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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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Re: Walter Huston: Lesser and Better Known Work

Postby ken123 » April 6th, 2010, 3:06 pm

mongoII wrote: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.


They do look very muck alike. I prefer Anne. :D

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Re: Walter Huston: Lesser and Better Known Work

Postby JackFavell » April 6th, 2010, 4:43 pm

I really really like Anne Shirley in this movie. She is terribly underrated, and unfortunately goes up against Simone SImon (whew!). I think her performance is very moving and not at all sappy, which it could be, and neither is it boring or staid, which it also could be. She gets a thankless role and plays it to perfection.

Of course, Simon plays her role to perfection too. :)

I've been enjoying the day of Huston films all in all, but I loved Beast of the City, which was great. The scenes between Wallace Ford and Huston were superb. And also the scenes between Ford and Harlow....pre-code hot! I am falling in love with Wallace Ford. Yeah, I said it. Wallace Ford.

Harlow was super in this film.

I also really liked The Criminal Code. Does anyone know what happened to Phillips Holmes? He was quite good in this. The only thing I know about him was that he was in An American Tragedy in 1931, I think. I have a photo of him somewhere, sitting in the boat in the courtroom.

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Re: Walter Huston: Lesser and Better Known Work

Postby moira finnie » April 6th, 2010, 5:33 pm

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I'm sure that you've seen Phillips Holmes in movies other than American Tragedy and The Criminal Code, JF.

He was also in Dinner at Eight as the "nice boy" fiance who paled next to the glamour of Jack Barrymore's attractive ruin of an actor. I wonder if Huston liked him, because he appeared in two other movies with Walter, Night Court (1932) and Storm at Daybreak (1933)--though it may have been due simply to studio contracts instead?
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Holmes, who was very effective in The Criminal Code (1931), also appeared in Broken Lullaby (1932), Ernst Lubitsch's commercially unsuccessful attempt to tell a straightforward dramatic story about WWI's aftermath. Though that movie had some script problems, I don't think that the young actor was one of them, but this movie's reputation as a big bomb commercially made Lubitsch shy away from straight drama for the rest of his life (though there sure is enough commentary about life in all his lovely entertainments).

Holmes appears to have been a favorite whipping boy among his contemporaries, perhaps for his sensitivity in a gritty age that seemed to demand something tougher from young leading men, or perhaps because of his involvement with the notorious Libby Holman. The biggest blow to Phillip Holmes' career may have been appearing in Rockabye (1932), opposite Constance Bennett and directed by George Cukor. Saddled with a slight Jane Murfin screenplay about mother love, all of the actor's footage was replaced after the studio decided that he was to blame for the poor quality of the film. Joel McCrea was his replacement and the film cost RKO thousands to reshoot. It also didn't help that Holmes was cast opposite Anna Sten (promoted as the next Garbo by Sam Goldwyn) in a version of Zola's Nana (1934), a movie that was trounced by the critics who ridiculed Sten's performance and found Holmes wooden. I've seen it and it's not the worst movie, though it is heavy and a bit slow, and I don't think that was necessarily the actors' fault. This film also became synonymous with movie bombs in the '30s.

Sadly, Phillips Holmes was among those killed while training for WWII. He had gone to Canada to enlist in the RCAF and his plane smashed into another in 1942. His name came up before in our discussions here.

If you'd like to read more about him at that link and in Eve Golden's book, Bride of Golden Images. He probably deserves a bit more attention. I always thought he was cast in roles that might have been played by a younger Leslie Howard (and you know how relatively unfashionable Howard's style is sometimes among classic movie fans today).
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Re: Walter Huston: Lesser and Better Known Work

Postby JackFavell » April 6th, 2010, 6:55 pm

My goodness, thank you, Moira for the wealth of info on Holmes! I will go back and read the discussions after I'm done writing. I have Broken Lullaby, but have been putting off watching it for some reason.

I was wondering if Phillips Holmes simply needed a strong director with an intolerance for sentiment, like Hawks.....or maybe he was just one of that unfortunate group of actors who played weak wastrel sons or younger brothers led astray by wicked women for his whole career. It's too bad that he died before really getting a good career going.

