Favorite Film Books of 2017


This was an especially inspiring year of reviewing film books at A Classic Movie Blog. I learned a lot and found so many new areas I wanted to explore, thanks to a truly marvelous selection of new releases. It wasn't easy to pick favorites, but this batch stood out because I was reluctant to finish each of these books and I thought about them a little longer than the others. I have excerpted my reviews below, titles link to the full post:



Opening Wednesday at a Theater or Drive-In Near You: The Shadow Cinema of the American '70s, Charles Taylor


Perhaps the best thing about Taylor's analysis is that he gives everything its proper due. He doesn't make claims for Godfather-level greatness when discussing these movies, but he does find their worth, both in pure entertainment value and the social commentary they offer. He discusses the shock value of Prime Cut (1972), while acknowledging what it has to say about the frustration and despair of the Vietnam era. Moments are allowed to exist for the thrill of it, but underlying themes of gender politics, injustice and the like are folded into the analysis.


It is also encouraging the way Taylor can celebrate 'B' cinema while also acknowledging its casualties. As much fun as exploitation can be, it often takes women, people of color and other marginalized groups as its victims. He finds room to appreciate the films, while also condemning the humiliations they inflict. In an unusual, and laudable move, he also relies heavily on the words of female critics to support his views.



You Ain't Heard Nothin' Yet: Interviews With Stars From Hollywood's Golden Era, James Bawden and Ron Miller


In his introduction to the book, Miller outlines his rules for interviews, which are grounded in respect for the humanity and personal privacy of his subjects. He reveals that often that regard for boundaries would lead to more confidences shared rather than less. For that reason, both he and Bawden, who seems to have taken a similar approach, drew something richer than a production history or a few benign on-set remembrances from these stars. You learn how Bette Davis was so disgusted kissing poor, sour-faced Edward G. Robinson that she had to close her eyes or get the low-down on Jane Russell’s conspiracy theories about the death of Marilyn Monroe. The stars stay remarkable to the reader for the unusual lives they’ve led, but they also become more human.


This is an addictive book. It’s charming, revealing and graceful in a way that speaks to the past. I would hope every aspiring journalist would read this and take a lesson from the rewards these men reaped by simply treating others with respect.



Hank & Jim: The Fifty-Year Friendship of Henry Fonda and James Stewart, Scott Eyman

I’ve always felt that platonic relationships don’t get enough attention from biographers, though they can often be the source of the most fascinating stories. With his new book, Hank & Jim, Scott Eyman demonstrates just how satisfying it can be to explore an enduring friendship. Henry Fonda and Jimmy Stewart offered each other solace that they couldn’t find from anyone else and their complex personas and uncomplicated bond make for an intriguing history.


The first part of the book is most rich with stories of the two. As they move on to marriage, parenthood and varied careers, their stories diverge for long periods. For a while, it feels like the best of their years together are behind them, but in the closing chapters the full meaning of their friendship emerges and it is incredibly moving.



Anne Bancroft: A Life, Douglass K. Daniel


As much as Bancroft craved and thrived living the actor’s life, she valued her family equally, if not more, and often made her personal life a priority. One of the most pleasing elements of the book is the way it explores her relationship with her second husband Mel Brooks. While this pairing of comedian and dramatic actress always seemed to puzzle the public, their marriage is one of the great Hollywood love stories. The pair was steadfastly devoted, living with compassion for each other, working around hectic schedules to be together and celebrating each other’s successes without a hint of jealousy.

Daniel takes a straightforward approach to telling Bancroft’s story, easily weaving together the personal and the professional. Given the wealth of material he has gotten from his sources, he wisely avoids adding his own analysis of the actress and lets her friends and associates fill out the details of her personality. The result is a rich, authentic portrait which effectively captures her essence.



Dangerous to Know, Renee Patrick


This is a mystery for those who think that cocktails, and conversation, should sparkle. Set in late 1930s Hollywood, when the word Hitler sent a chill down many a spine, and David O. Selznick was about to set his version of Atlanta aflame, it exists in a world of classic movies and pre-war intrigue. This installment follows Design for Dying, which like this book features Hollywood social secretary Lillian Frost and a fictionalized Edith Head, who in addition to their daily duties, solve mysteries on the side. Written by Renee Patrick, the pen name for husband and wife team Rosemarie and Vince Keenan, this engaging riff on the past juggles laughs, intrigue and suspense with a pleasing zest.



The Magnificent Heel: The Life and Films of Ricardo Cortez, Dan Van Neste

Though co-star to Stanwyck, Garbo, Young and Crawford, Ricardo Cortez has never achieved big name recognition in his own right. Classic film fans know him and love him, especially pre-code fanatics, but he is not familiar to the average movie fan. He never made a bonafide classic, but he's been in a lot of well-made films, like the underrated 1931 version of The Maltese Falcon, Midnight Mary (1933) and Wonder Bar (1934). Now in a new biography, Dan Van Neste gives this fascinating, but notoriously private actor and director his due.

I know that this book has been eagerly anticipated by many and I am happy to report that it is an entertaining, informative read that does its subject justice. A must for fans of the actor and pre-code lovers in particular.



Wayne and Ford: The Films, The Friendship and The Forging of an American Hero, Nancy Shoenberger


Schoenberger looks for insight into this unusual relationship by digging into their personal lives and films. As both men often had great control over the way their movies were made, they were often a reflection of who they were. Despite the differences in their personalities and relationships, in their cinematic explorations of love, duty and what it is to be a man, the two are found to have similar values.


While there was not much that was new to me here, having read individual biographies of Wayne and Ford, being able to focus on their bond and films helped me to better understand the influence they had on each other and their public.




Backwards and In Heels: The Past, Present and Future of Women in Hollywood, Alicia Malone

Malone has selected an interesting array of women to spotlight in the profiles that make up the bulk of her book. Her focus is intersectional and she covers creative, executive and technical professionals in her survey of female professionals. Her intention is to provide a brief overview of various issues and women in the interest of inspiring readers to dig deeper into each subject and there is a great list of books for further reading in the select biography.

I found this a satisfying reference in itself though; it would be a great starting point for anyone interested in the history of Hollywood. As much as they were denied, women have innovated a lot in this industry, from Dorothy Arzner inventing the boom mike and Ida Lupino and Lois Weber bringing social issues to popular cinema, to Margaret Booth all but creating the concept of film editor as the first person to hold that job title.


My deepest respect to these authors and all that they do to inform and entertain film lovers!

