It’s “Directed by John Huston” day on Turner Classic Movies and my article on his final film, The Dead, is now live on the site.
Based on the James Joyce short story that concludes his collection The Dubliners, The Dead (1987) is one of Huston’s most exquisite works, a perfect cinematic short story attuned to the rituals and unspoken bumps in the relationships of family and friends gathering in early twentieth century Dublin to celebrate the Feast of the Epiphany. It was also a family affair for Huston, who directed from a script by his son Tony (given sole screen credit despite contributions by John) and cast his accomplished daughter Anjelica (who he had just directed to an Oscar®-winning performance in Prizzi’s Honor, 1985) in the lead. Huston had lived in Ireland for twenty five years and, though he had since sold his estate and moved to Mexico, had retained his Irish citizenship. The film was his tribute to the country he adopted late in life and to the author whose work inspired him as a young man. “Joyce was and remains the most influential writer in my life,” he confessed in an interview during the making of the film.
Anjelica Huston and Donal McCann center the film as Gretta and Gabriel Conroy, a married couple whose cool relationship is unnoticed by the guests who arrive at the home of Gabriel’s spinster Aunts Julia and Kate (Helena Carroll and Cathleen Delany, veterans of Dublin’s famous Abbey Theater) to celebrate the Feast of the Epiphany on a snowy January evening in 1904. The film opens as the family members arrive, ushered into the warmth of their home by the doting aunts, who take their position on the second story landing like family royalty but fuss over every guest like mother hens. The arrivals include cousin Freddy (Donal Donnelly), who arrives tipsy and proceeds to drink himself to a slurring effusiveness (much to the consternation of his aged mother), boisterous family friend Mr. Browne (Dan O’Herlihy), who drinks himself into a red-faced belligerence, and a celebrated singer, Bartell D’Arcy (real-life Irish tenor Frank Patterson, making his film debut).
Read the complete article at TCM here. Also available on DVD from Lionsgate (which has corrected the problems with its first faulty release).