Thursday, December 21, 2023

Christmas in the Movies by Jeremy Arnold

Christmas in the Movies
35 Classics to Celebrate the Season
Revised and Expanded Edition
by Jeremy Arnold
TCM and Running Press
Hardcover ISBN: 9780762481040
280 pages
October 2023

"When we view [Christmas movies], we journey back to our childhoods, laugh at our quirks, and lose ourselves in tales of love and compassion. There's nostalgia in many of these stories and even in the simple act of watching them: they stir our memories of having seen them in earlier times, with earlier loved ones." — Jeremy Arnold

While you can't watch 35 Christmas movies in one day, you CAN read about 35 in one day with Christmas in the Movies: 35 Classics to Celebrate the Season by Jeremy Arnold. This is a newly updated, revised and expanded edition of Christmas in the Movies: 30 Classics to Celebrate the Season published in 2018 (read my review here).

This new edition has, of course, 5 additional Christmas movies. Each movie is presented with an essay that gives background, synopsis, a little analysis and an exploration of the Christmas elements as well as poster art and photographs from the movie. Some notable movies covered include Christmas in Connecticut, It’s a Wonderful Life, Miracle on 34th Street, White Christmas, Holiday Inn, etc. I particularly enjoyed the pieces on Remember the Night, Beyond Tomorrow, Cheaters, Holiday Affair, and Elf.

This new edition also boasts 70 pages of additional content including several really great thematic essays. These include:  Christmas movies of 1947,  Christmas and Film Noir, Disney Christmas Cartoons, essays on different adaptations of Little Women, A Christmas Carol, Three Godfathers, etc.

I was particularly taken with the Christmas and Film Noir piece and how it explored the dichotomy of the two very different movie styles and how they come together. 

“Film Noir is a visual style and storytelling attitude that stresses fatalism, cynicism, and sinister undercurrents of society that pull characters into a sordid world from which there is usually no escape. Christmas movies guide characters up, toward their better, positive natures; noir pulls them down, toward the depths of their own destructive impulses.” — Jeremy Arnold

interior spread courtesy of Running Press
source: Edelweiss

interior spread courtesy of Running Press
source: Edelweiss

interior spread courtesy of Running Press
source: Edelweiss

A worthy upgrade for those who already own the original book. It's a larger format with a new cover and so much more reading material that makes this book even more valuable for Christmas movie enthusiasts. Pick this one up for this season (or for the next!)

Thank you to Running Press for sending me a copy of Christmas in the Movies to review!

I share more thoughts about the book on episode #7 of The Classic Movie Roundup on YouTube. Watch here:

Thursday, December 7, 2023

Ladies They Talk About (1933)

Ladies They Talk About (1933) is one of the original women-in-prison films and is perfectly suited for the Pre-Code era. Directed by Howard Bretherton and William Keighley for Warner Bros., Barbara Stanwyck stars as Nan Taylor, a glamorous gun moll and a member of a bank robbing gang led by Don (Lyle Talbot) and Lefty (Harold Huber). Nan is a career criminal and has her job down pat. She's just needs to distract the cops and the people in charge while her cohorts do the dirty work. But one day her plan doesn't quite work out and she ends up in the clink. The comes her knight-in-shining-armor David Slade (Preston Foster). He's a hymn shouting reformer who broadcasts his religious sermons over the radio and hosts popular revivals in the city. He's got significant influence on the public and on local politicians and he takes a particular interest in Nan. It doesn't hurt that he's attracted to her too. Nan isn't quite sure about him and while he tries to save her from a conviction she winds up in San Quentin (when they used to house both male and female prisoners) anyways.

Now Nan needs to navigate the social politics of a women's prison. She quickly befriends the spunky and no-nonsense Linda (Lillian Roth) who becomes her sidekick. Linda introduces Nan to a motley crew of characters. There's Aunt Maggie (Maude Eburne), a former madame and an important ally for Nan. Mustard (Madame Sul-Te-Wan) who gets into quite the battle of social dominance with a seemingly high-and-mighty prisoner. Keeping watch over the crew is Noonan (Ruth Donnelly) a hard-nose but sympathetic prison matron who always has a cockatoo on her shoulder. Nan makes an enemy in Susie (Dorothy Burgess), one of David Slade's devoted followers who seethes with jealousy at Nan's romantic connection with him. Nan soon needs to decide whether she's going to give this David Slade guy a chance or risk it all by continuing her life of crime.

You really can't go wrong with a Pre-Code prison movie. There are so many good ones of the era including 20,000 Years in Sing Sing (1932), Paid (1930) and my personal favorite The Big House (1930) (which I reviewed here). Ladies They Talk About is thoroughly enjoyable despite a rather weak romantic storyline. The main draw really is the women-in-prison sequences. There's a reason this subgenre became popular during the exploitation era. It's titillating! Ladies They Talk About really has fun with the women's prison. Barbara Stanwyck's cell is decked out with fancy pillows, dolls, flowers, a dresser and even a gramophone to play records. The prisoners smoke cigarettes, do their hair and makeup and wear lingerie. One of them even gets to keep a pet dog. The film offers some outrageous fun with a crime drama and opposites-attract love story serving as just window dressing. How many other films boast Lillian Roth singing a love song to a picture of Joe E. Brown?!

Revisiting Ladies They Talk About sent me down the research rabbit hole about radio evangelism of the 1920s/1930s. While most people forget Preston Foster is even in this movie, I took special note of his character on this viewing. They tone down the religious elements—most likely to not offend any denominational groups—but it's clear that Foster's character represents the era when these figures influenced public morality through radio broadcasts and in-person revivals. This subject matter comes into play more prominently in another Barbara Stanwyck Pre-Code movie The Miracle Woman (1931) in which she plays an Aimee Semple McPherson type.

