John Huston

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Statue of John Huston in Puerto Vallarta , Mexico

John Marcellus Huston (born August 5, 1906 in Nevada , Vernon County , Missouri , † August 28, 1987 in Middletown , Rhode Island ) was an American film director , screenwriter and actor . Huston, who has worked on some of America's greatest classic films in his nearly sixty-year career, has become one of the most influential filmmakers in American cinema. His best-known directorial works include the Humphrey Bogart films The Trail of the Falcon , The Treasure of the Sierra Madre and African Queen . Many consider him an exemplary director of film noir ; "In fact, since D. W. Griffith there has hardly been a US director who has contributed so much to the invention and renewal of cinema as John Huston".


Childhood and youth

His ancestors are of Scottish and Irish descent. It is said that his grandfather won his small hometown at a poker game. His father was the famous character actor Walter Huston and his mother Rhea Gore , a sports reporter roaming the country in search of stories. Walter Huston took his only child to the vaudeville stage at the age of three . After his parents divorced, the boy had to go on tour with his father every six months and accompany his mother on reporting trips, mostly to horse races.

John Huston was a delicate and fragile child. With heart dilation and kidney disease, there was little hope that the boy would reach adulthood. But he recovered when his mother moved him from Texas to California. He dropped out of school at 14, briefly attended military school at 15, then became a boxer and won the California Amateur Lightweight Championships - his distinctive, depressed nose was a product of that time.

Wandering years

At the age of 18, Huston married Dorothy Harvey. In the same year, at the instigation of his father, he appeared for the first time as an actor in an off-Broadway play called The Triumph of the Egg . He made his Broadway debut in 1925. However, Huston felt hemmed in by both his marriage and acting and gave up on both. He went to Mexico with the US Army and became an honorary officer in the Mexican cavalry.

After a while he returned to the USA. His mother let her relationships run wild and Huston was able to work as a reporter in New York . But his stories were adventurously badly researched, so that he was released. He kept sending short stories to various newspapers and magazines. He was accompanied by Samuel Goldwyn as screenwriter hired dialogues wrote for films by William Wyler and his first screenplay, Law and Order (Law and Order) , which was made into a movie.

On September 25, 1933, he ran over the Brazilian dancer Tosca Roulien on Sunset Boulevard , who died in the process. His father asked MGM's powerful boss, Louis B. Mayer , to use his influence with the police and, in fact, the alcohol level of John Huston's blood was not checked. Huston was absolved of all responsibility. Traumatized, he fled Hollywood and traveled to London and Paris , where he studied painting and drawing; he became homeless there and had to beg for food.

Success in hollywood

Huston tried to organize his life. He married a second time, wrote and produced several Broadway plays, played Abraham Lincoln in a theater production (his father had also played the President in a D. W. Griffith film a few years earlier ), and sent some scripts to Warner Brothers . They were impressed by his talent and commissioned Huston to work on prestigious projects such as Jezebel - The Malicious Lady (Jezebel) , Sturmhöhe (Wuthering Heights) , Juarez , Paul Ehrlich - A Life for Research (Dr. Ehrlich's Magic Bullet) , Decision in the Sierra (High Sierra) and Sergeant York . Huston received his first two Academy Award nominations.

In 1941 he got the chance to make his own film. As writer and director, he adapted Dashiell Hammett's thriller The Maltese Falcon (The Maltese Falcon) for the third time for the screen. The film The Trail of the Hawk was an overwhelming success; He made a star out of Humphrey Bogart and is now considered a prime example of film noir and one of the greatest detective films.

Huston's subsequent films were the melodrama I want to live my life (In This Our Life) starring Bette Davis and Olivia de Havilland and the romantic war film Across the Pacific , in which three of the stars from his first film played, Bogart, Mary Astor and Sydney Greenstreet . During World War II , Huston served as a lieutenant and made a number of documentaries for the US government. These include the controversial film Let There Be Light (1946), which was kept under lock and key by the US government because of its disturbingly realistic portrayal of the problems of war veterans.

Huston was divorced for the second time and married actress Evelyn Keyes , in Gone with the Wind (Gone With the Wind) had a supporting role, but the marriage lasted barely a year. In the same year he staged Jean-Paul Sartre's play Geschlossen Gesellschaft (Huis clos) on Broadway. The production was a financial failure, but received the New York Drama Critics Award for best foreign language play.

He celebrated a great success in 1948 with The Treasure of the Sierra Madre (The Treasure of the Sierra Madre) . This character study of the greed for wealth earned Huston two Oscars (direction and screenplay) and his father Walter Huston the Oscar for best supporting role. At the beginning of the film, John Huston made a cameo as a tourist, but he wasn't to be seen again as an actor for 15 years. The restless Huston now remained faithful to the movie business and wrote and directed fundamental in the years to works of American film history: Key Largo (Key Largo) , The Asphalt Jungle (The Asphalt Jungle) , The Red Bravery Medal (The Red Badge of Courage) , African Queen , Moulin Rouge and Moby Dick .

