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New And Notable Film Books

New And Notable Film Books

Books continue coming in at a faster pace than I can possibly keep up with and it’s been a while since I did a survey. Here are some of the recent titles that pique my interest. Remember, these are not critiques, but descriptions based on a quick once-over. I hope to print full-fledged reviews, on a few more, in the weeks ahead.

THE HOLLYWOOD CANTEEN by Lisa Mitchell and Bruce Torrence; foreword by Joan Leslie (BearManor Media)

          Here’s a welcome look inside the nightclub/restaurant co-founded by Bette Davis and John Garfield to entertain servicemen during World War II. While it’s been mentioned in many surveys of 1940s Hollywood (and was the subject of a Warner Bros. feature film) this book chronicles the history of the institution, offering facts and figures along with personal anecdotes. Best of all, it is profusely illustrated, with many shots of stars (from Marlene Dietrich to Orson Welles) who volunteered there. I wish the photo reproduction were better—these pictures, from Torrence’s famous collection, deserve a handsome coffee table book—I still love looking at them.


          Rea, who writes about film for the Philadelphia Inquirer, turns out to be a cycling enthusiast as well. He combines his two interests in this highly browseable, handsomely designed hardcover picture book, from the puckish publisher that brought us Hollywood du Jour and Hollywood Poolside, among others. You’ll not only find rare and sometimes-campy photos of everyone from Shirley Temple and Rita Hayworth to Sean Connery and Jane Fonda, with their original studio captions as well as detailed descriptions of their bikes.

HOLLYWOOD ENIGMA: DANA ANDREWS by Carl Rollyson (University Press of Mississippi)

          The latest in Mississippi’s Hollywood Legends series is a full-fledged biography of the often-underrated actor who was a stalwart in so many films of the 1940s and ‘50s. The author secured the cooperation of many Andrews family members, giving him access not only to their memories but to diaries, letters, and even home movies, to make this more than a mere filmography fleshed out with newspaper-archive quotes. It’s difficult not to be intrigued after reading the first paragraph of Rollyson’s Acknowledgments, where it says, “I decided to write this biography after I had a long telephone conversation with Susan Andrews about her father. At the time I knew relatively little about Dana Andrews, although I had watched Laura three or four times, entranced with the actor playing Mark McPherson. He reminded me of my father, a plain-clothes detective in 1940s Detroit. Like Mark, my father was a romantic who kept his emotions hidden behind a male mask. If I were to recreate my father’s biography, it would be as a film noir.”


          Few people are as qualified to write authoritatively about 3-D as Zone, an enthusiast who is also a practitioner in the field. This is a follow-up to the author’s 2007 volume Stereoscopic Cinema and the Origins of 3-D Film 1838-1952. It covers Hollywood’s 1953 3-D boom (and bust), several attempts to revive the process theatrically, adoption of the medium for theme parks and IMAX in what he calls the Immersive Age (1986-2005), and the digital era that takes us up to the present day. The text is fully notated, and illustrated with useful diagrams, photos, trade advertisements, and movie posters. This seems likely to be adopted as a definitive history of the medium.

HOUSE ON HAUNTED HILL: A WILLIAM CASTLE ANNOTATED SCREAMPLAY Introduction by Joe Dante (William Castle Productions)

          If you’re a William Castle devotee, like me, you’ll want to spend some time with this published version of Robb White’s screenplay for the director’s memorable 1959 haunted-house movie, which featured the gimmick known as Emergo. The core of the large-format paperback is a facsimile of Castle’s working script, filled with his penciled notations and thumbnail sketches. His daughter Terry Castle offers a personal view (titled “William Castle, Forever Dad…”) which sets the stage for the reader, along with Dante’s evocative introduction and Charlie Largent’s essay about the making of the film and how it differs from the script.

HOLLYWOOD MOVIE STILLS by Joel W. Finler (Titan Books)

          This handsome new hardcover edition of Finler’s 1995 book (printed on coated paper stock) offers thirty new pages of photos, including shots of some of the stalwart Hollywood “still” cameramen at work: George Hurrell at Goldwyn, Bert Six and Elmer Fryer at Warner Bros., Frank Powolny at Fox, Paul Hesse at Paramount, and Fred Hendrickson at RKO. Finler has also expanded his listing of staff photographers at the studios during the golden age of Hollywood. The author explores the whys and wherefores of publicity photos and portraits, goingso far as to compare famous scenes from films like It Happened One Night andThe Informer and the carefully staged stills that tried to crystallize those moments for all time.

JACK NICHOLSON: THE EARLY YEARS by Christopher Fryer and Robert Crane (University Press of Kentucky)

          For years I’ve treasured my slightly-worn copy of Jack Nicholson: Face to Face, a large-format paperback published in 1975. It marked the only time the talented actor ever submitted to a lengthy interview about his career—perhaps because the interviewees were a pair of 20-year-old college film students. After two in-depth conversations with the candid and articulate Nicholson, the would-be authors sought out some of his closest friends and colleagues (Dennis Hopper, Roger Corman, Hal Ashby, Bruce Dern, Robert Evans, Ann-Margret) and talked to them about Jack, to flesh out their book. It’s high time this valuable material was made available again. In their winning introduction, Fryer and Crane look back from a distance of 35 years to recount their once-in-a-lifetime adventure.


I AM SPARTACUS: MAKING A FILM, BREAKING THE BLACKLIST by Kirk Douglas; foreword by George Clooney (Open Road Media)

          At 95, Kirk Douglas is still making a vivid impression on fans and followers with every public appearance, and now with a memoir of this landmark film, on which he was executive producer and star. Envisioned as an e-book, it is also available in paperback form. Either way, you’ll see behind-the-scenes stills that have never been published before, including material from the aborted shoot under Anthony Mann’s direction, with a newly-discovered leading lady (who was later replaced by Jean Simmons). Many of these pictures were sitting in Universal Pictures’ vaults, never printed from their original contact sheets! As for Douglas’ memories of giving blacklisted screenwriter Dalton Trumbo his proper credit, the publication of this book has caused Douglas’ longtime partner Edward Lewis to break his long silence about who was really responsible for that brave decision. But Lewis is not a charismatic nonagenarian movie star, and Douglas is.


          The latest in this handsome, lovingly-edited hardcover series of Mickey Mouse daily comic strips (covering 1934-35) is, again, a tribute to the artistry and storytelling skill of the long-unappreciated Floyd Gottfredson. It also offers an opportunity for animation and comics historian Gerstein and Fantagraphics guru Groth to offer insights and rare artwork. Essays by Thomas Andrae and the late Bill Blackbeard place these comics in the larger context of what was happening at the Disney studio—and popular culture in general—in the 1930s. There is a drawing signed by Walt Disney for Universal Pictures founder Carl Laemmle—showing both Oswald the Lucky Rabbit and Mickey Mouse—that is worth the price of admission alone.

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