Ladies They Talk About was based on the play Women in Prison by Dorothy Mackaye who based the story on her own time locked up in San Quentin. In the late 1920s, Mackaye was a stage actress married to song-and-dance performer Ray Raymond and embroiled in a passionate affair with another actor Paul Kelly. On April 26th, 1927, a drunk Raymond and an equally drunk Kelly got into a fight at Raymond and Mackaye's apartment. Kelly beat Raymond so brutally that when Raytmond went to bed that night he fell asleep and never woke up. Mackaye tried to clean up the mess her lover made by bribing the coroner to change her husband's autopsy report finding from blunt force trauma to natural causes. Her scheme backfired. Both Kelly and Mackaye went to trial, were convicted and subsequently sent to San Quentin. Mackaye and Kelly reunited and married once Kelly served his time. She wrote about her experience in a play and Kelly was able to continue his acting career.  I haven't gotten my hands on the original play yet but I'd be curious to see how much of her own story was in the play and what was changed for the movie adaptation.

Ladies They Talk About (1933) is available on Blu-ray from the Warner Archive Collection. It’s also available on DVD in volume #5 of the Forbidden Hollywood series.

The Blu-ray is from a 1080p HD Master from 4K scan of the original nitrate camera negative. Bonus features include English language subtitles, a theatrical trailer and the Warner cartoon Merrie Melodies: I Like Mountain Music

Thank you to the Warner Archive Collection for sending me Ladies They Talk About for review!

I share more thoughts about the film and the Blu-ray on episode #6 of The Classic Movie Roundup on YouTube. Watch here:

Tuesday, December 5, 2023

Beverly of Graustark (1926) Undercrank Productions

photo credit: Museum of Modern Art Film Stills Archive
Undercrank Productions, Library of Congress

Beverly of Graustark (1926) stars Marion Davies as Beverly Calhoun, cousin to Oscar (Creighton Hale), the prince heir of the fictional kingdom of Graustark. Beverly has intimate knowledge of the family and specifically Oscar with whom she was raised almost as sibling. Graustark is expecting his arrival for the coronation but shortly before setting out on the journey Oscar is severely injured in a skiing accident. General Marlanax (Roy D'Arcy) convinces Beverly that she can pretend to be Oscar and complete the journey for him. Oscar hasn't been seen publicly since he was an infant and Beverly is the one person who knows Oscar well enough to play him. Beverly dresses in royal uniform and makes the treacherous journey to Graustark. On the way, Beverly meets Dantan (Antonio Moreno) a dashing and handsome goat farmer who saves Beverly/Oscar from an ambush. Dantan takes on the task of being her bodyguard not knowing that Oscar is really Beverly. The two begin to fall for each other causing a major identity crisis for Beverly who is eager to become herself again.

photo credit: Museum of Modern Art Film Stills Archive
Undercrank Productions, Library of Congress

This film is an adaptation of George Barr McCutcheon's 1904 novel Beverly of Graustark. McCutcheon wrote a series of books about the fictional kingdom of Graustark a few of each had been adapted. Beverly of Graustark had previously been adapted in 1914 with actress Linda Arvidson in the title role. This 1926 adaptation was made at MGM where Marion Davies was a contract star. A castle set was built specifically for the movie and outside the studio on location shooting was done in the Sierra Nevada mountains.

I enjoy stories about gender and identity and while the conceit of Beverly of Graustark is not terribly believable, Marion Davies does a fantastic job playing both Beverly and Beverly pretending to be Oscar. She looks quite handsome in her royal uniforms! She's matched beautifully with one of the Latin Lovers of early cinema, Antonio Moreno. They both carry the film when the plot is lacking.

Marion Davies also starred in Little Old New York (1923), another film where she plays a young woman dressed like a man. I enjoyed that one better than Beverly of Graustark but also believe both could be enjoyable in a double bill. I reviewed the DVD release of Little Old New York from Undercrank Productions last year.

Beverly of Graustark is available on Blu-ray from Undercrank Productions. The film was digitally restored from a 4k scan of a 35mm nitrate print from the Library of Congress’ National Audio Visual Conservation Center. The Blu-ray contains this restoration along with the 2-strip Technicolor sequence and an original score from silent film accompanist Ben Model. There are no extras but the restoration looks fantastic and the Technicolor sequence is a treasure (many others from this era are lost).

Thank you to Undercrank Productions for sending me a copy for review.

I share more thoughts about the film and the Blu-ray on episode #6 of The Classic Movie Roundup on YouTube. Watch here:

Thursday, November 30, 2023

AKA Lucy by Sarah Royal

AKA Lucy
The Dynamic and Determined Life of Lucille Ball
by Sarah Royal
Foreword by Amy Poehler
Running Press
Hardcover ISBN: 9780762484263
240 pages
October 2023

“Lucy is one of America’s greatest works of art.” — Amy Poehler

Lucille Ball was a force of nature. Her\ chaotic energy combined with her feminine aura created her unique brand of charisma that made her a legend. What impresses me most about Lucille Ball was her tenacity. She was a hard worker, incredibly driven in both her professional and personal life and always had the dogged determination to make her dreams come true. Lucille Ball went from being a chorus girl, to becoming the queen of Bs at RKO (and eventually owning the studio!), to then becoming the star, alongside her husband Desi Arnaz, of one of the most beloved and best-known TV shows of all time. Ball wasn't a natural born comedian. Instead, her talent for slapstick humor came from her perfectionism. She worked on her craft until it was perfect, making audiences believe it was her natural born talent and not something that required hours of work to make it look easy. 

“I’m not ashamed to say that I stole liberally from her… She kind of paved the way for people like me to do [physical] comedy on sitcoms.” — Dick Van Dyke

AKA Lucy: The Dynamic and Determined Life of Lucille Ball by Sarah Royal is a celebration of this powerhouse entertainer, successful business woman and devoted wife, mother and friend. It's authorized by the Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz and the author is a pop culture historian who specializes in women in comedy. 

The book doesn't read like a traditional biography which is its strong suit. It offers a way to experience a bit of Lucille Ball in book form rather than simply take in a bunch of information about her. In the introduction the author promises the reader that they'll "discover feminist achievements, a passionate love affair, dissections of humor, communist accusations, struggles in Hollywood’s golden age and a classic rags-to-riches tale.”

Each chapter has a different theme. Some are biographical essays presented in chronological order. Others are timelines of Lucille Balls' life and certain aspects of her career or breakdowns of her comedy styles and notable episodes of I Love Lucy. Career-wise the book primarily focuses on her work in television with I Love Lucy and the subsequent spin-offs. 

