Monday, July 25, 2016

Into the Dark by Mark A. Vieira

Into the Dark by Mark A. Vieira
Into the Dark: The Hidden World of Film Noir, 1941-1950
by Mark A. Vieira
336 pages - 9780762455232
May 2016
Running Press and TCM
Amazon - Barnes and Noble - Powell's

“When I walk onto a set, I never have the slightest idea what I’m going to shoot. Then I sit in a chair for a few minutes and I see it all before me.” – Edmund Goulding

If you’re looking for a book on film noir, your options are endless. Much has been written about this beloved and still impossible to nail down genre of film. When author Mark A. Vieira sought out to create Into the Dark: The Hidden World of Film Noir 1941-1950 he needed a different approach. This book is not a primer on film noir nor is it a scholary work. It isn’t even your standard coffee table book. It’s a pictorial history told through archival documents. The author is renowned as a great researcher with access to materials, documents and photographs that few others have. Into the Dark is your armchair as you dig through the film noir archives alongside Vieira.

Before you even consider picking up this book, it’s important you know what’s contained inside and how it’s structured. If you don’t have a full appreciation for this you’ll be disappointed. The book explores a wide variety of films noir starting with Citizen Kane (1941) and ending with Sunset Blvd. (1950). All the major film noir classics Out of the Past (1947), Gun Crazy (1950), The Asphalt Jungle (1950), Murder My Sweet (1944), Double Indemnity (1944), Laura (1944), Mildred Pierce (1945), etc. and lesser known gems as well make up the space in between. Some films get one spread (2 pages) and some get up to four spreads (8 pages). There are large black-and-white publicity stills and a designed layout for the archival information. Each section will include some or all of the following:

Film name and credits
One line description of plot
Production quotes
Box Office Numbers
Letters from Regional Theaters
Artist Comments
Detailed photo captions
Asides and explanations from the author

Below is what the layout for Out of the Past (1947) looks like:

The films are presented chronologically and divided into different time periods. Each of these sections is introduced with some more archival documentation which serves to demonstrate how the genre was evolving over time.

I remember as a little girl I once had a book about the presidents of the United States. It was a reference guide from Funk & Wagnalls and was laid out in a similar way to Into the Dark. Each president had his own section with his official presidential portrait, some stats, some photographs/paintings and one article from the archives. It was not a true reference book about presidents in that it didn’t give me a sense of the president’s life and career or the milestones of his presidency. The archival material was a mixed bag with some interesting details and some fluff. Woodrow Wilson’s section included his wedding menu. I wanted more out of that book but in those pre-internet days this was all I had. Eventually I got a full encyclopedia set and could look up the presidents individually and was content with that. Into the Dark reminds me of that book but this time I was more prepared. I could appreciate it for what it was not what I wanted it to be. And lucky for me this book was richer in contextual and relevant detail.

Into the Dark is an excellent pictorial history of film noir with the context that only archival documents can give. While we love these films noir now, many were neglected back in the day. We see some shocking reactions from theater owners and from film critics (Bosley Crowther of The New York Times is heavily referenced in the book). We also see that many of these films returned a nice profit and went on to have a better appreciation in the decades that would follow. For example, my favorite film noir Out of the Past (1947) wasn’t fully appreciated until the 1970s when repertory houses started showing the film regularly. There was little publicity for it the year it came out because Dore Schary, who recently arrived at RKO, decided to only focus on films he’d been working on. There are lots of great trivia bits to be gathered from the book. For example Raymond Chandler’s Farewell My Lovely was adapted into Murder My Sweet (1944) starring Dick Powell because the book title would have confused patrons expecting another Powell musical. Crossfire (1947)’s original plot dealt with homophobia but it was changed to anti-Semitism for the film. Impact (1949) included product placement from brands like Pabst Blue Ribbon Beer and Coca-Cola. Ever watch The Big Sleep (1947) and wonder what the heck was going on? After they finished filming they added more Lauren Bacall scenes which threw off the plot. Nuggets of information like these are why I read classic film books.

