John Huston

Blu-Ray Review: THE AFRICAN QUEEN (1951)

After Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness but long before Francis Ford Coppola’s Apocalypse Now, John Huston sailed down river with The African Queen, his charming adaptation of C. S. ‘Horatio Hornblower’ Forester’s novel about a prim British missionary teaming up with the grizzled captain of the titular tramp steamer to combat vicious Germans deep in Africa in World War One.

Who do you cast in such roles? Why, Humphrey Bogart and Katherine Hepburn, of course! If you can put to one side the improbability of the southern drawling Hepburn, about as American as can be, playing the sister of the pompous and delightfully British colonial Robert Morley, The African Queen offers much to enjoy. Hepburn had already achieved screen greatness in the 30’s and this would serve as one of several comebacks across ensuing decades, but Bogie was arguably here at the height of a career buoyed by Casablanca and set to be tragically cut short by the end of the 1950’s. Huston nevertheless understands putting these two together is celluloid dynamite; a heady fusion of charismatic big screen prowess as Hollywood sailed into the last decade of its Golden Age of stars, studios and old-fashioned vehicles.

That being said, The African Queen has inspired so much over the last seventy years, it provides a template for the romantic comedy adventure that would be replicated down the decades, be it Robert Zemeckis with Romancing the Stone or even Steven Spielberg’s Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom. Hepburn and Bogart are the classic reluctant pairing thrown together, who fall in love amidst great adversity.

Blu-Ray Review: MOBY DICK (1956)

Even if you haven’t read Herman Melville’s 19th century novel, who doesn’t know the story of Moby Dick? Captain Ahab and his wooden leg obsessively hunting the titular white whale off the Cape of Good Hope. Moby Dick means all kinds of things to a great many people, in the case of this 1956 adaptation, film director John Huston.

Before this lavish Technicolor adaptation, Melville’s great American novel had only been committed to celluloid once, or sort of twice; John Barrymore starred in 1926 in The Sea Beast as Ahab, which was then remade with sound in 1930 as Moby Dick, as the silent film gave way to the pre-Code Hollywood age of talkies. Huston’s version was the first screen take on the source material to truly capture the scope and majesty of Melville’s tome, and no one since in over sixty years has really tried to better it, even if certain seafaring pictures have emulated it, or allegorically science-fiction—Star Trek in particular—has worked to capture the spirit of Moby Dick on a different canvas. Perhaps nobody has tried to match Huston’s version, co-written incidentally with legendary science-fiction author Ray Bradbury, even with more advanced effects and filming techniques, because it would be hard to do a better job.

By degrees theatrical, Shakespearian, moving and thrilling, Huston’s Moby Dick remains a gorgeous piece of late Hollywood Golden Age filmmaking to this day.