Her film career is lightly touched upon. Some of the films discussed at length include Roman Scandals (1933), Stage Door (1937), Dance Girl Dance (1940), Du Barry Was a Lady (1943), Lured (1947), The Long, Long Trailer (1954), The Facts of Life (1960), etc. There was no real information about my favorite Lucille Ball film Yours, Mine and Ours (1968) alas. While I would have liked to have read more about her films, the intended audience here is really the I Love Lucy fan who wants to learn more about the beloved star.

interior spread courtesy of Running Press
source: Edelweiss

interior spread courtesy of Running Press
source: Edelweiss

The book also goes into great detail into her marriage to Desi Arnaz. It's clear that Lucille Ball went to great lengths to make that marriage work. The book goes easy on Desi Arnaz and only lightly touches upon his infidelity, jealousy issues and his drinking problem.

Some interesting facts from the book: 
  • Upon the death of her father, she believed that birds were a bad omen and was terrified of them for the rest of her life.
  • Lela Rogers, Ginger Roger's mother, was instrumental to her career: “Lela Rogers helped Lucy get her teeth straightened and hair fixed and made sure she learned how to do her makeup well, dress suitably, read literature to expand her vocabulary, how to treat agents and producers properly, and rehearse…”
  • Seeing Dorothy Gish in person do something silly "reinforced for [Ball] that glamorous actresses could have a goofy side, too."
  • Lucille Ball was friends with Carole Lombard and even after Lombard died considered her a mentor in spirit.
  • Had it not been for Ball insisting that I Love Lucy be shot in Hollywood instead of New York City, the show would not have been recorded on 35mm (to ensure proper broadcasting quality) and then may have not been saved at all. This also helped the show become one of the original series that enjoyed reruns.
  • Lucille Ball was to name her daughter Susan after her good friend, actress Susan Peters, but Desi Arnaz took hold of the birth certificate before Lucille could and named their daughter after Lucille. (This angered me immensely!)
  • She loved playing Backgammon because the game stimulated her brain in the same way working on a television episode would.

AKA Lucy is presented in a beautifully designed unjacketed hardcover. The book has gorgeous interior spreads designed with pops of bold color that make it really pleasing to the eye. Throughout the book are quotes from various people in the business and family members about Lucille Ball which give the book a greater sense of intimacy. I also really liked the endpapers and the stunning cover which features a striking image of Lucille Ball in front of her own silhouette. Overall, it's a really nice package and would make for a great gift for the Lucille Ball/I Love Lucy fan in your life.

Thank you to Running Press for sending me a copy of AKA Lucy for review.

I share more thoughts about the book on episode #6 of The Classic Movie Roundup on YouTube. Watch here:

Tuesday, November 14, 2023

Raymond Griffith: The Silk Hat Comedian

Raymond Griffith: The Silk Hat Comedian Blu-ray from Undercrank Productions presents a double-feature of newly restored 7-reel comedies starring silent film comedian Raymond Griffith. 

A little background on Raymond Griffith. He was born in 1895 in Boston, Massachusetts and was raised by a theatrical family. Bby the time he was a toddler he was already performing on stage. Griffith unfortunately lost his voice at a young age—the result of a childhood bout of respiratory diphtheria and overworking his vocal chords. From then on he spoke in a hoarse whisper (think Jack Klugman post-cancer). While this sidelined his theatrical career, silent films gave Griffith a new opportunity to showcase his acting talents when his voice wasn't needed. Griffith was a natural comedian and worked with everyone from Mack Sennett to Cecil B. DeMille to Alice Howell. He went under contract with Paramount Pictures and starred in a series of film as a bon vivant character who donned a silk hat and a tuxedo with coattails. This gave him a signature look much in the vein of other silent film comedians.  Harold Lloyd had his glasses. Charlie Chaplin had his mustache and bowler hat and Buster Keaton had his stoneface expression. Raymond Griffith had his silk hat. When the industry transitioned from silent film to sound, his hoarse whisper prevented him from continuing his acting work. He did make one notable appearance in the film All Quiet on the Western Front (1930) as a dying French soldier. He shifted his focus to production and was an associate producer or producer throughout the 1930s working on films like Three on a Match (1932), Baby Face (1933) and Gold Diggers of 1933.

While popular in his day, he's since become an obscure figure of the past. Much of his film work is lost which makes the release of this double-feature all that more special.

photo credit:  Museum of Modern Art Film Stills

The first film on the Blu-ray is Paths to Paradise (1925).  Set in 1920s San Francisco, the story follows two con-artists—played by Raymond Griffith and Betty Compson—who join force to steal a necklace. Their target is a wealthy man who plans to gift the necklace to his daughter on her wedding day. He's a bit too vocal about his prized possession telling everyone that it contains the largest diamond in the country. The story then follows the hijinks of the two con-artists as they attempt to steal the necklace and get away with it. 

It's a fun comedy made even more delightful with a cute dog who seems to be the only character who realizes what the con-artists are doing. The film does contain an unfortunate sequence set in Chinatown which features offensive language and actors in yellow face. A warning about this content is given before the start of the film. This is a seven-reel comedy missing its final reel. Information gathered from surviving stills as well as a continuity script is presented in several title cards, accompanied by the musical score, where the seventh reel be played.

photo credit:  Museum of Modern Art Film Stills

You'd be Surprised (1926) is a typical murder mystery set in a mansion. Raymond Griffith plays an overly dressed coroner who is called to investigate the murder of a district attorney. Like Paths to Paradise, this story is centered around a stolen necklace. Griffith's leading lady Dorothy Sebastian plays the district attorney's ward and she's the prime suspect of the murder. Griffith's character barely examines the body of the murder victim. Instead, he takes over the investigation when the bumbling cops can't seem to do their job. All of the action takes place in the living room of the mansion.

Unlike Paths to Paradise, You'd be Surprised is intact with all seven reels presented. This is the weaker of the two. Because it's so constrained and because the coroner character is constantly trying to do several things at once, it becomes overwhelming but not in a funny way. However, with that said it is fun to see Raymond Griffith in all his silk hat and tuxedo glory. All of the dinner guests are dressed to the nines which showcase the finer apparel of the era. Anyone into fashion history, specifically the 1920s, will want to check this one out for the eye candy.

