Wednesday, December 29, 2021

Nightmare Alley (2021)

Adapted by Guillermo del Toro and Kim Morgan, Nightmare Alley (2021) is a magnificent adaptation that honors the film noir classic while giving contemporary audiences a grittier and more nuanced look at William Lindsay Gresham's story.

Stan (Bradley Cooper) has a dark past. One he leaves behind as he enters the carnival world. Intrigued and horrified by the resident geek, Stan catches a gruesome performance without paying the required fee. Carnival manager Clem (Willem Dafoe) catches him but takes pity on Stan and offers him an opportunity to work. Stan quickly becomes a beloved member of the group of carnies. Zeena the psychic (Toni Collette) and her partner and former mentalist Pete (David Strathairn) take him under their wings showing him the ropes. He soon masters the art of deception and showmanship. Stan falls for the young and naive Molly (Rooney Mara) who is under the watchful eye of strongman Bruno (Ron Perlman). After a tragic accident at the carnival, Stan and Molly run away to the city to put on a mentalist show for the wealthy elite at an elegant nightclub. They are thriving until Stan becomes a little too intoxicated with his own powers. He meets his match with Dr. Lilith Ritter (Cate Blanchett), a psychologist who knows the inner workings of many a wealthy patron at the club. The two join forces with tragic results.

I've struggled to appreciate the original adaptation of Nightmare Alley (1947), directed by Edmund Goulding and starring Tyrone Power, Joan Blondell, Coleen Gray and Helen Walker. I've watched it numerous times but have always been put off by how the characters prey on the vulnerable and how disjointed the film seemed. However, by watching this new adaptation and revisiting the old one now I have a new appreciation of how masterful the film noir adaptation truly was.

Here is a breakdown of who played which role in the two adaptations

Stanton "Stan"— Tyrone Power (1947) and Bradley Cooper (2021)
Zeena — Joan Blondell (1947) and Toni Collette (2021)
Molly — Coleen Gray (1947) and Rooney Mara (2021)
Lilith— Helen Walker (1947) and Cate Blanchett (2021)
Ezra Grindle— Taylor Holmes (1947) and Richard Jenkins (2021)
Bruno — Mike Mazurki (1947) and Ron Perlman (2021)
Pete — Ian Keith (1947) and David Strathairn (2021)
Clem Hoatley — James Flavin (1947) and Willem Dafoe (2021)

What makes the new adaptation different? We're given much more background on Stan. It's clear that he's a disturbed individual and Bradley Cooper does a great job conveying this (his final scene is mind blowingly good). In Tyrone Power's version, Stan is more of a charming opportunist. The events are a lot more gruesome and there is more at stake for this cast of characters. Toni Collette, Rooney Mara and Cate Blanchett all did fantastic job as the three main female characters. They have their own agency and don't necessarily exist to serve the main male protagonist. It's sad that it has to be said but there are many films where this is lacking. The new film expands the stories of some key characters including Clem, played by the always brilliant Willem Dafoe, as well as Ezra Grindle who is one of Stan's major victims. A lot of attention was put to visuals including costumes, decor and all the unique elements of the carnival, both big and small. There are some fantastic shots that are works of art in themselves. Dr. Lilith's office is an Art Deco dream. Anyone who loves the era will find a lot to enjoy from the beautiful to the macabre.

The 2021 version was written by Guillermo del Toro and Kim Morgan, who are both great appreciators of classic film (Kim runs the classic film and pop culture blog Sunset Gun!) and really dived into the sources material and into the life of the author William Lindsay Gresham whose own experiences influenced his writing. The new film is 2 hours and 30 minutes which ads about 40 minutes to the original. I highly recommend watching this in the theater to really immerse yourself in the visuals and the story because this is one you'll want to watch in one go.

Nightmare Alley is a fascinating study in human nature. What we're drawn to, what scares us, what drives us and how we manipulate others to get what we want. Both the film noir adaptation and the new version both drive home an awareness of the dangers of preying on others.

Nightmare Alley (2021) is currently in theaters and Nightmare Alley (1947) is streaming on the  Criterion Channel.

