Showing posts with label Summer Reading Challenge. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Summer Reading Challenge. Show all posts

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!

Sunday, September 10, 2023

Ida Lupino: A Biography by William Donati

Ida Lupino: A Biography
by William Donati
Paperback ISBN: 9780813196480
January 2023
University Press of Kentucky
360 pages

“Emotionally, Ida was a jumble of contradictions, infused with the polarity often present in intensely creative individuals.” — William Donati

Ida Lupino is one of the great outliers of the film industry. In a time when there were limited roles for women except for being an actress or writer, Lupino managed not only take on both roles but to also add director, producer and businesswoman to her list. To modern age audiences she's a feminist icon. But in reality Ida Lupino was a walking contradiction. Even as a pioneer female filmmaker who was fiercely independent she held onto traditional values when it came to gender roles. She leveraged her fame to advance her career but also advocated for her privacy. Some regarded her as a warm person and others pointed out her iciness. Lupino was not about to be pigeonholed into a single category of any kind. She was a complex person and unapologetically herself.

Originally published in 1997, William Donati's book Ida Lupino: A Biography chronicles the life of an actress-filmmaker who lived her entire life in show business. The book was originally meant to be Lupino's autobiography written with the help of Donati. But the project stalled and when Lupino died in 1995 Donati moved forward with a more traditional biography. The book was recently reissued this year by the University Press of Kentucky but I haven't been able to confirm if any notable changes were made to the original text.

The book begins with Ida Lupino's formative years as a member of the Lupino showbiz family, her close bonds with her father Stanley and mother Connie, her move from the UK to Hollywood to pursue a career as a film actress and her early days a Paramount contract star playing ingenue roles and her bout with polio. We learn about her friendship with Thelma Todd and the events of that fateful night when Todd mysteriously died (the author had also written a book about Todd). Then there were Ida Lupino's marriages to actor Louis Hayward, writer and filmmaker Collier Young and her particularly tumultuous relationship with Howard Duff which are all discussed at length. The author offers only brief glimpses into Lupino's mental health struggles and her fraught relationship with her daughter Bridget Duff. Almost every film that Lupino acted in and a majority of her television work is discussed. Her work with The Filmakers—the production company she started with her husband Collier Young— and the more involved projects she made while at Warner Bros. get the most coverage.

Some interesting facts I learned from the book:

  • Lupino was such a perfectionist that she often drove herself to exhaustion, illness and/or injury.
  • She greatly admired anyone who took the business seriously and preferred to work with people were as driven as she was.
  • Producer Mark hellinger stepped in to vouch for Lupino so she would get cast in the film They Drive by Night (1940). That film as well as High Sierra (1941) became breakout roles for both Ida Lupino and her co-star Humphrey Bogart.
  • Ann Sheridan and Lupino often got the same types of roles and replaced each other in different projects. For example, when Lupino turned down a role in King's Row (1942), it went to Ann Sheridan.
  • When Jack Warner offered her a 7 year contract he told her she'd be another Bette Davis for Warner Bros.
  • To prepare for Moontide (1942), Lupino took French actor Jean Gabin on a tour of the seedier parts of Los Angeles for a "first-hand look at vice and violence."
  • The Hard Way (1943) and Devotion (1946) were two of Lupino's most challenging productions due to complications with the studio, WWII and Stanley Lupino's death from cancer.
  • Agent Charles K. Feldman sought Lupino as a client and even bought the rights to Road House (1948) and sold them to Twentieth Century Fox with the stipulation that Lupino be cast in the lead.
  • Lupino enjoyed working with The Breen Office and welcomed their changes which she didn't view as censorship but rather as improvements.
  • For her hard-hitting drama Not Wanted (1949), which she produced and eventually directed, she couldn't use the title "Unwed Mother" because it was too salacious. But the restrictions did not apply to marketing materials so she plastered UNWED MOTHER in bold type in various newspaper ads to promote the movie.
  • She fostered new talent by casting Sally Forrest and Keefe Braselle in Not Wanted (1949) and Never Fear (1950).
  • Lupino and Young struck a deal with Howard Hughes to partner on three films between RKO and The Filmakers production company. Lupino was one of the few executives Hughes would actually agree to meet with directly. 
  • While the Motion Picture Association objected to the making of The Hitch-Hiker (1953), Lupino and The Filmakers went ahead with the production. Lupino had already gotten permission from prisoner Billy Cook and the two men he kidnapped. Their story was the basis of the movie.
  • Many of us know that The Bigamist (1953) had Lupino starring and directing in a film that also included her ex-husband Collier Young and his new wife Joan Fontaine. While that seems like it would have been an uncomfortable situation, Lupino and her third husband Duff were friendly with Young and Fontaine and the couples often spent time with each other.
  • According to the author, "with The Bigamist, Ida Lupino became the first woman to direct herself in a major motion picture."
  • Lupino was quick to adapt and in the early 1950s that meant transitioning to television. She insisted that her husband Howard Duff be her co-star in the TV sitcom Mr. Adams and Eve. The story idea was developed by her ex-husband Collier Young.
  • Producer William Frye personally chose Ida Lupino to direct which would be her last production The Trouble with Angels (1966). They originally wanted to cast Greta Garbo but couldn't get her out of retirement and was replaced by Rosalind Russell.
  • I love this quote from Rosalind Russell about Lupino: "The sex of a director doesn't mean a hoot. The one all-important thing is talent. Somehow it has evolved that directing is a man's profession. A woman has a tough, almost impossible time breaking down this caste barrier. Miss Arzner managed it. Ida is doing it now."