Raymond Griffith: The Silk Hat Comedian Blu-ray contains the double feature as well as a twelve minute video essay about Raymond Griffith's life and career and narrated by film historian Steve Massa. They include musical scores performed by silent film accompanist Ben Model played on a pipe organ. Both films have been restored in 2k resolution from original 35mm nitrate prints from The Library of Congress' Paramount collection.

Raymond Griffith: The Silk Hat Comedian is available on Blu-ray wherever Undercrank Productions releases are sold. 

Thank you to Undercrank Productions for sending me a copy for review.

I share more thoughts about the film and the Blu-ray on episode #4 of The Classic Movie Roundup on YouTube. Watch here:

Sunday, November 12, 2023

Piccadilly (1929) Kino Lorber Blu-ray

Jameson Thomas and Anna May Wong in Piccadilly (1929)

Directed by E.A. Dupont, Piccadilly (1929) stars Anna May Wong as Sosho, a beautiful young woman who works as a dishwasher at the Piccadilly nightclub in London. Piccadilly is run by Valentine Wilmot (Jameson Thomas), a man as keen on making his business a success as he is seducing his leading lady. He's fallen for his star talent Mabel (Gilda Gray), a dancer who, along with her dancing partner Vic (Cyril Ritchard), entertains Valentine's eager crowd. Mabel is caught in a love triangle between Valentine and Vic. Valentine gets rid of the competition by firing the dancer and making Mabel dance solo. But now that Mabel is no longer forbidden fruit, Valentine completely loses interest. He turns his attention to Sosho (Wong). He spots her dancing on a table in the dishwashing room and fires her for goofing off. However, he soon re-hires her as an exotic dancer. Sosho comes to realize that the power dynamic in their working relationship has shifted. She's in control. Sosho takes great care to seduce Valentine, to get him to spend money on an elaborate costume for her and to hire her boyfriend Jim (King Hou Chang) as a musician. Mabel, however, is not about to let another woman steal her spotlight and steal her man. A new and even messier love triangle emerges and quickly starts to spiral out of control.

Piccadilly was released at a pivotal point in Anna May Wong's career and the film industry as a whole. Wong was frustrated with the lack of opportunities in Hollywood and by the time she had been cast in Piccadilly she was exclusively making films in the UK and Germany. Anti-miscegenation laws in the US prevented her as an Asian-American actresses from getting leading lady roles. In this British production, while she's not top billed, she is a central figure and carries on an affair with a white man. 

As talking pictures became increasingly more popular, silent films like Piccadilly were on their way out. There was a lot of pressure in the industry to retrofit silent films with talking sequences in order to capitalize on the craze. They added a five minute all-talking prologue to Piccadilly which sets up the movie as a flashback. It features Jameson Thomas as Valentine Wilmot, now running a beer shack after the scandal ruined his career. His conversation with a customer sets up the story to follow. It's incredibly boring and stilted and adds nothing to the story. Lucky for us, Piccadilly is still shown to modern viewers in its original form with the talkie add-on as an bonus feature.

Piccadilly was successful enough to serve as a springboard for Anna May Wong to return to her Hollywood roots. It helped her get a contract with Paramount studios which lead to her best-known role opposite Marlene Dietrich in Josef von Sternberg's Shanghai Express (1932). Wong is so dynamic in 

I enjoy Piccadilly mostly for Anna May Wong's performance. She’s so dynamic and enchanting in this film. I'm intrigued by how her character Sosho recognizes her worth and her power because this mirrors Anna May Wong in real life. She knew she had what it takes to make it as an actress and really leveraged that as best she could even though she lost out on so many opportunities because she was Chinese-American. 

The dance numbers in this aren’t great. Gilda Gray’s dance numbers really show that she wasn’t much of a dancer. Wong’s dance number is meant to be exotic. The dancing here is not an athletic feat. It’s supposed to titillate and tantalize. Wong draws attention to her body by swaying her hips and using seductive arm movements.

Piccadilly was released last month by Kino Lorber in collaboration with The Milestone Company and the BFI. This Blu-ray includes a beautifully restored and remastered print from the BFI. I love how the restoration really enhances the sepia tones and the blue tint used throughout the film. My only complaint about this edition is the musical score which doesn't really seem to suit the film, especially when it comes to the dance sequences.

Extras on this disc include the talkie introduction, a documentary on the making of the score, a panel discussion at the San Francisco International Asian American Film Festival about Anna May Wong. I enjoyed listening to the audio commentary by film historian and critic Farran Smith Nehme who offers a lot of biographical information on the different players involved in Piccadilly.


Piccadilly (1929) is available wherever Kino Lorber Blu-rays are sold.

I share more thoughts about the film and the Blu-ray on episode #3 of The Classic Movie Roundup on YouTube. Watch here:

Thank you to Kino Lorber for sending me a copy of this Blu-ray for review!

Thursday, November 9, 2023

George Hurrell's Hollywood by Mark A. Vieira

George Hurrell's Hollywood
Glamour Portraits 1925-1992
Revised Edition
by Mark A. Vieira
Foreword by Sharon Stone
Running Press
September 2023
Paperback ISBN: 9780762484607
406 pages

"The dreamlike world of silent pictures had created a stary system based on personalities who were bigger than life. The naturalism of talking pictures diminished them. If the star system was to survive, the studios would have to enlarge them again. Along came Hurrell, who adapted his technique to this purpose…. In the process, Hurrell perfected a photographic idiom: the Hollywood glamour portrait." — Mark A. Vieira

A George Hurrell portrait is something truly special. Some of the best photographs of movie stars from the golden age of Hollywood—Norma Shearer, Clark Gable, Joan Crawford, Ramon Novarro, Jean Harlow, Robert Montgomery, Carole Lombard, Mae West—were shot by George Hurrell. He captured the glamour of the industry in its heyday and showcased his subjects at their very best. These dreamy, sexy portraits helped elevate the subject in the public's esteem. In many cases, a Hurrell portrait, often used to publicize a new film, transformed careers. For example, an important photo shoot with Norma Shearer helped the actress convince her husband, producer Irving Thalberg, to cast her in The Divorcee (1930) ushering her into a new phase in her career. Hurrell's photoshoot with Jane Russell for Howard Hughes' pet project The Outlaw (1943) catapulted Russell into fame well before the film was even released to the public. George Hurrell worked with MGM and Warner Bros. and as an independent contractor worked directly with stars or did freelance for other studios like Columbia and RKO. 