Tuesday, December 21, 2021

Interview with Sloan De Forest, author of The Essential Directors


I am thrilled to welcome back film historian and writer Sloan De Forest. Her new book The Essential Directors: The Art and Impact of Cinema's Most Influential Filmmakers is available now from TCM and Running Press (check out my review here).

Raquel Stecher: Congratulations on the publication of The Essential Directors! How did you come to write this book?

Sloan De Forest: Thank you! I had already written two books for Turner Classic Movies and Running Press (Must-See Sci-Fi and Dynamic Dames), so I had a foot in the door to do another. I always wanted to tackle the subject of classic film directors, and I got lucky because TCM had always wanted to do a directors guide. It was offered to me and I seized the opportunity. 

Raquel: Your book covers so much in scope that I felt like each chapter was a class on a director. What went into the research for this project?

Sloan: Even though each director profile is really just a brief overview of career highlights, every one required a deep dive into the director and their work. After all, I had to be familiar with someone’s entire career in order to know which films and facts to focus on and which ones to gloss over, if nothing else. So the research process was massive. I immersed myself in books, newspaper/magazine archives, and movies, movies, movies. Even films I had already seen several times before I re-examined closely, along with poring over interviews and quotes from the filmmakers. It was fun, but due to the pandemic, I had a hard time getting my hands on the materials, so it was stressful at times.

Raquel: What was the decision making process like to figure out which directors to include?

Sloan: It was an epic poem. First I made a long list of about 100 noteworthy directors and then with TCM’s help I whittled it down, based on who made the most significant contributions to the industry and art form. There was simply not room to include everyone or the book would have been too big to lift! In fact, we had to cut six filmmakers (or move them to sidebars) after I had already written whole sections on them. In an effort to be inclusive and thorough, I initially overwrote the book, cramming it too full. So that was a challenge, plus there is always some subjectivity involved. Ultimately how do we judge the most “essential directors?” It’s a tough one, and everyone won’t agree. That’s okay. I love how the book turned out: a compendium of pioneers who created some of the most memorable movies in classic Hollywood. It’s supposed to be curated, not encyclopedic, yet I was able to mention hundreds of directors, even if only to give them a nod.

Frank Capra

Lois Weber

Robert Wise

Raquel: Out of the directors selected, who do you think is the most underrated of the bunch?

Sloan: In the book, I write that Robert Wise may be the most underrated director of the classic era, and it’s probably true. He was not a director of the bombastic, egomaniacal variety, and so I think his artistry has long been minimized. George Cukor is another who isn’t given his full due because these men were not auteurs; they didn’t make personal films. But they made some of the greatest movies ever, so surely they were doing something right! Lois Weber is sadly forgotten today, and Frank Capra is a personal favorite whose films are often unjustly dismissed as too sentimental. But he was brilliant, in my opinion.

Raquel: I love that you included female directors like Lois Weber, Dorothy Arzner and Ida Lupino. How have women played a role in filmmaking during the early years before it became a male dominated field?

Sloan: In the early days of motion pictures, women directors were more common than today, over a century later—which is sheer madness, when you think about it. Also, about 50% of the screenwriters were women in the silent days, and of course half the major stars were women through the 1940s. So ladies made vast contributions to the medium in its first few decades. Hollywood only started to become a boys’ club when sound took over, and this is when many female directors like Lois Weber found themselves out of a job.

Raquel: If you were to write a second volume, which directors do you think you'd like to cover? 

Sloan: Speaking of women directors, I would love to write in more detail about Frances Marion, who was so discouraged by her work being judged “feminine” that she only directed two films, and then gave up and stuck to screenwriting. Also Marguerite Duras had an interesting career. In a second volume, I could also tackle the filmmakers of the 80s, 90s and 2000s like Spike Lee, Quentin Tarantino, Guillermo del Toro, and so many others that rose to prominence after the chronology of the book, which ends in the 70s. As for classic-era directors I couldn’t fit in volume one, Busby Berkeley, Charles Vidor, William Wellman, William Friedkin, Don Siegel, Satyajit Ray, and Sam Peckinpah are a few that spring to mind, but there are dozens.

Raquel: Why is it important for movie lovers to understand not only the history behind these film directors but also the era they worked in?