Book Review--Backwards and in Heels: The Past, Present and Future of Women Working in Film


Backwards and In Heels: The Past, Present and Future of Women Working in Film
Alicia Malone
Mango Publishing, 2017

I’ve been an admirer of film reporter and critic Alicia Malone ever since she came across my radar as a presenter for the FilmStruck streaming service. If you want to cover classic film as a reporter, you can’t study it, you have to have had a pile of VHS tapes stuck somewhere back in your childhood. It’s got to be in your blood. This is true of Malone, as she describes in the introduction of her powerful book Backwards and In Heels: The Past, Present and Future of Women in Film. She seems to have retained every film fact she’s ever learned through long years of fandom and she’s got great insight into everything she's absorbed, which makes this review of the female element of Hollywood all the more meaningful.

Despite being shut out of many opportunities over the years, the history of women in film is the history of film. Backwards and in Heels focuses on the Hollywood industry, which in its early years was filled with powerful women, only changing when making movies became a business and men took over. Malone follows the story of women in Hollywood from the silent years to the current day. As can be expected, it is often a frustrating history; we have lost so much simply because the talents of women, a half of our population, have been underused in the American film industry. There is also hope though, as seen in the stories of women like Geena Davis, Sherry Lansing Ava DuVernay and editor Joi McMillon who have pushed forward with passion, determination and creativity. Women have a long way to go in Hollywood, but they are definitely on their way.

Malone has selected an interesting array of women to spotlight in the profiles that make up the bulk of her book. Her focus is intersectional and she covers creative, executive and technical areas in her survey of female professionals. Her intention is to provide a brief overview of various issues and women in the interest of inspiring readers to dig deeper into each subject. There is a great list of books for further reading in the select biography for further information.

I found this a satisfying reference in itself though; it would be a great starting point for anyone interested in the history of Hollywood. As much as they were denied, women have innovated a lot in this industry, from Dorothy Arzner inventing the boom mike and Ida Lupino and Lois Weber bringing social issues to popular cinema, to Margaret Booth all but creating the concept of film editor as the first person to hold that job title.

Malone has become a strong advocate for the promotion of women in Hollywood, including giving two Ted talks and several other speaking engagements. Her voice is incredibly valuable, because as she makes clear in the book, we are starting to see progress because the conversation about achieving parity in Hollywood is now ongoing and alive. As long as people in the industry keep talking, these issues will remain top of mind. I hope that she will continue to lead as a voice for this issue, speaking for the women who built Hollywood and those who will push it forward into a much more inclusive future.


Deanna Durbin Sings Silent Night



The Christmas spirit always truly envelopes me when I hear Deanna Durbin sing Silent Night.

I watch this scene from Lady on a Train (1945) every year, because it gives me a feeling of peace that I feel should be a part of the season, but because of the chaos of celebration and preparation often isn't. Now in an increasingly chaotic world, I find it even more comforting and inspiring. I hope Deanna Durbin knew how much joy she spread by simply sharing her voice.

Happy Holidays, Solstice, New Year or whatever it is that inspires you to eat, drink and be merry. Thank you for reading.

On Blu-ray: Rosalind Russell as Auntie Mame (1958)


Auntie Mame (1958) is an outrageously charming film. It insists on your love. Against all odds it even charmed my Taylor Swift-loving skeptical tween. As she sat there howling at Rosalind Russell attempting and failing to master the complexities of a telephone switchboard I felt the awe of a true classic. Now this utterly adorable film is available on Blu-ray from Warner Archive.

While the story of Auntie Mame began as a pair of novels written by Patrick Dennis, the film is more closely based on the stage production, which was inspired by the writer’s first book about his frisky heroine. It was a career rejuvenating success for Russell, as would be the film. When she took Mame to the big screen, her stage costars Yuki Shimodo (as her high-spirited butler) and Peggy Cass (as the hapless secretary Agnes Gooch) would come with her.

The most famous line to come from Auntie Mame is Russell’s in-character proclamation that “life is a banquet, and most poor suckers are starving to death.” That is in essence the heart of this film, in which the alternately wealthy and near destitute, but always vibrantly adventurous Mame navigates her way through life. As the story begins, she is united with her newly-orphaned nephew Patrick. While she has no intention of giving up her wildly eccentric lifestyle, one of the most endearing aspects of her character is that she immediately showers her new charge with love and dedicates herself to his happiness and well-being.

As Patrick grows up and Mame finds herself in varying degrees of prosperity, the pair encounters a cast of characters with an eccentric energy much like Preston Sturges’ regular ensemble. The interaction between these players is in essence a clash between living with abandon and pursuing so-called respectability.

On one side there is Mame’s best gal pal the actress Vera Charles (Coral Browne) who wakes up most mornings with a hangover in her bestie's spare bedroom, Ms. Gooch who goes from drinking Dr. Pepper to black out drunkenness and unplanned pregnancy, and the always game Ito who doesn’t bat an eye at any of it. On the other there is everyone’s favorite excuse for smashing the patriarchy, the authoritative Fred Clark as Dwight Babcock, executor of Patrick’s fortune and education, the young boy’s vapid upper class girlfriend Gloria Upson (Joanna Barnes), and her hideously anti-Semitic parents Doris and Claude Upson (Lee Patrick and Willard Waterman). These broadly-drawn characters are perfectly cast support to Russell, who seems to be living her role. Altogether, it is a wildly entertaining ensemble; there is never a threat of boredom.

As delightful as the cast is the look of Auntie Mame. Russell and Browne in particular have such drool-worthy costumes that I can’t believe this production is not known as a fashion film. The sets are also a lot of fun, as Mame goes through several different phases which she reflects in her interior decoration. I particularly love a cocktail party scene where she tortures her guests by lowering and raising her Avant garde couches with a series of pulleys.

There is so much to recommend this vibrant, colorful film with true substance and love at its core. It is a treat to finally be able to enjoy it on Blu-ray.

The bright colors and elaborate sets of Auntie Mame look sharp and clean on the Blu-ray. Special features on the disc include a trailer for the film, a trailer for the Lucille Ball-starring musical version of the story Mame (1974), which shows how drab and horrifying it is in comparison. There is also a music-only audio track which highlights Bronislaw Kaper’s score, which I found curious since the music is the one element of the film that I don’t find at all memorable.

Many thanks to Warner Archive for providing a copy of the film for review. To order, visit The Warner Archive Collection.

Book Review--We'll Always Have Casablanca: The Life, Legend and Afterlife of Hollywood's Most Beloved Movie


We’ll Always Have Casablanca: The Life, Legend, and Afterlife of Hollywood’s Most Beloved Movie
Noah Isenberg
W. W. Norton & Company, 2017

Few films have won the unanimous acclaim of the classic to end all classics Casablanca (1942). While the World War II era romantic drama has had plenty of detractors over the years, no one can deny its enduring impact on movie culture and the unique magnetism which has always held it above other cinematic works. Now, to celebrate the movie’s 75th year entrancing audiences, Noah Isenberg has written an in depth celebration and exploration of the film.

