Tuesday, September 22, 2020

2020 Summer Reading Challenge: Final Round-Up

This year's reading challenge is officially over! Congratulations to everyone who reviewed books whether it was one book or all six. You all did a wonderful job. 

A special shout-out to those who read and reviewed all six books and completed the challenge: 

Andy of AndyWolverton.com
Breanna of Bresfilms41
Carl of The Movie Palace Podcast
Jess of Box Office Poisons
Robby on Instagram
Shawn of Every Day Cinephile
Steve on Goodreads
Vanessa of Super Veebs

I also completed the challenge for the first time in a few years. Woot!

This year I randomly selected three winners of the giveaway. And they are:

Breanna of Bresfilms41 
Carl of The Movie Palace Podcast 
Steve on Goodreads

Now on to the reviews!

Photo Source

Andy of AndyWolverton.com 
Scoundrels & Spitballers: Writers and Hollywood in the 1930s by Philippe Garnier 

Jess of Box Office Poisons

Le of Critica Retro
Mario de Andrade no Cinema by Mario De Andrade
Tutto Fellini by Sam Stourdze

Miriam of Cine Gratia
Every Frenchman Has One by Olivia De Havilland

Molly of Classic Mollywood
Dynamic Dames: 50 Leading Ladies Who Made History by Sloan DeForest 

Peter of Let Yourself Go... To Old Hollywood
Bogart by Ann Sperber and Eric Lax
Memoirs of an Amnesiac by Oscar Levant

Ralph on LibraryThing

Raquel on Out of the Past
Hollywood Hates Hitler! by Chris Yogerst

Rich of Wide Screen World

Photo source

Rob on Instagram

Shawn of The Everyday Cinephile
Film Music: A History by James Wierzbicki

Steve on Goodreads

Tuesday, September 15, 2020

Hollywood Hates Hitler! by Chris Yogerst

Hollywood Hates Hitler!
Jew-baiting, Anti-Nazism, and the Senate Investigation into Warmongering in Motion Pictures

by Chris Yogerst
University Press of Mississippi
Paperback ISBN: 9781496829764
September 2020
208 pages

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“Those skeptical of motion pictures had long spread fear about the medium’s ability to influence.” — Chris Yogerst

Many of us classic film enthusiasts are well aware of the House Un-American Activities Committee's communist witch hunt that resulted in the blacklisting, or in some cases the incarceration, of numerous members of the film industry. But how much do you know about Senate Resolution 152, the investigation run by the Senate subcommittee that accused Hollywood moguls of spearheading warmongering propaganda? In the Fall of 1941, a group of Senators gathered forces to take on the big studios of Hollywood claiming that movies were used to turn isolationists into interventionists. Anti-Nazi and anti-fascist films were examined, albeit superficially, for their ability to persuade. Among those brought in to testify were Harry Warner of Warner Bros., Darryl F. Zanuck of 20th Century Fox, Nicholas Schenck of Loew's Inc, Barney Balaban of Paramount. The subcommittee made the argument that Hollywood studios, through consolidation and monopolization, had developed too much power and wielded that power to influence the public. However the Senators, who were staunch isolationists, had several things going against them: 1) a weak argument based on limited knowledge (some hadn't even seen the movies in question) 2) opposition from the press 3) Hollywood's strong rebuttal and 4) the impending attack on Pearl Harbor that would finally thrust the U.S. into the throes of WWII.

Author and historian Chris Yogerst explores this little known yet important moment in film history with his book Hollywood Hates Hitler! Yogerst examines American culture at the time, isolationist vs interventionist mentalities, anti-Semitism, and the events that lead to Senate Resolution 152. And then there is the deep dive to the investigation. The reader gets a front row seat to all of the action; the interrogation, the testimonies, the press response and the inevitable fallout. Films discussed include Confessions of a Nazi Spy (1939), Foreign Correspondent (1940), The Mortal Storm (1940), Four Sons (1940), The Man I Married (1940), Escape (1940), Man Hunt (1941), The Great Dictator (1941), Sergeant York (1941), among others. The subject matter can be quite dry and the details overwhelming but there is enough context given that makes this scholarly book a fascinating read. If you want to expand your knowledge on the film industry and censorship, I highly recommend giving this book a try!

This is my sixth and final review for the Summer Reading Challenge.

Thank you to University Press of Mississippi and Chris Yogerst for sending me a copy for review.

Saturday, September 12, 2020

West Side Story: The Jets, the Sharks, and the Making of a Classic

West Side Story
The Jets, the Sharks, and the Making of a Classic
by Richard Barrios
TCM & Running Press
Hardcover ISBN: 9780762469482
232 pages
June 2020

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When West Side Story was released in 1961, moviegoers had never seen anything quite like it. It threw out all conventions of what a musical should be, offering instead a young cast, an urban setting, on location shooting and ethnic strife. As author and musicals expert Richard Barrios writes, West Side Story was unique in "subject matter, unity of music and dance, overall presentation and seriousness of intent."