Sloan: That’s a great question. Understanding the backdrop of the time period is essential to form a complete picture of why these directors and their films matter at all, which is why I like to include quotes from original reviews from the time these films were released. If someone doesn’t know that Stanley Kubrick was the first to realistically depict outer space and spacecraft in 2001, they may think “what’s the big deal?” because we’ve all seen realistic outer space depictions so many times since 1968 that we take them for granted. If someone doesn’t know that interracial romances were strictly forbidden under the Production Code from the early 1930s through the early 1960s, they might ask why these directors cast Caucasian actors in non-Caucasian roles. I could go on, but you get the point. Historical context is crucial to appreciate classic films and the artists behind them. 

Raquel: I loved how in each section you boiled down a filmmaker's career into one beautiful line. For example for Douglas Sirk it was 

“he had earned the moniker Master of Melodrama for his aesthetically lush tearjerkers that immersed Eisenhower-era audiences in a world of gilt-edged passion, enriched by his signature use of oversaturated Technicolor.” 

Can you tell us a bit about how you approached capturing the essence of each director?

Sloan: In addition to “zooming in” on some specifics, I did feel it was important to “zoom out” and try to encapsulate a filmmaker’s style or career in one or two sentences, so I’m happy you feel I succeeded. That was a big deal because I didn’t want to sell any director short or misinterpret his or her place in film history. Perhaps that’s why I put some extra effort into those sentences. With everyone I covered, I would remind myself “This is someone’s all-time favorite director” even if it wasn’t mine. Then I would ask myself, “What’s so special about this person? What did they do like no one else?” Then I would find the best words I could to define it.

Raquel: Controversy is no stranger to Hollywood’s history with directors and some names including D.W. Griffith, Roman Polanski and Woody Allen now have tarnished reputations. How did you tackle including these controversial figures in your book?

Sloan: Frankly, that was the most trying aspect of the process. Some particularly unsavory scandals have come to light about these directors in recent years, and I couldn’t ignore that. Yet I also could not bring myself to omit certain directors from the book based on their actions as people, no matter how reprehensible—especially Roman Polanski, who is behind two of my all-time favorite movies, Rosemary’s Baby and Chinatown. So the way I handled it was to discuss the good and the bad elements honestly. I think that’s any historian’s job, to present the facts as they were and not spin them into judgment or opinion, even though it’s tempting. History is history, and it’s not always nice or easy. In my opinion, every facet of film history is fascinating, the dark and the light. 

Raquel:  This is your third book with TCM and Running Press and you've contributed to others. What's it been like working with them?

Sloan: Both have been wonderful to work with. Everyone at Running Press gave me creative freedom and stood by my decisions on which directors to include—even the problematic ones—and TCM has had my back the whole way, facilitating two fabulous forewords (from Peter Bogdanovich and Jacqueline Stewart) and even inviting me on air to discuss the book with Alicia Malone, who was great. Believe me, I am not obligated to say this, but from the heart: thank god for Turner Classic Movies. Where would we be today if Ted Turner hadn’t seen the value in old films and devoted an entire network to screening them uncut? I doubt there would be nearly as much awareness of the classics, nor budgets for preserving and restoring them. Thanks, Ted!

Raquel: What do you hope readers take away from reading The Essential Directors?

Sloan: As the title suggests, my main goal was to spotlight the profound impact and influence these directors have had. Those of us who watch a lot of older movies see the origins of so many ideas and techniques that are commonplace today, and these can often be traced to one specific filmmaker. Not to take anything away from the great directors of today, but in my opinion they all owe a debt to the artists of the past who laid the groundwork, pushed the boundaries, and used their imagination to advance the art form. Every piece of entertainment we see today—whether movie, TV, or streaming “content”—is built upon the cinematic innovations of Fritz Lang or Alfred Hitchcock or Ernst Lubitsch or Stanley Kubrick or another. I hope my passion for classic movies is contagious to readers; that they will seek out movies they have never seen and discover gems from directors they knew little about. 

