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Film Noir: The Directors

It’s been an excellent few months for fans of the film noir genre. Several noir films were screened at the 3rd Annual TCM Classic Film Festival in Hollywood back in April. There’s the new Columbia Pictures Film Noir Classics III DVD collection filled with hidden gems. Also the Noir City Film Festival at the Egyptian Theatre in Hollywood just wrapped up its fantastic run on May 6th. In March, the much anticpated book Film Noir: The Directors,edited by Alain Silver and James Ursini was released.

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Hollywood Rides a Bike

If you’re anything like me, you love photos of classic movie stars engaging in very normal, unglamorous activities. Although many were staged for studio publicity, it’s nice to pretend these are candid images from the private family album. Cary and Randolph washing dishes, Bogie and Bacall lounging on the sofa, Katharine on a skateboard, Shirley and Sachi with matching hairdos and pearls– all well known “home life” photos. Steven Rea, film critic for The Philadelphia Inquirer, has assembled an impressive collection of images featuring beloved icons alongside one of the simplest modes of transportation: the bicycle.

Hollywood Rides a Bike is a quirky pictorial containing over 125 prints of stars pedaling around backlots, soundstages, and winding roads. Marlene Dietrich likes to ride her bike in elaborate dress, while Don Ameche prefers to cruise around in his skivvies. Alfred Hitchcock looks his usual cheery self on a bike made by Peugeot. James Stewart gives Grace Kelly a lift on the handlebars. Even Carole Lombard’s dachshund Fritz hitches a ride on the back of her cruiser.

Classic film fans and vintage bicycle enthusiasts alike will appreciate Rea’s attention to detail as well as his sense of humor. For those who cannot get enough of this unique pairing, Rea maintains the Tumblr blog Rides a Bike. One could easily spend hours scrolling through all the marvelous photos. I certainly did!


Hollywood Rides a Bike: Cycling with the Stars
ISBN: 9781883318635
Angel City Press
February 2012
160 pages

Disclaimer: I purchased this book from Amazon.com

Quick Reviews: Sherlock Holmes on Screen

Sherlock Holmes on Screen by Alan Barnes

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes has been featured in more films and television programs than any other fictional character. With each adaptation and performance, different aspects of the beloved character are explored, including Holmes’s drug usage and personal relationships. With the these portrayals, it is difficult to keep track of them all. Super-fan Alan Barnes has collated information about his favorite sleuth into a detailed encyclopedia. It features every single Sherlock performance to appear in film and on television. In its third edition, Sherlock Holmes on Screen is an excellent guide to the world’s favorite detective. Fans of Sherlock Holmes will not be disappointed.

Sherlock Holmes on Screen(Updated)
Author: Alan Barnes
ISBN: 9780857687760
Titan Books
January 2012
320 pages

I received a copy from Titan Books

Quick Reviews: The Marx Brothers Encyclopedia

The Marx Brothers Encyclopedia by Glen Mitchell

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Excellent resource for fans of The Marx Brothers. Contains detailed information about the production of all their films, television appearances, stage, and solo endeavors. Presented in A-Z format with photos throughout. Contains information on co-stars like Margaret Dumont and Louis Calhern. If it has to do with the Marx Brothers, it’s in this book. A must have.

The Marx Brothers Encyclopedia (revised)
Author: Glen Mitchell
ISBN: 9780857687784
Titan Books
January 2012
309 Pages

I received a copy from Titan Books

Quick Reviews: The Complete Three Stooges

The Complete Three Stooges by Jon Solomon

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Die-hard Three Stooges fans will consider Jon Solomon’s The Complete Three Stooges an invaluable resource. The book contains detailed synopses, production notes, and anecdotes on every single short and feature-length film ever made by The Three Stooges. The book is in chronological order and also contains a detailed index, which comes in handy. Personally I am not a big fan of the Three Stooges, but Solomon’s book is the go-to for everything Three Stooges.