West Side Story was born out of a time when teenage culture was thriving and gang violence among youths was making headlines. Upon the success of Kiss Me Kate (1953), which gave Shakespeare's The Taming of the Shrew a modern twist, writer Arthur Laurents, director and choreographer Jerome Robbins and composer Leonard Bernstein came together to create the next big splash on the musicals scene. West Side Story would take Romeo and Juliet, strip it of its upper class stature and its pomp and circumstance to tell a story of lower class immigrant teens at war. The thumb biting Montagues and Capulets became the finger snapping Jets and Sharks. The musical was a hit on Broadway but when it came time to adapt it into film executives still thought the project was a gamble. What they didn't bank on was how enthusiastically audiences would embrace this vastly new and different approach. It all worked. The story, the music, the dance sequences, the urban backdrop, the colorful costumes, etc. And of course, the stars made a huge impact. There was Natalie Wood's effervescence, Richard Beymer's youthful innocence, Russ Tamblyn's spirited physicality, George Chakiris' elegant intensity and Rita Moreno's charming vivacity.

Look at that beautiful self cover!

An inside spread

Author Richard Barrios offers fans and musical enthusiasts a valuable companion to this iconic film with West Side Story: The Jets, the Sharks, and the Making of a Classic. This is a soup to nuts exploration of the Broadway play's origins, it's transformation to film, the casting, the production, the release and the story's continued legacy. Barrios has a way with words and his elegant turn of phrase along with his thoughtful and informed insights make this a thoroughly enjoyable read. Mimicking the structure of the film, the book even has a prologue, intermission and epilogue. There are plenty of behind-the-scenes photos, film stills and publicity shots in both color and black-and-white. The biggest takeaways for me were how many obstacles had to be overcome in order to make the film and how there was a natural divide during production separating the cast in two camps. There were naturally those who were playing the Jets and those who were playing the Sharks. Directors Robert Wise and Jerome Robbins kept them separate as much as they could to build up natural tension. Then there were the Broadway veterans vs. the Hollywood Stars and team Robert Wise vs. team Jerome Robbins and other divisions that happened on set. It's fascinating to read how everything came together, despite so many challenges.

This the perfect gift for the West Side Story fanatic in your life. I am not even that big of a fan of the musical and I found this an engrossing read.

This is my fifth review for my Summer Reading Challenge.

Thank you to Running Press for sending me a copy of this book to review.

Tuesday, September 8, 2020

Mary Wickes: I Know I’ve Seen That Face Before

Mary Wickes
I Know I’ve Seen That Face Before
by Steve Taravella
University Press of Mississippi
Hardcover ISBN: 9781604739053
370 pages
May 2013

AmazonBarnes and Noble Powells

“Mary was one of the most recognizable character actresses in the United States. Though the general public might not have been able to recall her name immediately, generations of moviegoers, television viewers, and theatre lovers delighted in her distinctive presence.” — Steve Taravella

I have always admired ambitious and driven people. If you work hard at your dreams and follow through on your goals, you're someone I want to know more about. Mary Wickes was just that kind of person. From the moment she realized she wanted to be an actress until the day she died, Wickes was always pursuing her dream.

"Singularly devoted to her craft, Mary was happiest when at work." — Steve Taravella

Wickes was never going to become a leading lady. She didn't have the looks that Hollywood wanted in order to do so. Instead, she focused on what she did have: a strong work ethic and a knack for comedy and playing high-strung characters. Wickes honed her skills on the stage and excelled at delivery and timing. She found work in theater as well as radio and film and was early to embrace the new medium of television. She blossomed into one of the finest character actresses of the 20th century giving us memorable performances in films such as The Man Who Came to Dinner (1942), Now, Voyager (1942), White Christmas (1954),  Dear Heart (1964), The Trouble with Angels (1966), Postcards from the Edge (1990), Sister Act (1992) and Little Women (1994). Wickes played nuns, nurses, maids, spinsters, aunts, grandmothers, society matrons, landladies, etc. And even if you couldn't quite remembered her name, you'd remember her face.

"I just happen to have been given a face which could play an age and any period, and it never bothered me not to have been the romantic leading lady. It has always been my ambition to be the best supporting actress in the business..." — Mary Wickes

Author Steve Taravella offers readers an intimate look at the life and work of the much beloved actress in Mary Wickes: I Know I've Seen That Face Before. This biography is not your typical one. Taravella's book is essentially a collection of thematic essays with each chapter unlocking an aspect of Wickes' personality or exploring an era in her life. While there isn't all too much in the form of behind-the-scenes informations about her films, we do get a lot about Mary Wickes herself, who she was as a person and as a performer. Wickes was fiercely private in real life and this book felt maybe too intimate. However, Wickes had left all of her papers to be archived at Washington University so it's safe to say that she was willing to be an open book as long as it happened after her death.