Once the studio system began to wane and glamour portraits fell out of fashion, Hurrell struggled to find steady work. Times were changing and so was the technology used in photography. Hurrell's work suddenly became old-fashioned. However, towards the end of Hurrell's life, a new appreciation of his early work led collectors and other photographers to gather and share his work. Hurrell enjoyed a legacy tour which saw his portraits in books and in traveling museum exhibitions. Throughout the '80s, Hurrell was photographing new talent—musicians, comedians, actors—in an era that was far cry from the one he started in during the 1920s. Hurrell worked up until he died in 1992 with his final celebrity subject being actress Sharon Stone.

George Hurrell's Hollywood: Glamour Portraits 1925-1992 by Mark A. Vieira is a fitting tribute to an artistic genius. This book was originally published in 1997 as Hurrell's Hollywood Portraits and then republished as George Hurrell's Hollywood in 2013. Running Press has released a revised and expanded paperback edition which includes 50% more photographs than the 2013 hardcover. Also Mark A. Vieira, a film historian and photographer who first met George Hurrell in 1975, restored every photograph found within the new edition. If you haven't gotten the book yet, please make sure you get the paperback. And if you have the hardcover, now is the time to upgrade!

This book is absolutely stunning. The photographs are presented at their best and many take up an entire page. Joan Crawford fans will be particularly interested because she was Hurrell's most photographed subject—they did 33 photoshoots together—and lots of those photos are found within. It's a sturdy paperback and while it is on the heavier size I found that it holds quite well. Because the spine and the signatures are one big block, this is one of the few photography books that I think could stand up on a shelf without the heavy pages pulling from the spine.

In reading the book, I was particularly interested in learning how Hurrell built his network of contacts, how he worked within the studio system and the techniques he developed to showcase his subjects at their best. While there is a bit of biographical information on Hurrell in order to place the timeline in context, the focus of the book is really his career.

“You can’t work with a person and be exactly cold-blooded because there’s got to be a rapport, there’s got to be that quality, that something that rings between the two of you. If it doesn’t, well, you might as well quit and go home.” — George Hurrell

Some interesting facts from the book: 

  • Hurrell advanced his career through connections. A photo shoot with a wealthy socialite led him to meet Ramon Novarro who introduced him to Norma Shearer which led to a contract as a studio photographer at MGM.
  • Hurrell mostly shot in black-and-white but also photographed in Kodachrome and Warner Color.
  • He shined a spotlight on the part of the hair. “The placement of the boom light so that it shone down from behind, or down the part in the subject’s hair, on onto the cheekbones”
  • This had the effect of giving the subject's face a lot of dimension. In retouching, he would add a tiny dot in order to make the eyes pop more and liven the face in the final portrait.
  • Used the color white to great effect. Actresses wore white dresses. Subjects would be photographed against a white wall.
  • He would play music and use sexy talk to get his female subjects in the mood. Olivia de Havilland was having none of this and did not enjoy working with Hurrell.
  • Vieira refers to Norma Shearer as Hurrell's patron and Joan Crawford as his muse.
  • Worked with Greta Garbo. In one photo shoot, he pretended to trip over something in order to get a reaction out of her. When it did, Garbo's more expressive looks translated well on camera. She later became his landlord when he rented out new studio space for his photography.

George Hurrell's Hollywood was recently selected as one of The Hollywood Reporter's Top 100 Film Books of All Time.

I discuss the book at length on episode #2 of The Classic Movie Roundup. Watch here:

Thank you to Running Press for sending me a copy of George Hurrell's Hollywood for review!

Tuesday, October 24, 2023

El vampiro negro (1953)


Despite the title, there are no vampires in this movie. It's not even horror. Instead, El vampiro negro/The Black Vampire (1953) is a brilliant Argentine film noir adaptation of Fritz Lang's M (1931). It takes the original story of a whistling serial killer who roams the streets looking for young girls to kill and adds some new characters—most notably some interesting female characters—and transports the viewer to 1950s Buenos Aires, Argentina.

Directed by Román Viñoly Barreto, El vampiro negro stars Olga Zubarry as Amalia, a beautiful cabaret singer and single mom who works hard to keep her daughter in boarding school. One night Amalia witnesses a mysterious man dump the body of a young girl. The man in question is Teodoro (Nathán Pinzón)—an English professor by day and a deranged serial killer by night. Teodoro feels isolated by society and has never had a relationship with a woman.. He pays Amalia's friend Cora (Nelly Panizza) for the opportunity to visit her without any sort of sexual touch. In return, Cora takes his money and humiliates him for her own enjoyment. Teodoro takes out his sexual frustrations by stalking for new prey. It's suggested that he's only attracted to adult women and that he seeks out young girls solely because they're easy prey to kill. 

The other prominent male figure in the story, Dr. Bernard (Roberto Escalada), is investigating the case of the serial killer dubbed "the black vampire." Bernard seeks out Amalia for information about what she saw that fateful night. Dr. Bernard and Teodoro are not very different from each other. Like Teodoro, Dr. Bernard is sexually frustrated and while devoted to his invalid wife he seeks an affair with Amalia who rejects him. Both men channel their frustrations on either side of the law. As Teodoro continues to kill, the community is both terrorized and brought to action to capture "the black vampire."

El vampiro negro/The Black Vampire (1953) is a thrilling film noir. It comes out of the golden age of Argentine cinema and is clearly influenced not only by early German cinema but also American film noir. The story is told in one long flashback sequence and employs many other film noir elements including its use of light and shadow, most notably in the sequences where the killer is being chased through the sewers. The film explores themes of isolation and humiliation as well as social responsibility and the importance of community. While it has the same framework as M (1931), it's a loose adaptation with plenty of new elements that make it seem more like an original story. 

Olga Zubarry really carries the movie as the story's main protagonist. While her performance was at times a bit over the top, Zubarry's character Amalia is the emotional core of the film and she adeptly guides us through the story and always keeps us aware of what is truly at stake. I was most captivated by Nathán Pinzón who is a dead ringer for Peter Lorre who was in the original film. He has the same wide set eyes and a countenance that expresses sadness with a hint of danger. According to film historian Fernando Martin Peña, Pinzón was a great admired Lorre and modeled his own acting style after him.