There are some problems with Into the Dark. There are a handful of grammatical errors and typesetting flaws. These could have easily been caught if the publisher took more care with copyediting and proofreading. The book itself is gorgeous but the signatures pulled away from the spine as I read it. Stronger glue or better overall binding would have helped hold the heavy pages to the cover a lot better. Also the archival documents can often be frustrating to read. Your beloved classic can be dampened by a ornery theater owner complaints (one called In a Lonely Place “stilted corn”). I much preferred reading the photo captions, asides, artist comments and production quotes which gave more background on the films, actors and actresses. Bosley Crowther and the various film critic insights were interesting to read but also showed how these films were not fully appreciated during their time.

When I originally discussed Into the Dark I pegged it as a book for film noir newbies. That is not the case. It’s really for film noir enthusiasts who want to study their favorite films in a new and different way. The book gets a stamp of approval from the Czar of Noir Eddie Muller of the Film Noir Foundation who contributed a preface.

I bought this book from Larry Edmunds Bookshop at the 2016 TCM Classic Film Festival. Read more details on how I got to meet author Mark A. Vieira here.

Mark A. Vieira

This is my second review for the 2016 Summer Reading Classic Film Book Challenge.

Sunday, July 17, 2016

2016 Summer Reading Challenge - First Round-Up

Silents and Talkies - Summer Reading Photo
Arrietty checks out Kate's summer reading stack. Photo courtesy of Silents and Talkies
I'm delightfully overwhelmed by the response to this year's classic film summer reading challenge. Forty people have signed up and we have a wealth of reviews already. Thanks so much to everyone who has participated so far.

Check out what the participants have been reading:

Bernardo of The Movie Rat
Character Actors in Horror and Science Fiction Films, 1930-1960 by Laurence Raw

Christina S.
Three Weeks by Elinor Glyn
Charles Walters: The Director Who Made Hollywood Dance by Brent Phillips
Women I've Undressed by Orry-Kelly
Edmund Goulding's Dark Victory: Hollywood's Genius Bad Boy by Matthew Kennedy
Alma Rubens, Silent Snowbird: Her Complete 1930 Memoir by Alma Rubens

Erin B.
Bendigo Art Gallery & Twentieth Century Fox Present Marilyn Monroe
Natalie Wood by Rebecca Sullivan
Double Feature by Terence Stamp

Grezilda of Doesn't She Ramble
Åke Lindman: Åke ja hänen maailmansa
Divided Heaven by Christa Wolf

Audrey and Givenchy: A Fashion Love Affair by Cindy de la Hoz

Java's Journey
You Must Remember This by Robert Wagner

Jennifer T. of Always Classic
A Rose for Mrs. Miniver: The Life of Greer Garson by Michael Troyan

Kate Gabrielle of Silents and Talkies
City Lights (BFI) by Charles Maland
More about her summer reading books as seen in the photo above.

Laura of Laura's Miscellaneous Musings
Hollywood Celebrates the Holidays: 1920-1970 by Karie Bible and Mary Mallory

Lindsey of The Motion Pictures
Scarlett O'Hara's Younger Sister by Evelyn Keyes
Laughing the Dark by Ted Sennett

Marya G.
Zachary Scott: Hollywood's Sophisticated Cad by Ronald L. Davis
Joan Crawford by Stephen Harvey
Butterfield 8 by John O'Hara

Phyllis of Phyllis Loves Classic Movies
Hollywood Legends as Fashion Icons by Patty Fox

Raquel of Out of the Past: A Classic Film Blog
The First King of Hollywood: The Life of Douglas Fairbanks by Tracey Goessel

Rich of Wide Screen World
The Thin Man by Dashiell Hammett

Vanessa B.
Garbo: A Portrait by Alexander Walker
Cagney by Cagney
The Cinema Legacy of Frank Sinatra by David Wills
Marlene by C.W. Gortner

If I missed your review, make sure you added it to the review form. Full details are on the challenge home page.

Thursday, July 14, 2016

New & Upcoming Classic Film Books (6)

Publishers keep cranking out new classic film books and there are plenty coming out this summer. I just picked up the reissue of Olivia de Havilland's memoir Every Frenchman Has One and I have my eye on the new book about Twentieth Century Fox. There are plenty more new books to keep an eye out for. Here is my new round-up with publication dates ranging from May to September 2016.
Are you new to my list? Here are the details. Links go to Goodreads and this time I've added buy links. Books include biographies, memoirs, scholary texts, coffee table books and more from a variety of publishers. All publication dates are subject to change.

