If John Huston hadn't existed, would Hollywood have been able to invent him? Writer, director, actor and the most charming SOB you ever did meet: if even a fraction of the stories about him are true then he was one of the greatest buccaneers of the twentieth century. But it's for his films he should be remembered.
He took the scenic route to Hollywood, by way of Broadway and Mexico (where, it is rumoured, he joined the cavalry). Huston's earliest gigs were as writer but, encouraged by his mentor Howard Hawks, he advanced to the director's chair.
Huston's earliest work helped define film noir. His adaptation of The Maltese Falcon retained the darkness of the original novel (and turned Humphrey Bogart into a bona-fide star along the way) while The Asphalt Jungle is arguably the definitive Heist movie (and introduced audiences to Marilyn Monroe).
Always a restless talent, Huston shot films in every continent bar Antarctica and it wasn't just the geography that was varied. He could turn in serious adaptations (Moby Dick) or light comedy (The List of Adrian Messenger). He could give you a sublime masterpiece (how about Wise Blood?) or serve up a genuine dog (although Escape to Victory has its defenders, few of them are sober).
Along the way, he turned in some of the greatest films ever to emerge from the studio system. The Treasure of the Sierra Madre is part western, part noir and entirely brilliant (so much so that PT Anderson claimed it was the principal influence on There Will Be Blood); The African Queen is entertainment at it's most blissful while The Man Who Would Be King is both stirring adventure and devastating indictment of colonialism.
Best of all is Beat The Devil. A ramshackle, frequently improvised film, it found little favour with original audiences. But it's one of the most amusing of films, at once a parody and a celebration of Hollywood heroics, and deserves a place on the shelf of every film lover. It's a lot of fun. Honest.
Huston was one of a kind, living life to the full. But although he liked to cultivate the image of a hell-raiser, with his women, whisky and wild life, he was committed to his art; he even directed his final film (The Dead) from an oxygen tent.
We probably won't see his like again. But at least we have his films to remember him by.