John Huston was on his deathbed when he made this deeply reverent, deeply affecting adaptation of James Joyce's The Dead. The setting is Dublin in 1904, where three sisters hold a party for friends and family. Among the guests are Gabriel (Donal McCann) and his wife Gretta (Anjelica Huston), a couple whose marriage is about to take a surprising turn. The theme is bleak - life's transience and bitter disappointments laid bare - but the film glows with the welcoming warmth of a winter fire.
Huston, directing from a screenplay by his son Tony, and with his daughter Anjelica heading the cast, has his work cut out for him. Joyce's prose - full of stream-of-consciousness psychological insight - is hardly made for cinema. Yet The Dead makes an impressive job of conveying both parochial claustrophobia and affectionate humanity. It's a film of two distinct parts: a giddy, chattering dinner party, giving way to a climactic hotel scene in which Gretta tells Gabriel about the boy in Galway she loved and lost.
"PROFOUND EMOTIONAL IMPACT"
Knowing that it was shot in California not Ireland, and that Huston was hooked up to an oxygen cylinder for most of the production can't diminish the film's profound melancholy. The Dead's emotional impact hits in its final minutes, as McGann stands watching the snow fall over Dublin, his voiceover narration conveying Gabriel's sense of loss in the wake of his wife's revelations. Yet for all Huston's ability, it's Joyce's words - not the language of cinema - that you'll remember.