The Complete Three Stooges (Revised)
Author: Jon Solomon
ISBN: 9780857682987
Titan Books
September 2011
600 pages

I received a copy from Titan Books

Drew Struzan: Oeuvre

Courtesy of Titan Books
Courtesy of Titan Books

I have a confession: before snagging a copy of the book Oeuvre I thought “who in the world is Drew Struzan?” Once I opened the book, I immediately knew who he was. Chances are you know who he is too, even if you have never heard his name. Struzan is the mastermind behind some of the most popular and iconic movie posters ever created. He is a frequent collaborator with George Lucas, who penned a lovely foreword to Oeuvre. In addition to his working relationship with Lucas, Struzan is a favorite of directors Steven Spielberg, Guillermo Del Toro, and Frank Darabont.

It’s safe to say that Drew Struzan’s most popular work comes from three of the most beloved film series: Star Wars, Indiana Jones, and Back to the Future. An entire generation grew up with these images ingrained into the pop culture. In addition to those films, Struzan created artwork for the The Muppets series, Hook, The Goonies, E.T., Star Trek, and The Lord of the Rings, to name a few. His artistic talents are not limited to poster art. Struzan commissioned paintings for the United States Postal Service and their Legends of Hollywood series. His submissions include renditions of John Wayne, Lucille Ball, Edward G. Robinson, James Stewart, and Henry Fonda.

Drew Struzan: Oeuvre by Drew Struzan and his wife Dylan, features a lovely collection of some of his most popular pieces, in addition to an entire section dedicated to artwork from his personal collection. This book serves as a companion piece to the wildly popular The Art of Drew Struzan, which was released a couple years ago. There are no captions next to the artwork, instead there is a detailed index in the back of the book. For ease, I would rather those captions be next to the artwork, but I understand that it would potentially compromise the aesthetic of each image. I will admit that I am generally not a fan of this type of artwork, but when it is in the proper context, it is hard to find fault. I have fond memories of going to the movie theatre and seeing his posters hanging on the wall. They were larger than life! Oeuvre is a nice addition to any film lover’s library and may appeal to the Gen-X crowd.

Drew Struzan: Oeuvre
ISBN: 9780857685575
Titan Books
October 2011
314 pages

Full Disclosure: I received a copy of Drew Struzan: Oeuvre directly from the publisher Titan Books. I thank the publisher for the opportunity to review this book.

Harlow in Hollywood: The Blonde Bombshell in the Glamour Capital 1928-1937

Courtesy of Angel City Press
Courtesy of Angel City Press

 

Jean Harlow epitomizes the essence of old Hollywood glamour and stardom. Although she died young, she has an  immortal presence that has lasted for over 70 years. Perhaps it’s because we never saw her grow old. Her youthfulness, beauty, and sexuality are all perfectly preserved as if she were truly alive and breathing. Harlow in Hollywood: The Blonde Bombshell in the Glamour Capital (1928-1937) is a loving and dedicated tribute to “The Baby.”  The book is filled with photos from author Darrell Rooney’s personal collection (one of the most complete Harlow collections in existence),and a well written biography by Mark A. Vieira that only a fan could compose. Vieira describes Harlow as intelligent, well-read, friendly, and loving–and always seeking love.

Harlow rose to stardom in Hollywood rather quickly, had a solid work ethic, and always did what the studio asked of her. Although she often portrayed women of a certain character, audiences absolutely loved her. This proved to be especially true when her second husband, MGM producer Paul Bern, committed suicide. A scandal of this sort was considered a career killer, but not in Harlow’s case. She had achieved ultimate star status and was granted a level of immunity.

In addition to various marital/relationship troubles, Harlow had a controlling and demanding mother. Jean Bello regularly took advantage of her famous daughter, often without Harlow even recognizing it. Vieira largely portrays Mother Jean and her husband Marino Bello (Harlow’s step-father) in a less than positive light, as he should. All accounts state that the Bellos were greedy, manipulative, and exploited Harlow for their own personal gain.

Harlow in Hollywood: The Blonde Bombshell in the Glamour Capital (1928-1937) is one of the most beautiful and thoughtfully designed books I have ever read. From her first days in Hollywood, to her final photo shoot with friend Clark Gable, and ending with her devastatingly premature death, Rooney and Vieira manage to capture the essence of Harlow’s spirit. The photo for the front cover features a goddess-like Harlow in a slinky satin gown–her trademark. What lies within that cover exceeds even the highest expectations. Each page is filled with lovely photos, some rare, of Harlow and her family, friends, and co-stars. The attention to detail is noticed in even the smallest touches, like the design for the page numbers, font, and coloring.