The book follows the progression of this celluloid phenomenon from its stage play origins to the way it has influenced audiences and artists throughout the years. It’s an interesting journey, as the production takes on new layers of meaning through each step of its existence.

As the play Everybody Comes to Rick’s the essential plot that formed the basis of Casablanca was intriguing enough to attract the attention of studio heads, but as not much more than a story that could attract enough ticket buyers to turn a profit. It is on the movie set where this budding classic found its soul. While there was a member of the production who called one of the trio of stars “Paul Hemorrhoid”, it seems that for the most part the set was a happy one. It is here that the combination of great screenwriters, the dedication of director Michael Curtiz, perfectly cast roles and the very real connection of the supporting players to the story that the film became something more significant than the latest attraction.

That last element is key to the significance of Casablanca and one of Isenberg’s most interesting points: this film about refugees was packed full of actual refugees playing their own lives. Performers like Marcel Dalio, S.K. Sakall and Conrad Veidt had all escaped with their lives from Nazis. Though grateful to be safe and employed, Veidt was particularly bothered that he found the final successes of his life effectively playing the Nazis he had loathed. The set was filled with actors like these, speaking various languages, enjoying the California sun, but longing for home. They offered each other support, and their own traumas and fears gave the final product a feeling of authentic heartbreak and peril.

The rich diversity of the cast, coupled with a witty and sometimes subversive script gave Casablanca an edge over other productions of its time. Isenberg details the various contributors to the script, from the stolid Howard Koch to the playful twin writing partners Julius Epstein and Philip Epstein, with some mention also given to the uncredited contributions of Casey Robinson. He also gives ample attention to the remarkably talented, wide-ranging cast, paying particularly poignant tribute to vocalist Dooley Wilson, whose rendition of the film’s love theme captures its spirit.

Isenberg’s production notes and analysis of the unusually devoted fan following to develop in the decades after the film’s release are tightly and effectively written, forging a confident and compelling narrative. He is less surefooted when he explores the cultural impact of the film, losing a bit of organizational sharpness and occasionally granting excessive significance and attention to the various cinematic, literary and musical offerings inspired by Casablanca. However, this is for the most part a solid, compelling work which successfully reveals the essence of this remarkable film and analyzes the source of its magic with great conviction.

Many thanks to W.W. Norton & Company for providing a copy of the book for review.

Double Dealing DVDs: Kind Lady (1935/1951) and Strictly Dishonorable (1931/1951)


Ever try watching a double feature that is two versions of the same story? I did it at a film festival once. It was a screening of the silent Chinese film Cave of the Spider Woman (1927) and its glossier go-go remake The Cave of the Silken Web (1967). What struck me most about the pairing was how much more I enjoyed the individual films when I had the added interest of comparing them to each other.

That is the experience I had watching a pair of original/remake double features from Warner Archive recently. The DVD double feature debuts of Strictly Dishonorable (1931/1951) and Kind Lady (1935/1951) stuck with me a lot longer than they would had I seen only one of the films in each set. The former pair was pleasant fun, while the latter filled me with dread, but won my appreciation.

Strictly Dishonorable (1931/1951)

Though the source of this comedy romance is a successful Preston Sturges play, neither screen version has quite the sexy oomph that the director could give to his stories. The films are different takes on the story of a young woman who ditches her uptight fiancée for a more exciting Italian opera singer.

The raciest is unsurprisingly the pre-code one, starring Sidney Fox as the restless lady, George Meeker as her rude husband-to-be and Paul Lukas as the taller and more romantic man of song. Meeker is one of those utterly baffling screen boyfriends: he’s unattractive, irritable and seems to hate everyone and everything, which makes you question Fox’s wisdom in taking up with him in the first place. 

Fox starts to acquire better taste when they encounter Lukas in a speakeasy and over the course of a night he seduces her seemingly by not being an uptight jerk, though the accent had to help. Fox is an odd actress; she can seem passive, but if you spend enough time watching her, her subversive nature begins to reveal itself and you begin to understand who is in control. This isn’t as steamy or playful as it should be, but it’s cute.

The MGM remake is very much of its age: glossy, cheerful and with a more elaborate plot. Opera star Enzio Pinza plays the lead and there are several pleasant, if unmemorable musical numbers in the film to show off his talents. In this version Janet Leigh is a young actress in one of singer's stage productions who is obsessed with him, while her stuffy boyfriend (Arthur Franz) wants her to give up the business and settle with him in New Jersey. Here the story expands to unfold over more than a night and takes on subplots involving revenge, spies, breach of promise and then more revenge. It’s too busy to have the same intimate charm as the original, and the extensive age difference between Pinza and Leigh adds a creep factor, but it is jaunty and pleasantly brisk in that familiar MGM style.


Kind Lady (1935/1951)

I was a bit stunned by how strongly I was affected by both versions of this thriller, which is also based on a stage play. They’re two solid productions that succeed in dramatically different ways. The core story is of a wealthy woman who lives with her cook and maid. She is known for her kindness, so it is not surprising when she takes an interest in a struggling painter. By the time she realizes his intentions are not honorable, he has already taken control of her life.

The 1935 version stars Aline MacMahon as the lady, which is a departure from the play which featured an elderly heroine. She makes the part work though, relying on her character’s heart ailment to give her the necessary fragility. Basil Rathbone is the seedy painter and while he is attractive, MacMahon quickly becomes ill at ease in his presence. Nevertheless, he quickly cons her into taking in his supposedly ailing wife and child while an additional cast of unsavory characters descend on her home. 

Suddenly this sharp, compassionate woman is rendered powerless and in danger of losing the art collection she treasures. It’s an incredibly uncomfortable film to watch; MacMahon is completely loveable and she suffers so much. That it is well made and unbearably tense is undeniable though.

While the 1951 remake returns to form by casting the elderly Ethel Barrymore in the lead, there’s almost no frailty about her. Though Maurice Evans is much more physically threatening than the merely greedy Rathbone, this grand dame doesn’t lose her head. Even though she is overpowered by the advances of this psychopathic creep and his band of thugs (including the excellent Keenan Wynn, Betsy Byers and Angela Lansbury), she remains icy, swiping away breakfast trays like a queen and shaming them all. She is also allowed to be much sharper in this version, using her compassion to find allies and in the process saving herself.

