A few weeks ago I did a survey of recently-published film books. Here is a second installment, drawn mostly from quick skims and first impressions. I don’t pretend these are full-fledged reviews based on reading these volumes in their entirety. They all look interesting and I hope they fulfill that promise. I happen to be of the opinion that there is no better, more personal gift than a good book. There is also no better way to treat yourself, especially if you have any “down time” coming up over the holidays.
ERROL & OLIVIA: EGO AND OBSESSION IN GOLDEN ERA HOLLYWOOD by Robert Matzen (Paladin Communications)
Matzen, who co-wrote the wonderful Errol Flynn Slept Here last year, explores the on and off-screen relationship between Errol Flynn and Olivia de Havilland. It was only in recent years that de Havilland, who maintains a well-cultivated public image, admitted that she had feelings for Flynn. Matzen uses interviews and writings from the present day and the past to understand the nuances of that relationship. At the same time, he chronicles the two stars’ working relationship with Warner Bros. studio and provides a valuable production diary of all eight films they made together, from Captain Blood in 1935 (when both were new to Hollywood) through They Died With Their Boots On in 1941, drawing on the copious materials at the Warner Bros. archives at USC. (I never tire of reading producer Hal Wallis’ inter-office memos to stubborn directors like Michael Curtiz, and the like.) We may never know how accurate Matzen’s presumptions are about the stars’ private lives, but this juicy content is counterbalanced by—
—impeccable research about their films. It’s all presented in a handsome hardcover package with many rare, hitherto-unpublished photos. Anyone who loves going behind the scenes in the golden age of Hollywood will find this book compelling.
Another in Arcadia’s “Images of America” series, this densely-packed paperback is profusely illustrated with rare photos of movies in production, from the silent era to the 1970s, and plenty of background information from its three expert authors to put each picture into context. From Harold Lloyd on a downtown rooftop to the Three Stooges in Bronson Canyon, from Boris Karloff as Frankenstein’s monster about to drown a little girl in Malibu Lake to Cecil B. DeMille and a huge troupe at Catalina Island, this compact compendium will inspire visitors and Angelenos alike to take another look at locations all over the Southland. Once you start browsing this one you’ll find it hard to put down.
At last, someone has paid proper tribute to Howard and Theodore Lydecker, the legendary siblings who created unforgettable visual effects for Republic Pictures’ action-packed serials, westerns, and feature films during the studio’s heyday. Henderson is a devotee of those Saturday matinee favorites, but unlike most of us, he grew up knowing Theodore Lydecker’s son George. This enabled him to meet one of the famous brothers, and gave him latter-day access to the family and its collection of behind-the-scenes photos. It’s those photographs that make this book so valuable, along with the younger Lydecker’s anecdotes about his father’s work. Henderson’s fan-like text goes off on tangents from time to time, but he’s done all Republic aficionados a great service by tracking down everything he could about the brothers’ remarkable career. In his introduction, Michael H. Price properly salutes their “shirtsleeves artistry.”
Just in time for the Yuletide season, film critic Duralde provides a well-informed, comprehensive, irreverent and surprisingly far-reaching survey of holiday movies, from the bona fide classics to the unexpected. An entire chapter deals with heist movies that have Christmas backdrops, like Batman Returns, Die Hard, Lady in the Lake, The Silent Partner, and The Long Kiss Goodnight. The author also chronicles seasonal horror films and the worst Christmas movies ever (The Christmas That Almost Wasn’t, Santa Claus Conquers the Martians, Six Weeks, Some of My Best Friends Are..., to name just a few). You’ll find the basic info, including a synopsis, for every entry, including a smattering of fun facts. Any book that doesn’t overlook Deanna Durbin in Christmas Holiday is OK by me.
THE LOONEY TUNES TREASURY by Andrew Farago; foreword by Ruth Clampett (Running Press)
Here is another beautifully produced book that not only offers full-color artwork on every page but pull-out artifacts, ranging from facsimiles of an original script (for Rabbit Hood) and vintage comic books to such newly-minted items as a Wanted poster for Yosemite Sam. The book is divided into chapters about each of the leading Warner Bros. cartoon characters. When I tell you that each of the articles is supposedly written by the “star” in his or her own voice, you’ll understand that this is not a serious historical tome: it’s meant as a celebration. Oodles of original artwork, photos of vintage memorabilia, and even staff caricatures fill its pages, and it’s great fun to go through.
DESIGNS ON FILM: A CENTURY OF HOLLYWOOD ART DIRECTION by Cathy Whitlock and The Art Directors Guild (It Books)
This is a book I especially want to spend more time with: a tribute to art directors and production designers from the silent era to the present day, filled with preliminary sketches, finished sets, behind-the-scenes photos, and memorable images from the films themselves, in black & white and color. That the foreword by Thomas Walsh, president of the Art Directors Guild, faces a full-page photo of William Cameron Menzies and Lyle Wheeler at work on Gone With the Wind is a good sign that we’re headed in the right direction. But unlike other volumes on the subject, this one comes right up to date, discussing the challenges and achievements of Gladiator, Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince, Pride and Prejudice, and The Aviator, among others.