Make sure you let me know in the comments section below which of these books interesting and what you're reading now!

Every Frenchman Has One by Olivia de Havilland

Reissue for the de Havilland Centennial!

by Olivia de Havilland
Crown Archetype
144 pages – Reissue June 2016
Buy: Amazon - Barnes and Noble - Powell's

by Brian Hannan
McFarland & Company
492 pages – May 2016

by Douglas A. Cunningham and John C. Nelson
472 pages – May 2016
Buy: Amazon - Barnes and Noble - Powell's

by Simon Willmetts
Edinburgh University Press
320 pages – May 2016

by Cynthia J. Miller and A. Bowdoin Van Riper
Rowman and Littlefield Publishers
296 pages – May 2016
Buy: Amazon - Barnes and Noble - Powell's

by Jennifer Ann Redmond 
BearManor Media 
220 pages – May 2016
Buy: Amazon - Barnes and Noble - Powell's

by John T. Soister and Henri Nicolella
McFarland & Company
238 pages – June 2016
Buy: Amazon - Barnes and Noble - Powell's

by Antoine de de Baecque and Noel Herpe
Columbia University Press
608 pages – June 2016
by Kristina Hagman and Elizabeth Kaye
Thomas Dunne Books
272 pages – June 2016
Buy: Amazon - Barnes and Noble - Powell's

by Harold N. Pomainville
Rowman and Littlefield Publishers
332 pages – June 2016

by Kia Afra
Rowman and Littlefield Publishers
318 pages – June 2016
Buy: Amazon - Barnes and Noble - Powell's

by Michael Munn
Skyhorse Publishing
336 pages – June 2016
Buy: Amazon - Barnes and Noble - Powell's

by Charles L. Epting
McFarland and Company
July 2016
Buy: Amazon - Barnes and Noble - Powell's

by Kathryn Bishop-Sanchez
Vanderbilt University Press
296 pages – July 2016
Buy: Amazon - Barnes and Noble - Powell's

by Peter Kramer
112 pages – July 2016
Buy: Amazon - Barnes and Noble - Powell's

by Chris Darke
96 pages – July 2016
Buy: Amazon - Barnes and Noble - Powell's

by Lyndsy Spence
Fantom Films
July 2016

by Sergio Delgado
McFarland and Company
July 2016
Buy: Amazon - Barnes and Noble - Powell's

by David Kauffman
St. Martin’s Press
304 pages – July 2016
Buy: Amazon - Barnes and Noble - Powell's

by Scott Tracy Griffin
Titan Books
224 pages – July 2016
Buy: Amazon - Barnes and Noble - Powell's

by D. A. Miller
University of Chicago Press
208 pages – August 2016
Buy: Amazon - Barnes and Noble - Powell's

by Mr. Peter L. Winkler and George Stevens Jr.
Chicago Review Press
368 pages – August 2016
Buy: Amazon - Barnes and Noble - Powell's

by Roberto Curti
McFarland and Company
August 2016
Buy: Amazon - Barnes and Noble - Powell's

by Tom Williams
Chicago Review Press
384 pages – September 2016
Buy: Amazon - Barnes and Noble - Powell's

by Roger Ebert, Chaz Ebert and Matt Zoller Seitz
University of Chicago Press
288 pages – September 2016
Buy: Amazon - Barnes and Noble - Powell's

by Elisabeth Quin & Francois Armanet
264 pages – September 2016
Buy: Amazon - Barnes and Noble - Powell's

by Scott Allen Nollen
McFarland and Company
September 2016
Buy: Amazon - Barnes and Noble - Powell's

by Laurence A. Rickels
Wallflower Press
216 pages – September 2016
Buy: Amazon - Barnes and Noble - Powell's

by Jennifer Bass and Pat Kirkham
Laurence King Publishing
44 pages – September 2016
Buy: Amazon - Barnes and Noble - Powell's

by Jonathan Baumbach and Miriam Bale
The Critical Press
250 pages – September 2016
Buy: Amazon - Barnes and Noble - Powell's

Such Mad Fun: Ambition and Glamour in Hollywood's Golden Days
by Robin R. Cutler
View Tree Press
328 pages - September 2016
Buy: Amazon - Barnes and Noble

by Michael Troyan, Stephen X. Sylvester and Jeffrey Thompson
Taylor Trade Publishing
288 pages – September 2016 
Buy: Amazon - Barnes and Noble - Powell's