I loved the contrasts between these two films and the amazing performances of the leads. While the plot was essentially the same for each the tone was dramatically different. The original oozes with greed, bizarre little quirks and emotionally imbalanced characters, leaving you wondering if anyone is on even footing. It gets under your skin a bit. 

Barrymore’s bad ass take on her character adds a bit more straight shooting pleasure to the remake, but she faces a much more disturbing villain in Evans, who enjoys causing fear as much as he desires feeding his greed. It was not easy watching these lovable women go through what they do in these films, but they are both tense, well-acted thrillers.

Many thanks to Warner Archive for providing copies of the films for review. These are Manufacture on Demand (MOD) DVDs. To order, visit The Warner Archive Collection.

On DVD: 1939 Rarities Full Confession and Beauty for the Asking


I recently had the chance to check out a pair of pleasantly entertaining 1939 rarities making their debut on DVD from Warner Archive: Full Confession, with Victor McLaglen and Beauty for the Asking, staring a pre-hilarious Lucille Ball. While it is understandable that this slight pair got lost in the shuffle during the legendary year in Hollywood that brought Gone with the Wind, The Women, Wuthering Heights and the like to audiences, they have their own charms.

I’ve always looked on Victor McLaglen as a more sincere version of Wallace Beery. He blunders around in much the same way, relying a bit too much on his physical power and impulsive decision making to get through life, and finding trouble because of it, but unlike Beery, he seems to understand his weaknesses on some level. He isn’t “aw shucks” about it, but rather has the decency to feel a little shame when he goes too far.

In the John Farrow-directed Full Confession (1939), he plays this familiar character in a story that often feels more like religious melodrama than the crime drama it is claimed to be. McLaglen is Pat McGinnis, a somewhat cuddly, but also dangerous man who is arrested after he steals a fur coat for his waitress girlfriend Molly Sullivan (Sally Eilers). He is shuffled off to a work farm to serve out his sentence, with the police unaware that he has committed the much more serious crime of killing a policeman during another attempted warehouse crime earlier in the night.

Through an unfortunate series of events, the warehouse night watchman Michael O’Keefe (Barry Fitzgerald) who McGinnis knocked out before the crime is convicted of the murder and faces execution. His pastor Father Loma (Joseph Calleia), who also knows McGinnis, learns the truth and much of the film involves his quest to free O’Keefe.

It’s a bit alarming the way the soundtrack full of weeping strings and several scenes of McGinnis and Sullivan being sweet on each other seem to be indicating that Pat isn’t the dangerous monster he is. Impulsive, aggressive and with no apparent desire to assimilate into society, you know that violence and despair are in Molly’s future if they marry and there are moments that she seems to realize that as well. Father Loma is fully aware of how dangerous and reprehensible the situation is though and he doesn’t hesitate to talk tough.

While none of it is terribly compelling, the disconnect between the film’s attempt to present a sweet couple and the darkness of the truth is intriguingly unsettling. Calleia is also oddly interesting; his sureness of purpose and complete moral certainty could only fully work in a cinematic world, but he lends an interesting edge to his determined man of religion.


Long before Lucille Ball realized her comic genius, she was an appealing, if not totally dazzling star of several genres besides comedy. Starring in the romance Beauty for the Asking (1939) as a beauty salon attendant who cashes in on her brilliant recipe for cold cream while shaking off a yen for the lousy boyfriend who dumped her, she is sharp, lovely and deeply sympathetic.

The bad beau is salesman Denny Williams (Patric Knowles) who leaves the lovely Jean Russell (Ball), for whom he feels passion, for the unpolished but insanely wealthy Flora Barton-Williams (Frieda Inescourt), who can provide him with comfort and access to plenty of illicit society side pieces. Jean realizes Denny is no good, but she can’t shake her passion for him and when Flora has him help her with her cold cream business as a term of her financial support, she struggles to hold him at arm’s length.

On the sidelines is the much cuter Jeff Martin (Donald Woods), who helps Jean with ads and waits hopefully for her to notice him. As her slightly dim-witted gal pal Gwen, Inez Courtney supports Jean’s business and her desire to put a Denny in the past. She is also responsible for the comic elements of the film. In a scene of physical comedy that is at odds with the more dialogue-driven humor of the rest of the film, Courtney is mildly amusing, and knowing what we do of Ball now, it is odd to see her gamely playing straight woman to a much lesser comic performer.

Beauty for the Asking
is at its best when it embraces the feminism at its core. Jean thrives while pursuing her dreams of business success and she isn’t ruthless in fulfilling them either. In fact, she throws genuine, generous support to Flora; their strengthening sisterhood is the most satisfying aspect of the story. Most films from this era featuring strong-willed, independent women force you to avert your eyes from implausible endings where the heroine collapses from the exhaustion of being great and retreats into marriage. Here there is no compromise and instead a satisfying feeling of victory.


Many thanks to Warner Archive for providing copies of the films for review. These are Manufacture on Demand (MOD) DVDs. To order, visit The Warner Archive Collection.

Book Review--You Ain't Heard Nothin' Yet: Interviews With Stars From Hollywood's Golden Era


You Ain’t Heard Nothin’ Yet: Interviews with Stars from Hollywood’s Golden Era
James Bawden and Ron Miller
University Press of Kentucky, 2017

One of the saddest things about the passing of writer and TCM television host Robert Osborne was that the entertainment world lost one of its best interviewers. Knowledgeable, attentive and always a gentleman, his subjects were often inspired to open up because they trusted him, and rightly so. I often thought of this while reading You Ain’t Heard Nothin’ Yet: Interviews with Stars from Hollywood’s Golden Era a collection of dozens of interviews of classic film stars conducted by journalists James Bawden and Ron Miller. These two possess all the desirable qualities Osborne did and it shows in the depth and candid nature of their work.

The book is organized into several sections, with both broad and specific categories. There are the extensive Leading Men and Leading Ladies chapters and then smaller tributes to child stars, movie monster men, character actors and the like. Context is provided for each interview, including a brief biography of the subject and a description of the circumstances of the interview; both of which were helpful in understanding the conversation to follow.

Bawden and Miller draw material from long careers and strong relationships with the residents of Tinsel Town. The names could be as big as Bette Davis, Elizabeth Taylor and Henry Fonda. While these conversations with industry giants are satisfying, devoted classic film fans might treasure hearing the words of lesser known performers like Bonita Granville, Jack Elam and Hurd Hatfield even more. Overall, it’s an interesting gathering of talents, intriguing enough that it was difficult to decide which one to read next.

