The Dead (1987 film)

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The Dead
Theatrical release poster
Directed byJohn Huston
Written byTony Huston
Based on"The Dead"
by James Joyce
Produced byChris Sievernich
Wieland Schulz-Keil
CinematographyFred Murphy
Edited byRoberto Silvi
Music byAlex North
Vestron Pictures
Zenith Entertainment
Liffey Films
Channel 4
Delta Film
Distributed byVestron Pictures
Release date
  • 18 December 1987 (1987-12-18)
Running time
83 minutes
CountriesUnited Kingdom
United States
West Germany
Budget$3.5 million[1] or £2.26 million[2]
Box office$4,370,078[3]

The Dead is a 1987 drama film directed by John Huston, written by his son Tony Huston, and starring his daughter Anjelica Huston. An international co-production between the United Kingdom, the United States, and West Germany,[4][5] The Dead was Huston's last film as director, and it was released posthumously. It is adapted from the 1914 short story "The Dead" by James Joyce, which was included in his short works collection Dubliners.

The film takes place in Dublin in 1904 at an Epiphany party held by two sisters and their niece. The story focuses attention on the academic Gabriel Conroy (Donal McCann) and his discovery of his wife Gretta's (Huston) memory of a deceased lover. The cast also stars Cathleen Delany, Helena Carroll, Marie Kean, Donal Donnelly, Frank Patterson, Colm Meaney, and Dan O'Herlihy.

The Dead was nominated for two Academy Awards—for Best Adapted Screenplay and for Best Costume Design. Huston posthumously won the Independent Spirit Award for Best Director, while his daughter won Best Supporting Female.


On January 6, 1904, spinster sisters Kate and Julia Morkan and their unmarried niece, Mary Jane, host their annual Feast of Epiphany dinner party at their townhouse in Dublin. Horse-drawn carriages arrive with guests on the snowy night.

First to enter are three of Mary Jane’s music students, Miss Furlong, Miss O'Callaghan, and Miss Higgins, followed by young bachelors, Joseph Kerrigan and Raymond Bergin. Miss Furlong formally introduces them to Kate and her frail older sister, Julia. Kate’s favorite nephew, Gabriel Conroy, and his wife, Gretta, arrive, followed by a drunken Freddy Malins. Gabriel promptly escorts Freddy to the restroom to sober him up. To Kate’s consternation, Dan Brown, the group’s only Protestant, also arrives in a light state of inebriation.

Before dinner, the guests dance, and Bartell D’Arcy, a "celebrated tenor," waltzes with Gretta, as Gabriel exchanges glances with a young stranger, Molly Ivors. Meanwhile, Mrs. Malins finds her son Freddy drinking with Dan Brown, and berates him for not meeting her earlier, as she has just arrived from Scotland, where she lives with her daughter. As fellow guest, Mr. Grace, recites a poem in Irish, ("Donal Óg")[6][7] a lament of lost love, Gretta’s eyes grow misty.

Afterward, Kate introduces Gabriel to Molly Ivors. Dancing together, Molly, an Irish nationalist, chides Gabriel for writing at an English newspaper and not learning Irish. He declares that he is sick of Ireland. Julia entertains her guests by singing an operatic piece from her "concert days." Despite her warbling voice, Freddy drunkenly gushes over her performance. Kate complains that the Pope ended her sister’s singing career in the church choir when he replaced women with boys. Molly Ivors is called away for a union meeting, as the guests are called to the table, where a sumptuous feast awaits. Conversation topics range from opera to morality, and Freddy reliably utters the wrong things. Despite his nerves, Gabriel gives a rousing dinner speech praising his aunts’ Irish hospitality.

Later, as the party ends and guests begin to leave, Mrs. Malins asks Gabriel to look after Freddy when she returns to Scotland. Gabriel awakens Dan Brown in the coatroom and puts him in a carriage with the Malins. The remaining guests become still as D'Arcy sings "The Lass of Aughrim," and Gabriel watches his wife, Gretta, standing transfixed on the stairs. She is pensive in the carriage on the way to their hotel, dismissing Gabriel’s attempt to cheer her.

