Monday, August 29, 2022

Hollywood Tiki: Film in the Era of the Pineapple Cocktail

Hollywood Tiki
Film in the Era of the Pineapple Cocktail
by Adam Foshko and Jason Henderson
The History Press
Paperback ISBN: 9781467149907
208 pages
August 2022

“Tiki Culture was never about a real place but about the escape to imaginary places—not real Hawaii, but an idea of Hawaii; not any real island, but the idea of an island. A perfect idyllic getaway that was an escape from an industrial postwar life that was the opposite of that.”

A follow-up to their 2018 book California Tiki: A History of Polynesian Idols, Pineapple Cocktails and Coconut Palm Trees, authors Adam Foshko and Jason Henderson's new book explores Tiki culture in film and how this brand of escapism was born out of the trauma of WWII.

Hollywood Tiki: Film in the Era of the Pineapple Cocktail is both a viewing guide for a subgenre of classic movies as well as a cultural history book that extrapolates meaning and context for each of the movies highlighted.

The book begins with two lengthy introductions in which the authors explain their goals in writing this book as well as a background on Tiki cinema. The rest of the book is divided into four chapters:

  1. Tiki Goes to War: South Pacific and the World II Experience
  2. Cocktail Tiki: Bob Hope and Backyard Luau (Sophisticated Adult TIki Entertainment)
  3. Escape to the Islands
  4. I Was a Teenage Tiki: Gidget and the World of Beach Parties

Each chapter highlights 10-12 different movies that fit within the theme. A cast and crew list and a movie poster is accompanied by 3 pages of text which include background, a movie summary (there are spoilers!) and an examination on how the movie fits within the theme of Tiki Cinema and within its era. The individual movies feature a black-and-white poster. Some of these are revisited in the book's full-color insert.

Tiki Cinema is about escapism. It's about rejecting modernity, dealing with the trauma of war and embracing the "idyllic fantasy" of the exotic. Not all of the films fit perfectly into this subgenre and the authors take the time to explain how each of the selected movies touches upon some aspect of Tiki culture.

Here are some of my favorite takeaways from the book:

South Pacific (1958) — “South Pacific does a wonderful job of expressing the idea that the Pacific theater was marked with moments of terrifying brutality separated by long periods of bucolic beauty.”

Miss Sadie Thompson (1953) — “The prevailing lesson of the film and one that is completely at home in Tiki culture: a brazen insistence that trauma can be sublimated into joy.” 

Mysterious Island (1961) — “Like Tiki aficionados looking to escape, Nemo detests civilization and all of the ills that its modernity has brought. Especially war.”'

His Majesty O’Keefe (1954) — “A man is set to drift—very likely to die— but instead, he washes ashore on an exotic paradise. He is a ‘civilized’ in a different world and must therefore overcome the island, the elements, the natives and then ultimately himself in order to be ‘saved’—and then allowed to stay.”

Pagan Love Song (1950) — “Tahiti is the real star here. It’s one of the few pictures… from this period and in this category that really showcases the Polynesian scene” 

From Here to Eternity (1953) — “What the film seems to be saying is that, despite all the jingoism in American culture, military surroundings and military duty will not clear a person of his weaknesses or his choices. The characters in the movie make decisions that condemn themselves, but they are ultimately victims of the vagaries of life.”

Gidget (1959) — “It is riddled with not just the culture of Tiki, exotica, and escape but a constant conversation about what it is to find and explore, to leave and return to one’s responsibilities.” 

Ghost in the Invisible Bikini (1966) — “It was a strange time for movies and for Tiki themes. It wasn’t just that the ideas were tired (they often were), but the audiences were changing.”

Other notable movies include: 
Song of the Islands (1942), Mister Roberts (1955), Father Goose (1964), Bachelor in Paradise (1961), Blue Hawaii (1961), Beach Party (1963) (and the other Frankie and Annette movies), Where the Boys Are (1960) and others.

Hollywood Tiki has a lot to offer classic movie fans especially those who love movies with exotic settings or the beach movies of the 1960s. There is much to learn here about how Tiki cinema really spoke to audiences who were dealing with the aftermath of war and the changing times. 

When I first saw this book, I immediately thought of my good friend Erin who is both a classic movie fan and a Tiki enthusiast. This book would be perfect for her!