In his introduction to the book, Miller outlines his rules for interviews, which are grounded in respect for the humanity and personal privacy of his subjects. He reveals that often that regard for boundaries would lead to more confidences shared rather than less. For that reason, both he and Bawden, who seems to have taken a similar approach, drew something richer than a production history or a few benign on-set remembrances from these stars. You learn how Bette Davis was so disgusted kissing poor, sour-faced Edward G. Robinson that she had to close her eyes or get the low-down on Jane Russell’s conspiracy theories about the death of Marilyn Monroe. The stars stay remarkable to the reader for the unusual lives they’ve led, but they also become more human.

There’s an almost bittersweet feel to the You Ain’t Heard Nothin’ Yet, because the interviews were mostly conducted late in the careers of the stars featured. Most of them have happy experiences to share and a sense of satisfaction with their successes, but there are also disappointments, loss and regrets. There’s Victor Mature, who made as much money as he had to, as soon as he could, and happily retired to marriage, fatherhood and the golf course, but there’s also Buster Keaton, who struggled after the silent age and had to work past his desire to do so because of unlucky investments and a rocky life. For the most part though, it’s fascinating to learn how these stars felt about the remarkable lives they led and especially how they interacted with other performers. It’s encouraging that they seem to have so many genuinely appreciative memories to share about each other, though it's always entertaining to get a little jab here and there as well.

This is an addictive book. It’s charming, revealing and graceful in a way that speaks to the past. I would hope every aspiring journalist would read this and take a lesson from the rewards these men reaped by simply treating others with respect.

Many thanks to University Press of Kentucky for providing a copy of the book for review.

On DVD: A Myrna Loy and William Powell Double Feature


Myrna Loy and William Powell co-starred in thirteen films, and they are by far most popular for playing the adorably debauched Nora and Nick Charles in the Thin Man series. While this is understandable, the pair create the most effervescent of screen couples as hard-drinking, merry spouses, it is a shame that the rest of their efforts have fallen aside as a result. Almost all of their pairings are satisfying entertainment and many are as worthy of classic status as those famous mysteries. This pair of flicks now on DVD from Warner Archive provides two solid examples of their best non-series work.


Evelyn Prentice (1934)


So much of the success of this society murder drama depends on the appeal of Loy and Powell. It could have come off a bit creaky had it been made a few years earlier and with less adorable leads. As it is, it isn’t one of the best of their pairings, but it is solidly engrossing and much helped by the glamorous clothes, clubs and fancy parties that form their milieu.

Loy is the titular society wife of a busy lawyer. Though deeply in love with her husband, she never sees him and soon finds herself in too deep with a flirtatious, but dangerous writer. Mr. Prentice is not much better, briefly giving in to the advances of an emotionally fragile client, who is played by Rosalind Russell with unnerving gravity and banality given how she would later sparkle in even the darkest of roles.

Una Merkel is perfect as Loy’s best friend, really the only actress who could go from goofy to gravely serious with such ease as she does here. In a wonderfully tense courtroom scene Isabell Jewell is remarkably effective as one of Powell’s clients. There are so many times that she could have gone over the top, but she instead maintains a marvelous tension that ebbs and flows in a monologue in which she almost steals the film.

Special features on the disc include the comedy short Goofy Movies #3, the cartoon The Discontented Canary and a theatrical trailer.


Love Crazy (1941)

While Loy and Powell are charming and romantic in all of their films together, I think this is their sexiest pairing. They are so erotically in sync with each other that you almost feel guilty intruding on their time alone together. As an eccentric couple celebrating their fourth wedding anniversary, they so clearly still have honeymoon-caliber hots for each other that you’d think nothing could drive them apart. Instead, they spend the entire film being pulled apart for the silliest reasons and making great comedy in the process.

I watched this with a packed house at the TCM Classic Film Festival and it was clear the crowd felt itself in the presence of a classic. Perhaps the larger success of the Thin Man series has overshadowed it to a degree, but there’s really no good reason this funny flick isn’t better known. The giddily balanced mix of sharp wordplay and physical humor are the most adventurous of the Loy and Powell films and the risks it takes pay off.

The supporting cast is full of marvelous troublemakers. Florence Bates is a nightmare as Loy’s clueless mother, who thinks nothing of crashing and ruining her daughter’s anniversary dinner. Gail Patrick is predictably slippery as Powell’s former and still interested lover and Jack Carson is amusingly brash as the alliteratively ridiculous Ward Willoughby. The title is appropriate, because this crew gets increasingly wilder, topping itself with new absurdities until the very end.

Special features include the cartoon The Alley Cat, a Screen Directors Guild Playhouse Radio Broadcast of the story and a theatrical trailer.

Many thanks to Warner Archive for providing copies of the films for review. These are Manufacture on Demand (MOD) DVDs. To order, visit The Warner Archive Collection.

On DVD: 6 Pre-Codes from Warner Archive


With a wave of new releases, it is clear that Warner Archive has not forgotten its promise to keep pre-code fans satisfied, despite the end of its Forbidden Hollywood series. Here are six titles making their DVD debut:



Broadway Babies (1929)

For a while in the late twenties and early thirties, it looked like Alice White was shooting to big screen stardom. With big eyes, fluttering eyelashes and bubbly charm, this blonde Clara Bowish-pixie confidently made the transition to talkies, as can be seen here in her screen musical debut. She had a limited talent though; her appeal was more of the featured player variety. Money demands, audience disinterest and scandal contributed to her woes and eventually she returned to her secretarial roots.

Here White is at her best, holding the screen with marginal dancing and singing talent, but managing to be mesmerizing nevertheless. As a showgirl who drops her boyfriend for a bootlegger and shares a room with two other aspiring stars (the adorable Sally Eilers and Marion Byron), she trots out all the tropes that would become standard in years of films to come. The film is at its best when the trio of showgirls is together; their energetic interplay is always fun to watch. Unlike those notorious early screen musicals with leaden choreography and awkwardly-paced numbers, here the many songs are light-hearted and entertaining, with fleet-footed tapping and pleasing production design.



Playing Around (1930)

Here White plays the daughter of cigar counter manager, who is bored with her childhood sweetheart (William Bakewell) and looking for excitement. You can’t blame her, as the eternally startled-looking boyfriend orders buttermilk when he goes to a nightclub and scolds her constantly. Sleek, playful gangster Chester Morris seduces her with his sense of fun and she doesn’t bother to ask him how he makes his living. She soon learns the truth about him in the worst way, when one of his crimes affects her family.

You hope White will eventually search for an option three as both Bakewell and Morris are no good for her. She’s fun to watch and Morris seems to be getting a kick out of adding weird touches to his sleazy, but stimulating character.