El vampiro negro (1953) is available in a beautiful Blu-ray and DVD deluxe set from Flicker Alley. The film was rediscovered and restored by the Film Noir Foundation and the UCLA Film and Television Archive. They were also responsible for bringing to light another wonderful Argentine film noir

Los Tallos Amargos/The Bitter Stems (1956) which I highly reommend you watch if you haven't already.

The Flicker Alley set includes the restored version of El vampiro negro on two discs as well as a booklet and reversible cover. The extras include an introduction by Eddie Muller, a documentary about the three adaptations of M, an interview with director Román Viñoly Barreto's son Daniel Viñoly, an essay by Imogen Sara Smith as well as audio commentary by Fernando Martin Peña. For those Spanish speakers out there, the discs also include Spanish subtitles. I always prefer to watch Spanish movies with Spanish subtitles so I really appreciated having this option!

El vampiro negro (1953) is available wherever Flicker Alley discs are sold.

Amazon — Barnes and Noble — Deep Discount — Flicker Alley

Thank you to Flicker Alley for sending me a copy of El vampiro negro for review.

Watch me discuss this film and more on the latest episode of my Classic Movie Roundup on YouTube.

Tuesday, September 19, 2023

Kitty Feral and the Case of the Marshmallow Monkey by Eddie Muller

Kitty Feral and the Case of the Marshmallow Monkey
TCM Kid Noir
by Eddie Muller and Jessica Schmidt
illustrated by Forrest Burdett
Running Press Kids and TCM
Hardcover ISBN: 9780762481682
32 pages
4 years and up
September 2023

"My name is Kitty Feral. I was a gumshoe with no shoes, but I quit that racket. But when I overheard Cora talking about the missing Marshmallow Monkey, it was too sweet to ignore."

In his first picture book for children, Eddie Muller—along with writer Jessica Schmidt and illustrator Forrest Burdett—offers budding classic movie enthusiasts a kid-friendly introduction to film noir.

Kitty Feral and the Case of the Marshmallow Monkey is a mystery in the style of The Maltese Falcon (1941). The story a two-fold mystery with hardboiled detective Kitty Feral solving the case of the stolen chocolate covered Marshmallow Monkey while also trying to locate his missing partner, Mitch the Mutt. We follow along as Kitty Feral roams the dark city streets searching for answers.

Published by by TCM and Running Press Kids, Kitty Feral and the Case of the Marshmallow Monkey is a delightful ode to film noir and a must-have for noir enthusiasts, especially those who want to instill a love of classic movies in their children.

The book is chock full of film noir references. The endpapers display animal-inspired noir posters for movies like Nut Crazy, He Squawked by Night and The Possum Always Rings Twice. Kitty Feral visits the Acme Book Shop—a hat-tip to the famous bookstore sequence in The Big Sleep (1946). I spotted references to noirs like Deadline at Dawn (1946), On Dangerous Ground (1951) and I Walk Alone (1947) and to actors like Humphrey Bogart, Sydney Greenstreet, Gloria Grahame and Dorothy Malone. There are even references to non-noir classics like The Leopard Man (1943) and On the Waterfront (1954). Visual clues make this book a veritable treasure hunt for children (the villains are referenced on almost every page) as well as adult noir enthusiasts.

The style of the book is very fitting with film noir aesthetics. It features a limited color palette of black-and-white with pops of color. Kitty Feral wears a blue fedora and trenchcoat, Mitch the Mutt wears a red collar and the two are seen enjoying the multi-colored sunrise, signaling the end of the story's nighttime adventure.

Interior spread courtesy of Running Press Kids via Edelweiss

Interior spread courtesy of Running Press Kids via Edelweiss

The backmatter includes a single page entitled What is Film Noir which gives young readers the fundamentals of understanding noir. It explains why film noir was often black-and-white, the meanings behind certain terms and a gentle introduction to character and story types.

As a read aloud story this book has a lot of potential. I do wish the narrative flowed a bit better. There are a couple of awkward points in the narrative that could have easily been fixed. A design error on page 25 obscures one moment of dialogue. With that said, I read this book several times out loud and found that experience quite enjoyable. This book would make for a great bedtime story or read aloud for a group storytime. You'll want to develop character voices for Kitty Feral (who is also the narrator), Casper the Nighthawk, Polly the Bookstore Guard Dog, Mitch the Mutt and Lucky Lapin the mob bunny.

I hope Kitty Feral is the first of a series. I can see many more mysteries for Kitty Feral and Mitch the Mutt to solve and plenty of noir references to make.

Thank you to Running Press Kids for sending me a copy of Kitty Feral and the Case of the Marshmallow Monkey for review!

Sunday, September 17, 2023

Final Roundup: 2023 Classic Film Reading Challenge


And that's a wrap on the 2023 Classic Film Reading Challenge! Congratulations to all of the participants who read books and submitted reviews. I'm very proud of you all. Please know that I read/watched and shared every single review. It's always a joy to see what you all are reading.

If you're interested in participating next year, please see the note at the bottom of this post as the challenge will be changing moving forward.

The following participants completed the 2023 Classic Film Reading Challenge:

Alejandro V. — Andy W. — Angela P. — Bailee W. — Chuck P. — Chris M.
Jess I. — John M. — Laura G. — Ralph C. — Shawn H.

For the giveaway I chose six winners and they are:

Alejandro V.  — Andy W. — Bailee W. — Chris M. — Laura G. — Shawn H.

Now onto the reviews!

Alejandro on Goodreads

"If written biographies can be considered an art form, author Gabrielle achieves that distinction."
David Lean: A Biography by Kevin Brownlow

"The book is also full of photos in honor of Lean’s wishes for the biography, which was completed shortly after the filmmaker died. Brownlow said Lean wanted “illustrations…and lots of good bloody pictures.” Brownlow delivers on that promise, and so much more."

"Because of the beautiful art and photos and coffee-table format, it’s not just a great book on film production, but also an ideal gift for friends and family."

Andy of Journeys in Darkness and Light

"If nothing else, Class, Crime & International Film Noir proves that film noir was (and remains) a global phenomenon that fans should not ignore."

