, DCP, 105m
This 19th-century costumer about the U.S. Ambassador to Japan offers the twin pleasures of Huston’s still compositions, inspired by the setting, and John Wayne’s say-what? casting in the lead.
*Thursday, January 8, 4:00pm & 8:30pm
*Venue: Elinor Bunin Munroe Film Center, 144 West 65th Street
Beat the Devil
John Huston, USA, 1953, 35mm, 89m
Called the first camp movie by no less than Roger Ebert, Beat the Devil offers a wry send-up of noir classics, taking special aim at Huston’s own Maltese Falcon (with Bogart and Peter Lorre spoofing their roles and Jennifer Jones stealing the show playing against type).
Saturday, December 20, 4:00pm
Thursday, December 25, 10:15pm
Friday, December 26, 4:45pm
The Bible: In the Beginning
John Huston, USA/Italy, 1966, 35mm, 174m
Commissioned by Dino De Laurentiis, Huston’s mammoth adaptation of the first half of the book of Genesis found the director summing up a career’s worth of thinking on the conflict between faith and doubt.
Wednesday, December 24, 4:00pm
Ken Hughes, John Huston, Joseph McGrath, Robert Parrish, Val Guest & Richard Talmadge, UK/USA, 1967, 35mm, 131m
Producer Charles K. Feldman assembled a dream cast—Peter Sellers, Orson Welles, Woody Allen, David Niven, Deborah Kerr—for this omnibus James Bond satire, now a cult classic. Huston, who also makes a brief appearance on-screen, directed one of the segments.
Sunday, December 21, 8:30pm
Roman Polanski, USA, 1974, DCP, 130m
Cinema has few villains more odious, entitled, and self-possessed than Huston’s Noah Cross, a fat cat in 1930s L.A. in Polanski’s brilliant neo-noir.
Monday, December 22, 1:00pm
Tuesday, December 23, 6:00pm
John Huston, UK/Ireland/USA, 1987, 35mm, 83m
Adapted from the magisterial final story in James Joyce’s Dubliners, Huston’s final film is one of the medium’s great swan songs, a work of quiet grandeur and impeccable grace.
Wednesday, December 24, 7:30pm
Friday, December 26, 8:30pm
John Huston, USA, 1972, 35mm, 100m
Huston drew on his own boxing experience from his youth for this New Jersey–set film about a handsome, mildly promising fighter and his older, alcoholic has-been mentor—one of the indisputable masterpieces of its director’s late career.
Thursday, January 1, 4:00pm
Sunday, January 4, 8:30pm
Monday, January 5, 3:30pm
Freud: The Secret Passion
John Huston, USA, 1962, 35mm, 140m
Jean-Paul Sartre was the original screenwriter on Huston’s fascinating, profoundly strange Sigmund Freud biopic, a sort of cross between a psychological drama and an expressionist horror movie, featuring a subtle, melancholic central performance by Montgomery Clift.
Friday, December 19, 3:15pm
Saturday, December 20, 6:15pm
Heaven Knows, Mr. Allison
John Huston, USA, 1957, 35mm, 108m
Star chemistry ignites Huston’s World War II drama of a rough-hewn marine (Robert Mitchum) and a novice nun (Deborah Kerr) marooned on a Japanese-occupied island in the South Pacific.
Tuesday, December 30, 3:45pm
Saturday, January 3, 3:45pm
In This Our Life
John Huston, USA, 1942, 35mm, 97m
Huston’s sophomore feature is a drama of two sisters, one good and one evil, with a high-voltage turn by Bette Davis and a powerful subplot indicting racism.
Monday, December 29, 3:15pm
Wednesday, December 31, 8:45pm
John Huston, USA, 1948, 35mm, 100m
Bogart returns to reluctant hero mode as a former Army major held hostage by a gangster in a ramshackle Florida hotel. Lauren Bacall pairs with Bogie for the last time in this claustrophobic thriller.
Friday, December 19, 1:00pm & 6:30pm
Thursday, December 25, 5:45pm
The Kremlin Letter
John Huston, USA, 1970, 35mm, 120m
Jean-Pierre Melville raved over Huston’s grim, fiercely sharp-witted Cold War–era spy thriller, in which a group of American intelligence agents travel undercover to Moscow under the leadership of a deposed officer.
Sunday, December 28, 8:10pm
Friday, January 2, 3:45pm
Let There Be Light
John Huston, USA, 1946, DCP, 58m
Huston’s landmark study of psychologically scarred veterans was banned for decades by the Army, but now stands as a trenchant early depiction of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.
Winning Your Wings
John Huston, USA, 1942, 16mm, 18m
The first documentary by Huston—and his first contribution to the war effort—features “Lieutenant James Stewart” introducing a B-17 bomber and its nine-man crew. (Note: 6:00pm screening only)
John Huston, USA, 1976, 16mm, 30m
This short, commissioned by the National Parks Service to celebrate the American Bicentennial, is one of the most widely seen of Huston’s later films.
