10 Essential John Huston Films You Need To Watch

5. Key Largo (1948)

Key Largo (1948)

After having gone their own way for a few years, John Huston and Humphrey Bogart got back together again in a big way in 1948 when they collaborated on no less than two movies, both of which made it into the top five here. Key Largo was their second collaboration that year and a return to the type of film which had put them both on the map: the film noir. And with Key Largo they delivered another classic of the genre, just as they had done with their first collaboration.

The film tells the story of Frank McCloud (Humphrey Bogart) who arrives at the hotel of his deceased war buddy’s father (Lionel Barrymore) to meet up with him and his widowed daughter-in-law Nora (Lauren Bacall). Once there he finds out that the people inside the hotel are goons led by a hard as nails gangster called Johnny Rocco (Edward G. Robinson) and soon everybody in the hotel finds themselves taken hostage by the group. Rocco is at the hotel to make a deal with a contact from Miami but has to wait for the approaching hurricane to subside. As everybody is holed up in the hotel and police arrives looking for some native Americans who had escaped their custody, the situation worsens and Frank needs to decide whether he will stand up to Rocco or not.

Key Largo was the fourth collaboration between Huston and Bogart as well as the fourth and final film husband and wife team Bogart and Bacall made together. With its stark black and white photography, classic cast and great screenplay by John Huston and Richard Brooks, the film ranks amongst the all-time classic film noirs of the forties. The film won one Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress for Gaye Dawn, who played the mistreated love interest of Johnny Rocco.


4. The African Queen (1951)

The African Queen (1951)

Adapted from the same name novel by C. S. Forester, The African Queen is a near perfect romantic adventure, which teamed up Humphrey Bogart and John Huston for the fifth time and did so with great success once again.

Rose Sayer (Katharine Hepburn) is a missionary in East Africa with her brother Samuel (Robert Morley) at the start of World War I. Their mail and supplies get delivered by Charlie Allnut (Humphrey Bogart) on his boat the African Queen. When Samuel gets killed during the German invasion, Charlie offers to take Rose back to civilisation. Their personalities couldn’t be more different but during the course of their adventurous journey down the river, the two end up falling for each other. In the process Rose convinces Charlie that they might be able to use his boat as a torpedo to sink a strategically placed German gunship.

Action-packed, funny and romantic, The African Queen is another undisputed classic which benefits tremendously from the great performances of its two leads. The film is also noteworthy for mostly having been shot on location in Uganda and the Congo, something which in those days was quite rare. The African Queen was nominated for four Oscars (Best Actor, Actress, Director and Screenplay) but ultimately only Bogart got his statue (the only one in his career). Another bona fide Hollywood classic.


3. Under the Volcano (1984)

Under the Volcano (1984)

Based on the semi-autobiographical novel of the same name by Malcolm Lowry, Under The Volcano is another film Huston directed very late in his career, which after a bit of a slump from the mid-seventies onward, seemed to be going very strong again in the director’s final years. Under The Volcano and the two films which were to follow it before the director’s passing in 1987 at the age of 81 ended Huston’s career on a very high note indeed.

The film follows Geoffrey Firmin (Albert Finney), a British ex-consul based in a small Mexican town in 1939, for a period of 24 hours during the Day of the Dead celebration. A self-destructive alcoholic, Geoffrey has just quit his job and is only interested in drowning his sorrows as his ex-wife Yvonne (Jacqueline Bisset) and young idealistic half-brother Hugh (Anthony Andrews) try to help him regain his sobriety and save his life. A bleak drama with a towering tour-de-force performance by Albert Finney, who completely owns the screen in every scene he’s in, as a man who has pushed everybody that loves him away and is simply set on drinking himself to death.

A dark, depressing and hallucinogenic experience in which one can feel the humidity of the Mexican climate and every drop of tequila consumed by Finney, who truly gives an awe inspiring and possibly career best performance here. His work on the movie earned him an Academy Award nomination for Best Actor whilst the film itself was in the running for the Palme d’Or at Cannes.


2. The Treasure of the Sierra Madre (1948)

The Treasure of the Sierra Madre

An adaptation of the novel of the same name by B. Traven, The Treasure of the Sierra Madre is a classic tale of greed and the first collaboration between director John Huston and Humphrey Bogart in 1948, after the pair had not worked together for a while.

Bogart plays Fred C. Dobbs, a down on his luck guy in Mexico, who together with fellow indigent Curtin (Tim Holt) decides to go on a gold prospecting mission in the remote Sierra Madre mountains after having met Howard (Walter Huston), who tells them about the gold which can be found there. The three men agree to split their findings three ways but as the gold is mined, Dobbs gets increasingly greedy and paranoid and the men inevitably end up turning against each other.

A fantastic morality play, the film ended up winning three Oscars (Best Director, Best Adapted Screenplay and Best Supporting Actor), making it the first time that a father and son both won the coveted statue in the same year for the same movie. Despite critical acclaim and the awards it was granted, the film didn’t do well financially upon its initial release but has since taken its place as one of the great American classic masterpieces.


1. The Maltese Falcon (1941)

The Maltese Falcon (1941)

The third and definitive adaptation of the book of the same name by Dashiell Hammett, The Maltese Falcon was the directorial debut of John Huston as well as being one of the most important and best film noirs ever made. The film was also one of the greatest in Humphrey Bogart’s career, who was catapulted into superstardom as a result of his portrayal of private eye Sam Spade here.

Sam is a hard-boiled private investigator at the Spade & Archer detective agency who, along with his partner Miles Archer (Jerome Cowan), is offered generous payment by Miss Wonderly (Mary Astor) in exchange for protection against a certain Floyd Thursby. As Miles spotted her first, he takes on the assignment which results in him and Thursby being found shot dead later that night. It then turns out that Miss Wonderly’s real name is in fact Brigid O’Shaughnessey and that for some reason, together with two partners, Joel Cairo (Peter Lorre) and Kasper Gutman (Sydney Greenstreet), she’s really after a statue of a black bird, the titular Maltese Falcon.

With its morally ambiguous private eye, femme fatale, shady characters, intricate plot and striking starkly lit black and white photography, The Maltese Falcon set the blueprint for many of the film noirs that were to follow it and is therefore often considered as one of the first and certainly most influential examples of the genre. The film was a huge success and made Huston a director in demand as well as Bogart a bona fide star and the two would continue collaborating frequently in the years to come. The film was nominated for three Academy Awards: Best Picture, Best Supporting Actor and Best Screenplay for John Huston. Another absolute classic and monumental film.

Author Bio: Emilio has been a movie buff for as long as he can remember and holds a Masters Degree in Cinema Studies from the University of Amsterdam. Critical and eclectic in taste, he has been described to “love film but hate all movies”. For daily suggestions on what to watch, check out his Just Good Movies Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/goodmoviesuggestions.