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9 Great John Huston Films

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Having lead an adventurous life as a boxer and cavalry officer prior to becoming a filmmaker, John Huston often used his films to reflect the struggle of rugged individualists trying to break free of social convention.

Huston also eschewed societal norms in his personal life with a number of affairs and marriages, while indulging heavily in gambling and drink. This list of John Huston films offers a glimpse into a life and career that spanned six decades and infused him into cinema history as one of its greatest directors.

1. ‘The Maltese Falcon’ – 1941

Warner Bros.

After spending the previous decade writing Hollywood scripts, Huston made his directing debut with this hard-boiled adaptation of Dashiell Hammett's crime novel. The film noir starred Humphrey Bogart as private eye Sam Spade, Mary Astor as femme fatale Brigid O'Shaughnessy, Peter Lorre as the squirrely Joe Cairo and Sydney Greenstreet as the Fat Man, all of whom engage in a web of deceit in order to find the titular jewel-encrusted falcon. A major entry into the film noir canon, The Maltese Falcon was a huge hit for Huston, turned Bogart into a star and served as a template for all other noirs to follow.

2. ‘The Treasure of the Sierra Madre’ – 1948

Warner Bros.

Teaming with Bogart again, Huston helmed this morality tale of the evil caused in pursuit of wealth, which earned him Oscars for writing and directing and cemented his place as a top Hollywood director. Bogie and Tim Holt played to down-and-out grifters who find gold, only to become increasingly obsessed with greed as they turn on each other. Huston cast his father, Walter, as a crazy old man who befriends the prospectors and later becomes frightened by their descent into madness. The film marked the beginning of a fruitful period for the director, where he directed a number of Hollywood classics.

3. ‘The Asphalt Jungle’ – 1950

MGM

One of the first film noirs to show criminals in a more sympathetic light, this heist-gone-wrong starred Sterling Hayden as tough guy Dix Handley and also featured Marilyn Monroe in one of her first screen roles. The hard-hitting look at the criminal underworld was considered one of Huston's best, thanks in part to an 11-minute sequence detailing the meticulous work of a jewel heist that leads to a series of double-crosses. Filmed in stark black-and-white with a documentary feel, The Asphalt Jungle heavily influenced a number of subsequent crime movies, most notably Quentin Tarantino's Reservoir Dogs (1992).

4. ‘The African Queen’ – 1951

Paramount Home Video

Few onscreen pairings were more memorable than Humphrey Bogart and Katherine Hepburn in Huston's wild combination of romance, adventure and comedy. The barbs fly when Bogie's gruff, gin-swilling steamboat captain is tasked with ferrying Hepburn's uptight and morally judgmental missionary back to civilization. Filmed on location in Africa, where the picture was plagued by illness and dangerous conditions, the classic romance earned four Academy Award nominations and won Bogart his only Oscar for Best Actor. This rollicking movie is full of energy and sharp dialogue, as the two leads trade verbal shots before falling in love.

5. ‘Moulin Rouge’ – 1952

United Artists

One of several films made about the famed Paris cabaret, Huston's version was the gloomiest despite being shot in bright three-strip Technicolor. The luminous period film focused on physically stunted artist Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec, who loses himself in the bohemian subculture of the city's bawdy burlesque. The drama also starred Zsa Zsa Gabor as famed can-can dancer Jane Avril, who was made famous by Lautrec's paintings. Once again, Huston's film received a number of Oscar nominations, but this time led to a notable career slide marked by a only few bright spots.

6. ‘Moby Dick’ – 1956

Warner Bros.
Gregory Peck starred as the obsessed Captain Ahab in Huston’s faithful adaptation of Herman Melville’s Great American Novel. Huston famously clashed with screenwriter Ray Bradbury throughout the production, as detailed in the sci-fi author’s biography, The Bradbury Chronicles. Still, the finished product was a stark, but thrilling adventure on the high seas that followed the delusional Ahab in his single-minded pursuit of the enigmatic white whale. Also featured in a brilliant cameo is director and actor Orson Welles, who himself had wanted to film his own version of the novel.

7. ‘The Misfits’ – 1961

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Most notable for being the last on screen performances of Marilyn Monroe and Clark Gable, this traumatic production marked a personal low point for Huston, who descended into alcohol and gambling addiction while filming the picture. Monroe was notoriously difficult on set thanks to her personal travails, while costar Montgomery Clift added to the behind-the-scenes troubles with his own addictions and the lingering effects of a serious car accident. Though critically acclaimed, The Mistfits failed at the box office, only to become legendary for how it was eerily entwined in the deaths of its three main stars.

8. ‘The Man Who Would Be King’ – 1975

Allied Artists Pictures

Based on the Rudyard Kipling short story, Huston's old-fashioned epic was originally intended as a vehicle for Humphrey Bogart and Clark Gable in the 1950s. But Huston had to wait 20 years to make it and instead cast Michael Caine and Sean Connery as two con men who travel to the farthest reaches of Afghanistan in search of adventure, only to wind up impersonating kings. Both wild and at times off-key, The Man Who Would Be King was pure Hollywood entertainment and one of the director's most fully realized historical narratives, which was duly noted with an Oscar nomination for Best Screenplay.

9. ‘Prizzi’s Honor’ – 1985

20th Century Fox

Teaming with daughter Anjelica Huston, the director made the last film released during his lifetime and ended his career on a high note. A charming Jack Nicholson played a mob hit man who falls in love with his opposite number (Kathleen Turner), only to face having to kill her when she runs afoul with the bosses. The darkly comic crime movie echoed Huston's past film noirs while inserting a sly commentary on modern business. Anjelica won an Academy Award for playing Nicholson's spurned lover, which made the Hustons the first family to win Oscars in three successive generations.

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