As always, there are more film books being published than there is time to read them, but I hope this annotated list of current titles will be helpful, especially during gift-giving season. I promise at least one more installment in the month ahead, including a look at a handful of brand-new books related to Walt Disney.
McBride has devoted his life to crafting massive tomes on John Ford, Orson Welles, and Frank Capra, among others. Here he explores the career of a man they (and most of their contemporaries) admired, Ernst Lubitsch. I’ve only read 200 pages so far but I’m ready to call this a brilliant study, not only for its impressive research and keen insights but for McBride’s eloquent prose. His command of the language and determination to find le mot juste puts this in a class by itself. And there’s never a bad time to remind people of Lubitsch, in the hope that they will seek out his wonderful films.
Like a lot of other people, I have been waiting 17 years for this book, since the publication of Gary Giddins’ first portion of a definitive Bing Crosby biography. A Pocketful of Dreams was published in 2001 and was cause for celebration: an informed, articulate, and even-handed portrait of the great entertainer. The tone and content of that book inspired Bing’s widow, Kathryn Crosby, to open her files to Giddins, offering him an avalanche of never-before-seen information and first-hand material, aided and abetted by goodies being catalogued by the Crosby estate. That’s why I look forward to spending the holidays curled up with this 724-page book. I don’t know if the next installment will finish the story or stretch to another volume, but I’m ready and waiting.
Arnold’s second book in Running Press’ TCM collection is a savvy roundup of seasonal films, with sharp observations about such perennials as Holiday Inn, It’s a Wonderful Life, Miracle on 34th Street, A Christmas Story, and Elf. Stalwart film buffs will be especially pleased to find essays and rarely-seen photos covering unexpected choices like Miracle on Main Street, Beyond Tomorrow, Trail of Robin Hood, and We’re No Angels, among others. (Any book that includes a tribute to Roy Rogers scores points with me.) An exceptionally handsome design in an unusual format (7 ¼ x 8 1/4”) makes this an appealing gift. It can adorn your coffee table without taking up too much space.
Now a familiar face as one of the hosts on Turner Classic Movies, Malone has assembled a first-rate collection of essays on a wide variety of films directed by women. She has written many herself, including an excellent survey of Lina Wertmuller’s Seven Beauties, and prevailed upon other notable women who are writing about film today. Amy Nicholson weighs in on The Decline of Western Civilization I and II, Jen Yamato examines A League of Their Own, Roth Cornet expounds on The Piano, Grae Drake gives us her take on The Babadook, and a certain Jessie Maltin discusses one of her favorite overlooked movies, Songcatcher, to name just a few. Each entry is accompanied by background information and quotes from the filmmakers. This compendium of critiques should be useful for women’s studies as well as film appreciation.
Michael J. Hayde has proven himself a superb researcher in his previous work on Dragnet, Chaplin’s amazing year at the Mutual film company, and the saga of Superman on radio and television. Now he turns his attention to Martin and Lewis, assembling a staggering amount of information on their radio and television shows as well as background stories, press coverage, anecdotes, and exceedingly rare photos. If you love Dean and Jerry, you won’t want to put this one down.
Bill Cassara is a retired policeman who has pursued his fascination with comedians of the 1920s, 30s, and 40s and turned out three unique biographies, on Edgar Kennedy, Vernon Dent, and Ted Healy. His experience as a detective has come in handy, as tracking the details of these performers’ lives requires a bona fide sleuth. This time he has partnered with a fellow member of the Laurel and Hardy society Sons of the Desert to pay proper tribute to Henry Brandon, who menaced Laurel and Hardy in Babes in Toyland and Spanky, Alfalfa and Co. in Our Gang Follies of 1938. This brief but memorable association with Hal Roach made Brandon a welcome guest at nostalgia conventions and Sons of the Desert dinners for the last years of his life. The realization that this versatile actor also played the title character in Republic Pictures’ serial Drums of Fu Manchu and the grim-faced Indian Scar in John Ford’s The Searchers made him even more sought after. The authors have left no stone unturned in chronicling Brandon’s career on stage, film and television in this loving tribute, which weighs in at 515 pages.