Taravella explores many aspects of Wickes' private life including her close friendship with Lucille Ball (which gets its own chapter) and her personal and professional relationships with countless others. Wickes was the epitome of propriety, something born out of the close bond she had with her mom Isabella who taught her to mind her manners. The author paints a portrait of a woman who lived to perform, who became her own advocate and was always tenacious about getting work. Her story can sometimes be very sad. It was difficult to read how Wickes' old-fashioned sensibilities held her back in many regards and how she never found romantic love. Her private struggle with breast cancer was eye-opening and heart-breaking.

Mary Wickes: I Know I've Seen That Face Before is one of the most intimate biographies I've ever read. I finished the book feeling like I had just made a new friend.

This is my fourth review for the Summer Reading Challenge.

Saturday, August 29, 2020

2020 Summer Reading Challenge: Second Round-Up

I am so incredibly impressed with not only how many books the participants have been reading but the variety of books and the quality of reviews. This is the best year yet! I encourage you to give these all a read. I guarantee that you're TBR (To Be Read) list will grow.

A big congrats to Breanna, Carl and Vanessa who have already finished the challenge! For the rest of us, we still have until September 15th to send in reviews.

Happy Reading!

Andy of AndyWolverton.com 
Robert Wise: The Motion Pictures by J.R. Jordan
Seconds (1963) by David Ely

Breanna of Bresfilms41
Dark Star: The Untold Story of the Meteoric Rise and Fall of the Legendary John Gilbert by Leatrice Gilbert Fountain
Five Came Back: A Story of Hollywood and the Second World War by Mark Harris
Girls in the Picture by Melanie Benjamin

Carl of The Movie Palace Podcast
The Age of Movies: Selected Writings of Pauline Kael edited by Sanford Schwartz
Heavenly Bodies: Film Stars and Society by Richard Dyer
Hitchcock Films: Revisited by Robin Wood
Letters from Hollywood: Inside the Private World of Classic American Moviemaking by Rocky Lang and Barbara Hall
A Long Hard Look at Psycho by Raymond Durgnat
Love, Lucy by Lucille Ball

Photo Source: Jess of Box Office Poisons

Jess of Box Office Poisons
Considering Doris Day by Tom Santopietro
Life is a Banquet by Rosalind Russell
No Bed of Roses by Joan Fontaine

Molly of Classic Mollywood
Jean Arthur: The Actress Nobody Knew by John Oller
Stormy Weather: The Life of Lena Horne by James Gavin

Pacia of Sylvia Plath, Shirley Jackson, and Dorothy Parker Walk into a Bar…
A Story Lately Told: Coming of Age in Ireland, London, and New York by Angelica Huston

Raquel of Out of the Past
Letters from Hollywood: Inside the Private World of Classic American Moviemaking by Rocky Lang and Barbara Hall
The Lives of Robert Ryan by J.R. Jones

Rich of Wide Screen World
The Dreams of the Dreamers: Adventures of a Professional Movie Goer by Hollis Alpert

Photo Source: Robby on Instagram

Robby on Instagram
Hollywood Black: The Stars, The Films, The Filmmakers by Donald Bogle

Sarah on Goodreads
Gun Crazy: The Origin of American Outlaw Cinema by Eddie Muller
The Postman Always Rings Twice by James M. Cain
Swanson on Swanson by Gloria Swanson

Shawn of The Everyday Cinephile
The Art of Film Projection: A Beginner's Guide by George Eastman Museum
Frame By Frame: A Materialist Aesthetics of Animated Cartoons by Hannah Frank
Herr Lubitsch Goes to Hollywood: German and American Film After World War I by Kristin Thompson

Steve on Goodreads
Anthony Mann by Jeanine Basinger
Horizons West: The Western from John Ford to Clint Eastwood by Jim Kitses
Hitchcock on Hitchcock: Selected Writings and Interviews by Alfred Hitchcock and edited by Sidney Gottlieb

Vanessa of Super Veebs
Bombshell: The Life and Death of Jean Harlow by David Stenn
MGM Style: Cedric Gibbons & the Art of the Golden Age of Hollywood by Howard Gutner

If I missed your review, don't worry! It'll be on the next and final round-up.

Thursday, August 20, 2020

A Life of Endless Summers: The Bruce Brown Story

"A life well-lived goes on and on."

If ever a documentary filled me with hope and broke my heart at the same time, it's this one. A Life of Endless Summers: The Bruce Brown Story is a poignant film about a visionary filmmaker who followed the beat of his own drum and inspired generations of others to do the same. It's also about the heroes in his life, fellow visionaries, inventors, athletes and filmmakers who weren't afraid to pursue their dreams and while doing so made their mark.

"Get your ass off the couch and go have an adventure... make the most of our limited time here. And most of all, have fun and be good, the best good you can." — Bruce Brown

Bruce Brown made waves with the seminal The Endless Summer (1966), a surfing documentary that followed two professional surfers as they traveled the world in search of the best beaches while chasing the warm weather and sunshine. "An endless summer" has become synonymous with pursuing your dreams and living the best quality life you can. The film elevated surfing as a sport and inspired countless athletes. It also motivated others, who had no intention of hanging ten, to shape their own destinies and not settle for the status quo. Brown went on to make another important sport documentary, On Any Sunday (1971), which followed motorcycle racers and enthusiasts, including Steve McQueen. It was nominated for an Academy Award. Brown retired from filmmaking only to revive his career by making The Endless Summer 2 (1994) with his son Dana Brown. 