Book details:
The Essential Directors: The Art and Impact of Cinema's Most Influential Filmmakers
by Sloan De Forest
foreword by Peter Bogdanovich and Jacqueline Stewart
TCM and Running Press
Paperback ISBN: 9780762498932
344 pages —November 2021
Amazon — Barnes and Noble — Powell's 

Tuesday, November 30, 2021

TCM: The Essential Directors by Sloan De Forest

The Essential Directors
The Art and Impact of Cinema's Most Influential Filmmakers
by Sloan De Forest
foreword by Peter Bogdanovich and Jacqueline Stewart
TCM and Running Press
Paperback ISBN: 9780762498932
344 pages
November 2021

“Ultimately, the final list was based on each filmmaker’s influence on the medium, cultural impact, and degree of achievement.” — Sloan De Forest 

What happens behind the scenes is sometimes more important that what we witness on screen. Film directors influence many aspects of the filmmaking process. They shape the look of a movie, add important themes, guide the actors to better performances, and can turn chaos into order. And in some cases the volatility they bring to the table inspires art. However, the role of a director, especially to those who've never worked on a movie set, can be a bit of an enigma.

Author Sloan De Forest provides movie buffs an excellent guide to the most influential film directors and their impact on film history. This carefully curated collection of directors, with figures from the beginning of film history to present day, highlights the importance of each individuals contributions as well as demonstrates the impact they had on a whole on how movies are made and how they influence culture.

The Essential Directors spotlights over 50 filmmakers with mentions of many more. Each of the filmmakers gets their own 5 page section which includes a biographical essay, a quote from another filmmaker that director influenced, photos, a list of must-see movies and a key scene to watch. The book begins with two forewords by Peter Bogdanovich and Professor Jacqueline Stewart of TCM. The directors are presented chronologically which each section focusing on a different era of film history. These sections include an introduction that explore how film directing changed with the evolution of the industry, technology and the role of directors in general. Also throughout are smaller sections that look at other film directors including German expressionists, Neorealists and other international filmmakers. De Forest addresses controversy, gender and race disparity in filmmaking in her introduction. It's a reality that women and POC directors have not been given a space to create during much of film history and I'm glad this was touched upon in the book.

Some notable names in the book include: Cecil B. DeMille, D.W. Griffith, Oscar Micheaux, Lois Weber, Fritz Lang, King Vidor, Dorothy Arzner, Frank Capra, Victor Fleming, Michael Curtiz, John Ford, John Huston, George Stevens, Preston Sturges, Orson Welles, William Wyler, Alfred Hitchcock, Ida Lupino, Billy Wilder. The list goes on and on.

My favorite aspect of reading this book was getting to De Forest's beautifully crafted lines that captured the essence and importance of the particular director being spotlighted. I looked forward to these with each new chapter. Here are some of my favorites:

On Howard Hawks — “racked up a multi-faceted filmography for himself in the decades between, not only criss-crossing into a variety of different genres but seemingly equal at home in all of them.”

On W.S. Van Dyke — “a marvel of efficiency, a reliable studio journeyman who managed to inject streaks of creative brilliance into his rapidly shot movies.”

On Dorothy Arzner — “Arzner is set apart by her consistent success within the studio system... [she] made 16 features during her Hollywood tenure, and everyone focused on a central woman—always of the spunky, independent variety.”

On Leo McCarey — “McCarey’s movies are informed by a deep understanding of human nature, in all its hilarity and its heartache.”

On W.S. Van Dyke — “a marvel of efficiency, a reliable studio journeyman who managed to inject streaks of creative brilliance into his rapidly shot movies.”

On Nicholas Ray — “Perhaps the most subversive filmmaker to ascend the ranks in 1950s Hollywood, Nicholas Ray was a trained Method actor who brought a dark urgency to midcentury movies... [he was the] reigning king of misfits, outsiders, and tortured souls.”

On Fred Zinnemann — “he left behind a rich fourty-year legacy of handsomely crafted films, many of which concern individuals forced to choose between compromising their moral integrity and following their consciences.”

Of course there will be classic movie fans who will ask "well why didn't you include so-and-so?" The Essential Directors could easily be a three volume set. But one 300+ page book does have its limitations. There is a lot covered here so while each section is a breezy read overall this book will take a while to get through. It's worth the effort for the scope it covers.

A big thank you to Running Press for sending me a copy of this book for review. I recommend reading my other reviews for TCM Running Press titles here.

Stay tuned as I will be interviewing Sloan De Forest here on the blog!