Together with William Wyler , Humphrey Bogart , Gene Kelly , Danny Kaye and others, the militant supporter of the Democratic Party founded the Committee for the First Amendment in 1947 , which took up the fight against Senator Joseph McCarthy's anti-communist Un-American Activities Committee . In protest of Hollywood blacklists and bans , Huston moved to St. Clerans, Ireland and took Irish citizenship with his fourth wife, ballet dancer Enrica Soma . Two children were born out of the marriage, including the actress Anjelica Huston (* 1951).

Middle and late years

The grave of John Huston in Hollywood Memorial Park Cemetery

Huston's films of the 1960s and 1970s were no longer as unanimously welcomed by critics, but they were mostly box office hits and cemented his reputation as an innovative, often controversial filmmaker. Special mention should be made of Misfits - Not socially acceptable (The Misfits) , Freud , Die Nacht des Iguana (The Night of the Iguana) , Fat City , Das war Roy Bean and Der Mann who wanted to be King (The Man Who Would Be King) .

1963 returned Huston with a supporting role in Otto Preminger's epic film The Cardinal (The Cardinal) to acting and became a Globe Golden and an Oscar nomination rewarded. From now on he played prominent supporting roles again and again; He had his best in The Bible (The Bible: In the Beginning ...) as Noah and voice of both God the Father and the Serpent in Paradise, as The Lawgiver in The Battle for the Planet of the Apes . In Roman Polański's Chinatown , Huston played the father Noah Cross, who had an incestuous relationship with his daughter Evelyn Cross Mulwray. The character's name is a reference to Huston's role in his own Bible film.

His wife separated from Huston in 1962 when the son of an actress, Danny Huston (also a film actor and director) was born to him. There was never a divorce. Enrica Soma died in a car accident in 1969 and Huston adopted her child from a later marriage. Huston moved to Mexico in 1972, where he married his fifth wife, Celeste Shane . The marriage ended in divorce in 1977.

After a series of unsuccessful and artistically disappointing films, Huston ended his life's work with three films that are unanimously rated among his best by critics:

Despite having emphysema (the result of chain smoking), Huston continued to work on film projects until shortly before his death. Huston successfully shot with his daughter Anjelica and sons Tony and Danny in his final years. Anjelica Huston received a Supporting Actor Oscar for her performance in The Prizzis' Honor . The roles were reversed in the films Mister Corbett's Ghost and Mr. North - Darling of the Gods ; it was directed by Danny Huston and the father was an actor.

Clint Eastwood's White Hunter Black Heart (White Hunter, Black Heart) 1990 continued Huston ambivalent monument. The film, based on a key novel by Peter Viertel , describes the chaotic filming of African Queen . Eastwood played Huston as an egomaniacal character who subordinated film work to elephant hunting.

A star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame commemorates John Huston.



Men in conflict situations are almost always at the center of Huston's films; often these heroes are defeated or have dubious victories. “Its protagonists often represent extremes. They are either ignorant, ridiculous and doomed by their lack of knowledge of themselves, or intelligent, arrogant, but also doomed by their lack of knowledge of themselves. Between these extremes stands the cool, intelligent protagonist who will sacrifice everything for self-knowledge and independence. [...] the greatest respect has Huston for the man who keeps his dignity in spite of pain and failure. "Even in Huston's first film as director, The Maltese Falcon (The Maltese Falcon) , solves private investigator Sam Spade indeed the case, but loses he is the woman he loves because he feels morally obliged to hand her over to the police as the murderer of his partner.

The well-read Huston found such characters in well-known works of world literature, which he brought to the screen without ever creating brittle and academic films based on retelling. He shot entertaining and exciting, without betraying or falsifying the claims of the adapted works. Huston brought templates to the screen by authors as diverse as Stephen Crane , Romain Gary , Dashiell Hammett , Ernest Hemingway , James Joyce , Malcolm Lowry , Carson McCullers , Herman Melville , Arthur Miller , B. Traven and Tennessee Williams .


Film noir

With The Maltese Falcon (The Maltese Falcon) Huston established a new genre in American cinema, the film noir . A number of essential features of the genre have already been developed in this film:

  • The film deals with crime, the motives are mostly greed and jealousy.
  • The worldview of the film is pessimistic-cynical.
  • The plot is morally ambiguous, the hero is a morally questionable character, the main female character is often a femme fatale .
  • The film is set in a big city that forces people to socialize in a purposeful, cold manner.
  • The images in the film thrive on strong light-dark contrasts.
Director style

Huston became famous for his no-frills way of filmmaking. From his first directorial work onwards, he worked with a meticulously drawn storyboard , with the help of which he precisely determined the composition of the image and camera movements. He shot in the actual order of the story, preferring real locations to create authenticity. The actors were selected based on whether they were experienced professionals who had to be given as few hints as possible in order to have to re-shoot as little as possible. Huston was known for staying mostly under budget. In post-production he produced as finished versions as possible in order on the one hand to come close to his ideal of a clear, no-frills, realistic narrative style and on the other hand to make it difficult for the studios to re-cut their films afterwards.