I thought he was actually quite good in the movie this morning, memorable enough to capture my attention when doing his scenes with Boris Karloff and the other cellmate, which is saying a lot. Very taut, he really got the right anguish and emotion out of his scenes of despair and frustration at being incarcerated, and he did it without ever seeming girlish, as some actors of that time tended toward. It was such a transitional time in the movies - more feminine college types and great lovers were on the way out, and tough guys with snappy patter were on the way in. Holmes didn't have much of a chance. I liked his scene at the beginning when he was explaining his actions during the murder to Huston. I felt his sort of good boy discomfort at the situation, but his inherent decency came out nicely without pushing it. I liked Mary Doran a LOT in her small role as Gertie too. Perhaps it's simply that Hawks was a genius at this time, his forte was directing pre-codes, as far as I am concerned.

Huston, however, was a little confusing to me.... I could never quite see where his character was going to come down.... as a good guy, or as the one who ruined people for a living. I enjoyed the bravado of his scene in the prison yard, where he walked down into the angry mob and forced them by sheer will to stop rioting. :D

:arrow: I do love Leslie Howard.

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Re: Walter Huston Birthday Bash on TCM

Postby moira finnie » April 4th, 2011, 12:41 pm

A Walter Huston Birthday Bash is scheduled on TCM this week on 4-6-11. Aside from the familiar classics, the programmers have included the blistering Kongo and the fascinating early Capra film, American Madness, giving more people a chance to see two sides of Walter's prodigious gifts as an actor.

Walter Huston as "Deadlegs" in Kongo (please click on thumbnail to see full image):
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As the besieged banker in American Madness (please click on thumbnail to see full image):
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9:15 AM
Dodsworth (1936)
A husband whose wife left him looks for new love in Europe.
Cast: Walter Huston, Ruth Chatterton, Paul Lukas. Dir: William Wyler.
101 min, TV-PG , CC
D: William Wyler. Walter Huston, Ruth Chatterton, Paul Lukas, Mary Astor, David Niven, Gregory Gaye, Maria Ouspenskaya, Spring Byington, Harlan Briggs. Superb adaptation of Sinclair Lewis novel about middle-aged American industrialist who retires, goes to Europe, where he and his wife find differing sets of values and new relationships. Intelligently written (by Sidney Howard), beautifully filmed, extremely well acted, with Huston recreating his Broadway role. John Payne (billed as John Howard Payne) makes screen debut in small role. Won Oscar for Interior Decoration (Richard Day). Unusually mature Hollywood film, not to be missed.


11:00 AM
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.
106 min, TV-G , CC

D: William Dieterle. Edward Arnold, Walter Huston, James Craig, Anne Shirley, Jane Darwell, Simone Simon, Gene Lockhart, John Qualen, H. B. Warner. Stephen Vincent Benet's story is a visual delight, with Huston's sparkling performance as Mr. Scratch (the Devil) matched by Arnold as the loquacious Webster. Oscar- winning score by Bernard Herrmann, cinematography by Joseph August, and special effects by Vernon L. Walker all superb. Screenplay by the author and Dan Totheroh. Cut for reissue in 1952; restored to 107m. on video and laserdisc, adding interesting material missing from other extant prints. Aka ALL THAT MONEY CAN BUY and DANIEL AND THE DEVIL.


1:00 PM
American Madness (1932)
A banker fights to keep his independence and protect his customers.
Cast: Walter Huston, Pat O'Brien, Kay Johnson. Dir: Frank Capra.
76 min, TV-G , CC

D: Frank Capra. Walter Huston, Pat O'Brien, Kay Johnson, Constance Cummings, Gavin Gordon. Huston is dynamic as a put-upon bank president in the depths of the Great Depression; vivid, upbeat film marred only by idiotic romantic subplot.