Here are my previous round-ups :

New & Upcoming Classic Film Books (1)
New & Upcoming Classic Film Books (2)
New & Upcoming Classic Film Books (3)
New & Upcoming Classic Film Books (4)
New & Upcoming Classic Film Books (5)

Wednesday, July 13, 2016

Johnny Doesn't Live Here Anymore (1944) and the Gold Key Scandal

Johnny Doesn't Live Here Anymore (1944)
Johnny Doesn't Live Here Anymore (1944)

The sub-genre of WWII housing shortage films has a following among classic movie enthusiasts. Add Johnny Doesn't Live Here Anymore (1944) to The More the Merrier (1943),  Government Girl (1944) and Standing Room Only (1944). You'll find this film is the most unusual out of the bunch. Sure it's a comedy about the housing shortage situation but it's also part fantasy and part sex comedy. I could have said romantic comedy but I didn't and you'll see why.

Simone Simon plays Kathie Aumont, a young Quebecoise on her way to Washington D.C. to stay with her friend Sally and take a government job. A fantastical incident on the train puts her face-to-face with a bad luck gremlin (played by Jerry Maren, voiced by Mel Blanc) who follows her around for 7 weeks.

Her first stroke of bad luck comes when she discovers Sally (Gladys Blake) recently eloped with a new guy George (Grady Sutton) and Kathie is no longer welcome. Kathie finds a vacancy with a marine named Johnny (William Terry). He gives her the key to his place so she can stay there while he's on duty. But he's too besotted with the pouty ingenue and forgets to tell her that he's also given out keys to her apartment to several men. Kathie thinks she has the place to herself but a string of male visitors prove otherwise. With every new guy comes Kathie's frequent declaration: "Johnny doesn't live her anymore!" The rotating cast includes James Ellison, Chick Chandler, Billy 'Froggy' Laughlin and others.

Kathie's bad luck, with the help of the gremlin, spirals out of control. The neighbors think she's a floozy, some of these male visitors want to get to know her better and in the end she picks one to marry. Who will it be?

I came to this movie because it features a relative unknown Robert Mitchum had a minor role in the film as the married CFO Jeff Daniels who just needs a place to crash while he waits for his wife. He gets more than he bargained, an epic fight scene ensues and everyone winds up in court. When the film was re-released, Mitchum's star was on the rise and he was given top billing despite his small role.

Johnny Doesn't Live Here Anymore (1944)

 "Say you're purdy"- Mike
"I'm beautiful" - Kathie

A 1944 review labeled this film "morally unobjectionable". The crux of the story, the fact that Johnny doesn't live here any more, is a plot device to deliver one type of story while seeming to be another. This is really about a young single woman in the city who playfully calls all the fellows Johnny and they all happen to have keys to her apartment. Everyone else within the world of the story thinks she's promiscuous. However, the movie audience knows better. It's all one big misunderstanding. This type of plot device fascinates me. It's one way film makers in the era of Hays Code enforcement titillated audiences while staying "morally unobjectionable".

Simone Simon's Kathie is a strong character in many regards. She's self-assured and understands the power of her beauty. Kathie travels from far away to help the war effort and become a Rosie the Riveter. While Johnny is away, she becomes a veritable handyman and fixes the many problems with the apartment. However, she's a victim of her time and the confines of her story. What I call "the fix" comes when it's necessary for her to fall in love with one of the guys and get married. When the film was re-released four years the title was changed to And So They Were Married further sanitizing the sexy plot.

"I don't want to talk." - Kathie
"Neither do I." - Mike

And this film is sexy. If you don't see it you're blind. Simone Simon's Kathie has incredibly charged interactions with the various men in the film. A sleeping Kathie gets a slap on the rump from the ice man who thought she was Johnny. The confines of a crowded taxi cab forces Kathie to sit on Johnny's lap and their fellow passengers encourage Kathie to give Johnny a kiss because what if she never sees him again?  Kathie plays rough with a sailor, shares a soda with two guys, walks in on a guy taking a bubble bath who then offers to show her his tattoo. Even private things like taking a shower, slathering her face with cold cream, walking around in her pajamas are done around the men. The ending of the film, set five years ahead, strongly suggests Kathie's promiscuity as we try to figure out who is the father of her three kids.

