Even for the great directors on the list – the Hitchcocks, the Kubricks, the Bergmans – it’s rare for the list to include their final films. Kubrick’s Eyes Wide Shut made the inaugural list before being culled, and some may argue that Fanny and Alexander, Bergman’s last theatrical film, might qualify as well, but for the most part, it’s not that common with recurring directors on the list. Not so for John Huston; he made Prizzi’s Honor, which we just saw, and then, he made one final film, appropriately titled The Dead, pretty much as he was dying. Huston directed The Dead from a wheelchair, hooked up to oxygen tubes, and had to jump up out of the chair in bursts to look through the camera. To the editors of the List, this must have been a hell of an achievement indeed, and it is, but this doesn’t make the film any more of a must-see, in my opinion. But, after seeing it, there is a unique sell to be had here, and it’s one that is worth the lead-up, if only slightly.
The Dead is a period piece, much akin to A Room with a View, but not as overtly romantic. Think of this as a weird combination of A Room with a View and Festen. It’s filled with high society, and takes place in a lavish party for a select few couples, who eat and drink and share in the camaraderie of being high-class folk together. Really, that’s all the film is; at least, at first. Where The Dead succeeds is in the ending, which I won’t spoil (not that it’s necessarily a big spoiler), but it casts a completely different light on the entire film. Little things that seemed inconsequential in the first hour suddenly mean something entirely separate altogether, and though I ultimately felt that a second viewing would be a little too redundant, I suspect this is a film that may reward multiple viewings. Huston once again directs his daughter, Anjelica, in a well-rounded cast; everyone is believable, and even the few standout characters are only barely that, save for Donal Donnelly’s slightly disreputable and semi-drunken Freddie, who was consistently a scene-stealer.
This was another one that, while I ended up liking it more than I thought I would, I wasn’t convinced had done enough to warrant inclusion on the list. The Book makes some good points about how the film ultimately has a bit of Huston exploring his own impending mortality, but in my eyes, there wasn’t enough of it to be a truly unique example in film, to add to a list of must see films. That said, I still liked this, even though it was heavily a period piece; it’s short, also, which is another great selling point, and was for me. As to whether you should check this one out, there’s pros and cons for doing so, so I can only say; you can take it or leave it. Well, that’s it for this Huston-a-thon, as well as John Huston’s films that made the list. Normally, for a director who has so many entries, I’d offer up a retrospect on their career as a whole, but I feel I already did that with my review of Prizzi’s Honor; Huston’s films are modestly good, and that’s that (with the possible exception of the standout noir The Maltese Falcon). Still, you could always count on him to deliver a solid picture when you needed one, so for that, he’s definitely on the list of the all-time greats for me, and this was a solid picture all around.
Arbitrary Rating: 7/10