Saturday, November 27, 2021

It's a Wonderful Life: The Official Bailey Family Cookbook

It's a Wonderful Life
The Official Bailey Family Cookbook
by Insight Editions
October 2021
Hardcover ISBN: 9781683839453
128 pages

George Bailey: There she blows. You know what the three most exciting sounds in the world are?
Uncle Billy: Uh huh. Breakfast is served; lunch is served; dinner...

Food plays a small but important role in the holiday classic It's a Wonderful Life (1946). Now fans of Frank Capra's uplifting drama can celebrate with a cookbook inspired by scenes and characters from the movie. 

Published by Insight Editions, It's a Wonderful Life: The Official Bailey Family Cookbook is a retro-style collection of recipes and craft ideas sure to win over any classic movie fans this holiday season. The book is divided into seven sections: Appetizers, Sides, Entrees, Desserts, Cocktails and Drinks, Christmas Crafts and Vintage Christmas Dinner. Each recipe comes with a little introduction tying it to the film. Some of these connections are more obvious than others but are all in the spirit of the movie. Some with direct connections include Annie's Mixed Berry Pie (served by Annie to Harry Bailey for the high school graduation party), Phonograph Fowl (the honeymoon scene has Mary turning chickens over a fire with the help of a phonograph), Coconut Fudge Icebox Cake (inspired by when a young Mary orders chocolate ice cream and young George tries to convince her to add coconuts), Zuzu's Gingersnaps (a reference to when George calls Zuzu his "little gingersnap") and more. There are also a few Italian recipes in the bunch as a tribute to the beloved character Mr. Martini (William Edmunds). I'm quite impressed with how the recipes stay true to the movie because I feel it would have been very easy to stray away from that concept.

I loved the retro-style photography. This truly does look like a cookbook born out of the mid 20th century.

There were a few recipes I really couldn't make because of the level of detail and the extra ingredients I would need. However, the majority of the recipes were very approachable for the average home cook, like myself. The highlight of the book is really the deserts and the cocktails. For those who abstain from alcohol, there are two non-alcoholic drink recipes and one that can be modified.

George Bailey: I'll give you the moon, Mary.

Mary: I'll take it. Then what?

George Bailey: Well, then you can swallow it, and it'll all dissolve, see... and the moonbeams would shoot out of your fingers and your toes and the ends of your hair... am I talking too much?


I had a go at making a three course meal from the book. Here is the menu:

Wedge Salad
Oven-Braised Corned Beef with Mustard Sauce
Meltaway Moon Cookies
Zuzu's Petals

Check out my latest video to learn more about my thoughts on the book and how the meal came out!

Tuesday, November 16, 2021

TCM: Dean Martin: King of Cool

Premiering this week on Turner Classic Movies is the excellent documentary Dean Martin: King of Cool. Directed by Tom Donahue and produced by Ilan Arbodela, this film chronicles the life and career of Dean Martin, from his early days singing in the nightclub circuit, becoming one half of the outrageously popular comedy duo with Jerry Lewis, to his film career, his time with the Rat Pack and his personal struggles. We learn about how Dean Martin went from being part of a close knit Italian community in Steubenville, Ohio, to making waves in Hollywood and Las Vegas. Martin was the epitome of cool and part of this was his sense of mystery. He kept everyone, including his family members, at arms length. He went by the notion of "keep yourself to yourself" and lived his life as a menefrigista (he who doesn't give a f***). Martin was also just an extraordinary talent. He mastered singing, drama, comedy and dance, was the consummate host and improvised with the best of them. There were no mistakes. He kept rolling with the punches and everyone loved his mesmerizing personality.

“What an incredible, joyous labor of love it has been to tell the story of one of the 20th Century’s greatest entertainers... The more I learned, the greater and deeper my appreciation and affection for this man became.” — Tom Donahue


What's truly extraordinary about this documentary is the sheer number of people who were interviewed. Half the fun is seeing so many familiar faces, including Martin's peers, friends, family and even classic film authors (whose books I've reviewed on this blog!). 

