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Walter Huston: Lesser and Better Known Work

Discussion of the actors, directors and film-makers who 'made it all happen'

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feaito

Re: Walter Huston: Lesser and Better Known Work

Postby feaito » October 23rd, 2009, 9:18 pm

By the way, thanks to Ollie today I saw "The Beast of the City" (1932) another film -a Precoder- which demonstrates Walter Huston's tremendous talent as an actor. The same year he played the rotten, unpleasant, crooked judge in "Night Court" (1932), he portrayed the exact opposite character with the same credibility. What an actor he was; he had such a gift, talent and range. Unbelievable.

Here he plays an heroic chief of police in a film that looks more like a Warner Bros. production (just like "Night Court") than a MGM photoplay. Oddly enough, lovable Jean Hersholt plays the rotten character, underworld boss Belmonte. Wallace Ford is Huston's younger brother -a weak cop- and Jean Harlow is superb as an impudent tart -she has the hottest scenes in the film. very good picture, that improves as it advances to an exciting conclusion. Tully Marshall plays deftly a corrupt lawyer and Mickey Rooney impersonates Huston's kid son.

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Re: Walter Huston: Lesser and Better Known Work

Postby MissGoddess » October 23rd, 2009, 10:05 pm

And tonight he plays a man with no sense of humor or earthy lust for life which I find so characteristic. Yet I love his character in Dragonwyck, because he's a positive force equal to the negative energy contained within the "marble halls" of Dragonwyck---more so than Glen Langan's upright, but somewhat passionless Doctor Hunt (Langan sure is gorgeous, though---and that voice just makes me melt).
"There's only one thing that can kill the movies, and that's education."
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Re: Walter Huston: Lesser and Better Known Work

Postby knitwit45 » October 24th, 2009, 7:41 am

Dodsworth has two of the best lines in movies, "You'll have to stop getting younger someday" and the best exit line EVER...."Love has to stop someplace short of suicide".

what a movie.

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Re: Walter Huston: Lesser and Better Known Work

Postby movieman1957 » November 11th, 2009, 9:37 am

Finally saw Dodsworth last night. Very good film with terrific performances. Huston is terrific. At some point after his wife turns up with boyfriends everywhere I quit being annoyed by his complacency about it all. He is to free with her and all her fun. It really is hard to like Fran. I am of an age where I can understand not wanting to get old but the way she reacts seems too much. Someone mentioned the scene with Astor and her age and getting a good slam from Astor but it wasn't enough. (Oh, wasn't that a great first class butt kicking delivered by David Niven?)

Two points really hit bottom with me about Fran. One where the idea that anyone found out she was a grandmother made her ill. The other was more subtle. After coming home with Kurt and Sam comes to her room to confront her she is not quite undressed but still covers up. Now maybe that is 1936 censors but still being married you wouldn't think she would be so modest. That, to me, tells him more than anything it is over.

Once Walter comes to terms with it he remains fairly good natured about it. Not that he is happy but he is not the forlorn spurned husband I would have expected. He shows a little humor when putting he situation at its low point on his reuniting with Mrs. Cartwright.

One thing I thought interesting was at the end when Sam finally lets her have it there are more and more people populating the background. Everything she wanted to keep secret is now being played in front of an ever increasing, even if disinterested, crowd.

All that and a baby faced John Payne.
Chris

"Time flies like an arrow, fruit flies like a banana."

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Re: Walter Huston: Lesser and Better Known Work

Postby MissGoddess » November 11th, 2009, 9:53 am

Oh, Chris, you never saw DODSWORTH before? I'm glad someone new has discovered it and liked it.
"There's only one thing that can kill the movies, and that's education."
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jdb1

Re: Walter Huston: Lesser and Better Known Work

Postby jdb1 » November 11th, 2009, 9:57 am

movieman1957 wrote:Finally saw Dodsworth last night. Very good film with terrific performances. Huston is terrific. At some point after his wife turns up with boyfriends everywhere I quit being annoyed by his complacency about it all. He is to free with her and all her fun. It really is hard to like Fran. I am of an age where I can understand not wanting to get old but the way she reacts seems too much. Someone mentioned the scene with Astor and her age and getting a good slam from Astor but it wasn't enough. (Oh, wasn't that a great first class butt kicking delivered by David Niven?)