In their room, Gretta rebuffs his urge to make love. When Gabriel asks about her behavior on the staircase, Gretta explains that she was reminded of a boy named Michael Furey who once sang "The Lass of Aughrim" in a pure tenor, on one of their country walks in County Galway. Gretta believes she is partly responsible for Michael’s death from consumption at age seventeen: On the snowy night she was to leave for a Dublin convent, the boy left his sick bed and stood outside her window to say goodbye, and died a week later. After Gretta cries herself to asleep, Gabriel is overcome with jealousy. Watching the snowfall outside, he thinks of his foolish party speech, and his Aunt Julia’s haggard appearance as she sang. He knows she will soon be dead, and imagines his aunt’s body laid out, himself dressed in black as he searches for the right words to recite. Gabriel realizes that his wife’s love for him is not as strong as he once thought, and wishes in turn that he felt a love as powerful as what Michael Furey seemed to feel for Gretta.


This film adaptation by John Huston's son Tony Huston can be considered a close adaptation of Joyce's short story, with some alterations made to the dialogue to aid the narrative for cinema audiences.

The most significant change to the story was the inclusion of a new character, a Mr. Grace, who recites an eighth-century Middle Irish poem, "Donal Óg".[6][7]



Chris Sievernich and Weiland Schulz-Keil had raised money for Under the Volcano and would do likewise for The Dead. Screen rights to the story were purchased from the Joyce estate for $60,000. Shooting began 19 January 1987.[1]

According to Pauline Kael, "Huston directed the movie, at eighty, from a wheelchair, jumping up to look through the camera, with oxygen tubes trailing from his nose to a portable generator; most of the time, he had to watch the actors on a video monitor outside the set and use a microphone to speak to the crew. Yet he went into dramatic areas that he'd never gone into before - funny, warm family scenes that might be thought completely out of his range. Huston never before blended his actors so intuitively, so musically."[8] According to Anjelica Huston, her father remained a filmmaking virtuoso despite his ill health: "He was so sick, but he could literally do it with his eyes closed. He knew when we were going to get a take way long before the camera rolled. I mean the timing was so precise that he could tell everything, exactly how it was going to go."[9] The pressures of filming and watching her father's health deteriorate had an adverse effect on Anjelica Huston's own health: she developed Epstein-Barr syndrome during production.[9]


The Dead was initially released on DVD by Lionsgate on November 3, 2009. However, the DVD had nearly ten minutes of the film missing.[10] When word of this was posted on various websites, Lionsgate eventually released a complete version.



  • 1987 Tokyo International Film Festival - Special Achievement Award, John Huston
  • 1988 National Society of Film Critics Awards (USA) - Best Film
  • 1988 Independent Spirit Award for Best Director - John Huston
  • 1988 Independent Spirit Award for Best Supporting Female - Anjelica Huston
  • 1989 Bodil Awards (Danish Film Critics) for Best Non-European Film
  • 1989 Fotogramas de Plata (Spain) for Best Foreign Film
  • 1989 London Critics Circle Film Awards for Director of the Year - John Huston



  1. ^ a b Segaloff, Nat (2013), Final Cuts: The Last Films of 50 Great Directors, Bear Manor Media, pp. 137–141
  2. ^ "Back to the Future: The Fall and Rise of the British Film Industry in the 1980s - An Information Briefing" (PDF). British Film Institute. 2005. p. 21.
  3. ^ The Dead at Box Office Mojo
  4. ^ "The Dead (1987)". BFI. Retrieved 2021-05-25.
  5. ^ "AFI|Catalog". Retrieved 2021-05-25.
  6. ^ a b "Donal Óg" Archived 2009-01-03 at the Wayback Machine, tr. Augusta, Lady Gregory
  7. ^ a b Nick Laird, "I think he died for me" The Guardian, December 2, 2006
  8. ^ Kael, Pauline (1990), Hooked, London: Boyars, pp. 402–406, ISBN 0-7145-2903-6
  9. ^ a b Susan King (2019-05-17). "Anjelica Huston's magical movie life, from 'Prizzi's Honor' to 'John Wick'". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved 2019-05-20.
  10. ^ Becker, Tom (November 2, 2009). "DVD Verdict Review: The Dead". DVDVerdict. Archived from the original on November 5, 2009. Retrieved November 3, 2009.

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