Saturday, August 05, 2006

He Was Capable of Anything

Saturday would have been the 100th birthday of film director, screenwriter, artist, and actor John Huston. He directed nearly 40 films, featuring everyone who was anyone in Hollywood, ranging from Humphrey Bogart in The Maltese Falcon to Jack Nicholson in Prizzi’s Honor. His other classic contributions to film include directing The African Queen, The Man Who Would Be King, and Beat the Devil. Slate magazine has a photo tribute.

Huston’s career as an actor was not as distinguished, but it didn’t have to be. He will be remembered for one masterly performance, as Noah Cross, the all-corrupting villain in Roman Polański’s Chinatown (1974). His most famous line in that film was near the end. “You see, Mr. Gitts, most people never have to face the fact that, at the right time and the right place, they’re capable of ... anything.”

He was said to be a whirling tornado of energy, passion, and vices. The Peter O’Toole character in the 1980 film The Stunt Man was rumored to have been based on Huston. O’Toole’s character, a maniac film director, also carried the surname of Cross.

UPDATE: NPR broadcast a salute to Huston which includes an audio clip of the Chinatown line at 6:55. Listen to the remembrance here.


Julia Buckley said...

I didn't know Huston had an acting role. I've always been afraid to watch Chinatown because I'm a baby about violence, but I might have to rent it to see Huston's character. Thanks.

Stephen Miller said...

By today's standards, Julia, the film's violence is pretty tame. The true shocks come from the relevations about the characters and what they have done in their various pasts. The writing, from a Robert Towne screenplay, is absolutely stellar. While Huston only has a handful of scenes, and his first appearance is nearly half way in, his character owns the film.