Two points really hit bottom with me about Fran. One where the idea that anyone found out she was a grandmother made her ill. The other was more subtle. After coming home with Kurt and Sam comes to her room to confront her she is not quite undressed but still covers up. Now maybe that is 1936 censors but still being married you wouldn't think she would be so modest. That, to me, tells him more than anything it is over.

Once Walter comes to terms with it he remains fairly good natured about it. Not that he is happy but he is not the forlorn spurned husband I would have expected. He shows a little humor when putting he situation at its low point on his reuniting with Mrs. Cartwright.

One thing I thought interesting was at the end when Sam finally lets her have it there are more and more people populating the background. Everything she wanted to keep secret is now being played in front of an ever increasing, even if disinterested, crowd.

All that and a baby faced John Payne.


Chris, I'm glad you saw this wonderful adult movie. I'd like to point out a few things based on your comments: first, do you remember early in the movie that Sam and Fran were undressing in their bedroom in a very free and married people way? Fran hiding her bosom from Sam later on is an indication that she now considers him a stranger, and their intimate relationship is over.

Now, as for Fran's reaction to growing older. First bear in mind that the book came out in 1929. Even as late as 1936, a woman's life was very different from what it is now. A forty year old woman was a middle-aged woman, for whom romance and even sex were no longer considered seemly. Haven't you noticed that in old Hollywood movies the mothers of pretty young things are usually rather matronly, and sometimes much older than you would expect? Mothers in Classic filmdom weren't supposed to have, or even think about sex for themselves.

I think one of the things Fran really fears, which is of course not mentioned, is menopause. Once a woman reached menopause back then, her productive life was essentially over. Fran's behavior represents her desperate attempt to convince herself and those around her that she is not yet finished. I think Fran is quite jealous of Sam -- he is still considered vigorous and capable, and he is comfortable with himself and his life. Fran was probably sensitive to her place in the world all her life. As I've mentioned before, Sinclair Lewis' characters are often depicted going through midlife crises. Fran's is a beaut, and it ends up doing her in.

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Re: Walter Huston: Lesser and Better Known Work

Postby movieman1957 » November 11th, 2009, 10:16 am

Judith:

Thank you for your thoughts on Fran. I must admit I didn't look at it though she thought her life was basically over having reached a certain age. I did think of it more as if she were older it would more a point of not having anymore fun. That may be the same side of the coin but I didn't think of it as a strictly female thing. Mostly I thought she didn't find Sam fun anymore and she was going to keep on as long as she could. That may not be enough to explain her not going home as that would only ruin the whole experience for her.

I do remember them early on changing clothes freely. Sam walking around in his boxers was funny. There was one low camera angle in that same scene that show Sam sitting on a chair but the bed obscures all but his head. This lead me to think that he was all undressed and thus comfortable with each other. This made for a huge contrast later when Fran covers up.
Chris

"Time flies like an arrow, fruit flies like a banana."

jdb1

Re: Walter Huston: Lesser and Better Known Work

Postby jdb1 » November 11th, 2009, 11:52 am

Chris, even in my own lifetime, societal attitudes toward women have changed significantly, though not nearly enough.

A woman's job was to land and keep a husband, have children, and run the household. Once she was past childbearing age, she was no longer "valuable." I well remember when I was a child that older women simply gave up being active and well put together, because they were no longer taken seriously. I was constantly surprised to learn the ages of women of my childhood who I thought were so old -- they weren't old at all by today's standards, but they were made to feel old. Before the 1980s, turning a mere 30 was traumatic for most women, especially if they were not yet married. Remember the ads in the 1980s "40 isn't fatal?" Forty is nothing any more; forty is young.

Fran Dodsworth had to deal with the prejudices of her set, coupled with her own fears of being discounted, and her reaction was an extreme one. The expected reaction of others to her behavior would have been derision; that hasn't changed all that much. We still see Fran as rather ridiculous and pathetic, and of course she is. We now have the luxury of taking for granted the things Fran was raging against decades ago. Without knowing what came before, a great movie like Dodsworth loses some of its impact. It should come with a disclaimer.