I did have a few issues with the book. I didn't think that they made good use of the four color insert especially since it was just repeats of posters that were already presented. It would have been better used for publicity stills or some other type of image. Anyone seeing the book title and cover at first glance will think this is a lighthearted read which it's not. And there is not a cocktail recipe or even really any discussion of cocktails anywhere in the book which makes the reference in the book's subtitle a bit misleading. The movies within each chapter are not presented chronologically. They don't need to be but if you're a stickler for that kind of thing it may rub you the wrong way. Otherwise the book is very well laid out and the information is quite through.

This is my fourth book review for this year's Classic Film Reading Challenge.

Thank you to The History Press for sending me a copy of Hollywood Tiki for review.

Thursday, August 25, 2022

Repeat Performance (1947)

"Stars look down on New Year's Eve in New York. They say that fate is in the stars. That each of our years is planned ahead. And nothing can change destiny. Is that true? How many times have you said 'I wish I could live this year over again?' This is the story of a woman who did relive one year of her life."

Directed by Alfred L. Werker and based on a novel by William O'Farrell, Repeat Performance (1947) is a time travel noir that imagines a protagonist being given a second chance to change the course of events that led to a terrible tragedy. Joan Leslie plays Sheila Page, a celebrated actress married to playwright Barney Page (Louis Hayward). While Sheila's career has gained momentum over recent months, Barney's career is spiralling out of control due to his alcoholism and the lingering resentment he feels towards his more successful wife. The film starts on New Year's Eve in 1946. As partygoers usher in 1947, Sheila is reeling from the fact that she has just shot and killed her abusive husband. She confides in her good friend William Williams (Richard Basehart in his screen debut), a poet and a member of Sheila's social scene, wishing she could relive 1946 and ultimately alter the timeline that led her to this moment. Mysteriously both Sheila and William are transported back to New Year's Eve 1945 and Sheila's given a second chance. Can she prevent that fatal night from reoccurring or is she bound by the chains of destiny.

Joan Leslie and Richard Basehart in Repeat Performance (1947)
Joan Leslie and Richard Basehart in Repeat Performance (1947)

In the article I wrote for TCM, I wrote "Repeat Performance (1947) is a flimsy noir bolstered by an intriguing conceit." I'll add to this that I found the film quite gratifying for several reasons. We get to see Joan Leslie in a robust leading role (instead of a supporting ingenue part). She is dressed to the nines in costumes by Oleg Cassini and jewelry (pay attention to the broaches!) by Eugene Joseff. Leslie is able to maintain some of her wholesome image playing a character who is a genuinely good person stuck in a bad situation. As someone who loves all things New Year's, I love how the holiday is implemented in this story. It's the perfect setting since this is a prime moment when we think about the events of the past year and plot out what we'll do different in the next. I also really enjoy the fact that the way the plot plays out is not quite what you'd expect. I enjoyed the cast of characters including Tom Conway as John Friday, the smarmy theatrical producer, and Virginia Field as Paula Costello, a rival actress who tries to poison Barney's mind against Sheila. The film also examines the social politics of the theatre world and Basehart's character William Williams adds two interesting subthemes: literature and mental health.

There is one interaction between Leslie and Hayward that is blatantly sexist and a bit of a head scratcher. If you've watched the film, you'll know exactly what I mean. It's not strictly a noir but film noir expert Eddie Muller calls it a "noir fantasy" because of how the film blends noir with supernatural elements.

Repeat Performance was produced by Aubrey Schenck for Eagle-Lion Films Inc. Joan Leslie had just had a tumultuous falling out with her home studio Warner Bros. and was working as a free agent. Here is some more background on the film from my article:

"Now as a free agent, the star went to work for Eagle-Lion. Actress Constance Dowling had just left Eagle-Lion because of her own dissatisfaction with her roles and Leslie replaced her as the lead in Repeat Performance. Eagle-Lion was eager to showcase their new star and they elevated what would have been a low-budget film to a big budget production....

