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NEW AND NOTABLE FILM BOOKS – DECEMBER 2023

As usual, film books are coming out at a faster pace than I can read them, so I am unable to offer reviews or opinions of the following titles. Please consider this a survey of recently published books and my first impressions of them. Needless to say, any of them would make great gifts.






MARCH OF THE WOODEN SOLDIERS: THE AMAZING STORY OF LAUREL & HARDY’S BABES IN TOYLAND by Randy Skretvedt (Bonaventure Press)


Having written and compiled definitive books about Laurel and Hardy, Skretvedt is the ideal person to trace the history of Victor Herbert’s operetta, which became a vehicle for L&H in 1934. It was an ambitious and troubled production for Hal Roach, and Skretvedt unfolds the story in detail, with startlingly rare photos and illustrations (including a greeting card “drawn” by Walt Disney and signed to Oliver Hardy). The film’s afterlife is a sage unto itself, hence the alternate title March of the Wooden Soldiers. To learn new information about a 90-year-old film is stimulating, to say the least.







MUCH MORE THAN A STOOGE: SHEMP HOWARD by Geoff Dale, Foreword by Geri Howard Greenbaum, Jill Howard Marcus and Sandie Howard Isaac (BearManor Media)


Fans of the Three Stooges will want to check out this new release from the ever-productive BearManor Media. It features a foreword by Shemp’s daughter-in-law and two granddaughters, and thoughts about Shemp from a number of longtime admirers (including yours truly) from the fields of academia as well as show business. Rare photos and illustrations, including definitive portraits by pop culture artist supreme Drew Friedman, flesh out the text. There is also a complete filmography of Shemp’s screen work with and without Moe and Larry.





HOLLYWOOD AND THE MOVIES OF THE FIFTIES by Foster Hirsch (Knopf)


The subtitle of this book sums up its contents: “The collapse of the studio system, the thrill of Cinerama, and the Invasion of the Ultimate Body Snatcher—Television.” Veteran author and film scholar Hirsch takes on this formidable subject and covers a lot of territory in 639 pages, opening with his vivid memory of watching This is Cinerama in its opening week in 1952. The frontispiece of this thick volume is a photo of Marilyn Monroe slicing a cake commemorating the first anniversary of CinemaScope.







50 OSCAR NIGHTS; ICONIC STARS & FILMMAKERS ON THEIR CAREER-DEFINING WINS by Dave Karger (Running Press/TCM)


Although he is best known today as one of the hosts on Turner Classic Movies, Karger is a career journalist who spent many years at Entertainment Weekly covering the Oscars, among other things. He has now produced an eminently browsable book tracing fifty Oscar winners and placing their award “moment” into the context of their careers, what was going on in the world around them, and who else was in the running. Each winner, from Emma Thompson to Elton John, also discloses where their gold statuette resides today. What fun!






OUTRAGEOUS: A HISTORY OF SHOWBIZ AND THE CULTURE WARS by Kliph Nesteroff (Abrams Press)


First online and more recently in such provocative books as The Comedians and We Had a Little Real Estate Problem, Nesteroff has proved himself an exceptional show business historian. His latest effort should be another eye-opener, exploring how performers, writers and filmmakers have always been a target of censors and self-appointed protectors of the status quo. It has blurbs from Steve Martin and Judd Apatow, which is one reason it’s at the top of the pile of books I plan to read over the holidays.






CHRISTMAS AT THE MOVIES: REVISED AND EXPANDED EDITION by Jeremy Arnold (Running Press/TCM)


It’s only been five years since Jeremy Arnold’s book first appeared but he has added 70 pages of material—including five new films—to this hardcover edition of his seasonal movie roundup. Like all the books in Running Press’s ongoing series of TCM tie-in books, this one is handsomely laid out and the photos (many of them rare) look great on coated paper stock. Arnold’s writing is graceful and knowledgeable.



JOHN FORD: REVISED AND EXPANDED EDITION by Joseph McBride and Michael Wilmington (University Press of Kentucky)

For nearly fifty years this has remained a foundational text for anyone studying admiring the work of John Ford. In this new edition, McBride has added notes on the silent films that were thought lost in 1974, plus essays on “three controversial aspects of Ford: his tragicomic sensibility, his views of race, and the influence of his Irish heritage.” The jacket copy also promises an expanded version of McBride’s interview with Ford on the last day of his career.







