Thursday, Dec. 5, 2013

Three Screen Classics

Hollywood’s Golden Age in Paperback

By David Luhrssen
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The University Press of Kentucky’s Screen Classics series, edited by Milwaukee film historian Patrick McGilligan, has become an important resource for documenting Hollywood’s Golden Age directors and actors. (Full disclosure: I contributed one book to the series, Mamoulian: Life on Stage and Screen.) A trio of Screen Classics have just been reissued in paperback: Marilyn Ann Moss’ Raoul Walsh: The True Adventures of Hollywood’s Legendary Director, Michael Sragow’s Victor Fleming: An American Movie Master and Joseph McBride’s Hawks on Hawks.

The prolific McBride is probably the best known among the three authors. Slender but valuable, Hawks on Hawks collects a decade’s worth of his interviews with Hawks following the director’s final film in 1970. Like many of his peers, Hawks worked in various genres, but to a greater extent than most, he brought a personal sensibility to screwball comedy, film noir and westerns. As evidenced by his discussions with McBride, Hawks saw himself as a craftsman not an artist, was more concerned to explain how than why, and winced at some of the interpretations given his work.

The Fleming and Walsh biographies are bulky, detailed, readable chronicles of a pair of directors who started in the silent era, made important movies in the 1930s and ‘40s and worked with many of the epoch’s brightest stars. Fleming brought Gary Cooper to public attention and Walsh is credited with doing the same for John Wayne. Both filmmakers were characters, a little larger than life with a taste for adventure. Fleming made the larger impression as director of The Wizard of Oz and Gone with the Wind. Walsh is admired for High Sierra and White Heat.

The authors of these biographies are attentive to the films, their reception and the different aspects of tragedy represented by each man. Fleming’s career was cut short by early death, while Walsh outlived his best years.

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