Repeat Performance didn't make a splash back in 1947 but it continues to linger in the minds of generations of viewers who have seen it since. At the 2013 Seattle Noir City premiere of the film, Eddie Muller called the film a "film noir version of It's a Wonderful Life (1946)." He went on to say that "over the years [many people] have told me about seeing Repeat Performance when they were young and it stuck in their mind. There is something about the premise of this film..." The introductory voiceover read by John Ireland and the conceit is also a memorable precursor to Rod Serling's hit TV show The Twilight Zone. Repeat Performance has since been remade as the TV film Turn Back the Clock (1989) with Joan Leslie in a cameo role. Leslie was a featured guest at a 2011 Noir City event and by sheer luck a 16mm print purchased by a private collector was made available just in time for the screening. Bad prints of the film have circulated over the years and this newly discovered 16mm print was in much better condition."

Repeat Performance (1947) is available in a deluxe DVD/Blu-ray set from Flicker Alley. The film was preserved by the UCLA Film and Television Archive in conjunction with The Film Noir Foundation and funded by The Packard Humanities Institute. The restoration is a sight to behold. I had only ever seen bad copies of the film and the Blu-ray edition was a sight for sore eyes.

Flicker Alley's release has a robust offering of extras. The jewel case includes two discs, a reversible cover and a booklet with photos and the article Repeat Performance: A Book-to-Film Comparison by Brian Light. The disc extras include an introduction by Eddie Muller, a promotional pressbook and audio commentary by Nora Fiore. My favorite extras by far were two vignettes: Farran Smith Nehme's profile on Joan Leslie and Alan K. Rode and Steven C. Smith's Eagle-Lion: A Noir Stained Legacy

Thank you to Flicker Alley for sending me a copy for review!

Monday, August 22, 2022

Second Roundup: 2022 Classic Film Reading Challenge


There's just under a month left in this year's classic film reading challenge! You have until September 15th to read and review so there is still plenty of time. And if you can't finish all 6 don't sweat it! Read as many as you can. And more importantly: have fun.

Congratulations to Chris and Chuck who have already completed the challenge! Robert, Andy, Greg, Jess and Alejandro are our current leaders.

We currently have over 60 reviews submitted. The first round-up of reviews went up last month and this current round-up features all reviews submitted since then.

Now onto the reviews:

Aimee on Goodreads

"This teen nonfiction title describes how in 1947 the government committee, The House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC), questioned 19 men working in Hollywood about their involvement with Communism... Photographs and other documents from the time add interest."

Alejandro on Goodreads

"Fernández’s life is worthy of a biography studying all aspects of his successful, tragic life. That work doesn’t exist. But I’m hoping short works such as this one continue to shed light on the need for one."

"Wilson covers a lot of ground in her writing and one can sense the huge amount of research and work she put into the book."

Andy of Journeys in Darkness and Light

"An amazing work of crime fiction... There's nothing slick or flashy about the novel. But it all feels authentic."

The Friends of Eddie Coyle by George V. Higgins

Angela of The Hollywood Revue

"On the whole, the book — like the movie — is light and pure fun; often laugh-out-loud funny.Gentlemen Prefer Blondes by Anita Loos

"I’d been wanting to read the novel version of Now, Voyager for a long time and I couldn’t be happier that I finally did so. It’s been a real pleasure to spend so much time with such a thoughtful, beautifully told story."

Now, Voyager by Olive Higgins Prouty

"For those in the camp of having seen the movie many times, the differences between the book at the movie are enough to make things interesting without deterring too much from the core story. And for those who have either never seen the movie, it’s simply a very solid and engaging story."

Brittaney of The Story Enthusiast

"Sadly, Gavin Lambert’s biography is one of two written about Norma Shearer. It’s not tragic because it lacks in any way, but because Shearer deserves much more attention than she has received."

Norma Shearer by Gavin Lambert

Carl of The Movie Palace Podcast on Instagram

"the book is incredibly successful at bringing Elvis to life by placing him within his proper cultural context." 

"Taken together, Guralnick’s books on Elvis are a monumental achievement that capture the nuances and contradictions of a man who is too frequently subsumed by the larger-than-life aspects of his own image."

"a fictionalised account of the making of Billy Wilder’s Fedora (1978), which was the veteran director’s penultimate film... this is a delightful book that I can’t recommend highly enough."

Mr. Wilder & Me by Jonathan Coe

Chris of Digging Star Wars

"lovingly written by a knowledgeable classic film aficionado."

