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 
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!

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