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John Huston, Hollywood's Human Element

John Huston, photographed in London in March 1966.
Fred Mott / Hulton Archive/Getty Images
Hulton Archive/Getty Images
John Huston, photographed in London in March 1966.

Filmmaker John Huston -- born 100 years ago Saturday, on Aug. 5, 1906 -- made some of cinema's most enduring classics, among them The Maltese Falcon, The African Queen and The Treasure of the Sierra Madre.

He was nominated 14 times for the Academy Award, for writing, directing and acting. He helped his father, Walter Huston, to the Oscar for Sierra Madre. Nearly 40 years later, he turned the same trick for his daughter, Anjelica Huston, in Prizzi's Honor.

In an era of studio films shot on Hollywood sets, Huston made movies in Africa, Mexico, Ireland and on the open sea, through multiple marriages, public brawls and bouts with alcohol. Amid praise and admiration, Anjelica Huston's descriptions of her father include words such as "terrifying" and "rage."

Huston, playing the cooly brutal character Noah Cross in Chinatown, tells Jack Nicholson's Jake Gittes: "Most people never have to face the fact that at the right time and the right place they're capable of anything."

Huston's films revealed human weakness, human resilience and whatever it is that makes people chase misguided dreams to certain failure, and then get up to pursue the next treasure... the authentic Falcon... or the great white whale.

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