John Huston John Russell Taylor - Essay

John Russell Taylor

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

The most consistent feature of John Huston's very diverse output is a certain brisk directness of style. He is not necessarily incapable of subtlety, but he prefers to state rather than to imply, to drive straight through the middle of a subject rather than circle it warily first. This means that his failures—like most of The Bible—are startlingly shameless and undisguised. But the manly, neck-or-nothing approach can also work astonishingly well with a lot of otherwise intractable material. We last saw it doing so in that weird hodge-podge Casino Royale, where only the Huston episode at the beginning made no attempt at subtlety and no bones about playing it up to the hilt as farce. This worked, while everyone else was much too clever by half…. [Right] at the other end of the dramatic scale, Huston's direct attack has paid off with an almost equally surprising success in his version of Carson McCullers' elusive novella Reflections in a Golden Eye….

The story is one of those overheated essays in Southern Baroque. It all takes place on a military station in Georgia, and everybody in sight is very peculiar indeed. (p. 99)

The mind boggled, in prospect, at how on earth [these peculiarities] could turn out on screen. And would Huston, of all people, be the right director to put it there, supposing it could be done? In the event, he has carried it off simply by ignoring, or seeming to ignore, the difficulties altogether. Equipped with a script by Chapman Mortimer and Gladys Hill which follows the original with a remarkable degree of literal fidelity, Huston has done likewise. The more extraordinary inventions of the original are put straight on to the screen as though they are the most normal things in the world. Quite a lot of the film is funny, especially in the character of Leonora, the major's wife and virtually the only reasonably sane person around…. But the sort of unconscious absurdity which is always waiting on the side-lines to engulf the whole enterprise never in fact does so, simply because Huston acts throughout as though it is not there. (p. 100)

John Russell Taylor, "Film Reviews: 'Reflections in a Golden Eye'," in Sight and Sound (copyright © 1968 by The British Film Institute), Vol. 37, No. 2, Spring, 1968, pp. 99-100.