2:30 PM
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.
96 min, TV-PG

D: Howard Hawks. Walter Huston, Phillips Holmes, Constance Cummings, Mary Doran, Boris Karloff, De Witt Jennings. Warden Huston--tough but essentially fair--faces a dilemma when his daughter falls in love with prisoner Holmes. Creaky in parts, lively in others, but cast and director make this a must for buffs. Remade as PENITENTIARY in 1938 and CONVICTED in 1950.


4:15 PM
Kongo (1932)
A crippled madman seeks revenge on the daughter of the man who betrayed him.
Cast: Walter Huston, Lupe Velez, Conrad Nagel. Dir: William Cowen.
86 min, TV-PG , CC

D: William Cowen. Walter Huston, Lupe Velez, Conrad Nagel, Virginia Bruce, C. Henry Gordon. Bizarre, fascinating melodrama of crippled madman Huston ruling African colony, seeking revenge on man who paralyzed him by torturing his daughter. Not for the squeamish. Remake of WEST OF ZANZIBAR.


5:45 PM
The Treasure of the Sierra Madre (1948)
Three prospectors fight off bandits and each other after striking-it-rich in the Mexican mountains.
Cast: Humphrey Bogart, Walter Huston, Tim Holt. Dir: John Huston.

D: John Huston. Humphrey Bogart, Walter Huston, Tim Holt, Bruce Bennett, Barton MacLane, Alfonso Bedoya. Excellent adaptation of B. Traven's tale of gold, greed, and human nature at its worst, with Bogart, Huston, and Holt as unlikely trio of prospectors. John Huston won Oscars for Best Direction and Screenplay, and his father Walter won as Best Supporting Actor. That's John as an American tourist near the beginning, and young Robert Blake selling lottery tickets.
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Re: Walter Huston: Lesser and Better Known Work

Postby JackFavell » April 6th, 2011, 3:43 pm

Kongo is a scream!

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Re: Walter Huston: Lesser and Better Known Work

Postby JackFavell » April 7th, 2011, 7:06 am

Kongo actually turned out better than I thought it was going to be. The beginning though was a bit rough, though with Huston spouting some weird lines that sounded partly like an indian in a bad western, and partly mumbo jumbo "native" talk that only Hollywood could make up. Somehow, he managed to get me back by the end of the movie.

Conrad Nagel is a very interesting sound performer. I've seen two of hos precodes in the last three days, and I'm not sure if he's good, or just fascinating as any bit of history is. Sometimes he can be very affecting, and sometimes he is just too actor-y. It was the style then, so I think I need to cut him some slack. He DOES have a beautiful voice, as everyone said. I think I like him.

Lupe was very good as the stereotypical wicked island girl, and Virginia Bruce surprised me again, this is the second movie I've seen her in this week too, and she was quite good.

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Re: Walter Huston: Lesser and Better Known Work

Postby Vienna » October 31st, 2012, 10:48 am

Fine performance from Walter in EDGE OF DARKNESS as Ann Sheridan's father who eventually realises he cannot stand on the sidelines.
He memorably sang "September Song" (Kurt Weill) in the Broadway show, KNICKERBOCKER HOLIDAY in 1938. (Charles Coburn in the movie version)
I also liked him in AND THEN THERE WERE NONE.

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Re: Walter Huston: Lesser and Better Known Work

Postby JackFavell » October 31st, 2012, 3:21 pm

Hmm, I'm trying to think of my favorite Walter Huston performances outside of Treasure of the Sierra Madre and Dodsworth, which for me are his best movies.

I guess my favorites would be The Devil and Daniel Webster, The Furies, Kongo, and American Madness.

I can't think of anyone better at playing Mr. Scratch. He makes being on the wrong side look so attractive!

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Re: Walter Huston: Lesser and Better Known Work

Postby Jezebel38 » October 31st, 2012, 3:35 pm

I just saw Walter Huston last week in a rare Universal title A HOUSE DIVIDED (1931) with Kent Douglass and Helen Chandler. Walter is real meanie in this one! I'll try and write up a short review in the next few days.

