The gaudier the patter: the best of John Huston

This smelly buzzard, a hard-drinking scoundrel who could quote passages from Joyce’s Ulysses by memory, was one of the few writer-directors in Old Hollywood but didn’t “originate” his own material. We remember him for his adaptations, many botched. I saw Wise Blood and Under the Volcano again — talk about taking a crayon to the material. The pulpier the novel, the sharper the result — the old adage, right? I can nevertheless watch the top five with pleasure, all of which star Humphrey Bogart in career-best performances. Jean Renoir gets deserved credit for his wide angle shots and deep focus, but this scene in the Dashiel Hammett adaptation, in which an amused Sam Spade watches Brigid O’Shaughnessy pretend in a flurry of movement to be a pillar of rectitude, is a master class in character development.

1. The Maltese Falcon
2. The Treasure of the Sierra Madre
3. Beat the Devil
4. Prizzi’s Honor
5. The African Queen
6. The Asphalt Jungle
7. The Red Badge of Courage
8. The Man Who Would Be King
9. Wise Blood

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