*Wednesday, January 7, 3:30pm & 6:00pm
*Venue: Elinor Bunin Munroe Film Center, 144 West 65th Street
The Life and Times of Judge Roy Bean
John Huston, USA, 1972, 35mm, 120m
Huston’s final Western is an ambling, charming shaggy-dog story peppered with outbursts of violence, anchored by a performance by Paul Newman at the height of his powers, and buttressed by a stellar supporting cast including Ava Gardner, Stacy Keach, and John Huston himself.
Saturday, January 3, 6:00pm
Friday, January 9, 8:30pm
The List of Adrian Messenger
John Huston, USA, 1963, 35mm, 98m
This deft, elusive whodunit takes place in postwar Britain, but its logic of concealment, mystery, and deception suggests a 19th-century detective story. With guest appearances by Tony Curtis, Frank Sinatra, Robert Mitchum, and Burt Lancaster.
Sunday, December 28, 1:00pm
Monday, December 29, 1:00pm
The Mackintosh Man
John Huston, USA, 1973, 35mm, 98m
Huston reteamed with Paul Newman for this labyrinthine spy thriller scripted by the legendary action director Walter Hill: a nostalgic love letter from an aging filmmaker to a dying genre.
December 30, 8:50pm
December 31, 2:15pm
The Maltese Falcon
John Huston, USA, 1941, 35mm, 100m
“The stuff that dreams are made of”: Huston’s directorial bow cemented Humphrey Bogart’s stardom in this quintessential noir tale of a priceless statuette and the dastardly parties pursuing it.
Thursday, December 25, 1:00pm
Friday, December 26, 2:30pm
The Man Who Would Be King
John Huston, UK/USA, 1975, 35mm, 129m
Huston had the biggest popular success of his late career with this rip-roaring adventure story, which teamed Sean Connery and Michael Caine as a pair of raffish, conquest-mad British imperialists.
Sunday, December 21, 1:00pm
Tuesday, December 23, 8:45pm
John Huston, USA, 1961, 35mm, 124m
The final film for stars Marilyn Monroe and Clark Gable, and Huston’s lone collaboration with Arthur Miller, is a tough, ambiguous morality play about a principled divorcée torn between her love for an aging cowboy and her attachment to the natural world he wants to control.
Saturday, December 20, 1:30pm
Monday, December 22, 3:45pm
John Huston, USA, 1956, 35mm, 116m
A prolific adaptor of literature, Huston set one of his greatest personal challenges in adapting Herman Melville’s canonical tale of obsession, with a Gregory Peck as the vengeance-seeking Captain Ahab.
Sunday, December 21, 3:30pm
John Huston, USA, 1952, 35mm, 119m
A vibrant foray into the bohemian districts of late-19th-century Paris and the titular cabaret as habituated by diminutive artist Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec.
Sunday, January 4, 3:30pm
Tuesday, January 6, 3:00pm
The Night of the Iguana
John Huston, USA, 1964, 35mm, 125m
Richard Burton, Deborah Kerr, and Ava Gardner lead the near-flawless cast of Huston’s adaptation of Tennessee Williams’s play about a reverend thrown out his parish for sexual misconduct and sent into exile as a tour guide in Mexico.
Saturday, December 27, 1:00pm
Tuesday, December 30, 6:15pm
John Huston, Canada/USA, 1980, 35mm, 94m
Huston’s career took one of its most dramatic left turns with this sci-fi-inflected horror film about a psychiatrist embroiled in a sinister murder plot.
Saturday, December 20, 9:00pm
Tuesday, December 23, 1:15pm
John Huston, USA, 1985, 35mm, 130m
Huston’s penultimate film—it premiered two weeks before his 79th birthday—has the irreverent spunk of a debut and the reflective, generous voice of a swan song. Jack Nicholson gives one of his finest performances as a beloved, longtime hit man employed by a New York mob family, but he’s nearly upstaged by his two co-stars: Anjelica Huston, in an Oscar-winning role, as his spurned ex-lover and Kathleen Turner as the savvy, beautiful West Coast mob killer he all-too-successfully courts. Prizzi’s Honor is the kind of comedy that could only have been made by a director fresh from the soul-searching of Wise Blood and Under the Volcano: loose and relaxed, yet hinting at darker depths.
Sunday, January 11, 7:00pm
The Red Badge of Courage
John Huston, USA, 1951, 35mm, 69m
Under Huston’s direction, Stephen Crane’s Civil War novel, about a callow Yankee who flees his company during battle and is haunted by feelings of cowardice, becomes a memorable coming-of-age tale that’s epic in feel, despite running just over an hour.
Friday, December 26, 6:45pm
Wednesday, December 31, 4:30pm
Reflections in a Golden Eye
John Huston, USA, 1967, 35mm, 108m
In Huston’s hands, Carson McCuller’s melodrama, set at a Southern army base, became a tender, languid, and deeply sad portrait of men and women pushing up against the social conventions that constrain them.