Big Business Girl (1931)

In one of her early “vulnerable, but not so innocent” roles, 18-year-old Loretta Young plays a socialite in debt who goes to work while her musician husband (Frank Albertson) skips across the pond for a Parisian gig. She works her way up in an ad office, from secretary to copy writer (sound familiar Mad Men fans?). With his signature wolfish grin, boss Ricardo Cortez goes after Young and she is diplomatic for the sake of her career, much to the irritation of Albertson when he returns. The thing is, he has also compromised himself romantically to get ahead. Joan Blondell appears in a small part, she doesn’t make an appearance until the last fifteen minutes of the film, but she gives the proceedings so much life that it is worth watching the film to see her.



She Had to Say Yes (1933)

This drama is based on a concept that was surely icky at the time and which has become downright repulsive over the years. In Busby Berkeley’s directorial debut, Loretta Young is a secretary in a clothing manufacturer’s office who is pressured to entertain out-of-town buyers for a “bonus”. As one dame in the steno pool notes, “a bonus is only one of the things you can get from an out-of-town buyer.” The film plays lightly with sexual harassment and assault, presenting women as objects to be ogled and offered for sale. Young finds herself in an impossible position, expected to remain honest and pure while her self-absorbed beaux demand the freedom to do as they please. While there is no chance Young will remain single at the end of it all, it is dispiriting to see her abandon her standards with an air of inevitability. Depressing as it is, this is an excellent portrayal of the limitations women endured and continue to face today in a male dominated world.



Wide Open (1930)

Edward Everett Horton gets to play a rare romantic leading role in this farcical comedy about an ambitious phonograph company employee who finds himself in the crosshairs of two amorous ladies (Louise Fazenda, Patsy Ruth Miller). He doesn’t seem to care for their kind, even quipping at one point, “I never spoiled a reputation in my life…male or female.” The cast is full of gum-snapping, wise-cracking supporting characters that play to the back row like seasoned vaudevillians. As Horton’s patient maid, Louise Beavers comes off better than her character is written; crackling with her unique, wide-eyed charisma.

While the performers have pep and there’s an amusing absurdity to it all, the film becomes a long hour in the end.



The Washington Masquerade (1932)

Lionel Barrymore is an idealistic lawyer who wins a senate seat and sets his sights on cleaning up Washington. Instead he falls for and marries Karen Morley’s glittering society dame, who is seeing the dangerously pretty Nils Asther on the side and plotting her husband’s corruption. These elements play out as expected: with Barrymore hooking his thumbs into his vest and mulling each noble word, Morley talking sweet on one side and dirty the other and Asther always looking up to no good, as he does.

Alongside the predictable, there are many subtle delights in this film that give it more punch than you’d expect. It’s filmed with care, with beautifully composed shots and evocative lighting. Barrymore is framed at a distance, beneath an enormous doorway and you feel how he is in over his head. There is also the fascinating interaction between Morley and Barrymore; she was such an intelligent actress and he seems to respond to her, letting her excise the ham from his performance in their scenes together (he lets loose the rest of the time). As Barrymore’s concerned daughter, Diane Sinclair makes much of what would normally be an unsympathetic, if noble role, telegraphing her profound worry without a hint of the jealousy or pettiness that could have threatened the depth of her performance.

Many thanks to Warner Archive for providing copies of the films for review. These are Manufacture on Demand (MOD) DVDs. To order, visit The Warner Archive Collection.

Book Review--Hank & Jim: The Fifty-Year Friendship of Henry Fonda and James Stewart


Hank & Jim: The Fifty Year Friendship of Henry Fonda and James Stewart
Scott Eyman
Simon & Schuster, 2017

What you learn is never what’s said. It’s what’s done.

-Jane Fonda


I’ve always felt that platonic relationships don’t get enough attention from biographers, though they can often be the source of the most fascinating stories. With his new book, Hank & Jim, Scott Eyman demonstrates just how satisfying it can be to explore an enduring friendship. Henry Fonda and Jimmy Stewart offered each other solace that they couldn’t find from anyone else and their complex personas and uncomplicated bond make for an intriguing history.

The actors met briefly in college and truly connected when they were roommates with two other struggling stage-struck friends in New York. When they eventually migrated to Hollywood, the pair rented a house together, building a home base for each other until Fonda married. After that, they would often live close enough for frequent visits and just as often work across the country from each other, going wherever the roles led them, but their bond endured to the end of their lives.

While the men were different in significant ways: Stewart was warm, right wing and adored making movies; Fonda was icy, firmly liberal and preferred the stage, they shared a sort of detachment from others. Essentially self-contained loners, they found their greatest bond in simply understanding each other and that would often mean that the things they didn’t say to each other were as significant as the things they did. They were perhaps at their closest when they spent hours together not speaking at all. The men also shared a sense of duty and honor, not always unwavering when it came to personal relationships, but solid professionally and when it came to their military service in World War II.

In their early years, the pair behaved like two boys at play. Though both men cut a swath through the ladies of Hollywood, there was nevertheless a sort of innocence to them. Obsessed with building elaborate model airplanes from their New York days to the early years in Hollywood, they’d spend hours funneling their excess energy into their latest project. Fonda and Stewart also had a soft spot for animals, which got out of control when a colony of feral cats overwhelmed their rental home. They were also fond of playing elaborate practical jokes, which they learned to execute with devilish skill.

The first part of the book is most rich with stories of the two. As they move on to marriage, parenthood and varied careers, their stories diverge for long periods. For a while, it feels like the best of their years together are behind them, but in the closing chapters the full meaning of their friendship emerges and it is incredibly moving.

As much as Fonda and Stewart could be loners, the other relationships in their lives were vibrant, with many of them enduring for decades. They were both eternally in love with Margaret Sullavan, though Fonda was the one to marry her, if briefly. He would find a less turbulent love with his fifth wife Shirlee and Stewart found a partner for life when he married a widow named Gloria and became father to her twin sons. Loyal friends included the photographer John Swope, director Josh Logan and actor Burgess Meredith, and their stories reveal much about the things Fonda and Stewart valued most.

I particularly enjoyed the anecdotes shared by renowned Hollywood storyteller actor Norman Lloyd (now his life would make a fascinating book!) Perhaps most touching though are the memories shared by the men’s children, and particularly Jane and Peter Fonda, who were often frustrated in their attempts to reach their icy father, though the love was clearly there.

Now that I have read a few biographies written by Eyman, I am certain that I could loathe the topic of his next book and still give it a try. He’s got a wonderful knack for finding the right tone for his subjects, so that while each new title has a familiar standard of quality, the feel is always markedly different. That mixture of reliability and novelty is unusual and always interesting.

