Sunday, August 22, 2021

2021 Summer Reading Challenge: Second Round-Up

WOW! This is by far the biggest review round-up yet! The Summer Reading Challenge participants have been busy reading some great books and sharing their thoughts about them online. And yes I read every single review. I've been loving the range of books chosen and review styles. I encourage you to do the same and dive into these excellent classic film book reviews. Perhaps you'll discover your next read!

Congrats to Andy, Angela, Breanna and Nathan for finishing the challenge. Woodson also finished the challenge by the first round-up. A few participants are only 1 or 2 books away from completing. Keep up the good work!

If for any reason your review is missing, please make sure you submitted it on the form on the official challenge page. Otherwise it won't count for the challenge! 

Happy Reading!

Andy of Journeys in Darkness and Light

"The differences between Towne’s original script and the filmed ending of Chinatown are legendary for a reason, and the story related in The Big Goodbye might just break your heart."

"Woolrich’s novel depends largely upon unlikely situations, coincidences, and often flat-out hard-to-swallow plot points, yet those elements do not necessarily keep the novel from losing its status as a page-turner."

Phantom Lady by Cornell Woolrich 

Photo Source: Angela of The Hollywood Revue

"Considering how incredibly influential 42nd Street has been both as a movie and a Broadway show, it’s a little surprising that the book has essentially become a footnote in its own history. But now that it’s back in print, I really hope more people will discover it."

42nd Street by Bradford Ropes 

"With The Divorcee being one of the most essential of all pre-Codes, I thought this was going to be a situation where the book was even more scandalous than the movie. And in many ways, it is. But in the end, I feel like this is a rare case where the 1930s Hollywood version of the story actually feels more modern by today's standards."

Ex-Wife by Ursula Parrot

"if you’re A Free Soul superfan and love the characters so much that you want to spend more time with them and get to know them more in depth, then it may be worth tracking down a copy of the book."

A Free Soul by Adela Rogers St. Johns

"The changes in pacing for the movie make the movie version my preferred version of the story, but when the book is at its best, it’s excellent and it’s easy to understand why it remains such an influential story..."

Grand Hotel by Vicki Baum 

"It’s easy to forget that you’re reading something that was first published 90 years ago."

Red-Headed Woman by Katharine Brush'

"If you’re a fan of vintage career girl stories along the lines of The Best of Everything, you’d probably enjoy Wife vs. Secretary."

Wife vs. Secretary by Faith Baldwin

"I was impressed with how this book was both accessible for newcomers to classic film and this particular genre but still entertaining and stimulating for readers more familiar with these movies."

"It has incredible potential for researchers of a particular era or film that falls in that period, providing a rich collection of information and moviegoing trends."

"where this book does excel, is in exposing Sanders’ thoughts and life philosophy."

"A Twist of Lemmon is exactly the type of book I love to read about a celebrity I respect."

"It’s interesting to learn how much more welcoming early Hollywood was to women in the ranks of production than it seems to be even now. There was a lot more freedom and collaboration as a whole and not just among the women." 

"Garcia’s book is a useful point of entry for those keen to learn more about musicals, and it also dismantles some of the prevailing myths about the genre." 

Quick Takes: The Movie Musical by Desirée J. Garcia

Chuck on Twitter

"a compelling and thought provoking analysis of the film and its key figures for its success. The book is worth checking out for any fan of film history."

"Many of the pieces were written when Bogdanovich was one of the hottest directors in Hollywood so it is interesting to read his perspective and the influences on himself as a filmmaker."

"The book is definitely for hard core fans of the film and Hitchcock in general. Being a big fan of "Shadow of a Doubt" myself, I enjoyed taking this deep dive into the psychology of the film."

Shadow of a Doubt by Diane Negra

Photo Source: Jess of Box Office Poisons

"In reading this biography, it became very apparent that, for as much as he wanted to be a big star, he was also super shy, restrained, and not willing to rock (heh) the boat in his quest to get there."

"After reading this biography of Natalie Wood, all I have to say is: what a life, and what a tragedy."

Photo Source: Comet Over Hollywood

"while the movie is fun and charming, the book is frankly vile."

Where the Boys Are by Glendon Swarthout 

John on Goodreads

"It is by no means a "tell-all" tale, nor does it detail the often bleak and seamy side of a Hollywood family during the Golden Age of Hollywood. Instead it is an almost storybook slice of Americana..."

Kara on Goodreads

"Eyman does a good job demonstrating that Cary Grant was essentially a bundle of contradictions. He offers countless anecdotes that show the dueling sides of Grant’s personality."