This biography suffers from inherent bias which was to be expected considering the book began its life as Lupino's autobiography. It's clear that the author very much admires and respects his subject. Lupino is treated with reverence but some of the more superfluous language feels cloying. However, the author does not shy away from exploring Lupino's self-destructive behavior, her contradictions and her co-dependent relationships with men. I was frustrated with some of the outdated language used and wondered if in this new edition some of that could have been edited out.

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. Some of the more personal aspects of Lupino's life probably wouldn't have been revealed had it not been for the author's friendship with Lupino. There are some insights here that the reader might not find elsewhere that definitely add value to the text overall.

This is my third book review for my Classic Film Reading Challenge.

Thank you to the University Press of Kentucky for sending me a digital copy for review. And thank you to the Greater Boston Film Classics Club for inviting me to host a virtual discussion on this book!

Saturday, July 22, 2023

First Roundup: 2023 Classic Film Reading Challenge


I'm excited to share the first round-up of reviews for this year's Classic Film Reading Challenge.

We currently have 36 submitted reviews and plenty more coming. Chuck and Laura are leading the challenge with four review each! We still have about two months left in the challenge so plenty of time to catch up on some reading.

If you don't see your review posted below, make sure you submit it to the form on the challenge page!

Now onto the reviews!

Stack photo courtesy of @classicsarah_ on Twitter

Alejandro on Goodreads

"Soares’ book is a reexamination of Novarro’s legacy, who despite his flaws was a good man who cared for his friends and family and gave generous donations to charities and churches to help his community."

"Truly a book worthy of its titanic subject."

"Engrossing and thoroughly researched, Galloway’s book is incisive in its accounts gained through new interviews with their friends and family and gives the definitive look at this iconic relationship."

Reading challenge photo courtesy of @awolverton77 on Twitter

Andy of Journeys in Darkness and Light

"The book is loaded with wonderful performances and great writing... DiLeo knows his stuff, and his wealth of knowledge and insight is clear throughout." 

Carl of The Movie Palace Podcast on Instagram

"Server’s book is very detailed & the scope of his research is impressive. He draws upon a wide array of sources to paint a picture of a complex woman who defies easy categorisation."