Camera work

With his eight-time cameraman Oswald Morris , Huston revolutionized the Technicolor process at a time when experiments were frowned upon and the studios were above all interested in brilliant, radiant colors. In 1952, Huston gave a free hand to Morris, who was still completely unknown in Hollywood, and he photographed Moulin Rouge through smoke and colored light, so that the film was reminiscent of the colorfulness of the posters by Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec . With Moby Dick , both went a step further; the film was developed in such a way that its images were reminiscent of old, faded copper engravings from the 19th century.


Social criticism

Huston was a contentious person, an often authoritarian director ( John Wayne once knocked Huston down out of anger over his behavior on the set) and an artist with clear liberal convictions, which he expressed in his films without fear of criticism and censorship. In his film noir Asphalt-Jungle (The Asphalt Jungle) , he has a police officer say: "Criminals are not that different from us, crime is just a special form of struggle for life." At the time of Joseph McCarthy's anti-communist witch hunt, this was a remarkable sentence .

His realistic, often pessimistic view of the world and human relationships brought him into conflict with the goal of producing salable, positive family entertainment that Louis B. Mayer was striving for. Two of the films in which the two clashed, was The Treasure of the Sierra Madre (The Treasure of the Sierra Madre) (Mayer was against the death of the main character) and The Red Bravery Medal (The Red Badge of Courage) (Mayer complained that the Film lacks a relaxing romantic component). In fact, Huston kept getting into trouble with his studios, which had some of his films reworked to make them friendlier and more salable. David O. Selznick even fired John Huston from directing In Another Land (A Farewell to Arms) and replaced him with Charles Vidor .

At the age Huston was not conciliatory: With Wise Blood (Wise Blood) Huston returned in his later years, a biting satire about religious fundamentalism . In Prizzi's Honor (Prizzi's Honor) , he attacked with cynical humor police corruption and links between law enforcement and the Mafia .

Anti-war films

Huston was a staunch opponent of war. He said, "If I ever make a film that glorifies war, someone should shoot me." He already showed the cruelty in his documentary films The Battle of San Pietro (San Pietro) and Let There Be Light , which were ordered by the US government of war and post-war more realistic than his client would have liked. The US Army refused to show their soldiers the uncut The Battle of San Pietro because they feared for morale. The theme of post-traumatic stress disorder of former soldiers in Let There Be Light was such a taboo break that the film was kept under lock and key by the US government for thirty years. Huston Stephen Crane film version The red Bravery Medal (The Red Badge of Courage) contained so harrowing war scenes that the film from the studio re-cut and was cut by 20 minutes.

other topics

Huston themed in films like The Roots of Heaven (The Roots of Heaven) the problematic use of man with nature, long before there was a real environmental debate; however, was even in Africa as a big game hunter. In films such as Misfits - not socially acceptable (The Misfits) and Die Nacht des Iguana (The Night of the Iguana) , he refused the optimism that is usual in the film business and painted a gloomy picture of the human claim to omnipotence towards nature.

Huston was interested in borderlines and as a result was one of the first Hollywood directors to openly address homosexuality in film without condemning it from the start. In his film Reflections in a Golden Eye (Reflections in a Golden Eye) understanding is awakened for the martyred of hide and seek in public gay main character.



Feature films



Feature films




watch TV

  • 1966: ABC Stage 67: The Legend of Marilyn Monroe
  • 1976: Bronk: Long Time Dying
  • 1976: Sherlock Holmes in New York
  • 1977: The Rhinemann Exchange
  • 1977: The Hobbit
  • 1978: The Word
  • 1980: The Return of the King
  • 1985: Alfred Hitchcock Presents : Man from the South
  • 1987: Mister Corbett's Ghost





For life's work


  • John Huston: … more than just a life ( autobiography , original title: An Open Book , translated by Karsten Prüßmann), Schüren, Marburg 2007, ISBN 978-3-89472-492-4 .
  • Stuart Kaminsky: John Huston. His films - his life. (Original title: John Huston, Maker of Magic translated by Bernd Eckhardt), 2nd, revised edition, Heyne, Munich 1986 (first edition 1981), ISBN 3-453-86037-3 (= Heyne books volume 32, Heyne film library no . 41).

Web links

Commons : John Huston  - Collection of Images, Videos and Audio Files

Individual evidence

  1. a b John Huston
  2. John Huston biography on
  3. Stuart M. Kaminsky: International Dictionary of Films and Filmmakers . 1991
  4. ^ John Huston (I) - Biography