"I LOVED this book and would highly recommend it to anyone who loves classic Hollywood movies!"

"1930s romantic comedies often feel as light as air; I found Harvey’s writing to be extremely dense."

"The first question anyone is likely to ask is: "Do I need the new edition if I own the original?"

The answer is a resounding "Yes!"

"SUMMER MOVIES strikes a good balance between appealing to newer and established film fans."

"I became even more entranced with Judy Holliday the person after reading this book."

"This book is not only great to read, but also very aesthetically pleasing. I love how some pages are designed to look like classic film fan magazines!"

"Reading this book you can really tell Isenberg did his research and I commend him for that. The care for each detail is noticed throughout the book and gives the story great credibility."

Nathan on Twitter

"Each angle showed a perspective of the man and his flaws. It certainly could have explored more, but maybe it's that suspense that has us wanting answers. And that feels very Hitch."

"The truth is laid out and redefines a legacy, a remembrance of a man who just wanted to be loved and show that to everyone he met."

"As someone fascinated by old Hollywood and familiar with many, if not most, of the names of that era, this was a very enjoyable read."

"I still very much enjoyed reading the source material for one of my all-time favorite films."

Ladies in Retirement by Edward Percy and Reginald Denham

"an interesting, well-written, well-researched biography about a previously neglected person in the history of the Golden Age of Hollywood."

"Eddie Muller does a fantastic job of immersing the reader into the world of film noir from all the fascinating information, context galore and stylish language that puts you right into the heart of Dark City."

"The author has a way with words that makes this book a delight to read and the design of the book is just absolutely stunning. It's a compact size which makes it the perfect book to pop into your summer tote bag and bring with you to the beach."


"he writes from a novel point of view and puts himself in like a character."

Conversations With Brando by Lawrence Grobel

"it is, like all of Larry's books, a page-turner."

"A must read not only for film buffs but also filmmakers..."

Shadows By Ray Carney

Photo Source: Robby on Instagram

"It is a very thorough and detailed biography to a fault... But at a certain point it goes overboard and the subject of Barbara gets lost in the extraneous detail."

"If you’re looking for a traditional bio on Ray, this is not the book for you. This is his daughter’s story which does provide insight into Ray, but also covers her greater family’s troubled history."

Sarah on Goodreads

"What I did love: I learned a lot about both Elizabeth and Monty that I didn't previously know- their childhoods, early careers, relationships and more... What I didn't love: The gossipy feel of the book."

"I found myself hearing his voice as I read this- it really felt like a sit-down conversation with a friend."

The Garner Files by James Garner and Jon Winokur

"The most fascinating part of the book was the author’s detailed descriptions of the six major state censorship boards."

"fascinating look at a subject largely forgotten by history is a must-read for silent film fanatics and anyone in love with the films from the 1930s."

The Last Silent Picture Show by William H. Drew 

Friday, August 20, 2021

TCM: Dark City: The Lost World of Film Noir by Eddie Muller

Dark City
The Lost World of Film Noir
Revised and Expanded Edition
by Eddie Muller
TCM and Running Press
July 2021
Hardcover ISBN: 9780762498970
272 pages

Published in 1998, Dark City: The Lost World of Film Noir put Eddie Muller on the map. What would soon became a best seller and one of the definitive books about the genre, opened many doors for Muller. He programmed noir screenings for film festivals, started the Film Noir Foundation, an organization dedicated to the preservation of film noir, and eventually became the host of Noir Alley on Turner Classic Movies. The book that started it all is now back in print in a beautifully designed, revised and expanded edition.

"Film noirs were distress flares launched into America's movie screens by artists working the night shift at the Dream Factory." — Eddie Muller

In telling the story of film noir, Eddie Muller imagines all of the stories, their literary origins, the subsequent films, the players involved and the era in which they were born, as a single place: Dark City. Muller traces the origins of different film noir tropes and themes, giving each its own Dark City address. Each chapter is a stop at a different address where the reader learns about a particular theme and how it was used in film noir. Sprinkled throughout are mini biographies that provide crucial background information as well as context. Everything flows together with seamless transitions and Muller's special brand of noir infused language.

The addresses in Dark City include:

Sinister Heights — Corruption
The Precinct — Crime and Punishment
Hate Street — Murder
The City Desk — News and Reporters
Shamus Flats — Private Eyes
Vixenville — Femme Fatales
Blind Alley — Mysteries
The Psych Ward — Mental Illness
Knockville Square — Heists
Loser's Lane — Deranged Men
The Big House — Prison Dramas
Thieves' Highway — Criminals on the Run
The Stage Door — The last days of Film Noir

Interspersed throughout the book are inserts with expanded biographies which are mostly about movie stars with a few exceptions. Each appears where it makes most sense in context of the discussion happening at that point in the book. These are fantastic biographies that range from 1-4 pages and offer more than the mini biographies that appear in the body of text.