Many thanks to Simon & Schuster for providing a copy of the book for review.

Blu-ray Review: The Green Slime (1968)


The Japanese-American co-production of The Green Slime (1968) never makes claims for greatness, but delivers plenty of wacky amusement. This film has the unusual honor of being featured in the first episode of Mystery Science Theater 3000 and that distinction tells you everything you need to know about it. Now available on Blu-ray from Warner Archive, it is certainly unforgettable.

Shot in Japan with a Japanese crew and director Kinji Fukasaku [Black Lizard (1968)] and starring a Western cast, you get a sense of how serious the proceedings are meant to be when the groovy title tune begins blasting over the opening credits. Sung by Tom Jones-like Richard Delvy who hollers enthusiastically about Green Slime, it prepares you for a wild ride.

The film begins with astronauts on an American space station discovering an asteroid on a collision course with Earth. They are told by command they must blast it to dust before it makes contact. While planting explosives on the threatening mass, the men discover several globs of mysterious, throbbing green goo, which grow quickly, disabling some of the group’s equipment. As they barely escape the asteroid before it blows, a small, green globule rides away with them on the pants of one of the astronauts.

When the goo-smeared garb is put in a decontamination chamber, the glop expands, because it thrives on the energy used to purify the materials from the mission. The green stuff quickly grows into a squealing monster (think Sigmund the Sea Monster, but evil and non-verbal) with a single red eye, and who emits electricity from wildly waving tentacles. When the crew attempts to kill it with laser guns, the energy only gives it more strength, while its green blood rapidly grows into more monsters.

In the midst of this there is a tiresome love triangle between the mission’s leader, the slightly too soft-hearted Commander Vince Elliott (Richard Jaeckel), his fiancée, mission doctor Lisa Benson (Luciana Paluzzi) and his estranged friend, and her former lover Commander Jack Rankin (Robert Horton). Always critical of Elliott’s leadership style, Rankin attempts to take control of the mission, in addition to stealing back Dr. Benson. She knows he isn’t good for her, but she’s not over him, and she seems to be working a bit too hard to convince herself she loves Elliott. It’s a valiant attempt to add some humanity to the film, but unnecessary since it works as a goofy, absurd, action flick.

The real excitement is with the bizarre, squealing green creatures. They kill with the electricity that shoots through their waving tentacles and keep multiplying without any sign of slowing down. Uncommunicative and seemingly without emotions, these are definitely not sympathetic monsters.

These crazy creatures are the centerpiece of a truly odd film. There’s also a bizarre club scene (with amazing 60s fashions) where dancers stiffly jerk to and fro like they’re all getting over back injuries and the exterior models and effects work are enjoyably fake looking, like watch a bunch of vintage toys in action. The background players are also about as believable as paid mourners (in one victorious scene a man and woman actually join hands and awkwardly dance around in a circle). Sometimes the overall effect is like watching a bunch of kids at play.

The Green Slime is both similar a lot of 60s sci-fi programmers and like nothing else. Try it as a double feature with Tentacles (1977) if you dare.

Many thanks to Warner Archive for providing a copy of the film for review. To order, visit The Warner Archive Collection.

Book Review--Seduced by Mrs. Robinson: How The Graduate Became the Touchstone of a Generation


Seduced by Mrs. Robinson: How The Graduate Became the Touchstone of a Generation
Beverly Gray
Algonquin Books, 2017

I had a great time reading Seduced by Mrs. Robinson, a new book by Beverly Gray that traces the production of Director Mike Nichol’s classic film The Graduate (1967) on its 50th anniversary. Though I have heard stories about the making of this movie for years, in reading this lively history I’ve learned how much richer, entertaining and even touching the full story is.

Gray was a college student when the film was released and well understands the youthful angst that inspired her generation to embrace it. As a longtime part of the entertainment industry, including ten years working with Roger Corman, she brings industry savvy and connections to her story. In addition to looking at the film’s effect through her own lens, she explores that of other generations, mindsets and cultures.

The book is divided into three parts: a production history, plot rehash and analysis of the film’s effect on society. I most enjoyed the first part, which was full of behind-the-scenes tidbits, including the new-to-me fact that Eddra Gale, the quirky actress who played seaside temptress La Saraghina in Fellini’s 8 ½ (1963) made a
cameo appearance in a bus scene (not that bus scene), and that the filmmakers deemed her appearance significant enough to give her a credit. The blow-by-blow of the plot in the middle of the book felt unnecessary, though Gray does offer some interesting commentary. Objectively, the final section, with its expansive review of The Graduate phenomena and the impact it has had over the last five decades is the strongest and most thought provoking.

Gray writes in a lightly humorous tone, weaving a diverse array of facts and anecdotes into an airy, enjoyable read. It is for the most part an upbeat history, though there are some sober moments, including memories of Nichol's heartbreaking childhood and the way his feelings of being an outsider led him to choose the emphatically non-WASP Dustin Hoffman to play a privileged Californian loafer. For the most part it appears that The Graduate brought joy to most who were involved with the production in addition to being almost universally beloved among audiences.

Another bit of trivia about the cultural effect of The Graduate that amused me was learning about this commercial Dustin Hoffman made for Audi that riffs on the famous final scene of the movie. Meant for overseas audiences, it doesn’t make a lot of sense, but I thought it was sweet:




Many thanks to Algonquin Books for providing a copy of the book for review.

Blu-ray Review: Rod Steiger and Claire Bloom in The Illustrated Man (1969)


The Illustrated Man (1960) is trilogy of terror-tinged sci-fi tales drawn from Ray Bradbury’s eighteen story anthology of the same name. Rod Steiger stars as the titular tattooed drifter in a framing story with Robert Drivas and then-wife Claire Bloom, and in various roles in the stories which his skin art describes. This eerie film has now made its debut on Warner Archive Blu-ray.

In the framing story, Steiger comes upon fellow wanderer Drivas, whom he frightens with his bullying demeanor and the shock of what was at the time considered a freakish number of tattoos covering his body. He begins to tell the younger man the story of what he calls his “skin illustrations”, which were inked by the enigmatic Felicia (Claire Bloom) in her isolated rural home.

The Bradbury stories that follow: The Veldt, The Long Rain and The Last Night in the World oddly don’t capture the writer’s imagination. While there are some fascinating concepts here, they are limply developed. The first is the scariest, set in a future where a children’s virtual reality game inspires sadism and violence. Though the others have a compelling sense of dread, they don’t do much to justify their existence.