Bruce Brown spent the years after the 2006 death of his wife Patricia in relative isolation. He preferred to spend time at his home with his beloved dog Rusty. In 2014, his children encouraged Bruce to go on a road trip to visit the important figures who helped mold his life. Bruce agreed... as long as he could bring Rusty. Directed by Dana Brown A Life of Endless Summers: The Bruce Brown Story follows Bruce Brown on this road trip. Along the way we learn about him as a filmmaker, father, husband and friend. During their travels, Brown meets up with his old friends including surfer and inventor Hobie Alter, friend and founder of Clark Foam Grubby Clark, motorcyclist from On Any Sunday Mert Lawwill, surfer and inventor of the neoprene wetsuit Jack O'Neill and others.

"If you're willing to take a leap of faith, get off your butt. Who knows how many great things in the world are out there?"
A Life of Endless Summers: The Bruce Brown is a beautiful tribute to a filmmaker who paved the way for many who followed. I was particularly moved by the message of the documentary that life is fleeting, do what makes you happy.

Bruce Brown passed away in 2017 but his legacy lives on. I had the pleasure of meeting Bruce Brown at the 2016 TCM Classic Film Festival. He was one of the only guests who asked to meet with fans after a special event. Attendees were treated to the 50th anniversary screening of The Endless Summer and I had a brief chat with Bruce. He was warm, friendly and down to earth. I told him I thought The Endless Summer was a wonderful film. He joked "it's old!" God speed Bruce Brown.

A Life of Endless Summers: The Bruce Brown Story is available on digital and on demand platforms including Amazon Prime and iTunes.

Tuesday, August 18, 2020

Letters from Hollywood


Letters from Hollywood
Inside the Private World of Classic American Moviemaking
by Rocky Lang and Barbara Hall
foreword by Peter Bogdanovich
352 pages
Hardcover ISBN: 9781419738098
September 2019

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Letters from Hollywood is truly a gift for classic film lovers. It's a time capsule of film history, preserving letters, telegrams and other missives that demonstrate the intricacies of relationships within Hollywood. Writer and filmmaker Rocky Lang and archivist Barbara Hall have curated an excellent collection, spanning from 1921-1976, and provide readers not only with a beautiful scan of the letter in its original form but also a detailed annotation that helps clarify, inform and give the letter context. These letters did not exist in a vacuum. Reading them on their own without knowledge of the circumstances which served as the catalyst for the message would make them infinitely more difficult to understand or appreciate. The annotations are key and I recommend reading them before the actual letter. Once you read the annotation and the letter, pore over the details of the image. That's half the fun. The creases and tears, the signatures, the handwritten notes and illustrations, the elegant corporate letterhead, all add additional charm.

The letters range from gravely serious to light and amusing and everything in between. Some notable letters include:

  • Irving Thalberg's scathing letter to Erich von Stroheim firing him from Universal.
  • Boris Karloff feeding writer Albert Hergesheimer a trivia tidbit for movie magazine fodder.
  • Henry Fonda's Western Union telegram announcing Jane Fonda's birth to William Wyler and Wyler's response.
  • Bette Davis's letter to studio executive Jack Warner pleading for better working conditions.
  • The intricately designed letterhead on which publicist Lou Marangella's puff piece informs Irving Thalberg of the production of Ben-Hur (1925).
  • Hattie McDaniel's carefully written rebuttal to Hedda Hopper regarding the NAACP's call for better roles for African Americans.
  • Ingrid Bergman's gushing letter to Cary Grant about learning of her Oscar through his radio broadcast.
  • Ronald Colman's letter to studio executive Abe Lehr on the advent of talkies.
  • Jean Bello's letter to her daughter Jean Harlow's agent Arthur Landau about "the baby" and the making of Bombshell (1933).
  • Paul Newman's hilarious letter to William Wyler turning down a role in Funny Girl (1968).

I have more thoughts about this book which I share on The Movie Palace Podcast. Give it a listen! Thank you to host Carl Sweeney for the opportunity to discuss this book on the podcast.

This is my third review for the Summer Reading Challenge.

Tuesday, August 11, 2020

The Lives of Robert Ryan by J.R. Jones

The Lives of Robert Ryan
by J.R. Jones
Wesleyan University Press
May 2015
Hardcover ISBN: 9780819573728
376 pages

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Robert Ryan was endlessly likable, despite the many villainous characters he portrayed on screen. There was just something about him. He brought a sense of authenticity to every role and you could tell he loved his work. Behind that wrinkled brow and severe scowl was a man who was an average Joe who just happened to be an extraordinary actor. Chances are, if you're a classic film fan, you count Robert Ryan as one of your personal favorites.