Subjects include: John Garfield, Gloria Grahame, Joan Crawford, Ben Hecht, Robert Mitchum, Belita, Joan Harrison, Robert Ryan, Sterling Hayden, Barbara Payton, Ida Lupino, Tom Neal, Desert Fury (1947) and Steve Cochran.

This new edition includes additional chapters, restored photographs and a new layout. Kudos to the team who worked on the design of this book. The pages are beautifully laid out. Whenever an insert appears it's at a natural point in the text where you don't have to stop mid paragraph in order to read another section. That's very difficult to do but worth it for a better reading experience.

Eddie Muller does a fantastic job of immersing the reader into the world of film noir from all the fascinating information, context galore and stylish language that puts you right into the heart of Dark City. 

Here are some of my favorite lines from the book: 

"[Orson Welles] changed the grammar of motion picture storytelling and set the cinematic syntax for film noir: the quest for truth in morally ambiguous terrain, the cynical take on the corrupting influence of power, the off-kilter visual style."

"Power-mad women are smart enough not to bloody their own hands. That's what men are for." 

"In Dark City, psychiatrists are as corrupt as gangsters, misusing their power over mind to dominate the hapless and disturbed."

"The blurring of moral distinctions was part and parcel of noir."

"In the wake of the studios' Communist purge, social criticism was out. Films could no longer suggest that people did bad things due to economic pressure."

My only minor quibble is with the use of some words to describe female characters. However, we're dealing with some nefarious characters in many of these stories so the usage is not completely out of context. The book itself is quite large which makes it perfect for flipping through to look at photographs but not as easy for someone, like me, who read the book cover to cover. It made me want to invest in an ergonomic book stand!

Dark City by Eddie Muller is evocative of a long gone era of filmmaking that still captivates film lovers today. It effectively transports readers into the world of film noir with its fine use language, images, context and information. A must have for film noir fans.

Thank you to Running Press for sending me a copy of Dark City for review.

This is my third review for the Summer Reading Challenge.

Monday, August 2, 2021

The New Deal for Artists (1981)

"One of the horrors of a society... is the break with the past, a lack of continuity. Young people know nothing of the past. For that matter even people who lived in the past have forgotten it... the New Deal, The Arts Project, is a good case in point. It's as though it never existed." — Studs Turkel

Time threatened to erase the history of the WPA (Work Progress Administration) and the impact its artists had on the culture of 1930s America and beyond. Part of President Franklin D. Roosevelt's New Deal, the WPA helped create jobs for many Americans during the throes of the Great Depression. This included unemployed artists who were paid $23.86 a week to create art. Jobs were created for actors, directors, musicians, painters, dancers and photographers. Through their different art forms, these creators told the story of an America that was enduring great strife. Theatrical productions played out social dilemmas for audiences, photographers captured the devastation of the Dust Bowl, painters made an impact by creating murals in public spaces, writers documented American life for present and future generations. Black and indigenous communities as well as other minority groups were encouraged to participate. The work of WPA artists stirred up political sentiment that went on to the scrutinized by communist fear mongers who took action to erase their work. 

Photo courtesy of Corinth Films

Image courtesy of Corinth Films

Photo courtesy of Corinth Films

Photo courtesy of Corinth Films

Just in time for the 40th anniversary, Corinth Films has released director Wieland Schulz-Keil's The New Deal for Artists (1981). In the late 1970s, Schulz-Keil had made a 4 hour film for German television about the United States during the Great Depression. A 90 minute section of this longer film, focusing just on WPA artists, was released for American audiences with narration by Orson Welles. The New Deal for Artists examines a time when artists were documenting and disseminating a pivotal moment in our nation's history. We take social documentary for granted these days but back then it was a new concept. The documentary interviews artists, historians and politicians including John Houseman, Studs Turkel, John Randolph, Nelson Algren, Will Geer, Howard Da Silva and even our beloved Norman Lloyd. Film history buffs will appreciate the fact that this documentary offers extensive background on the Federal Theater Project which Houseman, Welles and Lloyd were involved with.

The film has been remastered for DVD and digital. The DVD release includes a 12-page booklet with original essays by Armond White and Ed Rampell.

The New Deal for Artists (1981) is a remarkable documentary, a veritable time capsule of an era when the US government paid artists to capture American life. It fights against obscurity simply by existing. A must watch for anyone interested in cultural history.

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