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Re: Walter Huston: Lesser and Better Known Work

Postby JackFavell » October 31st, 2012, 3:46 pm

Can't wait, Jez!

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Re: Walter Huston: Lesser and Better Known Work

Postby RedRiver » November 1st, 2012, 12:57 pm

Huston is tremendous in DODSWORTH. Also as Mr. Scratch. I like him in Lewis Milestone's atmospheric RAIN. His crazed missionary is terrifying! THE CRIMINAL CODE is one of the movies I most want to see. Not that I expect greatness. I've heard it has shortcomings. But I'm a fan of Howard Hawks. I like Huston, Karloff. And I gather the film has been emulated a few times. Definitely worth seeing!

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Re: Walter Huston: Lesser and Better Known Work

Postby Jezebel38 » November 4th, 2012, 6:52 pm

Jezebel38 wrote:I just saw Walter Huston last week in a rare Universal title A HOUSE DIVIDED (1931) with Kent Douglass and Helen Chandler. Walter is real meanie in this one! I'll try and write up a short review in the next few days.


Here is a "not so short" review of this film which I saw at The Stanford recently as part of their on-going Universal filmfest:

The film begins with a seaside burial near the fishing village where the entire story takes place. Matt Law (Kent Douglass) carries the front of the coffin, along with his father Seth Law (Walter Huston) and the other pallbearers. Climbing up the sand dunes to the burial site seems to physically and emotionally overwhelm Matt, and he drops off as Seth takes the lead giving Matt a withering look – at once we sense that the father despises the son.
The funeral is for Matt’s mother, and now Seth is a widower, so after the burial he makes a beeline for the village saloon, dragging his son along. Not only is there no display of grief on Seth’s part, he seems to celebrate the occasion by heavy drinking, carousing with the saloon gal, and engaging in a wrestling match, where upon his victory buys a round for the house. Matt is appalled by his father’s behavior (as are we the viewers) and escapes to home. I thought perhaps Huston’s character in this story might show to be more empathic, but no, he is quite crude, self-centered and despicable throughout.

The story covers familiar territory here – with no woman to tend to the cottage while the men are out fishing, it is soon in disarray and Seth is seen flipping though a mail order bride catalogue (with pictures!), choosing a stout, plain- looking woman to send for. He orders Matt to write a nice letter for him to mail. Matt makes a deal with his father, that when this woman arrives, Seth will give him permission to leave home to escape the fishing village and live the kind of life he yearns for (Matt is “the sensitive type” and that’s what Kent Douglass is good at!).

So the day of the woman’s expected arrival, Matt asks Seth if he plans to meet her at the station to welcome her – well heck no, he has a full day of fishing to do! So guess who arrives – the woman in the catalogue? No, it is demure, delicate little Helen Chandler (as Ruth) who Matt opens the door to. Turns out the other lady, who was a friend of Ruth, had already found a husband, so Ruth came in her place (!?). She has come all the way from the Midwest and has no family to return to she explains. Now, setting eyes on the handsome, youthful (and sensitive...) Matt, maybe Ruth is thinking she didn’t act so rashly after all, but then Matt explains it was his father Seth, who sent for her, and his father isn’t THAT old, and he will treat her well as a husband (he’s not forgetting the deal with his dad about leaving home).

Seth returns, takes a gander at Ruth, listens to her story and says she just won’t do, and will have to go back home. Since it is late, she stays the night and will leave in the morning. Well, next day comes, Ruth is making breakfast for all, and over the meal Seth seems to be changing his mind. He starts eyeing her over, (gosh we can tell what he is thinking) and maybe he’ll marry her anyway, now that she is here. Ruth, on her part still seems to be hankering to get married (think the handsome son-in law might have something to do with it?) and it is agreed to proceed with the wedding that same day! So Seth gets all riled up, rounds up the townsfolk down by the docks, gets the preacher and he and Ruth get hitched in the shortest wedding ceremony ever. Now it is time to PARTY! Breaking out the booze, Seth slams back some drinks, music starts and he begins singing and dancing this raucous sea shanty. We see Ruth’s face as Seth gets more inebriated – what has she gotten herself into? She hurries back to the cottage and decides she wants to go home after all. Too late Ruth!