Notable talking heads include:
Deana Martin
Norman Lear
Bob Newhart
Frankie Avalon
Regis Philbin
George Schlatter
Dick Cavett
Barbara Rush
Florence Henderson
Peter Bogdanovich
Angie Dickinson
Lainie Kazan
Carol Burnett
Barry Levinson
Todd Fisher
Jon Hamm
James Kaplan 
Jeanine Basinger
Henry Jaglom
and many many more

Hearing from them alongside family members and those who inhabited Dean Martin's world really add to this documentary. It also includes audio recordings, never-before-scene archival footage and film and television clips from Martin's numerous appearances. There are a couple controversial figures included in the interviews as well as a few whom have since passed away. The film loses a bit of steam in the second half and gets quite sad when we get to the most difficult years of Martin's life. But overall it was incredibly enjoyable. Definitely a doc I'll be watching again and again.

Dean Martin: King of Cool airs Friday November 19th with an encore screening Friday November 26th. Check out the dedicated Dean Martin line-up programmed for each evening:

Friday, November 19

8 PM ET — Dean Martin: King of Cool (2021)
9:30 PM ET — The Caddy (1953) – A master golfer suffering from performance anxiety caddies for a man he's taught everything.
11:15 PM ET — Rio Bravo (1959)

Friday, November 26

8 PM ET — Ocean’s 11 (1960) 
10:15 PM ET — Robin and the Seven Hoods (1964)
12:30 AM ET  Dean Martin: King of Cool (2021)

Saturday, November 13, 2021

Classic Film Book Haul and Luis Buñuel Memoir Review

I've been busy over on my YouTube channel creating some fun classic film themed videos for you all! Two recent ones include a classic film book haul with lots of great novels and two non-fiction selections as well as a review of Spanish filmmaker Luis Buñuel's memoir My Last Sigh. I hope you'll check them out. Please make sure you subscribe as I'm posting videos every Saturday!

Sunday, October 24, 2021

Kino Lorber Studio Classics: Lilies of the Field (1963) and The Organization (1971)


Check out my latest YouTube video where I review two Kino Lorber Studio Classics Blu-rays starring Sidney Poitier: Lilies of the Field (1963) and The Organization (1971). I came to really appreciate Lilies of the Field with another viewing on this excellent blu-ray edition. Poitier won an Academy Award for Best Actor in a Leading Role for his performance in this touching film about exiled German nuns and an ex-GI who helps them build a chapel. The Organization (1971) is the third in the Mister Tibbs films starting with In the Heat of the Night (1967) and They Call Me Mr. Tibbs! (1970). Convoluted plot follows Virgil Tibbs (Sidney Poitier) as he uncovers a secret organization of dangerous businessmen who transport and sell hard drugs. Great cast, great setting, but a so-so film.

I'm hoping to get videos up weekly. Would love to hear your thoughts on types of videos you'd like to see!

Saturday, October 9, 2021

Kino Lorber Studio Classics: Arise, My Love (1940) and No Time for Love (1943)


Check out my latest YouTube video where I review two Kino Lorber Studio Classics Blu-rays: Arise, My Love (1940) and No Time for Love (1943). Both are Paramount films directed Mitchell Leisen and starring Claudette Colbert. Arise, My Love (1940) is a light romantic drama set in WWII starring Ray Milland. No Time for Love (1943) is a hilarious screwball comedy starring Fred MacMurray and also featuring Ilka Chase and June Havoc.

Sunday, October 3, 2021

Woodstock Film Festival: Horton Foote: The Road To Home


Photo by Susan Johann

"As a writer you strive for a sense of truth." — Horton Foote

Playwright Horton Foote (1916-2009) had been honored with many awards and nominations in his lifetime including Emmy awards, Tony nominations, the National Medal of Arts and a Pulitzer Prize for Drama. He won the Academy Award for Best Adapted Screenplay for To Kill a Mockingbird (1962) and the Academy Award for Best Original Screenplay for Tender Mercies (1983). But chances are, despite his widespread recognition, you may not have heard his name.

Directed by Anne Rapp, Horton Foote: The Road to Home shines a spotlight on a talented and sensitive writer who was often misunderstood and underappreciated by Hollywood. Foote grew up in Wharton, Texas, a small town that would be the inspiration for his many plays for theater, television and film. His original stories were inspired by his local community. He changed real names to fictitious ones and Wharton transformed itself into Harrison, Texas, to protect the locals, and frankly himself from scrutiny. He was particularly attracted to sensitive characters who faced great challenges but still continued on. His stories weren't grandiose nor were they commercial. But they were powerful. And unlike many of his peers, Foote wrote great parts for women. Vulnerable but strong, these women were central to the stories and not just moving pieces that only served the plot. 