Born and raised in Chicago and educated at Dartmouth College, Robert Ryan tried out many jobs before finding his true calling: acting. As a child he appeared as an extra in Essanay Film Manufacturing Company films. After college he was invited by a friend to participate in a theater production and he was hooked. Ryan made his way to Hollywood where he studied at Max Reinhardt School of Theater. It was there he met fellow actor and soon to be wife Jessica Cadwalader. After playing some bit parts in Paramount films, Ryan was drafted into the Marines during WWII. When he came back he concentrated on his movie career at RKO. He took a huge gamble starring in Crossfire (1947) as violent Anti-Semite. The liberal minded and gentle Ryan was the complete opposite character. However, he excelled at playing bad guys and Crossfire would jumpstart his career and earn him his first (and only) Academy Award nomination.

“One thing Ryan had understood… a controversial role can help an actor’s career.” — J.R. Jones

Many films followed including Berlin Express (1948), The Boy with the Green Hair (1948), The Set-Up (1949), Clash By Night (1952), The Naked Spur (1953), Bad Day at Black Rock (1955), Odds Against Tomorrow (1959), Billy Budd (1962), The Longest Day (1962), The Professionals (1966), The Dirty Dozen (1967), The Wild Bunch (1969), and his final film Executive Action (1973). Ryan would often play loners, outcasts and those figures on the perimeter of society. Off screen, Ryan was a fiercely private man. He opted out of the Hollywood scene and preferred to spend his off time with his wife and three children. Ryan became an outspoken critic of war, was a member of the National Committee for a Sane Nuclear Policy and partook in Civil Rights efforts alongside his friend and Odds Against Tomorrow co-star Harry Belafonte. He had a penchant for booze and was troubled by bouts of depression. But he never let any of that get in the way of his work. Ryan built a reputation for coming to work on time and prepared and for befriending crew members as well as his fellow actors. Ryan passed away in 1973 at the age 63 which is a damn shame because he at least had a good decade or more left in him to continue his excellent body of work.

Robert Ryan and Jessica Cadwalader. Photo Source

The Lives of Robert Ryan by J.R. Jones offers a compelling look at the life and career of one of the finest actors to ever grace the silver screen. The author has clearly done his research as he pieces together the story of a man who was far from being an open book. The book benefits from extensive interviews with Ryan's children, especially his daughter Lisa Ryan, as well as access to the 20 page memoir Ryan wrote for his family shortly before his death. There are lots of great anecdotes, insightful observations and eye-opening revelations. The book leans towards the positive but the author isn't shy to share some of the darker elements of Ryan's life.

Classic film enthusiasts will love the behind-the-scenes information and following the trajectory of Ryan's acting career. The book does gloss over Ryan's later films and extrapolates more on his early work, especially some of the notable performances in films like Crossfire and The Set-Up. Some hardcore classic film enthusiasts won't mind this but I wanted the author to linger more on some of his later films.

The true star of the book for me was Robert Ryan's wife Jessica Cadwalader. I gobbled up any information offered to me about her extraordinary but ultimately sad life. There is extensive information about how she transitioned from being an actress to being a writer, how she and Ryan were fundamental in starting the Oakwood School, a private progressive elementary school in Los Angeles that is still going to this day, and how she suffered from the limitations posed on women, wives and mothers in the '50s and '60s. She had a mental breakdown in 1958 and reading about the circumstances that lead to it made me want to throw the book across the room in anger.

The Lives of Robert Ryan by J.R. Jones is an excellent biography that delves deep on the life and career of a beloved classic film star.

Thank you to Wesleyan University Press for sending me a copy for review!

This is my second review for my Summer Reading Challenge.

This happens to be my 100th book review! Check my book review page for the full list!

Tuesday, July 21, 2020

2020 Summer Reading Challenge: First Round-Up

It's that time again! It's time to share all of the wonderful reviews that the participants of this year's Summer Reading Challenge (winter for those of you on the Southern Hemisphere!) have been writing. I have a whopping 38 participants this year including my husband who joined at the last minute. And I'm so proud of this eager group of classic film lovers because they have really dived into their TBR stacks with great enthusiasm. I encourage you to read every single one of these reviews (I did myself, why shouldn't you?)

Happy reading!

Andy at AndyWolverton.com
Painting with Light by John Alton
The Psycho File by Joseph W. Smith III
The Devil Finds Work by James Baldwin

Breanna of Bresfilms41
The Selected Letters of Elia Kazan
Jimmy Stewart by Marc Eliot
Olivier by Anthony Holden

Carlos of Live Fast Look Good
The Man Who Seduced Hollywood: The Life and Loves of Greg Bautzer, Tinseltown's Most Powerful Lawyer by B. James Gladstone
Hollywood Godfather: The Life and Crimes of Billy Wilkerson by W.R. Wilkerson III

Jess of Box Office Poisons

Lee from Lee Mac on YouTube
Christmas Holiday by W. Somerset Maugham
Yesterday, Today, Tomorrow: My Life by Sophia Loren
TBR list

