John Huston’s filming of Joyce’s The Dead

The Hollywood film director John Huston‘s last film was a singularly effective adaptation of the The Dead, the long story ends James Joyce‘s collection of short sories Dubliners. The film, written by Huston’s son Tony and starring daughter Anjelica, who three years earlier had had her first major acting success (and an Academy Award nomination) for her role in Huston’s Prizzi’s Honor, was quite rightly proclaimed a minor masterpiece and a fitting swansong for a director whose body of work was good enough to survive the more than occasional turkey. 

Huston’s film, though mostly shot in a warehouse in Valencia, north of Los Angeles, and while Huston was in a wheelchair and hooked up to an oxygen cylinder, is one of the few that comes close to putting a literary masterpiece on film. A peerless cast, that includes the Donal McCann, Dan O’Herlihy and Donal Donnelly, bring Joyce’s story to life on screen in a way that one would not have thought possible.  

The film has now been re-released to coincide with the John Huston season at the National Film Theatre, and to coincide with this , Nick Laird, in a feature-length article  published in today’s edition of The Guardian, writes what is a helpful guide to the film and why it works as well as it undoubtedly does.  It may not be very wise to read Laird’s piece before seeing the film – it rarely is wise to read the commentary before seeing the work – but it certainly is worth reading it after. It does explain in detail just how Huston managed to make such a marvellous film out of what is a marvellous story.

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