"Don't watch me." - Kathie
"I like to." - Mike

"How did this movie ever get made?" I asked myself many times. And it's not just because of it's sexy plot. It's because of Simone Simon and the Gold Key Scandal of 1938.

"When I saw all those men with those keys…" Mr. Collins

In 1944 Simone Simon was enjoying the height of her Hollywood career. Cat People (1942) was a success and The Curse of the Cat People would follow a couple years later. Simon hadn’t always been successful in Hollywood. She's made a crack at it before. In the 1930s, Simon was new to the US and didn’t speak much English. Ralph Baum of 20th Century Fox took pity on her and assigned his secretary Sandra Martin to be Simon’s full-time assistant.

Nicknamed the “Tender Savage” in Europe and marketed as Europe’s sweetheart in Hollywood, Fox tried to make Simon a star but proved unsuccessful. Simon’s bad luck continued. She took her assistant Sandra Martin to court charging her with embezzling money, forging checks and stealing luxury items from Simon’s home. Martin fought back claiming that Simone Simon had a promiscuous lifestyle that involved scandalous parties and that she favored lovers two 18 karat gold keys to her home. When the defense attorney asked Simon to name one of the lovers she proclaimed “you’ll never know!”.

Martin proved to be a shady character. Her real name was Athena Alexandroff and she had a criminal record that included check fraud. She was found guilty and sentenced to nine months in jail. Fox ended Simon’s contract and she fled to Paris to work with Jean Renoir only to come back at the start of WWII.

“She was like a cat... as long as you smoothed her, she purred; when you stopped... she scratched.”  - Sandra Martin on Simone Simon

The gold key scandal became part of Simone Simon’s reputation and eventually her legend. I’m sure producers Frank and Maurice King of the King Brothers were well aware of this when they hired her for Johnny Doesn’t Live Here Anymore. Maybe Val Lewton remembered Sandra Martin's observation of Simon's cat-like nature she was cast in Cat People (1942).

(Further reading and sources: book, article, article)

Johnny Doesn't Live Here Anymore (1944) is a fun film, a bit bizarre and a nice curio from the past. It's essentially a promiscuity tale disguised as a chaste romantic comedy. It's made chaste with the circumstances and contemporary audiences will have fun with the not so subtle suggestiveness.

Johnny Doesn't Live Here Anymore (1944) is available from the Warner Archive on DVD-MOD.

Warner Archive Wednesday - On (random) Wednesdays, I review one title from the Warner Archive Collection.

Sunday, July 3, 2016

The First King of Hollywood: The Life of Douglas Fairbanks

The First King of Hollywood: 
The Life of Douglas Fairbanks
by Tracey Goessel
560 pages
October 2015
Chicago Review Press

Barnes and Noble
Your local Indie

"His story is also the story of the birth of an industry -- the transition of the movie business from a nickel novelty to a world wide phenomenon." - Goessel

Douglas Fairbanks Sr. was a film industry pioneer. Not only did he pave the way for how male actors would influence film and culture, he also was a visionary who molded the fledgling business of making movies into what it is today. He used his influence to create United Artists, the Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences, the Motion Picture Relief Organization and Pickfair Studios. Fairbanks' charm, winning smile, penchant for nice clothes and his physicality influenced the culture. He's the reason why getting a tan was preferred over being pale, why leading men started donning mustaches and his mannerisms in his famous swashbucklers and action flicks became the standard for heroes on screen for years to come.

"He's not good-looking. But he has a world of personality -- just worlds of it. His name is Douglas Fairbanks." - Grace George

Born and raised in Colorado, Douglas Fairbanks' father abandoned the family and he was raised by his mother along with his two brothers. His brothers would become Fairbanks' right-hand men when it came to finances and business decisions. They're astute financial savvy kept Fairbanks wealthy for a very long time. Fairbanks himself was an entrepreneur. Even in the infancy of the film industry he had the foresight to become an independent producer and filmmaker.  His mother's influence on him was strong as well. Her commitment to temperance encouraged the young Fairbanks to abstain from alcohol which he did for most of this life.