"If your faith is important to you and you love movies, too - this book is for you."

Reel Spirituality by Robert K. Johnston

Chuck on Goodreads

"There are definitely other books that may delve more deeply and critically into Hitchcock's life. However, this book provides an entertaining and informative overview on Hitchcock that is sure to delight many who are fans of his films."

Alfred HITCHCOCK: Master of Suspense by Noël Simsolo and illustrated by Dominique Hé 

"Anyone who likes digging into the details of film noir or classic films from this era will want to read this book. I enjoyed taking a stroll through the galleries of this virtual art museum."

"One of the best things about the book is how Macor puts the reader virtually on the set as the movie is being made. It is one of the most detailed accounts of the actual filming of a classic film that I have read."

Greg on Goodreads

"what you get in this book is the life story of a brilliant and very complex artist, narrated by a master storyteller. It is such a unique autobiography, as it is written and structured so similarly to the best of his screenplays..."

"Such a unique and fun angle on the final years of one of the funniest men that ever lived. The author certainly had a front row seat for the period of Groucho’s life that hasn’t made it into other books."

Raised Eyebrows: My Years Inside Groucho's House by Steve Stoliar

Jess of Box Office Poisons: A Classic Movie Blog

"More than just a thorough story of her career, this truly captures the full life story of Doris Day."

Doris Day: Her Own Story by A.E. Hotchner

Image Source: Box Office Poisons

"Every last sentence is written with that characteristic everywoman sensibility that she carried with her on screen and on stage."

Ginger: My Story by Ginger Rogers

John on Goodreads

"A concise well-written story - like so many other of his books on Hollywood by Scott Eyman"

"Despite those plot stretches (it is a "suspense thriller" after all), it is a short, brisk, action-filled novel..."

The 39 Steps by John Buchan

"it's a time capsule and look into the days of an early industry and how it fit into the urban landscape of a time long ago."

Letícia from Cine Suffragette

Image source: Cine Suffragette

"Showing a deep understanding of what was going on in the world, Robeson took the stand and stood for his beliefs in this book." 

Here I Stand by Paul Robeson

Molly of Classic Mollywood

Image source: Classic Mollywood

"The way Finler goes through stills history (which also includes glamour shots done in studios) is fascinating. He breaks down the book by different eras and by different types of stills work. The pictures he uses to help get across his points are STUNNING!! 

Raquel of Out of the Past

"The Savvy Sphinx is richly rewarding. I came away from the book feeling like I just graduated with a degree in all things Greta Garbo. Reading this book cover to cover will take a while as there is quite a lot to take in and absorb. But it's well worth your time."

Robert of Robert Bellissimo at the Movies

"This is an incredible book. I devoured it."

"I had a fun time reading this book... it's a really enriching experience."

Rebecca: BFI Film Classics by Patricia White

"This is one of the best "Making Of" Film books I've ever read and I highly recommend it. It's not just for film fans or fans of the film but for anyone because it's a highly engaging story full of struggles, conflicts, humour and much more!"

Ryan's Daughter: The Making of an Irish Epic by Paul Benedict Rowan

Sarah on Goodreads

"I really like Old Hollywood biographies that give a nice balance of personal life and information on the making of each of their films, and this biography fit that bill perfectly."

Shawn of The Every Cinephile

"Tracy Goessel’s meticulously researched biography The First King of Hollywood gets to the heart of how Fairbanks built his effusive screen image and in turn played a pivotal role in establishing Hollywood as the pristine moviemaking capital of the world."

"Golden in her biography does a good job contradicting these myths while also highlighting Gilbert’s unique talents and exceptional on screen performances." 

"Wynne relies heavily on oral history accounts and stories to recapture how it was to work on aerial stunts during the classic era. Even if it’s not always clear how reliable these firsthand accounts given by stuntmen decades later are, these anecdotes are easily the most entertaining part of the book."

