Wednesday, August 5, 2009

John Huston and directorial debuts

Director John Huston was born on this day in 1906. I was surprised to see that his classic The Maltese Falcon was the first movie he's credited as having directed. Perhaps, however, it shouldn't be such a surprise.

It was the case back in the studio era that people everybody started off learing the ropes before hitting the big time. In the case of wannabe directors, this meant either being an assistant director, or perhaps a writer. John Huston was a screenwriter of quite a few well-known movies before The Maltese Falcon; these include High Sierra and Jezebel. (I need to watch the credits more closely; I don't recall seeing Huston's name on either movie.)

Huston also helped write Dr. Ehrlich's Magic Bullet and Juarez; both of these had as one of the assistant directors another man who was cutting his teeth at the time: Irving Rapper. Rapper served as a "dialogue director" at Warner Bros., working on a number of their classics, before going on to direct his own classics such as Now, Voyager.

Preston Sturges and Billy Wilder wrote other people's comedy before feeling that their words would come out better on the screen if they had control over what the director was doing, which meant doing it themselves. Considering the classics that each wrote and directed, they were probably right.

Then, there are the actors who became directors. It wasn't necessarily a vanity thing; some of them were (relatively) failed actors who had greater talent at being a director. A decade before becoming a great director, Elia Kazan had a brief role as a wannabe lawyer in Blues in the Night, for example. (However, this is a topic I've already discussed.)

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