Movies Are Magic: The Director’s Cut by Jennifer Churchill, illustrated by Howard Edwards Creative, Asanka Herath

"My hat’s off to Churchill, Weston, and Oscar, for presenting such a fun book that can be enjoyed for years to come."

"Although the book was published over 40 years ago, we are still confronting many of its issues, but doing so from a greater distance. There’s certainly value in reading Showdown, but the discussion clearly cannot stop here..."

Suite for Barbara Loden by Nathalie Léger and Cécile Menon

"Suite for Barbara Loden shows us that often there are no easy answers, no objective entity which can measure the value of a person. Sometimes we are the least qualified to judge ourselves, but that doesn’t stop us from doing so."

The Warner Brothers by Chris Yogerst

"Yogerst packs a tremendous amount of the history of the Warner Brothers and the studio into one volume, making for an informative and compelling read. Anyone with an interest in movie history, especially of the major U.S. studios, will want to add this book to their collection immediately."

Angela of The Hollywood Revue

High Sierra by W.R. Burnett

"It’s easy to see why High Sierra remains a staple gangster story. Mad Dog Roy is a really compelling character, and the book gives more insights to his worldview that we don’t see in the movie. So if you’re a fan of the movie, the book is very much worth checking out. Even if you’ve never seen the movie, it’s a very solid read on its own."

"I’ve long been a big fan of I Am a Fugitive from a Chain Gang because of its gripping, hard-hitting style. I was not disappointed to find out that the book version was equally captivating." 

Little Caesar by W.R. Burnett

"This book is pretty much exactly what you think of when you try to imagine a stereotypical 1920s gangster story — a gangster longing for more power, a big heist, and lots of classic gangster nicknames like Scabby and Big Boy. It absolutely set the stage for the whole genre."

Long Haul by A.I. Bezzerides (They Drive by Night)

"If you’re specifically looking for a crime story to read, then Long Haul obviously isn’t going to be what you had in mind. However, if you tend to like the novels that film noir movies were based on, you could still appreciate Long Haul."

The Public Enemy by John Bright

"The good news is that the book is very much worth reading. The bad news is that you have to be pretty lucky to be able to check it out."

Scarface by Armitage Trail

"It goes without saying that Scarface is one of the most quintessential gangster stories of all time. However, this is a case where I like both versions of the movie better than the book."

Bailee on Goodreads

"I really don't think I can accurately describe the deep desire I have to want to consume all things Bette Davis right now and how I so wish I could meet her... Also, as I listened to this on audiobook, I have to mention how it seemed like the narrator, Suzanne Toren, really got Bette's voice and way of speaking down."

"this play feels so rooted in its time- not only with certain elements of the story but the intended performance(s) in particular... I can very much see Katharine Hepburn and Jessica Lange perfectly emulating the role of Mary."

Miss D and Me: Life With the Invincible Bette Davis by Kathryn Sermak with Danelle Morton

"I thought this was written very well; again, as if Kathryn is taking you back with her to those moments, in those moments."
Pygmalion by George Bernard Shaw 

"this is something you really have to be in the mood for. I think it's supposed to be a comedy(?) but Higgins is just so unlikeable that sometimes it's not that funny and more so annoying, and especially from today's perspective."

This 'n That by Bette Davis with Michael Herskowitz

"Having a good amount of focus on her family life- her marriages and children- this definitely feels more reflective than recounting one's life. Pointing out mistakes and wondering where a different choice would have led."
Twelve Angry Men by Reginald Rose

"This was simple, yet very good."

Carl of The Movie Palace Podcast on Instagram

"it’s worth noting that this is an engrossing read from start to finish. Petersen’s prose is both smart and straightforward, and her research is first-rate."

Image courtesy of Chris of Digging Star Wars

Chris of Digging Star Wars

"And that is the beauty of Snoodin’s book: whether you are a Disney fan or not, the read is fascinating and supported by tons of research. It’s legit and captivating."

Bobby Darin by Al DiOrio

"DiOrio, however, never loses track of Darin’s tenaciousness and ability to create art that will last more than a lifetime. He also chronicles friends, family, lovers, and wives. It’s all in there. It is a well-researched, meticulously-constructed telling of the life and death of Walden Robert Cassotto/Bobby Darin."

Hollywood: The Oral History by Jeanine Basinger and Sam Wasson

"The book does its job. It gives you an inside look at the glory days of the Studio system – and its downfall. It unspools the chaos of the 1950s and 1960s and marches you into the 1970s with soundbite after soundbite of the next wave of filmmakers that would forever change the industry and the world."

Chuck on Goodreads

"If you are a fan of the Universal Monster films, you'll want to pick up this book. This is the type of book I will reference often around Halloween when many of these films air or are available to stream."

"the book is not necessarily a linear history of film, but a long form poem or monologue that touches on virtually every type of film ever made. This different approach might not be for everyone, but I found it original and unique from every other film book I have ever read."

Image courtesy of Jess of Box Office Poisons

Jess of Box Office Poisons

Gloria Swanson: The Ultimate Star by Stephen Michael Shearer

"I'd definitely recommend this book if you're looking to deepen your knowledge of the silent era and one of its most famous stars; it does a better job at painting a complete portrait of the time than any other book I read this summer. 

The Million Dollar Mermaid by Esther Williams

"Esther was the ‘million dollar mermaid’ and the ‘mermaid tycoon’ but as you’ll find when you read The Million Dollar Mermaid, she was so much more than that. This all-American starlet was confident and powerful and adaptable."

"I have to admit that I didn’t think I was going to be able to finish this summer’s Classic Film Reading Challenge and it was down to this book. I rallied and here we are, but I totally and completely did not enjoy Lillian Gish’s autobiography, The Movies, Mr. Griffith, and Me."

Jessica of Comet Over Hollywood

"While there are several differences, I love both the book and the film. This was my fourth time reading the book, and I enjoyed revisiting it every time."

Gidget Goes Hawaiian by Frederick Kohner

"While the whole premise of the story is silly, the 120-page book adaptation is much better than the movie."
Gidget to Rome by Frederick Kohner

"I think that the book’s biggest crime is that it’s boring."