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Re: Walter Huston: Lesser and Better Known Work

Postby moira finnie » November 11th, 2009, 1:34 pm

I've come to see Fran Dodsworth (Ruth Chatterton) as a nearly tragic figure in a classical sense, though I used to see her as just a damn fool. Just like a Greek hero or heroine such as Orestes or Medea, she doesn't know herself nor does she fully understand the consequences of her actions. She not only feels as though her value as a human being and a woman is eroding, but she is also self-obsessed and insecure since she doesn't really have any inner life. She has the pretensions of her economic class and the superficial affectations, expressed as a feeling of "having given up much" when she married Dodsworth, an interest in the arts without much insight into the humanity that make them meaningful, and a penchant for ersatz aristocratic company. She is driven to pursue the shallow, foolhardy behaviors that lead to her humiliation and ultimate rejection, (thank goodness for Walter Huston's finally understanding and acknowledging the truth). She's so hollow, I have a hard time imagining what will become of her when she returned to the United States, though I suppose Sinclair Lewis might have imagined her as a predatory female on the prowl as a divorcee.

One thing that makes Ruth Chatterton's performance so irritatingly effective might be that the actress, who was only 44 when she played this part, was aware that her star at Paramount and later Warners was definitely on the wane as fickle Hollywood moved on to youthful actresses. Reportedly, Chatterton also did not get along with the director William Wyler and butted heads with him over her sympathetic interpretation of the part, which he insisted was wrong for the part. I think that this tension and conflict within the actress' own life and career and her first hand understanding of society's disdain for older women probably added to the emotions of that part too. While Chatterton was supposed to be a really skilled actress on stage, (a view endorsed by Christopher Plummer in his recent autobiography, In Spite of Myself), I find her pretty interesting on screen in her early talkies when she played liberated roles and what always looked like an old-fashioned but arresting style of acting to me. I've read that she became a serious aviatrix and novelist as well as an actress after leaving Hollywood following this role, which she wound up hating, (though she made two other now obscure movies in the '30s in the UK).

One other question: Do you think that if we knew more about the background of the Mary Astor character, she would have remained such a thoroughly sympathetic figure? I always thought that Astor's character probably had suffered real pain in her past marriage, but that she reacted to that experience by taking life as it came, not expecting much. Once she became involved with Dodsworth, her emotions and longing for a meaningful life might have emerged again, which is one reason why his leaving her after their peaceful, creative time together to return to rescue Fran was so touching.
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jdb1

Re: Walter Huston: Lesser and Better Known Work

Postby jdb1 » November 11th, 2009, 3:50 pm

Very well put, Moira. You have hit on the two most common threads of Lewis' books, that is, the empty materialism of "modern" American life, and the consequences of neglecting one's inner life, usually manifested in some kind of nervous breakdown. Fran is the poster girl of those two little bits of hubris.

As for Mrs. Cortney, I believe she is presented essentially as the antithesis of Fran, the kind of women Sam may have not really been exposed to before. She is as comfortable with herself as Fran is not; she is compassionate where Fran is self-absorbed, and she is a unselfconsciously erudite and sexually liberated as Fran aspires to be. I think more than anything else, she represents the growth of mind and spirit that Sam is able to attain. He can do this because he is basically mature, well-grounded and not averse to learning life lessons. Sam is really the progressive in this story, not Fran.

The older I get, the more sorry I feel for the foolish Fran, as exasperating as she may be. Chatterton created a really remarkable character in Dodsworth, and I think Wyler was dead wrong. I wonder if Wyler would have gone along with Chatterton if he had to make another version of Dodsworth 10 or 20 years later.
Last edited by jdb1 on November 19th, 2009, 1:28 pm, edited 1 time in total.

feaito

Re: Walter Huston: Lesser and Better Known Work

Postby feaito » November 11th, 2009, 5:50 pm

All the insight on "Dodsworth", Fran's character and Sinclair Lewis' themes are completely enlightening to read. Such clever exchanges are not be find elsewhere easily.

feaito

Re: Walter Huston: Lesser and Better Known Work

Postby feaito » November 15th, 2009, 7:37 pm

Thanks to all the discussion Re. "Dodsworth" (1936) I had to watch it again and I enjoyed it like the first time I saw it. What a great film!