Pacia of Sylvia Plath, Shirley Jackson, and Dorothy Parker Walk into a Bar…
Seduction: Sex, Lies, and Stardom in Howard Hughes’s Hollywood by Karina Longworth
West of Eden: An American Place by Wendy Vanden Heuvel

Raquel of Out of the Past
Phantom Lady: Hollywood Producer Joan Harrison, The Forgotten Woman Behind Hitchcock by Christina Lane

Rich of Wide Screen World
The Real Tinsel by Bernard Rosenberg and Harry Silverstein

Photo Source: @_robby_c on Instagram

Robby on Instagram
Growing Up in Disneyland by Ron DeFore

Sarah from Goodreads

American Prince: A Memoir by Tony Curtis

Photo Source @classicsarah_ on Twitter

Shawn of The Everyday Cinephile
Migrating to the Movies: Cinema and Black Urban Modernity by Jacqueline Najuma Stewart

Steve from Goodreads
Hank and Jim: The Fifty-Year Friendship of Henry Fonda and James Stewart by Scott Eyman
The Searchers: The Making of an American Legend by Glenn Frankel

Vanessa of Super Veebs
Complicated Women: Sex & Power in Pre-Code Hollywood by Mick LaSalle
Swanson on Swanson by Gloria Swanson
The Only Woman in the Room by Marie Benedict
Silent Stars by Jeanine Basinger

If I missed your review, make sure you submitted it to the Book Review Links form at the bottom of the challenge page.

Wednesday, July 15, 2020

Phantom Lady: Hollywood Producer Joan Harrison, The Forgotten Woman Behind Hitchcock by Christina Lane

Phantom Lady
Hollywood Producer Joan Harrison
The Forgotten Woman Behind Hitchcock
by Christina Lane
Chicago Review Press
Hardcover ISBN: 9781613733844
400 pages
February 2020

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"Alfred Hitchcock would not have become 'Hitchcock' without her." — Christina Lane

I first learned of Joan Harrison when I saw her name pop up in the title credits for The Alfred Hitchcock Hour television show. I was deep into my binge watch of that series when I noticed that Harrison was replaced by Norman Lloyd as executive producer. It was only when I read Christina Lane's excellent biography Phantom Lady: Hollywood Producer Joan Harrison, The Forgotten Woman Behind Hitchcock that I learned why Harrison left the show. While Harrison had been fully involved in the original series Alfred Hitchcock Presents, she was less enthused with the new format coupled the pressure to find original stories that would work for the hour long presentation. According to Lane, Harrison "was a woman who liked to be in control." If she didn't feel the work was suited to the best of her abilities or that she could do better elsewhere she removed herself and moved on. This is a woman I needed to learn more about.

Christina Lane's biography offers readers a portrait of a headstrong woman with a passion for both storytelling and the business of movie making. Harrison refused to take the path set for her as a woman. She wanted more and she was determined to get it. Harrison got her start in the business when she answered Alfred Hitchcock's want ad for a personal assistant/secretary. She was a terrific writer, editor and visionary and she quickly rose in ranks to writer and eventually to producer. According to Lane, Harrison "championed women's stories and alternative narrative methods." She believed that films should have complex and dynamic female characters. Highly collaborative, she oversaw continuity of story and vision and had a hand in procuring stories as well as launching writer's careers. Harrison helped groom Jane Greer for her career at RKO (but quickly left when Harrison saw Hughes was bad news) and was instrumental in Robert Mongtomery's career at Universal. She was nominated for two Oscars in the same year, for best adapted screenplay for Rebecca (1940) and best original screenplay for Foreign Correspondent (1940). I admire the fact that Harrison felt strongly against the blacklist and when she transitioned to television work, producing shows like Janet Dean, Registered Nurse and the two Alfred Hitchcock anthology series, she used the opportunity to help blacklisted talent get back to work.

“She was realizing that the women’s angle -- the persistent search for filmic ways to penetrate the mind of a sympathetic female character -- was her greatest motivation.”— Christina Lane

Phantom Lady is an exquisitely written and thoroughly researched biography of an extraordinary woman. Author Christina Lane is an associate professor of film studies at the University of Miami and writer. Lane offers readers tons of interesting information, beautifully crafted sentences and thoughtful observations. There are extensive interviews with surviving members of Lane's circle of friends and colleagues including living legend Norman Lloyd. Films discussed include: Rebecca (1940), Foreign Correspondent (1940), Suspicion (1940) (lots of information about that darned ending!), Phantom Lady (1944), Nocturne (1946), Ride the Pink Horse (1947), Once More, My Darling (1949), etc. There are plenty of spoilers so if you're not familiar with the film plots you may want to skip ahead a paragraph or two when the synopsis is discussed in the text. There is quite a bit of information about Harrison's love life which may or may not be interesting to the reader. Lane offers juicy tidbits while being careful not to cross over into the territory of salaciousness.

I'm particularly interested in learning more about people behind the scenes of film making, beyond actors and directors. The role a producer is not fully understood or appreciated by many and there was much to learn from here through Harrison's involvement in various projects. Lane does an excellent job deciphering what Harrison's contributions as a screenwriter and producer would have been based on research but also educated guesses where information was lacking.

