For mass audiences, Anjelica Huston is probably most popular for what's among her easiest acting parts, hamming it up, all chalkface, rouge, and ruby-red fingernail polish, as the amiable walking-dead mom, Morticia, in The Addams Family (1991) and The Addams Family Values (1993). But true students of cinema know that Huston is one of those so-rare Hollywood actresses who consistently digs deep, whose respect for her craft assures that she accept only the most demanding, psychologically rewarding roles. Hollywood might have faded, fractured, and impossibly compromised; not Anjelica Huston. Her Oscar is a well-deserved one, for Prizzi's Honor (1985); and she been nominated appropriately twice more, for Enemies: a Love Story (1989) and The Grifters (1990).
Considering Huston's three decades on screen, those miraculous roles eventually add up. Among actress contemporaries, only Meryl Streep and Diane Keaton can match her radiant, exemplary career.
It all started awkwardly and unpromisingly, a petulant 16-year-old forced to act in, star in, a movie directed by John Huston, her larger-than-legend, but personally incommunicative, father. The picture was the maligned, quickly-forgotten period piece, A Walk With Love and Death (1969), and, to her credit, Anjelica Huston stuck it out after. She paid dues with occasional small roles for the next dozen years (in 198l, she's the confused designer of an 18-inch Stonehenge in one funny scene in This is Spinal Tap) before she and her dad dared collaborate again. What a difference the second time, her sly, knowing Cosa Nostra babe in Prizzi's Honor! The Academy Award was one major approval. Just as important, John Huston adored her in the part, and Jack Nicholson (her off-screen amour for seventeen years) commented, "acting doesn't get any better than that."
The rest has been thespian cake, including her assured playing of the Joycean love interest in her father's final elegaic work, the majestic The Dead (1987). She's just delicious as the leg-crossing, dyed-blonde, neo-noir moll of The Grifters(1990), and so ethnically on-target as the returned, believed-dead Yiddish wife in the masterly Enemies: a Love Story(1990). Huston's spent quality time in the Woody Allen repertoire company, superb as the dreary, needy mistress who becomes a murder victim in Crimes and Misdemeanors (1989), then, as a single novelist with an eye for married men, breezing through several hot scenes of Manhattan Murder Mystery (1993).
Though the bulk of her work is appreciated, Huston still deserves recognition for several less-known acting roles. Mention should be made of her hairy-chinned, hilariously over-the-top Grand High Witch of the Roald Dahl-based The Witches (1990). More sublime acting: her intense dueling with ex-husband Jack Nicholson over his demented murder plans in Sean Penn's sinfully unseen The Crossing Guard (1995). Finally, she races about as a jolly widow with umpteen kids in Agnes Browne (1999), currently in theatres, which she also merrily directed.
Hail Anjelica Huston!
(Catalogue: Taos Film Festival, April 2000)