Matt and Ruth are in the cottage when Seth returns – he is three sheets to the wind and little Ruth is trembling and Matt is telling Seth to leave her alone for the night. A knock down fight between the men starts and Matt ends up knocking Seth over the second floor railing to the floor below! Seth becomes a paraplegic, legs paralyzed, and the story ends up in familiar ‘Kongo” territory for Huston as he spends the rest of the film dragging himself around like Dead Legs Flint! Lucky for little Ruth that the marriage was not consummated!

Matt does not leave home, he and Ruth fall in love, while Seth recuperates. In a while though, Seth thinks he is getting some feeling back in his foot, and tells Ruth he is looking forward to being a real husband to her (gulp!). But he has also become suspicious of the two youngsters under his roof. One rainy night his suspicions are confirmed; he has been sleeping in a cot in the living room, and notices Matt leaving his upstairs bedroom to go to Ruth’s room. The two confess their feelings and plan to run off before Seth recovers completely. But Seth has dragged himself out of his cot, over to the banister and hauls himself up the stairs to confront the two. Time for Matt and Ruth to hightail it out of there pronto!

SPOILERS!!!!!

The rainy night of Matt and Ruth’s escape has turned stormy – Matt tells Ruth to run to the dock to meet him on board their fishing boat. Matt is holding off Seth, while Ruth makes it to the boat, but the moorings give way and Ruth is swept away on board by herself. Matt runs down to the docks and rings the warning bell to rouse the townsfolk. Seth has followed by dragging himself down the cottage path to the docks. Who will save Ruth? Matt jumps in a dinghy and heads off towards the runaway boat. Seth makes it to the docks also, and has some men lower him into another dinghy and they use ropes to tie him into the boat and he paddles off in furious pursuit. This climactic storm sequence is impressive. The fishing boat hits some large rocks and Ruth manages to climb to the rocks unscathed, but Matt’s boat has taken water and capsizes and he has to swim to make it to the rocks to reach Ruth. And what of Seth? From the rocks Matt and Ruth peer through the storm to see that Seth’s boat has also upturned and is bobbing at the crest of the waves with Seth bound below water – gulp!

Excellent film, well directed by William Wyler, with a standout performance by Walter Huston. Very happy to have had a chance to see this one.

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Re: Walter Huston: Lesser and Better Known Work

Postby RedRiver » November 5th, 2012, 4:38 pm

Walter could be an unsympathetic father. He's pretty tough on young Jimmy Stewart in OF HUMAN HEARTS. Somebody call DCFS!

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Re: Walter Huston: Lesser and Better Known Work

Postby RedRiver » November 9th, 2012, 2:12 pm

I watched RAIN for the first time in quite a few years. Not only is Huston fine in this moody morality play, Ms. Joan Crawford is exceptional. Taking a possible backseat to MILDRED PIERCE, I believe this is the best work of this completely unpredictable actress. The Lewis Milestone film of a Somerset Maugham story casts Crawford as Miss Sadie Thompson, the picture of moral decadence, at least in the eyes of minister Walter Huston. Trapped on an island due to weather conditions (see the title), Sadie passes the time by drinking and dancing. Huston occupies the hours by attempting to reform her.

The first half of this classic tale is breathtaking. Not in the way grand scale is impressive, but in the opposite sense. The action is contained, confined. The atmosphere, with the almost constant patter of the rain, is claustrophobic to the point of threatening. When this time bomb explodes, who will be hurt? The beautiful cinematography centers around faces. Forget the jungle, the sea. These people ARE the scenery. Haunting shots of Huston, wife Beulah Bondi, and especially Ms. Crawford tell us all we need to know. Their faces are the story.

I said the first half is outstanding. The follow up is fine too. It becomes subdued, takes pause. It's obviously the second act of a play. But this is not a big problem. I'd hate to walk in late on this one. But RAIN is well worth watching throughout. And that Joan!


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