I am long overdue in covering some of these titles so they aren’t really “new” any more…but they are worthy of your attention, and that’s the point. As always, this is a survey rather than a series of reviews, based on skimming rather than careful reading.
Would it interest you to know that the masterful (and staggeringly versatile) Stephen Fry is a great admirer of Laurel and Hardy? Or that a great actor like Alfred Molina begins his process by reading a play “over and over and over again. My intelligence is limited,” he says “but I have a great imagination.” You’ll find a wide array of insights in Barbara Cooper’s conversations with Eileen Atkins, Joan Collins, Samantha Eggar, Jeremy Irons, Derek Jacobi, Ben Kingsley, John Mills, Angela Lansbury, Michael York, and other gifted British actors in this lively and intelligent collection of interviews. If you’d like to obtain a personally autographed copy at a discount price of $30 postpaid, contact the author directly at PenInc1@aol.com.
WILLIAM FOX AND THE FOX FILM CORPORATION; A BIOGRPAHY AND A CHRONICLE by Merrill T. McCord
This is a formidable volume: in nearly 600 densely-packed, oversized pages, demon researcher McCord has attempted to tell the story of pioneer Fox and his incredible career, including filmographies of his early productions. To quote the author, “The filmography of features includes expanded synopses based primarily on comments of critics who actually saw the films at the time of their release. These comments were supplemented by carefully selected information from scripts, press material, biographies and autobiographies, and the original sources of those scenarios taken from plays, novels, and magazine stories. The productions are put in perspective by reports from exhibitors and by the assessments of newspaper and trade reviews (including British) representing the full spectrum of reactions and the sings of the times.” Silent-film buffs and scholars should be grateful to McCord for all the work he has invested in this book, which is privately published and available for $49 plus $6 shipping (payable by money order or check only) from Merrill T. McCord, 10208 Fleming Ave., Bethesda, MD 20814.
DESIGN FOR DYING: A LILLIAN FROST & EDITH HEAD NOVEL by Renee Patrick (Forge)
More than one imaginative writer and movie buff has found fictional gold in the lure and lore of vintage Hollywood. In this instance, author Patrick (actually the husband-and-wife team of Rosemarie and Vince Keenan) have turned their interest in costume designer Edith Head into a vehicle for a breezy crime novel. Not yet the legend she was to become, Head is obliged to join forces with department-store salesgirl Lillian Frost to solve the murder of Frost’s former roommate, who stole a gown from the Paramount wardrobe department. With upbeat reviews from publishing sources and fellow authors, I have a feeling this may lead to other crime-solving adventures for our heroines. (This is not the first time the colorful Ms. Head has inspired a fictional counterpart: remember Edna Mode in Pixar’s The Incredibles?)
I love Saturday matinee serials, so I am delighted that someone has finally turned a scholarly eye toward these neglected films. Yet there is a conundrum: the kind of people who still enjoy Flash Gordon and The Phantom Empire may not be willing to dive into Higgins’ erudite prose. Fortunately, the author has a sense of humor and perspective about these unpretentious chapter-plays. He knows they weren’t intended to be scrutinized, or studied at all. Even so, through careful analysis, he illuminates the way their creators fashioned formulas that satisfied their intended audience and met the exacting demands of tight budgets and schedules. As someone who screens Zorro’s Fighting Legion for his students every year, I derived particular enjoyment from Higgins’ canny analysis of the ingredients that make up every chapter, and how the storytellers cleverly stretch and compress time. I hope this valuable book inspires other film teachers to explore the wonders of the sound serial.
Just when you think you’ve got all the books you might need or want about film noir, along comes this exquisitely produced volume of photos (chosen by master photographer and curator Vieira), accompanied by lively remarks about the movies by reporters, columnists, critics, theater owners, and the people who made the pictures. Jane Greer discusses her memorable role in Out of the Past, quite eloquently, and adds, “It was a part made in heaven.” A small-town theater owner from Tennessee reports on Detour thusly: “PRC continues to surprise us with these little pictures. They have good plots and are well liked in our town.” This is the kind of coffee-table book that friends will pick up, start browsing, and have a difficult time putting down.
THE ESSENTIALS: 52 MUST-SEE MOVIES AND WHY THEY MATTER by Jeremy Arnold; foreword by Robert Osborne (Running Press)
We film buffs who revel in discovering rarities and oddities sometimes forget that in order to bring new generations into our circle we have to introduce them to the “greats.” Turner Classic Movies has been doing just that for years with its weekly “Essentials” series, and that in turn has inspired this excellent book. Author Arnold distills why each movie is a must-see, and augments his knowledgeable text with sidebar quotes from various TCM hosts (including Robert Osborne, Alec Baldwin, Rob Reiner, and Molly Haskell, among others) and easily digestible “What to Look For” features. Handsomely designed and packed with great photos, The Essentials would be a perfect gift for a young person who’s just dipping his or her toe into these waters…but I found it equally appealing.