DESIGNING HOLLYWOOD: STUDIO WARDROBE IN THE GOLDEN AGE by Christian Esquiven (University Press of Kentucky)

The author of an entire book about the celebrated Gilbert Adrian, whose last name alone was synonymous with Hollywood glamour, Esquiven provides a useful survey of costumes based on the men and women who worked for the seven major movie studios. Stills, sketches and designs support the informative text.







BREAKING THE CODE: OTTO PREMINGER VS. HOLLYWOOD’S CENSORS by Arnie Reisman and Nat Segaloff (Applause)

This ever-timely book chronicles the battles producer-director Otto Preminger fought with the Motion Picture Association (then known as MPAA, nowadays just MPA) beginning with his innocuous comedy The Moon is Blue in 1953 and continuing through the end of his career. Also included is the play Code Blue which was written by the prolific Segaloff and his late collaborator Reisman.







ALL ABOUT HARRY: HARRY WARNER, BREAKING THE SILENCE by Cass Warner Sperling (Cass Warner)


Jack Warner may have been the youngest of the four Warner Brothers who formed a movie studio one hundred years ago but he was the one who sought—and found—the spotlight. His older brother Harry is less known, although he never missed an opportunity to express his patriotism and gratitude to the country that adopted him. His granddaughter Cass, whose father was producer Milton Sperling, has self-published this loving biographical tribute to her grandfather. She has also revised and reissued the 1994 book THE BROTHERS WARNER, written with Cork Miller and Jack Warner, Jr. in a WB 100th Anniversary Edition.






CANDID MONSTERS 21: Forbidden Planet, Invisible Boy by Steven Jay Rubin and Frederick S. Clarke (Ted A. Bohus)

It’s been decades since I first read Steve Rubin’s account of the making of Forbidden Planet in Cinefantastique magazine and I’ve never forgotten it. That article is the core of this hardcover book, which also includes interviews with Leslie Nielsen, Anne Francis, and other cast members from the 1956 classic. No one attempting to document the sci-fi films of the 1950s today could make a move without referring to this primary source material, accompanied here by dozens of photos, artwork and diagrams. As a bonus, Rubin has added his never-published piece on The Invisible Boy, which returned Robby the Robot to the big screen in a much less ambitious vehicle. 






GEORGE HURRELL’S HOLLYWOOD: REVISED EDITION by Mark A. Vieira (Running Press)


Even if you own a copy of the 2013 book that bears this title, I encourage you to spring for the new edition, which is available in both hardcover and quality paperback versions. Vieira learned everything he knows about photography from Hurrell and has re-scanned all the photos for this reissue, which is printed on heavy coated paper stock. It’s absolutely gorgeous. What’s more, the biographical material is as commanding as the photographs.

Leonard Maltin is one of the world’s most respected film critics and historians. He is best known for his widely-used reference work Leonard Maltin’s Movie Guide and its companion volume Leonard Maltin’s Classic Movie Guide, now in its third edition, as well as his thirty-year run on television’s Entertainment Tonight. He teaches at the USC School of Cinematic Arts and appears regularly on Reelz Channel and Turner Classic Movies. His books include The 151 Best Movies You’ve Never Seen, Of Mice and Magic: A History of American Animated Cartoons, The Great Movie Comedians, The Disney Films, The Art of the Cinematographer, Movie Comedy Teams, The Great American Broadcast, and Leonard Maltin’s Movie Encyclopedia. He served two terms as President of the Los Angeles Film Critics Association, is a voting member of the National Film Registry, and was appointed by the Librarian of Congress to sit on the Board of Directors of the National Film Preservation Foundation. He hosted and co-produced the popular Walt Disney Treasures DVD series and has appeared on innumerable television programs and documentaries. He has been the recipient of awards from the American Society of Cinematographers, the Telluride Film Festival, Anthology Film Archives, and San Diego’s Comic-Con International. Perhaps the pinnacle of his career was his appearance in a now-classic episode of South Park. (Or was it Carmela consulting his Movie Guide on an episode of The Sopranos?) He holds court at leonardmaltin.com. Follow him on Twitter and Facebook; you can also listen to him on his weekly podcast: Maltin on Movies. — [Artwork by Drew Friedman]

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