I did not want to put this book down. I stayed up very late to finish it, and when I was done I was in tears. It haunted me. When I fell asleep I dreamed of Harlow’s death. When I woke in the morning, I felt like I had been right there with her. As I wrote in my review of the stellar Judy: A Legendary Film Career, I am often hesitant to embrace so-called “gift books.” Many times, these types of books feature low quality photos and text. Fortunately, that is not the case here.  Harlow in Hollywood is an essential for Jean Harlow and classic film fans alike.

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Harlow in Hollywood: The Blonde Bombshell in the Glamour Capital (1928-1937)
ISBN: 9781883318963
Angel City Press
March 2011
240 pages

Full disclosure: I received a copy of Harlow in Hollywood: The Blonde Bombshell in the Glamour Capital (1928-1937) directly from the publisher Angel City Press. I thank the publisher for the opportunity to review this book.

Gary Cooper: Enduring Style

From Gary Cooper: Enduring Style by G. Bruce Boyer and Maria Cooper Janis, published by powerHouse Books
From Gary Cooper: Enduring Style by G. Bruce Boyer and Maria Cooper Janis, published by powerHouse Books

When thinking about men’s fashion in old Hollywood, there are two actors who immediately come to mind: Cary Grant and Gary Cooper. Both had impeccable taste and appreciated high quality, custom tailored clothing, and both had wardrobes inspired by European fashion. Although Grant looked great in everything, he didn’t always look comfortable in more casual attire. This is not the case with Gary Cooper. He somehow made a cowboy hat and jeans look attainable to the every man, yet kept a look of sophistication.

Gary Cooper: Enduring Style is a lovely collection of private family photos showcasing Cooper’s sartorial elegance, beginning from his days in a prestigious private school in England, up to and around the time of his death in 1961. The book is reminiscent of a family album, with one or two photos to a page. Images of Gary and his wife Rocky relaxing poolside, on hunting trips with Clark Gable, and skiing with Ingrid Bergman are all wonderful additions.  The captions are minimal, allowing the photos to speak for themselves.

With a foreward by Ralph Lauren, a brief yet thorough biography by G. Bruce Boyer, and afterward by Cooper’s only child Maria Cooper Janis, Gary Cooper: Enduring Style is a wonderful tribute to a beloved Hollywood icon. I appreciate the artistic quality of the book in the images selected. For the serious Gary Cooper fan,  Enduring Style is a must have.

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Gary Cooper: Enduring Style
ISBN: 9781576875865
PowerHouse Books
November 2011
200 pages

Full Disclosure: I received a copy of Gary Cooper: Enduring Style for review directly from the publisher, powerHouse Books. The book is available for purchase here. I would like to thank the publisher for the opportunity to review this book.

Myrna Loy: The Only Good Girl in Hollywood

I have never heard anyone speak harshly of Myrna Loy. In fact, just the mere mention of her name elicits such a positive response it is hard not to crack a smile. My first encounter with Myrna’s films was her work with Cary Grant in The Bachelor and the Bobby-Soxer and Mr. Blandings Builds His Dreamhouse.

She is brilliant in both roles and is one of Grant’s greatest co-stars. When I eventually discovered her films from the 1930s, I finally understood why she is so highly regarded among classic film fans. Soon I began scrounging for every Loy performance I could find, including all the films she made with the charming William Powell, with whom she co-starred 14 times.

In the late eighties, Myrna Loy worked extensively and exclusively with James Kotsilibas-Davis to pen her autobiography Being and Becoming. This personal account has been the only significant information regarding Loy’s private life and career until now. Emily W. Leider, author of Myrna Loy: The Only Good Girl in Hollywood, utilizes Loy’s recollections from Being and Becoming, along with newly obtained material, in an attempt to piece together more of Loy’s life story.