BUZZ: THE LIFE AND ART OF BUSBY BERKELEY by Jeffrey Spivak (University Press of Kentucky)
Here’s another book I want to read cover to cover: the first attempt at a full-blown biography of the innovative choreographer and director whose kaleidoscopic musical numbers of the 1930s have never been equaled. Spivak appears to have done his homework in terms of interviews and archival research—including a discovery of Berkeley’s unpublished memoir. This has the blessing of Miles Kreuger, the ultimate authority on the American musical, and that endorsement gives the book credence as far as I’m concerned. (It also appears as part of Kentucky’s Screen Classics series, edited by the eminent Patrick McGilligan.)
THE ART OF HAMMER: POSTERS FROM THE ARCHIVE OF HAMMER FILMS by Marcus Hearn (Titan Books)
The title says it all: this beautiful, oversized book presents a generous selection of posters from both British and American posters for a variety of Hammer Films from 1950 to 1979, including the original “quad”-sized sheet for The Quatermass Experiment through the glory years of horror films with Peter Cushing and Christopher Lee. There are amusing detours along the way with such non-horror titles as Don’t Panic Chaps!, but it’s the Hammer horror material that will please genre fans.
A lifelong horsewoman, Cantarini didn’t set out to be a movie stunt person but wound up putting her equine skills to excellent use in a number of films including Love Me Tender, The Rains of Ranchipur, and The Big Country, to name just a few. But her early chapters about growing up in Hollywood as part of the polo world, and some of the rare photos that illustrate that section, are just as interesting. Cantarini isn’t shy about expressing her opinions of stars, directors, and others with whom she worked—including some famous horse trainers whose methods she disagrees with—but that’s what makes the book an interesting read.
Following his well-received book on Patricia Neal, Shearer has produced this biography of Hedy Lamarr with the cooperation of two of her children and the help of many others who knew her over the years. If the end notes and acknowledgements are any indication, this promises to be a thorough, fair-minded look at the elusive beauty whose life had more than its share of ups and downs. I should note that another Lamarr biography came out earlier this year: Hedy Lamarr: The Most Beautiful Woman in Film, by Ruth Carter, published by University Press of Kentucky as part of its Screen Classics series.
For those of us who know that the beloved lyricist Oscar Hammerstein II was part of an illustrious family, but not much more than that, this lavishly-illustrated survey by the family’s present-day historian, Oscar II’s grandson (who teaches the history of musical theater at Columbia University) should be illuminating. The photos and memorabilia alone make it worthwhile for anyone who cares about the history of Broadway.
Unlike many Asian-Americans who have a kneejerk reaction to the very name of Charlie Chan, Chinese-born Huang, a distinguished author and PhD., has taken a close look at the origins of the famous detective on the printed page as well as onscreen, and drawn his own conclusions about what Chan tells us about his times, and ours. The book has been widely praised as a groundbreaking work that looks past political correctness to examine cultural history and its effect on the present generation.
THE GREEN HORNET: A HISTORY OF RADIO, MOTION PICTURES, COMICS, AND TELEVISION by Martin Grams and Terry Salmonson (OTR Publishing)
With a big-screen Green Hornet due in January, it’s time to look back and learn more about this masked hero and his colorful history in a variety of media. Grams and Salmonson, whose work is well known to old-time radio buffs, have dug deep and created a hefty paperbound book that one would have to call definitive. More than half of its pages are devoted to a detailed radio and TV episode guide. I don’t know what the new movie with Seth Rogen will be like, but I know that there is something magnetic about the idea of the Green Hornet and his trusty servant Kato; this book will tell you all you want or need to know about how he came to be and flourished for so many years.
SAL MINEO: A BIOGRAPHY by Michael Gregg Michaud (Crown Archetype)
If Sal Mineo is remembered at all nowadays, it’s generally because of his violent and untimely death at the age of 37. A former child actor on Broadway (who worked in the original production of The King and I) to a Hollywood up-and-comer in such films as Rebel Without a Cause and Exodus, through a brief period as a pop star, Sal Mineo never seemed to realize his full potential. This candid biography discusses Mineo’s rise and fall and details his tumultuous private life. Incidentally, James Franco has optioned the screen rights to this biography.
Disneyland aficionados already know Jack Lindquist as a living legend, a good storyteller, and most of all, a man who understood what Walt Disney was trying to create in Anaheim, California and beyond. Now he has set down some of his memories in this book about how a 28-year-old advertising manager rose through the ranks to head up the world’s greatest theme park. Advance copies of the book can be purchased directly HERE, where you can also read a sample chapter.
HAIL, HAIL, EUPHORIA! PRESENTING THE MARX BROTHERS IN DUCK SOUP, THE GREATEST WAR MOVIE EVER MADE by Roy Blount, Jr. (It Books)
Who better than a humorist like the talented Roy Blount, Jr. to examine one of the all-time great comedy films and the people who made it? This lengthy essay—just barely a book—is enjoyable reading even if you know a lot about the Marx Brothers and their circle. Blount stirs his own amusing ideas into the pot with mostly felicitous results, while championing the Groucho, Harpo, Chico and occasionally Zeppo, along with their writers, their director Leo McCarey, and others. A Hollywood anecdote here, a tangential thought about other screen comedies there, and you have an entertaining diversion…and a reminder of how truly anarchic, and timeless, Duck Soup really is.