A truly enlightening and empowering read. Highly recommended!

Thank you to Chicago Review Press for a copy of Phantom Lady for review.

This is my first review for my Summer Reading Challenge.

Friday, July 3, 2020

The Assassination Bureau (1969): Review by Kate Gabrielle

The Assassination Bureau (1969) is an energetic, suspenseful, and imaginative romp through an alternate version of turn-of-the-century Europe where the chair of a secretive murder-for-hire organization, Ivan Dragomiroff (Oliver Reed), teams up with feminist journalist Miss Winter (Diana Rigg) to prevent World War I. Sure, he might be partially to blame for the Archduke Ferdinand's accidental assassination by tossing him a bomb concealed inside of a large sausage, but his heart is in the right place!

This dark comedy begins with Miss Winter seeking out The Assassination Bureau to commission a hit on Ivan Dragomiroff himself! Miss Winter believes that his demise will put an end to the increasing number of senseless murders being committed, and her first assignment as a newly minted journalist will be to trail Dragomiroff and cover his ultimate end for the paper. Driven partially by amusement at the offer and a desire to reset the moral compass of his increasingly mercenary institution, Dragomiroff accepts Miss Winter's request, with one caveat. If he is able to kill the other members of the board - corrupt men willing to trade an indefinite number of human lives in exchange for more power or wealth - then The Assassination Bureau can remain intact with him as chair, and restore its original mission to only eliminate those who are really and truly deserving of death.

Bedecked in a series of outlandish disguises, the members of the board all begin drawing up dastardly and inventive ways to kill each other off. A match sparked in a gas-filled room, bombs in briefcases, bombs in headboards, the aforementioned bomb in the sausage, and a particularly surprising death by helium! As Dragomiroff traipses across Europe leaving fiery, smoking buildings in his wake, Miss Winter follows along to cover the story and - predictably, but nonetheless adorably - becomes increasingly worried about the safety of the man that she just paid twenty thousand pounds to kill!

Diana Rigg and Oliver Reed have great chemistry here - in one scene when they are still in the verbal sparring stage of the "mismatched romantic duo" trope a hotel porter mistakes them for a married couple, and you could easily see how he could make that mistake. Dragomiroff remarks "it seems we have a married look ... because you're after my blood, no doubt." Of course, she's not the only one after his blood! Dragomiroff's second in command, Lord Bostwick (Telly Savalas) is so determined to see Miss Winter's hit carried out that he offers an additional ten thousand pound bonus to the person who does the deed. Savalas plays Lord Bostwick as a congenial villain, a man who delights in the game of death as much as the power he stands to gain from it. He is the perfect foil for Reed, who manages to portray an idealistic and upstanding hero with his characteristic devil-may-care flippancy.

The Assassination Bureau is as visually bright as the humor is dark - so many rich velvets, and so much attention to detail! In particular I was fascinated by a series of paintings lining the walls of the Bureau's conference room (a round room hidden behind beautiful curved bookcases) that depict famous assassinations throughout history, and a duo of beds in a brothel that are built to look like a swan and a peacock. Combining colorful, jaunty imagery with inset vintage newsreel footage, The Assassination Bureau puts a groovy 1960s twist on a fun turn of the century story.

The Assassination Bureau is available to purchase through the official

Kate Gabrielle is an illustrator and classic film fan. You can find her classic movie inspired artwork on her website, kategabrielle.com, and 10 years of film musings on her blog The Films in My Life.

Wednesday, July 1, 2020

The Titfield Thunderbolt (1953): A Review by Kyle Edwards

The Titfield Thunderbolt (1953) is an early-1950s British comedy which tells a story similar to many real occurrences throughout the world. After Britain's large, nationalized railroad company "British Railways" decides to cease operations over a rural branch line, a small group of concerned locals spring into action to buy the lot of it and save their treasured train. Despite seemingly insurmountable obstacles, the ragtag group manages to defy the odds and preserve the rail line.

This film is the Orient Express of cinema, providing a scenic, entertaining connection between varied points; these being suspense, clever humor and heartwarming satisfaction. The primary antagonists in the film are a pair of gentlemen who wish to gain from the closure of the rail line by offering bus service in place of the train. After these men fail to block the new railroad from gaining government approval to operate, they take matters into their own hands. Several devious attempts at sabotaging the railway are made — all appear successful at first. However, the ingenuity, determination and teamwork displayed by the group aboard the train prevails every time. Throughout the film, the rails are blocked, the critically essential water tower is ruined and drained, and the entire train is even set loose and forced to derail. Wherever the bus company men do their worst... the railroad men and women do far better.