Saturday, August 6, 2022

The Savvy Sphinx: How Garbo Conquered Hollywood

The Savvy Sphinx
How Garbo Conquered Hollywood
by Robert Dance
University Press of Mississippi
Hardcover ISBN: 9781496833280
288 pages
November 2021

Greta Garbo was extraordinary in many ways. She was one of the most beloved and sought after celebrities of her time. Her level of fame was astonishing for the era and nearly unmatched today. Despite coming to America not speaking English and also despite her deep aversion to publicity, she quickly became one of MGM's most bankable stars and was embraced by the public. Everyone knew who Garbo was and audiences flocked to see the majestic star on the big screen. MGM carefully curated her silent film career and her transition to talking pictures. With her growing fame and continued success at the box office, she gained more control over the particulars of her career. In an age when many actors fell victim to movie studio machinations, Garbo thrived at MGM and never worked anywhere else. When her career ended in 1941 when Garbo was 36 years old, her celebrity persisted in the decades that followed. Her elusiveness made her an object of curiosity for the press and the public. She never embraced fame and preferred to live a private life with a small circle of confidantes. Even so, she remained one of the most recognizable movie stars even though she never worked again.

Portrait collector and film historian Robert Dance's book The Savvy Sphinx: How Garbo Conquered Hollywood explores the many facets of Garbo's fame and how it conflicted with her personal life. The book boasts extensive information about Garbo's acting career in particular, one that lasted through the 1920s and 1930s. We also get a peek into her personal life, her romantic relationships, her friendships and her retirement years. Because of Dance's interest in portrait work, readers are also given extensive insights on how movie studios utilized photographers like Clarence Bull, George Hurrell, Ruth Harriet Louise, Arnold Genthe and others. The book is slightly oversized, printed on glossy paper and features many professional portraits of Garbo as well as personal photographs of the star from over the years. 

Arnold Genthe portrait of Greta Garbo, circa July 1925

Here are some interesting takeaways from the book:

  • Garbo preferred to associate with European ex-pats or those who respected her need for privacy. She was quick to kick someone out of her inner circle.
  • Swedish filmmaker Mauritz Stiller was Garbo's mentor and pivotal to bringing her to Hollywood and getting her a contract with MGM.
  • Garbo chose her scripts, her romantic leading men and which portrait photographer she would allow to photograph her. She would also only agree to short term contracts. This level of control was quite rare in the era of the Hollywood studio system.
  • Garbo avoided fans, autographs and any kind of publicity. She preferred focusing on her work.
  • She was considered for films like Red Dust, Dark Victory and Song of Russia.
  • Flesh and the Devil (1926) made Garbo a household name thanks to her on screen and off screen chemistry with her costar John Gilbert.
  • The Divine Woman (1928) is the only Garbo film considered lost.
  • For Anna Christie (1930), they decided to warm up the audience with 5 minutes of Marie Dressler before they introduced Garbo in her first speaking role.
  • She frequently got out of MGM obligations including group photographs as well as bit parts in studio productions like Hollywood Revue of 1929 and The Christmas Party (1931).
  • Garbo insisted that Laurence Olivier be replaced with John Gilbert in Queen Christina (1933).
  • She played Anna Karenina twice: Love (1926) and Anna Karenina (1935).
  • Irving Thalberg was a pivotal player in Garbo's career at MGM. When he died in 1936, it was the beginning of the end for her studio career.
  • Despite starring in many serious dramas and prestige pictures, her final two films Ninotchka (1939) and Two-Faced Woman (1941) were comedies.

And here are some of my favorite quotes:

“What is clear is that Garbo possessed great ambition and self-assurance, two qualities critical for success.” 
“Garbo’s voice turned out to be ideal for sound pictures. Her deep alto with its rich timbre and slight continental accent, not quite Swedish, but not quite anything else, recorded beautifully.”
“Here was a new sort of screen siren. Blond, beautiful, irresistible to men, and irresistible to audiences, Garbo displayed an overt sexuality that was revolutionary. Never before on screen had a woman been depicted as an equal romantic partner.”

“To looks and talent must be added to Garbo's magic. Something happens in the space between the faces projected on the shimmering silver screen and the eyes of the patrons filling movie theater seats.”

The Savvy Sphinx is richly rewarding. I came away from the book feeling like I just graduated with a degree in all things Greta Garbo. Reading this book cover to cover will take a while as there is quite a lot to take in and absorb. But it's well worth your time.