John on Goodreads

Fear Strikes Out: The Jim Piersall Story by Jim Piersall and Al Hirshberg

"Having seen the film a few years back, I naturally assumed the memoir to be somewhat different and I was correct. Piersall’s memoir is precise and no nonsense. The tone is conversational. He held nothing back and never pointed blame on another person nor did he look for pity."

"Despite being a slim volume, this book gives a candid look into the long career of an actress who became famous - not as a luxurious star garnishing movie marquees and Hollywood headlines, but as a stalwart figure who often was on the wrong end of the joke or a gag."

"If you are a fan of Laurel and Hardy, this book should be on the must-read list. There is definitely some new perspective that is offered and plenty of stories that like the boys themselves are very funny."


This Was Hollywood: Forgotten Stars and Stories by Carla Valderrama

"Going on vacation and need a great read? Or just looking for a literary trip back to the Golden Age of Hollywood, you’ll find a fascinating history lesson in this book."

"highly recommended for film fans both young and old. It is not the deep dive into the history and inner workings of the studio, or its founders but a visual celebration of the studio’s films through the decades."

Karen of Shadows and Satin

"This is one of the best movie star biographies that I’ve ever read; I was sorry to learn that author Donald Spoto died earlier this year at the age of 81 – I would certainly have written to him to let him know how much I was affected by his book."

Laura of Laura's Miscellaneous Musings

"This biography is an impressive work of research; the end notes alone run for over 50 pages! It provides great insight into Lehman's work alongside his personal life."

"In recent years Imogen Sara Smith has become one of my favorite film historians. Whether it's in commentary tracks, featurettes, or books, I find her thoughtful comments exceptionally evocative and insightful. I thus thoroughly enjoyed her book."

"THE JOHN WAYNE B-WESTERNS 1932-1939 is an informative and useful book which achieves its goal of explaining these films' significance in the context of Wayne's career."

"Schulthorpe was able to provide an impressive amount of detail on Roman's early years and beyond; the book is packed with information on Roman's work, along with a great deal of information on roles she didn't get. The author skillfully weaves quotes from the actress herself into the narrative."

Letícia of Cine Suffragette

The Girls in the Picture by Melanie Benjamin

"It was good research, it is clear, and a good amount of talent that made this book possible. It’s the best kind of historical fiction, the well-researched one. And if it hints on feminist issues, like “The Girls in the Picture” does, better yet."

Miriam's Vintage Classics

"There is a saying we have in Catalan... 'the good jam is in the small jar.' And that's the exactly the case with this book of interviews."

Molly of Classic Mollywood

Fright Favorites: 31 Movies to Haunt Your Halloween and Beyond by David J. Skal

"The way Skal talks about each movie is thoughtful and really does each film justice. Skal gives you a historical and sometimes technical insight into each film, which was absolutely fascinating to me."

Ralph on LibraryThing

"This book is a fun and informative overview of how the films came to be and evolved from a serious horror film Gojira centered on a giant radioactive lizard that was a manifestation of the atomic bomb come to life into a kid friendly comedy inflected series of giant monster battles with Godzilla as the defender of Japan."

Jamaica Inn by Daphne Du Maurier

"Having seen the restored Jamaica Inn prior to reading the novel the changes of the 1939 film actually preserved the mysteries of the novel for this reader. I highly recommend both book and film of Jamaica Inn which can each be enjoyed for their differing merits."

Seven Samurai by Joan Mellen

"Professor Mellen provides excellent analysis on Kurosawa's composition of characters illustrated with images from the film examining class, interpersonal relationships, group dynamics, and even foreshadowing the fate of characters and the samurai as a class."

Tarzan: The Centennial Celebration by Scott Tracy Griffin

"Author Scott Tracy Griffin has created an extremely worthwhile salute that doubles as a historical look at the evolution of popular media while keeping its focus on the celebration of Edgar Rice Burroughs iconic character Tarzan."

Raquel of Out of the Past

Ida Lupino: A Biography by William Donati

"Ida Lupino: A Biography by William Donati is a mixed bag. While it offers the reader plenty of interesting information and a cohesive outline of Lupino's extraordinary career, it's plagued by some odd choices in narrative. I would recommend this anyone who is interested in learning more about Lupino. It's a good starting point it covers a lot of territory in just under 300 reading pages. "

Designing Hollywood by Christian Esquevin

"While Designing Hollywood has plenty of interesting information about studio-era costume design, it reads too much like a standard reference book to be engaging."

Robert Belissimo at the Movies

"This book was so fantastic that my watch list grew is now another 1,000 movies... there is so much to discover."

My Cousin Maria Schneider: A Memoir by Vanessa Schneider, translated by Molly Ringwald

"A tough read in a lot of ways... It felt so personal to me. Really well done. Really well-written."

"so personal, so vulnerable, so incredibly truthful. The man truly went inside of himself and left nothing but his soul."

Shawn of The Everyday Cinephile

All Quiet on the Western Front by Erich Maria Remarque

"Remarque’s work remains just as fresh and moving today as it was in 1928. Even with the shortcomings of the later two screen adaptations, I think all three films are also worth watching before or after reading the original novel."

"If you go in expecting a book centered solely on the classic era you’ll be a little disappointed. If you know that going in though, you’ll end up like me: immersed at the crossroads of literature and cinema with a boatload of books to read and movies to watch." 

"Filming the West of Zane Grey accomplishes its objective to bring to light Zane Grey’s impact on the Western genre although it is not an exhaustive account but merely the start to more rigorous analysis and discussion on the topic."

"How Motion Pictures Are Made inaccuracies and occasional dim-sighted views don’t detract from the knowledge contained or the enjoyment of reading this time capsule of 1910s cinema."

Yolanda of Dishonored Lady on Instagram

"Tab Hunter Confidential...  is one for everyone wanting to know how stars are made and torn down during their careers and the need to stay true to one’s self."

STATUS OF THE 2024 CLASSIC FILM READING CHALLENGE: I've decided to move forward with a self-directed challenge. I will announce the challenge and update the main page. However, you don't have to sign up or submit reviews. There also won't be any round-ups or giveaways. What I'll have posted will be some general guidelines about how to participate in the challenge on your own. Feel free to use the #classicfilmreading hashtag and share your reviews with others. I understand that this may be disappointing but I hope you'll still consider joining next year!

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