Saturday, January 3, 1:20pm
Friday, January 9, 6:15pm
Report from the Aleutians
John Huston, USA, 1943, digital projection, 47m
The first color film by Huston (narrated by the director) juxtaposes combat footage of the Aleutian campaign with scenes depicting the tedium of army life.
The Battle of San Pietro
John Huston, USA, 1945, 35mm, 32m
Huston’s account of a key skirmish in the Italian campaign was so harrowing that the army attempted to delay its release. It’s now regarded as a milestone in combat realism.
*Wednesday, January 7, 1:00pm & 8:45pm
*Venue: Elinor Bunin Munroe Film Center, 144 West 65th Street
The Roots of Heaven
John Huston, USA, 1958, 35mm, 121m
Never one to choose easy projects, Huston took on Romain Gary’s treatise on the sanctity of wild animals, blending action and philosophy in this chronicle of an environmentalist’s crusade to preserve the lives of elephants in French Equatorial Africa.
Friday, January 2, 1:15pm
Sunday, January 4, 1:00pm
John Huston, USA, 1969, 35mm, 95m
Taking a turn for the picaresque, Huston made this fleet-footed, sharply observed, and consistently underrated adventure story adapted from the fanciful death-row autobiography of Scottish rogue David Haggart.
Friday, January 9, 4:00pm
Saturday, January 10, 6:45pm
Ovidio G. Assonitis, Italy/USA, 1977, 35mm, 102m
One of Huston’s oddest screen appearances found him starring—alongside Shelley Winters (!) and Henry Fonda (!!)—in this gloriously goofy creature feature, produced one year after Jaws by veteran horror director Ovidio G. Assonitis.
Friday, January 2, 8:35pm
There Will Be Blood
Paul Thomas Anderson, USA, 2007, 35mm, 158m
Huston’s fingerprints are all over Paul Thomas Anderson’s parable of self-determinism carried to baleful extremes, with a central performance, modeled on Huston’s speaking voice, that captures both his magnetism and his unfathomability.
Saturday, December 27, 5:45pm
The Treasure of the Sierra Madre
John Huston, USA, 1948, 35mm, 126m
A decisive portrait of avarice and a bona fide American classic, Huston’s adaptation of B. Traven’s novel earned him Oscars as both writer and director, and a supporting actor trophy for his dad Walter as one of the film’s three rapacious gold miners.
Tuesday, December 23, 3:20pm
Thursday, December 25, 3:15pm
Saturday, December 27, 8:50pm
Under the Volcano
John Huston, USA, 1984, 35mm, 112m
This shattering adaptation of Malcolm Lowry’s dense modernist novel is one of the most sensitive and well-observed depictions of alcoholism in film history, anchored by Albert Finney’s towering lead performance.
Friday, January 9, 1:30pm
Saturday, January 10, 8:45pm
John Huston, USA, 1960, 35mm, 125m
Huston hoped to make a frank statement on racial prejudice in America with this saga of a frontier family and their adopted Indian daughter; though it fell short of his expectations, it remains a sober and intelligent film with fine performances.
Sunday, December 28, 5:30pm
Thursday, January 1, 1:30pm
John Huston, USA, 1981, 35mm, 116m
In Huston’s must-be-seen-to-be-believed mash-up of the sports movie and the POW escape thriller, Michael Caine and Max von Sydow share the screen with a star-studded lineup of international soccer stars, headlined by the legendary Pelé.
Wednesday, December 31, 6:15pm
Sunday, January 4, 6:00pm
A Walk with Love and Death
John Huston, USA, 1969, 35mm, 90m
Two lovers act out a brief, doomed romance while their world comes apart around them in Huston’s oblique 14th-century take on the “make love not war” generation.
Saturday, January 3, 8:30pm
Tuesday, January 6, 1:00pm
We Were Strangers
John Huston, USA, 1949, 35mm, 109m
Among the grittiest, most offbeat films of Huston’s studio period, We Were Strangers depicts in documentary-like fashion a band of Cuban revolutionaries, led by an American expat (John Garfield) and a revenge-seeking girl (Jennifer Jones).
Tuesday, December 30, 1:30pm
Thursday, January 1, 8:30pm
White Hunter, Black Heart
Clint Eastwood, USA, 1990, 35mm, 112m
On both sides of the camera, Clint Eastwood limns one of his most complex creations: John Wilson, a dauntless filmmaker (based on Huston) who ventures into Africa as much to test his masculinity as to get a great film in the can.
Friday, January 2, 6:15pm
Monday, January 5, 1:00pm
John Huston, USA, 1979, 35mm, 106m
Brad Dourif gives the performance of his career as a proselytizing atheist in Huston’s indelible, hilarious, and deeply challenging adaptation of Flannery O’Connor’s debut novel.
Saturday, December 27, 3:30pm
Thursday, January 1, 6:15pm