I did have a few problems with the book. There were typos scattered throughout which hopefully will be fixed on future reprints. The author is protective of his subject which at times can be frustrating because of the inherent bias. Garbo's romantic relationships, especially with John Gilbert, are downplayed a great deal. Even with that said, I still enjoyed the book immensely.

I highly recommend The Savvy Sphinx to anyone who already loves Greta Garbo or anyone wanting more insights on her special brand of celebrity and fame.

This is my third review for the 2022 Classic Film Reading Challenge.

Thank you to the University Press of Mississippi for sending me The Savvy Sphinx for review.

Monday, August 1, 2022

Girls on Film by Alicia Malone

Girls on Film
Lessons from a Life of Watching Women in Movies
by Alicia Malone
Mango Publishing
Paperback ISBN: 9781642506563 
March 2022 
224 pages 

This review was originally published at the Classic Film Collective Patreon in June 2022.

As movie lovers, what we watch during the different stages in our lives really shapes the person we become. This can have both positive and negative effects on our emotional well-being. Especially for women and minorities, who may see themselves reflected poorly or not represented at all in the movies that they consume. 

TCM host and author Alicia Malone explores the films shaped her life in her new book Girls on Film: Lessons from a Life of Watching Women in Movies. This book is part memoir, part film analysis with a special focus on women in movies, a topic that Malone has been passionate about for many years. Each chapter in the book chronicles one pivotal stage in Malone's life and the movies that influenced her perception of society and herself. For example, watching National Velvet (1944) as a child helped introduced Malone to classic movies, especially ones about "heroic young girls. Her early fascination with Marilyn Monroe led her to film analysis. Learning from movie reviewers like Leonard Maltin and movie hosts like Bill Collins (Mr. Movies) and Robert Osborne led her to a career in television. Learning about Ingrid Bergman and Malone's encounter with a contemporary movie star helped Malone realize what she truly wanted out of life.

The chapters each have their own themes that tie into a time in Malone's life with mentions of several related movies and an in-depth look into a couple films in particular. These include: Merrily We Go to Hell (1932), Woman of the Year (1942), The Enchanted Cottage (1945), The Bad and the Beautiful (1952), Gentlemen Prefer Blondes (1953), Cleo From 5 to 7 (1962) etc. More contemporary movies include: Carrie (1976), The Little Mermaid (1989), Smooth Talk (1985), Mad Love (1995). etc.

Some of my favorite quotes from the book include: 

"The curiosity about Marilyn Monroe led me to read film books for the first time and begin to consider beyond the images I saw on screen: to stop watching passively and start to question what was being presented to me, particularly when it came to women." — Alicia Malone

"Classic cinema felt like my secret. It was special, and my own experience—my private way of escaping life when I felt I needed to." — Alicia Malone

 "Watching classic movies with modern eyes can be a confronting experience, but one of the biggest ways we can keep classic films alive and relevant to the next generation is to engage with them. Society changes as the years go on, and our own attitude shift too, but classic films remain locked in their moment. They're time capsules, filled with relics of the past..." — Alicia Malone

They say that the more specific the story is the more universal its appeal. This definitely rings true with Girls on Film. While the book focuses on Malone's personal journey with movies and how it led to her different life decisions along the way, readers will find her story incredibly relatable. 

There were several moments throughout the book where a story Malone related triggered a core memory within me. I would put the book aside and stop to think about my own journey. It made me think of those halcyon days during high school and college when I would spent countless hours at a local Blockbuster perusing the shelves and picking just the right movie to watch. When she spoke of The Little Mermaid, I remembered how obsessed I was with that film as a girl. I played my VHS tape so many times (including 7 times in one day) that it broke. Back then Disney would limit their VHS releases of their major movies and it broke at a time when the movie wasn't available to purchase. So my mom bought be a Disney Singalong tape with an Under the Sea theme so I could at least watch a couple scenes from the movie. It held me over until I could watch The Little Mermaid again. And like Malone, Marilyn Monroe was one of several catalysts for my interest in classic film. 

Alicia Malone is a very private person and Girls on Film is a small glimpse into her world. I was particularly interested in reading about her early career in television, her work at press junkets, her start at TCM and her recent move to New England. My only complaint about the book that there weren't more stories about her work as a movie presenter.

Girls on Film is touching, relatable and ultimately grounded by a deep understanding of film history. A must read for any TCM fan.

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