Huston. Huston’s strength is his depth of filmography. He’s a style-minus director so he needs that filmography to compete on this list. When Bogart gems like Key Largo and Beat the Devil are a director’s 8th and 9th best film it means you really have director with an abundance of great films. Of course Huston’s two best films (both in the top 500 of all-time) are also largely carried on the back of Bogart as well and I would listen to an argument that Huston should be closer to #150-200 on this list and that Bogart is one of the very rare actor as auteur examples. That’s the counter to Huston. Still, Huston had 18 archiveable films which is really remarkable- in any era (as far as modern auteurs only like likes of Linklater can touch) and has 5 films in the top 100 of their respective decade (which is going to be a good number as we start counting down from 100 to 200 on this list). During the 1960’s Huston was viewed as an average director (who made failed big name literary adaptation projects) and then came back with a vengeance in the 1970’s and 80’s (4 of the top 10 films I list below are from the 70’s or 80’s).
Best film: The Treasure of the Sierra Madre. I’m not one to often cite Best Director Academy Award wins (though it has been almost spot on from like 2013-2019) often but this is deserved here and Sierra Madre is an exceptionally directed masterpiece even if Huston is a “style-minus” director overall and is on this list not because of his visual style and form necessarily but his body of work. This film may be the biggest exception to that rule on Huston.
total archiveable films: 18
top 100 films: 0
top 500 films: 2 (The Treasure of the Sierra Madre, The Maltese Falcon)
top 100 films of the decade: 5 (The Treasure of the Sierra Madre, The Maltese Falcon, The Asphalt Jungle, The Man Who Would be King, The Dead)
most overrated: The Dead comes in at #437 all-time on TSPDT and that is just too lofty. It is broody, and atmospheric and a great film but not in the top 500.
most underrated: The Man Who Would be King. I have it has Huston’s 3rd and TSPDT has it as his 7th best. I absolutely love this movie. It’s underrated and I have it as the #2 Michael Caine performance of all-time and the #3 Sean Connery performance of all-time. That’s high praise for those two great actors. It’s got action, is entertaining, and is funny as hell.
gem I want to spotlight: Key Largo/Beat the Devi. Like I said at the top having these two films to round out your top 10 is impressive. They’ve both incredibly rewatchable and feature Bogart in his prime doing top work. What’s also nice about both is there’s really strong second performance (from Edward G. Robinson in Key Largo and Robert Morley in Beat the Devil), big performances that are needed from professional, seasoned actors to keep from being blown off the screen by Bogart.
stylistic innovations/traits: Of course Huston got his start as a screenwriter (he wrote like 25 Hollywood screenplays including many of his own films he directed) and remained a very literary director for the remainder of his career. He’s probably still a writer first and director second, and that’s why despite making some of the best films of the Hollywood era (all the Bogart stuff, a key film noir (The Asphalt Jungle)), he can’t crack the top 100 directors on this list. He was uneven having success with his adaptations- I mean Moby Dick isn’t great but The Dead is a pretty wonderful adaptation of Joyce (and making a film adaptation of Joyce is… well… brave). And again although he had the luxury of working with Bogart (and Nicholson, Caine, Hepburn, Finney…more of a trivia note but he directed both his daughter and father to acting Oscars) he wasn’t simply filming Bogart acting out his screenplay. The opening 10 minutes and final 10 minutes of Sierra Madre may be as finely directed as any segment of films in the 1940’s outside of Welles or Powell. Though the visual consistencies aren’t there and he’s no Jarmusch or WKW when it comes to film form—there is a consistency in the themes in Huston’s work. Look at his top 4 films below: Greed. Whether it’s the gold in Sierra Madre, the titular idol in Maltese, the ego in Man Who Would Be King and the downfall of the crew in Asphalt Jungle. The theme is there.
- The Treasure of the Sierra Madre
- The Maltese Falcon
- The Man Who Would be King
- The Asphalt Jungle
- The Dead
- The African Queen
- Fat City
- Beat the Devil
- Key Largo
- Under the Volcano
By year and grades
|1941- The Maltese Falcon||MP|
|1948- Key Largo||R|
|1948- Treasure of the Sierra Madre||MP|
|1949- We Were Strangers|
|1950- The Asphalt Jungle||HR/MS|
|1951- The African Queen||HR|
|1951- The Red Badge of Courage||R|
|1953- Beat the Devil||R|
|1956- Moby Dick||R|
|1961- The Misfits||R|
|1964- The Night of the Iguana||R|
|1966- The Bible: In the Beginning…||R|
|1972- Fat City||HR|
|1975- The Man Who Would Be King||MS|
|1979- Wise Blood||R|
|1984- Under the Volcano||R|
|1985- Prizzi’s Honor||R|
|1987- The Dead||HR|
*MP is Masterpiece- top 1-3 quality of the year film
MS is Must-see- top 5-6 quality of the year film
HR is Highly Recommend- top 10 quality of the year film
R is Recommend- outside the top 10 of the year quality film but still in the archives
Imo he’s a top 15 Director of all time I mean The Maltese Falcon(the first noir maybe?), The Treasure of the Sierra Madre(arguably the finest film of the 40s), The Man who would be King(although brilliant isn’t on The Asphalt Jungles level), and The Asphalt Jungle among others I mean this mans filmography is stacked easily one of the finest to ever do it.
@Randy– thanks again for sharing. Same with Lemmon. When doing this exercise I always have a hard time because there are so many. To make move for Lemmon or Huston I’d have to move others down.
Have you seen Escape to Victory(1981)?
@Chris- yes- I’ve seen it.
‘Treasure’ has some great but also some rather silly moments – and is presumably the most overrated Huston movie, as the British film critic Allen Eyles already recognized decades ago; ‘Key Largo’, another mediocre release, does not belong into Huston’s Top 10, too.
Some “major critics” disagree, of course, especially the late Mr. Roger Ebert (who by himself might very well be the most serious contender for the title of the most accomplished hollow words user & clueless writer on movies, directors & actors in the past 100 years.)
This does not look very good, i think they will come to attack you, since there are many Ebert fans.
However, i respectfully disagree with everything you say above.
Well, Allen Eyles is not the only renowned film critic with mixed feelings about ‘Treasure of the Sierra Madre’. There are also some other estabished writers like for example Hans C. Blumenberg or Clifford McCarty, autor of the comprehensive book ‘The Films of Humphrey Bogart’ (first published in 1965).
Both wrote essays on that matter and pointed out why by contrast ‘The Maltese Falcon’ & ‘Asphalt Jungle’ are more convincing character studies about human greed than the overrated ‘Treasure’.
Academy Awards are not necessarily and not always a ‘sign of quality’.
Since 1929 up to this day the responsible juries made some disputable decisions….
@Rudi Hirsch- thanks for the comments. A couple critics– I’m with the consensus here on Huston. They have Sierra Madre as his finest work http://www.theyshootpictures.com/gf1000_all1000films_table.php
Glad to see you love The Man Who Would Be King as much as I do! I’ve seen it twice or maybe thrice but the last time was probably 2 years ago or so. I feel like with a lot of films you’ve seen either when you’re younger or before you wake up to the potential cinema can have, you’ll rewatch them and realize they’re not actually that great. I’ve had this film in the back of my mind for a while for a future revisit (maybe around this summer) and it’s great to hear you’ve found greatness in it which means I probably will as well.