Leider begins with a detailed account of Myrna Loy’s childhood leading up to being discovered in Hollywood. In her hometown of Helena, Montana, a young Loy took an interest in performing arts–especially dance. After the death of her father, Myrna, her mother, and other relatives moved to Southern California. She continued taking dance lessons and eventually sought work to provide for her family. More importantly, Myrna desperately wanted independence. In 1923 she was hired as a prologue dancer at Grauman’s Egyptian Theatre. For frame of reference, these elaborate stage productions (which provided in-house entertainment for moviegoers), were akin to the prologues featured in Busby Berkeley’s Footlight Parade. Before long, Loy’s beauty and talent were noticed by Rudolph Valentino and his wife Natacha Rambova. Myrna quickly acquired her first uncredited role in the 1925 film What Price Beauty?

After several of these smaller roles, Loy was offered parts as exotics, often playing a temptress and homewrecker. She would be typecast in this kind of role until around 1934 when she gave breakout performances in Manhattan Melodrama and The Thin Man. Although she had shed one typecast, she gained another in being labeled “the perfect wife.”

Leider writes of Loy’s early years in Hollywood, including when she fell in love with a married man, producer Arthur Hornblow. Eventually they married, but Arthur’s infidelities and lack of commitment led to their divorce. Myrna had four husbands in all, yet never found the reciprocal love she so desperately sought. Since she could not find complete happiness in her romantic life, Myrna looked for other ways to gain fulfillment. She was a dedicated volunteer during WWII and raised millions of dollars in war bonds for the cause. She was also quite active in liberal politics and outspoken against the House Un-American Activities Committee. A staunch supporter of President Roosevelt, Loy soon became friends with First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt, and the two worked closely on social and political causes. Myrna was also an unabashed supporter of the Civil Rights Movement, which was not a popular stance at the time. Later in her career and life, Loy retreated from Hollywood to New York where she remained until her death in 1993. In the final years of her life she was finally recognized by The Academy of Motion Pictures and Sciences with a Lifetime Achievement Academy Award. Up to that moment, Loy had never even been nominated for an Oscar.

I have long awaited a biography on Myrna Loy. Her autobiography Being and Becoming is out of print, so finding an affordable copy has proven to be difficult. When I first heard of Emily W. Leider’s book, I was ecstatic. Unfortunately, I have to admit that I am slightly disappointed. Leider’s account of Myrna Loy’s early life is well written. I appreciate her attention to detail in retelling Loy’s story from a different perspective than what has already been written. What I noticed is Leider references Loy’s book numerous times (almost to the point of distraction), and it quickly becomes apparent that perhaps there really isn’t much information about Loy’s life outside of what has already been written. In other words, Loy wrote what she thought we should know about her and therefore disclosed a filtered, if incomplete version, which is fair. That said, there are a few new bits of information in The Only Good Girl in Hollywood, that according to Leider, Loy either briefly mentions in passing or ignores completely in her autobiography. For example, Leider discusses the reason behind Loy’s inability to bear children, something that Loy never divulged.

One of the trappings of the star biography is an author’s tendency to give synopses of movies in an actor’s filmography. In telling the story of Loy’s early fledgling career and rise to prominence in Hollywood, Leider often falls into the pattern of film synopsis and review. I understand that anecdotes from the filming of Loy’s movies is important to paint a complete picture of the surrounding events in her life. However, when plotlines are detailed from start to finish accompanied by critique and opinion (either Leider’s or that of a film critic), it is too much.

Overall, I have mixed feelings on Myrna Loy: The Only Good Girl in Hollywood. I would like to revisit this book after reading Being and Becoming. Perhaps Leider’s book will be a nice companion piece to Loy’s, but in all honesty I was looking for something more.

Myrna Loy: The Only Good Girl in Hollywood
ISBN: 9780520253209
University of California Press
October 2011
424 pages

Full Disclosure: I received a copy of Myrna Loy: The Only Good Girl in Hollywood directly from the publisher, University of California Press. I would like to thank the publisher for the opportunity to review this book.

Book Review- Judy: A Legendary Film Career

Photo courtesy of Running Press
Photo courtesy of Running Press

I have never considered myself a huge Judy Garland fan, but that’s not to say I don’t like her. I adore her. I respect her. I hold her in the highest regard. I suppose I never considered myself a fan because I do not feel worthy of that title. Honestly, like those who abused and exploited her, I have taken her for granted. She’s more than Dorothy, you know.