Chris of Digging Star Wars

American Silent Film by William K. Everson 

"Everson didn’t fear anyone in the film history... He dissed other writers, historians, critics, scholars, and even Frank Capra. He also doesn’t hold back on sprinkling in his political beliefs either. But, if you can see past all that, you’re in for a good history lesson on the early days of American cinema and beyond. 

"takes great strides to include music throughout the world from the early twentieth century to today in her conversation on scores and soundtracks."

"Lebo’s book is THE book to read in order to fully appreciate Welles’ masterpiece. I highly recommend it."

Chuck on Goodreads

"her book takes it a couple of steps further by showing that the Screwball Comedy influenced many other romantic comedy films that came after the genre's heyday."

"or those seeking an introduction to Italian neorealism will be pleased with this analysis on one of the most important film movements of the 20th Century."

The Talented Mr. Ripley by Patricia Highsmith

"Highsmith crafts a darkly delicious portrait of mid-century class inequity, identity theft and murder set among gorgeous Italian locales..."

"Die-hard noir fans will be pleased with this book as Kearns provides an entertaining and well researched portrait of one of Hollywood's wildest actors."

Jeff on Goodreads

"Simply put, this might be the best bio I have ever read, music, film, or otherwise. Martin is so interestingly situated in twentieth century popular culture, and Tosches style of inserting himself into the vernacular and attitudes of his subject matter sweeps you along."

Jess of Box Office Poisons

"If you're looking for a portrait of the silent years of Hollywood, this might be it."

Miller's High Life by Ann Miller with Norma Lee Browning

"Ann Miller was a capital-S Star and wrote like one. This is everything you'd want in a juicy Hollywood tale: charm, wit, a lot of glamour and a lot of tea!"

Veronica: The Autobiography of Veronica Lake by Veronica Lake with Donald Bain

"Reading her post-Hollywood story, you get the sense that Veronica was happy to be out of the fish bowl, but I'm not sure I'd describe her as particularly happy outside of it either. 

John on Goodreads

"My only true criticism is based on the fact that since this is a TCM publication which led me to think that there were to be more film adaptations from the 30’s and 40’s. Despite that minor detail, author Kristin Lopez gives readers a well-researched and well written collection of essays that invites film fans to further explore and compare the written component of many of their favorite motion pictures."

Kayla of Whimsically Classic

Veronica: The Autobiography of Veronica Lake by Veronica Lake with Donald Bain

"Lake very matter-of-factly tells her life story, without making any excuses and without being pretentious. She doesn’t dwell on the negative in her life, and just accepts everything as-is."

Kevin on Goodreads

"You can’t run the Hollywood Dream Factory without a solid balance sheet. Then and perhaps even more now, that is the fundamental tenet at the core of this book about the rise and fall of the Hollywood studio system between two World Wars."

"Frankel expertly weaves all of these themes together with social and film history and observations on film production for a highly enjoyable and recommended read."

Mexploitation Cinema by Doyle Greene

"Greene does a masterful job “unmasking” these masked wrestler and monster movies though to show how they reflect the tension between traditional societal values rooted in the Catholic Church and a country attempting to forge its own national identity after WWII."

Reading stack photo courtesy of @LaurasMiscMovie on Twitter

Laura of Laura's Miscellaneous Musings

"As a classic film fan I was disappointed that only nine of the book’s 52 films predated 1960, as there are so many wonderful options to discuss from those decades... Either way, it’s a brisk, enjoyable read."

"Despite the sad overarching theme, I enjoyed the book and recommend it to anyone interested in the actresses profiled."

"beautifully designed, a great read, and educational — pretty much everything I could want, even as someone who doesn’t imbibe. For those who love cocktails, the book will be that much more enjoyable and useful."

"a meticulously produced book which will be enjoyed by both serious and casual film fans. It will invite longtime film lovers to revisit old favorites & inspire newcomers to check out many titles for the first time." 

Molly of Classic Mollywood

Peyton Place by Grace Metalious

"I didn't hate Peyton Place, but it wasn't the best book I have ever read... Overall, the book was juicy but it definitely was missing character development." 