In Colorado he studied and became an actor at a young age and avoided the vaudeville circuit for the most part. He immediately set his sights high and it wasn't long before he was in New York and on Broadway. Even when things didn't go well for him Fairbanks had a natural drive to succeed and he wasn't satisfied until he was lead actor in a major Broadway production. When he achieved that goal he set his sights higher to Hollywood.

Mary Pickford and Douglas Fairbanks
"The next 14 years of their lives would find them inextricably linked in print and in perception and the hearts of the public." - Goessel

The book is a deep dive into Fairbanks' adult life and his career in film as well as his storied marriage to mega-star Mary Pickford. We learn about his first wife Anna Beth Sully, mother of his only child Douglas Fairbanks Jr. and who also served as his first business manager. We also learn about Fairbanks' brief and sad marriage to Lady Sylvia Ashley. But it's his love for Mary Pickford and their famous marriage that drove his career and his fame and made them both the envy of many. Their union is recounted in endless detail in the book with the help of love letters, wires and telegrams.

"If there was one thing that Douglas Fairbanks never did, it was stand still." - Goessel

Fairbanks' personality was what made him famous. He resonated with contemporary audiences and influenced them with his charm and antics. We learn a lot about Fairbanks' quirks including how he could never sit still enough to read a book or even read a full script. He had a major case of wanderlust and loved nothing more than to travel the world. Fairbanks did almost all of his own stunts and was innovative in plotting out action sequences. He was fearless in a way that made him admired the world over.

"He had assumed the role of pioneer so often and so well -- moving from stage to film; embracing production, then distribution; implementing new discoveries such as Technicolor; investing more; building higher; always at the forefront of the new and the better." - Goessel

Fairbanks was a business pioneer in an industry that was still figuring out how to be an industry. He was savvy enough to become an independent filmmaker and producer and made history when he co-founded United Artists along with Mary Pickford and his best friend Charlie Chaplin among others.

"His sunny cheer and astonishing athletic prowess spoke to virtues of America in an era when America had no self-doubts about possessing any." - Goessel

For all his strengths Fairbanks had flaws too. He was incredibly jealous and his restlessness often interfered with his marriages and his work. He had a troubled relationship with his son Douglas Fairbanks Jr. Father and son differed greatly in personality, physical appearance, acting styles and choice of roles. Jr. was a constant reminder to Sr. that he could only be young and popular for so long.
Douglas Fairbanks in The Thief of Bagdad (1924)
The complexities of this larger than life figure are all captured in The First King of Hollywood. The author weaves a fine a tale delivering to us the most comprehensive look at Douglas Fairbanks' life and career. All of his films are discussed in detail including: The Good Bad Man, Mystery of the Leaping Fish, The Half-Breed, Manhattan Madness, Intolerance, The Thief of Bagdad, The Mark of Zorro, Three Musketeers, The Iron Mask, The Gaucho, The Taming of the Shrew, etc. No film plots were explained which was quite a relief. The focus instead is on the behind-the-scenes making of the film and Fairbanks' involvement.

Years ago author Tracey Goessel purchased a collection of Fairbanks and Pickford's love letters and this treasure trove was the seedling that grew into this book. Goessel is a silent film expert, founder of the Film Preservation Society, on the board of the San Francisco Silent Film Festival and has given many talks about Fairbanks and his films.

Goessel's scholarship shows in the level of detail uncovered and shared within the pages of this book. What should make us willingly give our time to a biography should be rich and deep content we can't get anywhere else. I want the fine details and the bigger picture, I want the context, I want the uncovered gems laid out before me. I want more than IMDb and Wikipedia can provide. Goessel delivers that with this biography.

I did have a few issues with the book. I would have preferred the photographs in the book to be placed throughout the text, especially where they made sense in context, instead of in a glossy insert. The author had a tendency to make some remarks that were intended to entertain but instead come off as judgmental. It disrupted the narrative for me when I had to stop to look up the date of a film because the year wasn't referenced. Adding the year would have helped this reader follow along the chronology of Fairbanks' work.

Goessel comes to us an expert on this historic figure and The First King of Hollywood is the definitive biography on Douglas Fairbanks. For anyone interested in learning about this pivotal time in film history and about the man who influenced it, this book is a must read.

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

This is my first review for the 2016 Summer Reading Classic Film Book Challenge.

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