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Tuesday, 16 November 2010

The Dead (1987)

John Huston has always seemed to me to be very much an "American director", that is one of the reasons I haven't seen much of his work as I generally dislike those old American "Classics"; although I will admit that The Maltese Falcon was a good film.

Yet this film, his final film, is very different from what you might expect if you're familiar with his other more famous films such as The African Queen and Treasure of The Sierra Madre.

Aaah! The French and their obsession with changing the titles of films, I'll never comprehend it!

The Dead has nothing very flamboyant about it, it's not an adventure film or a mystery. It contains no Hollywood stars, was made on a small budget and it features no "heroic" plot And It's certainly not on such a grandiose scale as Huston's aforementioned films.
Instead it's a rather simple film, it's very warm almost cosy. It depicts a simple family gathering, and is filled with entertaining, warm scenes which were hardly Huston's trademark.

The Dead is adapted from the short story of the same name written by the Irish author James Joyce. It takes place during a gathering of friends and family for the Epiphany. The night is full of dancing, poetry reading, singing and piano playing and culminates in a meal. All this was entertaining enough yet I often wondered if there was anything more to the film, and then at the end as we see the couple of main characters discussing the past, the film got deeper and more interesting. The ending revelations and monologue of the main character, were very well done and quite thought provoking.

It is set in Dublin, and most of the cast is Irish. So the film has an overall Irish feel to it, which isn't what I expected from one of John Huston's films.

The Dead is a good film, it's not an exceptionally great film, yet it's a fun watch and I never really got bored.
The whole film has obviously had a lot of work and a lot of love put into it, that's obvious right from the start, it is described as Huston's" labour of love".

The camera work is pretty unremarkable throughout, it's very unintrusive and just leave the story to unfold itself. Although I did like the way the camera glided through the dancers, as if it were dancing as well.
The lighting was very well done, it felt very authentic and generated the warm atmosphere very well.

The sound was tied into the film very well, almost unnoticeable, the visuals and the sound really mixed together and formed this film in a great way.
Lots of Classical pieces of music from various sources, some operatic singing... all this makes for a film packed with good music as well as some entertaining conversations about music that take place in the film.

It was almost entirely filmed in studio's so before watching it is was a bit apprehensive as I generally don't like the almost claustrophobic feel of films filmed in studio's, yet I'm pleased to say, I didn't give that subject a second thought while watching the film. It makes very good use of the small space it has.

Here we have basically the films whole cast.
The acting was good, nothing amazing but solid all around. I did think that Angelica Huston was a bit "too Irish" she seemed to be compensating for the fact that she was American while the rest of the cast were Irish. I also thought the Drunken character was rather overdone and he got slightly annoying, but no serious problem.

Overall The Dead is an interesting, entertaining little film, it is not anything extraordinary and I wouldn't recommend putting on the top of your "to watch" list, yet if you stumble across it one day, as I did, you might find it well worth a look.


  1. Great review Jack. Sounds like a good film, probably will see it if I casually find it on TV or something

  2. Great review Jack. I haven't seen this one in a while. Thanx for bringing it back into mind.

  3. Thanks guys, I really appreciate your continued support!

  4. Good review. I loved John Huston in Chinatown so maybe I should check out his films

  5. Great review! I'll check this out I think sometime!

    (This is Sara C by the way)

  6. @ Daniel
    He was very good in Chinatown, and such a horrible character!
    But yes, his films are definitely worth checking out, I would recommend The Man Who Would Be King, with Michael Caine and Sean Connery!

    The Dead is very good of course, but some of his earlier films are often hailed as "masterpieces".

    @ Sara C
    Thanks for reading!

  7. Haven't read the short story from Dubliners, but I've been meaning to for such a long time. It's considered, next to Hemingway's "A Clean Well Lit Place", as the greatest short story of all time. Knowing that Huston is a fan of the classics (such as Moby Dick), it doesn't come as much of a surprise that he would make this. Great review, I can't wait to get my hands on this one, though I will wait until after I finish the story.

  8. I haven't read the short story either but I've heard it's excellent.
    Huston considered it one of the finest works of literature, and that's why he made this film...

    I'm sure you'll enjoy this film even more if you've read the story before hand, well I hope you get around to seeing it anyway.

    Thanks for reading!