John Huston Andrew Sarris - Essay

Andrew Sarris

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

John Huston is clearly a survivor, and … Wise Blood provides ample evidence that he has outlasted every movie mogul who ever tried to sweeten the sourness and pessimism in Huston's personality…. Admirers of the late Flannery O'Connor may have strong reservations about Huston's direction and Benedict Fitzgerald's screenplay. Actually, Huston and Fitzgerald have softened the novel's unbearably bleak ending ever so slightly, but most of the pain and suffering and excruciating guilt have been retained.

I respect the film enormously, but I don't have the slightest desire ever to see it again. Yet I think every thoughtful person should see Wise Blood once if only to experience a profound and original depression….

There are incongruities in the Southern milieu …, little vaguenesses and lacunae that occur in the transition between the controlled coherence of the printed page and the haphazard details of uncoordinated location shooting. Nonetheless, there is something so overwhelmingly un-compromising about Wise Blood as an American movie that it should be supported as a matter of course by anyone who has ever been the slightest bit condescending to the notion of "Hollywood."…

I am not sure that Flannery O'Connor's vivid gargoyles belong on a movie screen. When one actually sees them in the flesh they seem too desperately disconnected for the black humor of their colorful dialogue to redeem them….

Still, Wise Blood never ceased to fascinate me simply because it is the project that John Huston chose to undertake in his old age…. As I plunged ever deeper into the abyss of alienation to the mournfully orchestrated melody of "The Tennessee Waltz," I felt oddly stirred by the feeling that Huston was celebrating his own survival in the endless swamp of his cynicism and despair. I shall never be all that wild about his total career, but I am prepared to concede at long last that I have grossly underestimated his resourcefulness as an artist.

Andrew Sarris, "Of Blood and Thunder and Despair" (reprinted by permission of The Village Voice and the author; copyright © News Group Publications, Inc., 1980), Vol. XXV, No. 8, February 25, 1980, p. 34.