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

AmazonBarnes and Noble Powell's

“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

AmazonBarnes and NoblePowell's

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.

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