I saw it in the Projection Room of my building with an American friend who lives in the same building and he also loved it. He told me that the in his opinion the screenplay is superb and extremely realistic. He was also impressed by Walter Huston's amazing performance. We analyzed the movie in detail afterwards, while eating hamburgers which my wife prepared for us. It was a wonderful evening.

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Re: Walter Huston: Lesser and Better Known Work

Postby moira finnie » April 5th, 2010, 6:51 am

Tuesday, April 6th, is the 125th anniversary of of Walter Huston's birthday.

TCM is showing several of the actor's more obscure, early talkies as well as his better known films. I don't think I've seen The Ruling Voice and would really encourage anyone to see the Irene Dunne-Walter pairing in Ann Vickers (with Edna May Oliver in the mix too!).

FYI: Huston descendants Anjelica Huston and Danny Huston are appearing at the TCM Film Festival later this month. I really hope that this leads to attendees writing at length about their comments on Walter and John at this event (hint, hint, you lucky attendees).

April 6, 2010 Tuesday

6:00 AM
The Criminal Code (1931)
A convict trying to reform is torn between conflicting loyalties when he witnesses a murder behind bars. Cast: Walter Huston, Phillips Holmes, Boris Karloff. Dir: Howard Hawks. BW-96 mins, TV-PG

7:45 AM
The Ruling Voice (1931)
A powerful gangster goes soft when he meets his grown-up daughter. Cast: Walter Huston, Loretta Young, Doris Kenyon. Dir: Rowland V. Lee. BW-72 mins,

9:00 AM
Star Witness (1931)
An old man who witnessed a crime is threatened by gangsters. Cast: Walter Huston, Chic Sale, Grant Mitchell. Dir: William A. Wellman. BW-68 mins, TV-G, CC

10:15 AM
The Beast Of The City (1932)
A police captain leads the fight against a vicious gangland chief. Cast: Walter Huston, Jean Harlow, Wallace Ford. Dir: Charles Brabin. BW-86 mins, TV-14, CC

11:45 AM
Ann Vickers (1933)
A social worker's fight for reform is compromised by her love for a corrupt judge. Cast: Irene Dunne, Walter Huston, Conrad Nagel. Dir: John Cromwell. BW-76 mins, TV-G, CC

1:00 PM
Gabriel Over The White House (1933)
A crooked president reforms mysteriously. Cast: Walter Huston, Arthur Byron, Karen Morley. Dir: Gregory La Cava. BW-86 mins, TV-G, CC

2:30 PM
The Devil and Daniel Webster (1941)
A farmer sells his soul for seven years of good crops. Cast: Walter Huston, Edward Arnold, John Craig. Dir: William Dieterle. BW-106 mins, TV-G, CC

4:30 PM
Dragonwyck (1946)
A farm girl signs on as governess in a gloomy mansion. Cast: Gene Tierney, Walter Huston, Vincent Price. Dir: Joseph L. Mankiewicz. BW-103 mins, TV-14, CC
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Swamp Water (1941)

Postby moira finnie » April 5th, 2010, 7:40 am

Swamp Water (1941): Jean Renoir directed Walter Huston, Dana Andrews and a great cast of supporting players in the director's first American movie. You can see it for free here on hulu.com

There is a phenomenally good interview with Norman Lloyd on the TCM Movie Morlocks Blog this week. The noted actor-director-producer is a great raconteur and tells several humorous and insightful stories about Renoir, Chaplin, and Hitchcock. You will probably smile when you read the Swamp Water stories.
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Re: Walter Huston: Lesser and Better Known Work

Postby mongoII » April 6th, 2010, 2:49 pm

Wow, I'm watching "The Devil and Daniel Webster" and I can't believe how much Anne Shirley reminds me of Olivia de Havilland. I thought at first it was her.
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