There was a time, not so many years ago, when certain names were a guarantee of box-office gold. Stallone and Schwarzenegger led the pack, soon to be joined by Van Damme, Norris, Seagal, Dolph Lundgren, Jackie Chan, and the unlikely Bruce Willis. Author De Semlyen traces each individual’s career trajectory and more important, places it within the fabric of audience fervor for simplistic action moviemaking. As a longtime contributor to Empire, the world’s best movie magazine (which he now edits) he had mano a mano experiences with most of these outsized personalities and blends his observations with those of writers, directors, producers and others who made their films. He seasons his narrative with just enough off-screen dish to make this more than a dry account of each man’s hits and failures. The result is a highly entertaining, anecdote-filled chunk of screen history
ADVERTISING ANARCHY! SELLING ABBOTT & COSTELLO TO WAR-TORN AMERICA by Richard S. Greene; foreword by Dave Thomas (BearManor Media)
As a follow-up to his impressive tome about Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis, author and enthusiast Greene has now produced this 724-page tribute to the duo that preceded them in the 1940s. There are countless rare photos and images of posters and pressbook advertisements chronicling Bud Abbott and Lou Costello’s lives and careers. I sat with this oversized volume one afternoon and had a great time leafing through its pages, remembering my earliest encounters with Bud and Lou on television. No true-blue A&C fan will want to be without Greene’s massive new book.
GEORGE PAL: MAN OF TOMORROW by Justin Humphreys (BearManor Media)
This 672-page biography has been a long-term labor of love for its author, who has worked with producer Pal’s family and interviewed countless numbers of his colleagues and associates. The end result is an exhaustive chronicle of a great filmmaker’s journey from Hungary to Hollywood. I especially enjoyed learning about the creation of his Puppetoons from the people who labored so long and hard to make them. I suspect most potential readers will want to learn more about the influential science-fiction features Pal is remembered for, like Destination Moon, When Worlds Collide, War of the Worlds, and The Time Machine. You won’t be disappointed, as Humphreys has packed his book with detail upon detail. There isn’t much to learn about Pal away from his work, but judging from the evidence here, he was a genial man who lived his life through his work.
I enjoy reading the author’s articles about film scoring in Variety and his previous books, including a formative version of this one titled TV’s Greatest Hits. The best part of this much-expanded, authoritative guide to television music is that—thanks to YouTube—one can listen to the dozens of themes he writes about instead of straining to remember them from years gone by. Burlingame is such a good writer that he manages to pack a truckload of information into every paragraph without the results reading like a laundry list. This is an indispensable reference book that’s also great fun to browse.
How much is there to say about Blood on the Moon? More than you might expect, as evidenced by this slender paperback volume. Rode explores every aspect of this film’s production and places each player into the context of his or her career. He also benefits from director Robert Wise having recorded a full-length commentary about the film when it was released on laserdisc many years ago. If you like reading details about the making of a film under the auspices of a mainstream studio like RKO, you’ll find much to savor here.
If you like old show-business anecdotes you’ll enjoy this review of M.K. Jerome’s musical career as much as I did. He moved from Tin Pan Alley to Warner Bros. where, with his partner Jack Scholl, he provided songs for any occasion—a novelty number for Dooley Wilson to sing in Casablanca, new connective tissue for a George M. Cohan medley in Yankee Doodle Dandy, etc. Illustrations include the sheet music covers for many of his songs that many of us recognize from Warner Bros. cartoons like “My Little Buckaroo,” “Angel in Disguise,” and “As Easy as Rolling off a Log,” recently revived by James Taylor. I had fun with this breezy biography.
Having written a candid biography of director William Friedkin years ago (Hurricane Billy, published in 1990) the prolific Segaloff is uniquely qualified to discuss The Exorcist and its aftermath, as he does here. With keen-eyed perception and access to its creative team—including author William Peter Blatty—he places this unforgettable film in the context of its time, its director’s career, and our culture. “They didn’t try to make a horror movie,” he writes, “they wanted to make a detective story about the mystery of faith. You could say that The Exorcist is, at its heart, a religious picture, a film, like Blatty’s novel, that posits, if the devil exists, so must God. But people tend to forget about that when they’re dodging pea soup.” Consider this the ultimate companion to the timelessly haunting movie.
Like all the TCM-related volumes from Running Press, this one features a happy marriage of well-informed text and well-chosen photos, as one would expect from veteran photographer and author Vieira. The Warner Bros. saga may be familiar to film buffs but the stills he has selected—especially from the early days—are definitely not. They alone are worth the price of admission, so to speak. Vieira also traces the history of the studio with smart observations about its strengths and standout films, decade by decade. At 358 oversized pages this qualifies as a coffee table book, and a notable one at that. Running Press is also reissuing Vieira’s definitive tribute to his mentor, George Hurrell’s Hollywood, first published a decade ago.
I am remiss in posting a review of this 2022 book, which as author Dobbs relates, was many years in the making. Although unauthorized, it diligently charts the extraordinary life and times of animator Max Fleischer and his creations. Dobbs interviewed a number of people who worked on these cartoons and has the benefit of writing from a 21st century perspective; that means that restorations, cable TV, and home video releases all figure in the text. The illustrations range from animation drawings and model sheets to trade ads and reproductions of newspaper and magazine articles. Every animation fan should know the Fleischer oeuvre and this book is a great place to start.
EDDIE MULLER’S NOIR BAR; COCKTAILS INSPIRED BY THE WORLD OF FILM NOIR by Eddie Muller (Running Press)
Thanks to Turner Classic Movies’ weekly Noir Alley series, the “czar of noir” is now known to a vast audience who may not have had the chance to read his books or articles. It doesn’t take long to realize that Eddie knows his stuff, and that extends to the world of cocktails. Not being an imbiber, I am unable to critique his recipes but I have faith in the man behind the bar. Every drink is derived from a film noir of note (from The Asphalt Jungle to I Wake Up Screaming) and, as with all TCM tie-in books from this publisher, Noir Bar is handsomely packaged with beautifully reproduced stills and posters. I shudder to think what Sam Spade or Philip Marlowe would think of my standard order of ginger ale with very little ice.