Steiger’s sweaty, angry performance lacks subtlety, but he’s one of those actors who manage to hold your attention even when flying off the rails. He’s an unsettling match for Drivas, who has a shifty look that belies his role as an innocent youth down on his luck. You see a past of shameful deeds in those guilty eyes.

Claire Bloom savors her various roles with more elegance. She is smoothly evil as the skin illustrator, with the look of a woman who relishes the trouble she can cause. She has the appearance of threat lingering just below the surface of that coldly serene smile, like she’s hiding a pair of vampire’s fangs.

While the film could have used a stronger directorial hand and more developed script, it has its intriguing moments. The performances have more force than the production itself and the novelty of the set design and costumes add some interest. There's also a great futuristic tinge to the soundtrack in the Veldt sequence. It’s a misstep, but an interesting stumble.


Special features on the Blu-ray include a theatrical trailer and a fascinating featurette, filmed at the time of shooting, which shows the exacting process of applying Steiger’s fake tattoos and a brief glimpse at the actor and wife Bloom behind the scenes. 

Many thanks to Warner Archive for providing a copy of the film for review. To order, visit The Warner Archive Collection.

Book Review--The Legendary Partnership of Wayne and Ford


Wayne and Ford: The Films, The Friendship and The Forging of an American Hero
Nancy Schoenberger
Doubleday Books/Nan A. Talese, 2017

John Wayne and John Ford are legends of American cinema. Both together and apart they made some of the most magnetic films Hollywood had to offer, but it is unlikely they would have reached the heights they did if they hadn't found each other. In a new book Nancy Shoenberger explores the life, work and relationship of these complex, influential men, focusing attention on the way they interpreted and communicated masculinity.

I was drawn to Wayne and Ford because I liked the way Schoenberger handled dual biography in her 2011 tome Furious Love: Elizabeth Taylor, Richard Burton, and the Marriage of the Century. Here she tackles a less tumultuous, but similarly layered relationship. There's less heat, but plenty of intrigue.

Of the 200 films Wayne made in his long career, only 69 would be westerns, but they were his most significant roles, and mostly due to his work with Ford. Likewise, the director, who even somewhat ironically referred to himself as a maker of westerns approached many genres successfully, but found his greatest success making fantasies of masculinity and honor in the Monument Valley with his greatest star.

Wayne and Ford charts the simultaneously abusive and familial nature of their relationship. Though Ford inspired loyalty in his actors, who felt he gave them the artistic success they craved, he was a harsh and sadistic taskmaster. The director saved the worst of his abuse for Wayne, who always took it without complaint, even when he reached the heights of his success. Nevertheless, their bond was lifelong and both could depend on each other for help throughout their careers, whether or not it was requested.

Schoenberger looks for insight into this unusual relationship by digging into their personal lives and films. As both men often had great control over the way their movies were made, they were often a reflection of who they were. Despite the differences in their personalities and relationships, in their cinematic explorations of love, duty and what it is to be a man, the two are found to have similar values.

While there was not much that was new to me here, having read individual biographies of Wayne and Ford, being able to focus on their bond and films helped me to better understand the influence they had on each other and their public. In Wayne, Ford saw much that he wanted to be, and in a way he resented his manly physicality. The actor may not have understood this, but he was always aware that the director had essentially made his career after a decade of making cowboy flicks for kids and it is possible he never thought to think past that reality.

In the end, John Ford and John Wayne are only two humans, who lived their lives and passed on, and yet it is endlessly compelling to speculate about these complex men. Wayne and Ford is to be relished because it takes great care and enjoyment in that pursuit.

Many thanks to Doubleday Books/Nan A. Talese for providing a copy of the book for review.

Blu-ray Review: Charisse and Kelly in Brigadoon (1954)


The MGM production of the Learner and Lowe musical Brigadoon (1954) is a mixed bag, overwhelmed by inelegant artifice, but not without its moments of misty magic. Cyd Charisse, Gene Kelly and Van Johnson lead a pleasantly quirky cast, directed by Vincente Minnelli. The film is now available on Blu-ray from Warner Archive, with the welcome addition of three musical numbers from the show, that were edited from the final cut, in the special features.

Kelly and Johnson play a pair of American tourists who are in the midst of an unsuccessful hunting trip in the Scottish highlands. They come upon a curiously old-fashioned village, which they learn comes to life one day every century. They have arrived on the day of a wedding and become involved in all the drama and romance that entails.

As MGM's baseline was uniformly high during its musical heyday, Brigadoon has much going for it. Minnelli captures a dreamy, romantic mood, the cast is vibrant and jolly, and the musical numbers are executed with slick efficiency. It doesn’t always keep a steady momentum, but it moves well enough.

However, this screen adaptation of the Broadway sensation never quite finds its heart. As beautiful as it can be, it never feels as lush as it should. This is primarily due to studio insistence that the film be made on a soundstage instead of the outdoor locations it clearly needs to work as cinema. It is hard to enjoy Kelly and Charisse swooping around plaster rocks and painted backdrops when you know how magical it would be in the open air.

Kathryn Grayson was originally cast to play Charisse's role, and if she had, perhaps the musical would have been more focused on its strong point: the gorgeous score. Though it has its acrobatic moments, Brigadoon is best as a singing show. Though it was logical to bring more dance numbers into the production with Charisse and Kelly as leads, it doesn’t suit the spirit of of the production. Watching Johnson and Kelly break into a tap number in an otherworldly Scottish village gives you the feeling they have dropped into the wrong film.

While Minnelli for the most part films his cast to advantage, his staging of the musical numbers lacks impact. Too often he goes for a wide shot filled with rocks, trees and fake heather, making you work to focus on the players stranded in the middle of the screen. The moments in the score that should hit you with swelling emotion get lost, slipping away without payoff.

Part of this is also due to the cast, which with its dancing focus simply can’t do justice to the swooning romance of the score. It might have worked better on the soundstage if it had featured artists who could have mined the music for its full emotional impact: like Kathryn Grayson or Jane Powell singing in close-up with Howard Keel. It could have been magical if they’d been able to film that kind of combination on location.

Charisse and Kelly have their swoony moments though, even if they aren’t entirely suited to the material. Brigadoon should satisfy those who enjoy the pair together. Johnson is also enjoyably prickly, taking his cheerful young man persona in an interesting direction.

I always thought it was a shame that the tender Come to Me, Bend to Me didn’t make it into the film and was thrilled to see the outtake for that number in the special features. Also included are From This Day On, Sword Dance and an audio outtake for There but for You Go I. The Blu-ray image quality is solid, capturing the rich colors of the production.

Many thanks to Warner Archive for providing a copy of the film for review. To order, visit The Warner Archive Collection.

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