Ralph on LibraryThing

"This slim hardcover book is a thoughtful examination of courtroom films and I am very the glad to have read it along with watching or re-watching the films discussed."

Rear Window: And Other Stories by Cornell Woolrich

"Woolrich's stories have been adapted many times in the mediums of film, television, and radio and never more successfully and popularly than by Alfred Hitchcock for the film Rear Window based on the 1942 short story originally titled "It Had to Be Murder.... This is an entertaining collection although the individual stories and their twists might stand up best not being read consecutively."

Raquel on Out of the Past

"an informative and engaging read. This concise book gives the reader plenty to chew on without overloading them with too much research."

"an enjoyable read and recommended for Marx Brothers enthusiasts who want to know a bit more about Dumont. The book is very matter-of-fact and it's straightforward and simplistic approach will appeal to readers who want to focus on the information rather than read something with more editorial interjections."

Robert of Robert Bellissimo At the Movies

"[The book] is as tasty as those drinks..."

Shawn of The Everyday Cinephile

"provides a much-needed investigation of DeMille’s life and career, examining his many films and exploring the seeming contradictions in DeMille’s personal life and public persona."

Cinema Speculation by Quentin Tarantino

"I wish more creatives would publish their own long-winded musings of the classic-era films without feeling the need to edit out or tone down their own personal biases... reading an off-the-cuff approach infused with so many unabashed personal opinions proved to be turn-paging fodder that reinvigorated my own passion for film."

Yolanda of Dishonored Lady on Instagram

"The book can feel like a short academic textbook but in a good way... The book highlights parallels within early film noirs and music-infused films."

Playing the Field by Mamie Van Doren

"My takeaway was being impressed that she was an incredibly hard worker. She performed for years after movie offers were few and far between."

Tuesday, June 20, 2023

Straight Lady: The Life and Times of Margaret Dumont, "The Fifth Marx Brother"

Straight Lady
The Life and Times of Margaret Dumont, "The Fifth Marx Brother" 
by Chris Enss and Howard Kazanjian
Lyons Press
Hardcover ISBN: 9781493060405
208 pages
October 2022

“For more than four decades, the statuesque funny lady played the role of an austere dowager and grande dame of the social set on stage and screen... Margaret [Dumont] suffered each insult or physical assault with a classic assurance that made her the greatest grande dame in the history of filmed comedy.” — Chris Enss and Howard Kazanjian

The Marx Brothers had a winning formula for their success as a comedy team. Each brother had their own individual persona and when put together with their physical antics and whip smart verbal jabs—they really had some of the best comebacks of all time—they created this magnificent maelstrom of chaos that left audiences in stitches. Before making a movie, they'd take their story concept to the stage to perfect their antics before a live audience. By the time the cameras started rolling, they were primed and ready to make movie magic. But one of the most important elements of their formula was having a straight man or lady. Whether it was their brother Zeppo Marx or a comedienne like Thelma Todd, their performances were enhanced by the presence of someone who could keep their composure. Arguably their best comedic partner was Margaret Dumont, a talented actress who excelled at this role and became an important member of the Marx Brothers troupe.

In their book Straight Lady: The Life and Times of Margaret Dumont, "The Fifth Marx Brother", authors Chris Enss and Howard Kazanjian make the case that Margaret Dumont not only played a pivotal role in the Marx Brothers' success but that her own success was intrinsically tied to theirs. Dumont and the Marx Brothers had a sort of symbiotic relationship and while they would work on projects separately, there some something special about their collaborations.

This biography is fairly short with about 159 reading pages. It's clear that there isn't that much information about Margaret Dumont and the authors did a great job filling in the timeline with interesting information about the Marx Brothers and the movies they made with and without Dumont. It reads very much like a Dumont-Marx biographical hybrid. 