The Titfield Thunderbolt has a captivating storyline, solid cinematography and a skilled cast. The plot itself, though fictional, is based on the story of the Talyllyn Railway in Wales — which became the world's first railway to be preserved by volunteers in 1951. In a broader sense, the film is very representative of things to come in the years that followed. As railroads around the globe experienced increasing overall decline throughout the 1950s, 60s and 70s, many groups appeared from thin air and saved historic railways and equipment from total destruction. In this film, there's some truth behind the added element of the seemingly-evil bus operators trying to destroy the railway. Motorcoach, trucking, automobile and airline companies all applied heavy pressure on the railroad industry in their formative years — both directly and by pushing for government regulations that lined their pockets at the expense of the high iron.

This movie beautifully captures the inherent nostalgia of the railroad and the love that many people — of all ages — have for the steam train. Although many historic rail lines have been lost forever, The Titfield Thunderbolt's success story, though fictional, provides a burst of joy that makes the viewer grateful for the existing real-life success stories. As with the preservation of any object, machine or place, there must be a lot of care and determination for there to be any resulting positive outcome. This film, though light and humorous, highlights the perseverance of those who wish to save things that are at risk for obliteration. Just like a real rail line, this film has plenty of ups, downs and unexpected twists. But it's fun, thrilling and very much worth the ride.

The Titfield Thunderbolt (1953) is available on Blu-ray from Film Movement.

Thank you to Film Movement for providing a copy for review.

Kyle Edwards of Trainiac Productions

"I enjoy long walks on the beach, but prefer to study railroad history, photograph the giant machinery in action and enjoy any films from days gone by. I love to create as much as I love to enjoy the creations of others."

Monday, June 29, 2020

Whisky Galore (1949): Review by Kate Gabrielle

It’s 1943 in wartime Scotland and the residents of the small island of Todday are fighting a battle far worse than anything they could have ever imagined when World War II began — they are plumb out of whisky! In Whisky Galore, a colorful group of characters band together to salvage cases of alcohol from a sinking supply ship that ran aground near the island, while the daughters of the town’s postmaster (and most fervent admirer of whisky) contemplate marriage to their respective suitors. After the initial comical scenes depicting the moment when the "water of life" went dry, the film drags a bit, spending a little too much time on exposition for storylines that don't pay off until the end.

But once the townspeople concoct their plan to plunder the ship full of whisky, things really pick up the pace and all of the exposition starts coming together. In what is perhaps the most rewarding payoff, a mild-mannered man who lives under the roof - and thumb - of his overzealous fire-and-brimstone mother finally works up the nerve to speak up for himself once he's poured several glasses of pilfered whisky down the hatch. And an early scene on the effectiveness of roadblocks on an island with only one main thoroughfare finally comes full circle during a thrilling car chase!

A cast of regular Ealing players combined with local extras from the on-location island of Barra makes for a realistic, vibrant, and distinctive bunch that's reminiscent of Ballykissangel (1996-2001) and Waking Ned Devine (1998). The star of the film is definitely the town as a whole, but top-billed actors Basil Radford and Joan Greenwood (ironically the only non-Scottish members of the cast) pull their weight as the Home Guard commander and one of the postmaster's daughters.

Greenwood doesn't have very much to work with here -- her scenes consist of pretty much a loop of applying lipstick, answering the telephone in her father's shop and gazing lovingly at her fiance -- but, as was her custom, she takes those small scenes and turns them into works of art. Exuding composure and calm indifference, every line that she utters in her signature gravely voice elevates the script beyond the written words.

Radford - who you may recognize as one half of the popular Charters and Caldicott duo - transitions throughout the film from a somewhat bumbling Home Guard commander into something of a Javert character, determined to sabotage the whisky theft and hold accountable any and all townspeople who had anything to do with the heist. It is a small saving grace that his wife seems to be rooting for him to fail, and finds great pleasure in the moment he gets his comeuppance!

Despite the lag in pace in the first quarter of the film, this was a very pleasant and delightful film! Once it found its footing it was so lively and cheeky! And there are so many small moments that feel like they could only come from a British film of this era. An elderly man storing whisky in his hot water bottle; the sound of bagpipes being used to drown out the ranting and raving of a stuffy old woman; a man agreeing to allow his daughter's betrothal on the condition that his future son-in-law procure him whisky for the rèiteach. And I'd be remiss if I didn't mention my favorite scene in the film, a montage of villagers hiding their whisky in the most inventive and creative places in their homes. It's reminiscent of scenes from other wartime movies where people banded together for the good of the country - or in this case, for the sake of whisky!

The Film Movement Blu-Ray is a beautiful print with crystal-clear sound, something that I appreciate all the more in movies like this one that take place in a seaside setting, where the sound of the waves and seagulls are an essential part of the experience. Bonus features include an audio commentary by John Ellis, a documentary about the film, a featurette about the real life events that inspired the movie, and a 16-page booklet. You also get the 1954 film The Maggie, starring Paul Douglas.

Whisky Galore is available on Blu-Ray from Film Movement.

Thank you to Film Movement for providing a copy for review.

Kate Gabrielle is an illustrator and classic film fan. You can find her classic movie inspired artwork on her website, kategabrielle.com, and 10 years of film musings on her blog The Films in My Life.

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