In the 1950s and 1960s, Foote wrote many teleplays for shows like American Playhouse, The Dupont Show of the Mount, Playhouse 90 and more. He preferred to write original pieces or adapt his own work but would sometimes adapt other writers work to screen. Foote almost turned down the opportunity to adapt Harper Lee's To Kill a Mockingbird to screen but was convinced by his wife and business partner to give it a go. The result was a resounding success with Foote winning, much to his surprise, his first Academy Award. For Foote, adapting another writer's work was something he did sparingly. He really had to like the material and sympathize with the writer. He called it a painful process because it required him to be both involved in the material and to also be objective. Hollywood saw potential in Foote but didn't know how to work with him. Foote took criticism well however he was firm in his convictions. His work had to be authentic and true to his vision. A commercial writer he was not. He wrote many movie screenplays but only a handful made it to the screen with To Kill a Mockingbird and Tender Mercies being his best known work.

"A gentle, sweet man who had a sharp eye and a sharp mind." — Edward Albee


Rapps' documentary takes the viewer on a journey into the world of Horton Foote. There are interviews with Foote's daughters as well as Edward Albee, Robert Duvall, Matthew Broderick, directors, actors, filmmakers and others who worked with Foote during his lifetime. Although Foote died in 2009, the documentary has a lot of footage of Foote talking about his life and career, his love of Wharton and his never ending desire to tell stories. Throughout the film are theatrical scenes, mostly acted out soliloquies from Foote's theatrical plays. 

Horton Foote: The Road to Home is a loving and tender tribute to a great dramatist.

Horton Foote: The Road to Home premiered at the 2021 Woodstock Film Festival. Visit the film's official website for more information.

Tuesday, September 21, 2021

2021 Summer Reading Challenge: Final Roundup


The 2021 summer reading challenge is officially over. Congrats to everyone who participated! You all did great work. It was a joy to read/listen/watch all of your reviews.

Here is the list of participants (a whopping 14 finalists!) who finished by the challenge by reading and reviewing 6 classic film books:

Andy W.
Angela P.
Breanna M.
Chuck P. 
John M.
Jess I.
Kara L.
Karen B.
Molly S.
Nathan J.
Robert B.
Sarah A.
Shawn H.
Woodson H.

These participants were automatically entered into a giveaway to win a single disc Kino Lorber DVD or Blu-Ray of their choice (under $25 USD). Using I chose three of the finalists and those winners are: 

John M. 
Molly S.
Robert B.

Here is the final round-up up reviews. Make sure you check out the first and second round-up for more reading delights!

"manages to pack a lot of detail in under three hundred pages"

Carl of The Movie Palace Podcast

"Although this is an academic book, I do think that it's an accessible one that may appeal to a general reader who is interested in the subject matter."

Shadow of a Doubt by Diane Negra

Chuck on Twitter

"The film is good in its own ways, but can not match the book in its bleakness which makes it a satisfying noir read."

Ride the Pink Horse by Dorothy B. Hughes

Image Source: Jess of Box Office Poisons

Sure, Ava's career is a focus in this biography, but overwhelmingly, the focus is on love."

"If there's one thing I learned about Lauren Bacall that will stay with me after reading her autobiographies it's this: she possessed a steel spine and the confidence to be who she was every moment of her life."

By Myself and Thensome by Lauren Bacall

"Spencer Tracy was a titan, and this 1,024-page biography by James Curtis, is an excellent thesis as to why." 

Spencer Tracy by James Curtis

Image Source: Jessica of Comet Over Hollywood

"When Elizabeth Spencer’s 1960 novella “Light in the Piazza” was adapted for film, the movie is nearly identical to the original printed word. This doesn’t often happen."

Light by the Piazza by Elizabeth Spencer

John on Goodreads

"a deep, thorough, dive into the making, production, and influence of the film that bridges genres and created an iconic role for one of the great film actresses in history."

by Sam Wasson 

"It is a very - VERY detailed and incredibly researched breakdown of the history of the studio and it's progression throughout the 20th Century."

"an excellent "introduction" to filmmaking for someone who wants to know the basics."

