“I don’t believe God is dead. Just drunk.”- John Huston
Sung by Richard Harris / written by Jim Webb
(A curious analogy: – not knowing the origins of Webb’s controversial lyrics greatly affect some people’s appreciation of this song – or whether you can even appreciate it at all. But I won’t get into that here …)
A Large Elephant
At the outset, I do wonder if this film – though interesting and enjoyable – is really worth such of any such in-depth analysis? It’s not an epic of Oscar proportions. And it’s obviously possible to watch Man in the Wilderness and enjoy it without pondering any of the musings that I am about to attempt. However, that never stopped me before.
I have just re-watched Man in the Wilderness – for the first time in many years. I had been disinclined to watch it again at all since I recalled my first viewing – back in 1971 – was a disappointment. But I was a young fool of 23 back then – and may have been impaired in some manner. Now however, I am much more handsome and have risen in brilliance (cough). Not that I wouldn’t trade for a second.
Anyway, I now find the film to be a much different experience than it was on my first ride. And I see several points of interest that I had not noticed before. I hope you’ll agree.
Firstly, despite Richard Harris’ capably and worthy Star Power in the film, John Huston presence in this movie is huge – a VERY LARGE elephant in the room — though he did not Direct (Richard C. Sarafian, Director) – his stamp and shadow loom all over the movie. And it’s damn certain that Huston would not consent to any project that didn’t suit him somehow. All his dues had been paid – and then-some.
A brief Bio sketch of Huston becomes necessary:
At the making of the film Huston was already legendary in the Film trade/Arts – having been voted 10 times for Oscars, won Oscars for Directing, Screenwriting and Acting. Many of his films are classics: (The Treasure of the Sierra Madre (1948), Key Largo (1948), The African Queen (1951) (both with Bogart), The Asphalt Jungle (1950), The Red Badge of Courage (1951), Moulin Rouge (1952), Moby Dick (1956), The Unforgiven (1960), The Misfits (1961), Freud (1962), The Night of the Iguana (1964). The Bible: In the Beginning… (1966). Fat City (1972), The Man Who Would Be King (1975), Wise Blood (1979), Under the Volcano (1984), Prizzi’s Honor (1985).
Just about all of Huston‘s movies are a required study for any entering the film trade. Very few people have a legacy such as this.
Huston was raised of rugged, but cultured parents – participated in Vaudevillian circles – was Amateur Lightweight Boxing Championship of California – later in “Mexico became an officer in the cavalry and expert horseman while writing plays on the sly” – later studied Art in Paris, where the sometimes “homeless beggar” continued writing. – returned to America to pay more dues on Broadway – and eventually his first loud flash of fame as screenwriter and director for the Dashiell Hammett mystery yarn The Maltese Falcon (1941). (This movie classic made a superstar out of Humphrey Bogart) – Bio info gleaned from on Intermet Movie Database / IMDB)
Huston Trivia (IMDB):
- Son of actor Walter Huston, whom he directed in The Treasure of the Sierra Madre (1948).
- Son Tony Huston appeared with him in The List of Adrian Messenger (1963).
- Appeared with daughter Anjelica Huston in A Walk with Love and Death (1969).
- He is the only person to have ever directed a parent (Walter Huston) and a child (Anjelica Huston) to Academy Award wins.
- Huston was a licenced pilot.
- Directed 15 different actors in Oscar-nominated performances: Sydney Greenstreet, Walter Huston, Claire Trevor, Sam Jaffe, Humphrey Bogart, Katharine Hepburn, José Ferrer, Colette Marchand, Deborah Kerr,Grayson Hall, Susan Tyrrell, Albert Finney, Anjelica Huston, Jack Nicholson and William Hickey. Bogart and Trevor won Oscars for their performances, as did Huston’s father Walter Huston and daughter Anjelica Huston
- He and his father Walter Huston are the first Oscar-winning father-son couple. They are also the first father-son couple to be Oscar-nominated the same year (1941) and the first to win the same year (1949).
- Was known to have a mean streak when handling actors, and reportedly irritated John Wayne (who was slightly taller than Huston and much more massive) so much while filming The Barbarian and the Geisha (1958) that Wayne lost his temper and punched Huston, knocking him out cold.
- Three generations of Oscar winners in the Huston family: John, his father Walter Huston and his daughter Anjelica Huston.
- His WW II documentary Let There Be Light (1946) was one of the first, if not the first, films to deal with the issue of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder of soldiers returning from the war. Huston actually said that, “If I ever do a movie that glorifies war, somebody shoot me.” This documentary was based on his front-line experiences covering the European war and what he saw soldiers go through during and returning from the war.
- Is one of the few people to receive at least one Oscar nomination in five consecutive decades (1940s, 1950s, 1960s, 1970s, 1980s).
- Honored on a US Postage Stamp in May 2012.
- He directed his daughter Anjelica Huston in five films: Casino Royale (1967), A Walk with Love and Death (1969), Sinful Davey (1969), Prizzi’s Honor (1985) and The Dead (1987).
- Directed both Katharine Hepburn and Audrey Hepburn. (Last names aside, if you don’t know why this is notable, please go to another blog.)
- Disgusted by the Hollywood blacklisting, Huston was an ardent supporter of human rights and he, along with director William Wyler and others, dared to form the Committee for the First Amendment in 1947, which strove to undermine the House Un-American Activities Committee.
Often labelled as massively eccentric, Huston was his own man – and there is much more that could be written on him here. I don’t think any BioPic could do Huston justice – though Clint Eastwood attempted a snapshot of his character in White Hunter Black Heart (1990). Maybe a long Mini-Series? But even then …
Strangely, Huston is revealed as strongly religious – and we see plenty of evidence in his films. Most obviously, of course, in The Bible: In the Beginning.. (1966).
But this is also revealed in Man in the Wilderness. As you’ll see.
In short, I’d guess that Huston related strongly with Hugh Glass‘ (Man in the Wilderness) – his character and courage.
That’s enough for today …
Man in the Wilderness / Part 3