In the world of star biography and filmography, it’s rare to find a tribute that is not only well researched but also visually stunning. Judy: A Legendary Film Career by John Fricke is a perfect example of what a bio-filmography should be. Following a brief introduction, Fricke gives a short, but incredibly detailed history of Garland’s sometimes difficult upbringing. Garland was born Frances Ethel Gumm to parents Frank and Ethel. “Baby” Gumm, as she was nicknamed, made her stage debut at just two years old. Through the years, Baby Gumm and her two older sisters performed at a number of theaters and in 1934, while performing in Chicago, The Gumm Sisters were discovered. During this time Ethel Gumm, who could easily be described as a “stage mom”, frequently gave her daughters stimulants to keep them working despite exhaustion. Likely unaware of the horrendous consequences of her actions, Ethel introduced Baby to a unhealthy pattern of overwork, exhaustion, medication, and crash dieting. This pattern would continue through Baby’s transformation into Judy Garland, her days at MGM, and up until her death at the age of 47. Judy’s relationship with her mother was strained, to say the least. However, Judy was incredibly close to her father, who faced significant demons of his own. When Frank died in 1935, Judy was devastated.

Fricke divides the filmography into four main sections, each highlighting a different era in Garland’s career. From her film debut in Pigskin Parade until her very last film I Could Go on Singing (with radio, television, and stage performances in between), Fricke provides incredibly in-depth information about each production. Cast and crew, filming budgets, reviews, photos, and anecdotes from co-stars, directors, producers accompany each film outline. The filmography is arranged chronologically and in between each section in the Garland timeline, Fricke gives insight into the personal triumphs and turmoils in that particular time of her life. And there were plenty of triumphs and turmoils. Even though her illness might have shown in her physical appearance, it very rarely affected her finished performance. That’s not to say she didn’t have difficulty getting to the point of finishing…

Throughout the 1940s Garland struggled immensely with her addiction to prescription drugs–a combination of diet pills/speed to get her up and going and sleeping pills to counteract the effects of the stimulants. Some periods in this decade were worse than others, in particular the unraveling of her marriage to second husband, director Vincente Minnelli. Even with her personal problems (which Fricke is very clear were not just Garland’s fault–studio heads at MGM most assuredly exploited her), she was still a top draw for MGM. That is until she was unable to fulfill contract obligations. After being fired from The Barkleys of Broadway and Annie Get Your Gun, Garland was released from her contract. Although she was considered largely unemployable, Garland had some of her best work ahead of her.

One thing I love about Judy: A Legendary Film Career is that Fricke doesn’t hide Garland’s flaws. With those flaws he celebrates her successes with such a defined passion (which only a true admirer could) that it’s hard not to immediately drop the book, put in one of her films, and bask in her infectious glow. Fricke also lists all the projects Garland lost or was rumored to have lost. This is something I always love reading about–the “what could have been” collaborations. Quotes about particular productions also renew my love for many of Garland’s co-stars and directors like Gene Kelly, Fred Astaire, Mickey Rooney, George Cukor…and reaffirm my dislike of others like Ginger Rogers (yeah, that’s right. I don’t like Ginger Rogers). It’s refreshing to know that Kelly, Astaire, and Rooney loved Judy so much and understood her troubles. They, along with others, defended and protected her the best they could.

I absolutely loved Judy: A Legendary Film Career, and it was pleasure to read from start to finish. I highly recommend it for Judy Garland and classic film fans alike. This is the ultimate guide to Garland’s illustrious career and has the added bonus of looking wonderful on the bookshelf or table. Thanks to John Fricke, I feel like I possess the knowledge and respect to finally call myself a fan.

Judy: A Legendary Film Career
ISBN: 9780762437719
Running Press (Perseus Books)
August 2011
352 pages

Full Disclosure: I received a copy of Judy: A Legendary Film Career directly from the publisher, Running Press, which is an imprint of Perseus Books. I thank the publisher for the opportunity to review this book.