Making Movies by Sidney Lumet

"wonderful gem of a book..."

"This is a fine book to give as a gift; to put out in the den next to a crackling fire as the snow is falling outdoors, or like for me, to read in early September with 80 degree temperatures and a cold iced tea."

Kara on Goodreads

"While we don’t know whether the emotions described in the book are really the way Grace Kelly felt, I think the author taps into Grace’s work and the way she is perceived today."

"Because seemingly everyone in Hollywood was involved with this great cause, you’re sure to find a photo or mention of one of your favorite stars."

"In reading the book, I not only gained a lot of new information, but I also compiled a lengthy list of films that I now want to see."

"One of my favorite things about the book is that Borgnine devotes roughly half of the book to covering many of his films – from the popular to the obscure – sharing his recollections from each."

"This book makes an enjoyable companion to Arnold’s previous book – I hope he comes out with another 52 must-sees!"

"A couple of bright spots in the midst of the gloom – I discovered two new-to-me movies by reading the book: Peggy Shannon’s Deluge (1933) and Sidney Fox’s Bad Sister (1931)."

"These were minor deviations, though; all things considered, the film provided a faithful adaptation of the book, which I highly recommend."

Jennie Gerhardt by Theodore Dreiser

"It opens with her detailed description of taking LSD at the suggestion of Cary Grant. If this doesn’t give you a clue of what kind of wild ride this book would be, I don’t know what will."

The Million Dollar Mermaid: An Autobiography by Esther Williams with Digby Diehl

"If you’re a fan of Jarman, The Yearling, the San Francisco festival, or just enjoy behind-the-scenes tales of old Hollywood, you’ll enjoy this memoir."

Laura of Laura's Miscellaneous Musings

"The deep research and the author's engaging writing style combine for a "must read" biography."

Lê of Critica Retro

"The book is very informative, and even a die-hard Welles admirer like me learned a lot from it."

O Pensamento Vivo de Orson Welles by Rogério Sganzerla

Image Source: Molly of Welcome to Classic Mollywood

Molly of Welcome to Classic Mollywood

"She intertwines factual events with her emotions, but she never gets too carried away as to sway the reader to her side." 

"You can tell that the authors actually love the movies that they pair the recipes with. There is just so much careful attention to detail with the recipes and the films that inspired them."

"Overall, Mitchell's book is well-written and a page-turner, though there are many passages that could be tightened up significantly. "

Ralph on LibraryThing

"A rewarding and rich book that is experienced more than read and unlike many of the desperate dames and gunmen the reader comes out a winner."

Dark City: The Lost World of Film Noir (Revised and Expanded Edition) by Eddie Muller

"I found all the essays and interviews entertaining and informative especially the closing interview with Kevin McCarthy which was surprisingly poignant"

"James Curtis has done a wonderful job with this encompassing volume in illuminating the filmmaking talents and contributions of William Cameron Menzies..."

Raquel of Out of the Past

"As a biography, this book was thoroughly researched, relatively chronological with thematic chapters and very thorough. The writing is engaging but is inevitably weighed down by its subject matter."

Robert of Robert Bellissimo at the Movies

""something [for] all filmmakers, actors, writers, director of photography, editors particularly... a must read" 

Hitchcock Truffaut by Francois Truffaut

"a nice balance of Loretta’s life on and off screen."

Loretta Young: An Extraordinary Life by Joe Morella and Edward Z. Epstein

Sarah on Goodreads

"I really enjoyed the setup of the story and all of the details that make trying to figure out a noir as it unfolds a fun process." 

The Big Clock by Kenneth Fearing

"Anita Loos is such a delightful storyteller. Every bit of this book was fun and interesting."

Cast of Thousands by Anita Loos

"Stenn’s biography of Clara captures her talent as an actress and her alluring star persona while examining Bow’s tumultuous private life that differed wildly from her glamorous screen image."

"Riders of the Purple Sage is a perfect showcase of Zane Grey’s engrossing Western melodramas and the picture of the American West that heavily influenced early Western films. "

"Anyone who loves classic film and is familiar with Utah would also enjoy learning about how Utah became the favorite location of numerous filmmakers."

"Mahar writes a fascinating book filled with numerous nuggets of information."

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