Here are some interesting facts about Margaret Dumont from the book:
  • She changed her name from Daisy Juliette Baker to Daisy Dumont and eventually to Margaret Dumont. Her past was riddled with scandal—she was born out of wedlock and the result of an extra marital affair—so changing her name was crucial if she was going to have any success in the theater. She changed Daisy to Margaret when she graduated from ingenue roles to dowager ones.
  • She briefly gave up acting when she married John Moller Jr. and became a society woman. He died in 1918 during the influenza pandemic and after his death she returned to the stage.
  • After the success of The Cocoanuts (1929) and Animal Crackers (1930), the public became convinced that Margaret Dumont was secretly married to Groucho Marx and the two had a difficult time trying to dispel the rumor.
  • Dumont suffered many injuries as a result of the Marx Brothers' physical antics. She was notably injured during the making of Duck Soup (1933) and by the time she made A Day at the Races (1937) she wore a harness "to prevent from having her ribs broken."
  • The Marx Brothers loved to pull pranks on Dumont off-screen. In one instance, they went too far when they called the cops to report Dumont was working as a hotel prostitute. After the incident, Groucho Marx apologized to Dumont and promised that they'd never do anything to hurt her again.
  • Margaret Dumont was passed over for several Marx Brothers pictures. Most notably for Go West (1940) because the thought was that a Western setting wouldn't suit her established persona of a society woman.
  • Dumont collaborated with many comedians including W.C. Fields, Danny Kaye, Laurel and Hardy, Red Skelton and Jack Benny. She was permanently typecast as a straight lady and "pompous dowager" despite her great range as an actress and singer.
  • Groucho Marx and Margaret Dumont reunited for a skit on a TV variety show in early 1965. Dumont died shortly after this reunion and their episode aired one month after her death.

Straight Lady: The Life and Times of Margaret Dumont, "The Fifth Marx Brother" is an enjoyable read and recommended for Marx Brothers enthusiasts who want to know a bit more about Dumont. The book is very matter-of-fact and it's straightforward and simplistic approach will appeal to readers who want to focus on the information rather than read something with more editorial interjections. The edition I read was a slightly oversized but slim hardcover edition with a beautiful dust jacket and plenty of black-and-white photographs within. 

Thank you to Lyons Press for sending me a copy of this book for review.

This is my first review for the 2023 Classic Film Reading Challenge.

Saturday, May 20, 2023

2023 Classic Film Reading Challenge


2023 #ClassicFilmReading Challenge
May 20th to September 15th, 2023

It's my honor to announce that the 2023 #ClassicFilmReading Challenge is now live! 

Every year I host this challenge to encourage you to read and review six classic film books this summer/winter (depending on which hemisphere you live on). 

If you don't think you could read and review six books but could review one or two, I encourage you to still join! It's fun to participate even if you don't complete the challenge. 

If you do finish all six books then you: 
1) get bragging rights  
2) are automatically entered into a giveaway to win a Kino Lorber Blu-ray or DVD of your choice. Open internationally!

I encourage you to participate even if you don't think you'll read all 6 books. All readers are welcome.

Throughout the challenge I'll be sharing review round-ups here on the blog and on my Twitter @RaquelStecher—and possibly elsewhere if Twitter goes bust. Make sure you use the official hashtag #classicfilmreading when sharing your reviews. And feel free to share your #classicfilmreading stack to showcase what you plan to you plan to read.

Here is how the challenge works:
  1. Sign up for the challenge 
  2. Read a classic film book
  3. Write a review and post it on your Blog, Podcast, YouTube, Instagram, LibraryThing or Goodreads. Must be a public post. 
  4. Use hashtag #classicfilmreading on social media.
  5. Submit your review link (see form on the official page)
  6. Repeat until you have read and reviewed 6 books!
  7. Review 6 and be automatically entered to win a prize.
Please use the review link form to submit your reading stack too!

Challenge runs from May 20th until September 15th, 2023. Sign-up before July 15th, 2023.

All of the details of the challenge are on the official page including the sign up form, the book review submission form, rules, deadlines and what counts as a classic film book. 

Feel free to use the reading challenge graphics.

Visit the official page for more details and to sign up!

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