Wise Blood

Directed by JOHN HUSTON

His 1979 film of Flannery O’Connor’s 1952 novel found Huston taking on a source that — thanks to the author’s distinctly idiosyncratic vision and writerly precision — walked a dramatic tightrope between gothic grotesquerie and wide-open humor. The translation of O’Connor’s bruised universe to the screen is made with the surest of touches, delivering a modest masterpiece in film. Given a thoroughly creepy tale crawling with religious fanatics, hucksters, and social outcasts, yet tickled by outrageous comedy, Huston kept a tight rein on the material, correctly sensing that the slightest missteps in balance might derail the works. His unerring talent for casting served him well. Brad Dourif as the independently minded preacher Hazel Motes seems to be incrementally crawling out of his own skin, his eyes seared by visions impossible to state. A superb ensemble including Harry Dean Stanton, Amy Wright, Ned Beatty, and Dan Shor — in a standout performance as Enoch Emory, a perennial loser with a world full of bad ideas — embody a stew of southern outcasts, each making wrong turns on the road to redemption. In the “what were they thinking?” category, it should be noted, lies Alex North’s atrociously inappropriate and intrusive score, laden with hokey ’70s TV flavorings and endless reworkings of “The Tennessee Waltz.” The film triumphs despite this inexplicable attempt to shoot itself in the foot.

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