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John Huston Retrospective at Film Society

An oasis for serious cinephiles this season was the Film Society of Lincoln Center's Let There Be Light, a near-complete retrospective of the films directed by the maverick John Huston, mostly screened in good 35-millimeter prints shown on the impressive screen of the Walter Reade Theater, and including all of his features as well as some films by other directors which he acted in or influenced. The series ran from December 19th to January 11th. Below I note some of the highlights of the series screened in 35-millimeter at the Walter Reade.

Atypical for Huston was the interesting and rarely screened drama partly about racial injustice, In This Our Life, like almost all of Huston's works an adaptation, in this case from a novel by the eminent writer Ellen Glasgow, and starring Bette Davis, a luminous Olivia de Havilland, George Brent and Charles Coburn, as well as featuring a Max Steiner score. It was shown in what appeared to be a newly struck print.

In This Our Life posterAlso very rarely screened in 35-millimeter is the beautiful Heaven Knows, Mr. Allison, one of the director's finest works, about the romantic feelings of a marooned Marine in the Pacific for a nun during World War II. Robert Mitchum and Deborah Kerr, in the lead roles, were never better. Exquisitely photographed in color by Oswald Morris and scored by Georges Auric, it was presented in an outstanding print.

Another rarity was the unusual drama about conservation, The Roots of Heaven, adapted from a novel by the distinguished Romain Gary, who co-authored the screenplay with the esteemed travel writer, Patrick Leigh-Fermor. The film stars Trevor Howard, in a characteristically superb performance, alongside an excellent supporting cast including Errol Flynn, Juliette Gréco, Eddie Albert, Orson Welles, Paul Lukas and Herbert Lom. The Roots of Heaven was again elegantly photographed in color by Morris and features a score by another esteemed composer, Malcolm Arnold. It was screened in a fine print.

Also quite scarce is one of Huston's lesser works, the intermittently entertaining The List of Adrian Messenger, a murder mystery with a lighter tone. The eccentric cast is headed enjoyably by George C. Scott and Kirk Douglas, with assistance from Dana Wynter, Clive Brook, Gladys Cooper, Herbert Marshall, and Huston himself, along with bizarre cameos by Tony Curtis, Burt Lancaster, Robert Mitchum and Frank Sinatra. The film was photographed in monochrome by the superb Joe MacDonald and scored by the extraordinary Jerry Goldsmith; it was shown in a good print.

Reflections in a Golden Eye, an exercise in Southern Gothic adapted from a novel by Carson McCullers, is, by contrast, one of the director's strongest works. Dazzlingly shot by Aldo Tonti in an unusual color process, the film's high-powered cast is dominated by a quartet of leads with its members delivering some of their best performances: Marlon Brando, Elizabeth Taylor, Brian Keith and Julie Harris (also notable is the debut of a gorgeous Robert Forster as the object of lust for Brando's tormented character). Scored by the significant Japanese composer, Toshiro Mayuzumi, the film was projected in an excellent print.

Reflections was shortly followed by the unexpectedly delightful, seldom screened period romp, Sinful Davey, handsomely photographed in color by Freddie Young and Edward Scaife, featuring abundantly pleasurable work from an impressive cast including John Hurt, Pamela Franklin, Robert Morley, Donal McCann, among others; it was presented in a very good print.

Huston's next film, A Walk with Love and Death is an interesting, if not entirely successful, romance set in medieval times featuring an unusually convincing recreation of the period — as noted by one of the director's most eloquent defenders, Positif critic Jean-Pierre Coursodon — this work's most remarkable facet. The cast includes Anjelica Huston —in her first starring role — opposite Assi Dayan, with support from Anthony Higgins, Michael Gough, and the director himself. The evocative score is by the magnificent George Delerue.

Huston's next film, the baroque Cold War thriller The Kremlin Letter, is one of his most gratifying and underrated productions. Patrick O'Neal, in a thoughtful performance, leads an astounding cast including Bibi Andersson, Richard Boone, Nigel Green, Dean Jagger, Lila Kedrova, Micheál MacLiammóir, Barbara Parkins, George Sanders, Raf Vallone, Max von Sydow, Orson Welles and Niall MacGinnis; it too was screened in a very good print.

Huston followed this with one of his most enduring achievements, the pessimistic boxing film Fat City, adapted by Leonard Gardner from his respected novel. Memorably photographed in color by the brilliant Conrad Hall, the superior cast includes Stacy Keach in the lead role, alongside Jeff Bridges, Susan Tyrrell, Candy Clark and Nicholas Colasanto. It was screened in another very good print.

Finally, another rarity was the director's engaging espionage film, The Mackintosh Man, again shot by Morris and featuring a score by Maurice Jarre. Paul Newman confidently heads a wonderful cast including Dominique Sanda, James Mason, Harry Andrews, Ian Bannen, Michael Hordern, and Jenny Runacre, among others. Regrettably, the print was merely adequate but this was a worthwhile experience nonetheless.

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