As the Pages Turn: Recent Film Books of Note

Musts, Maybes and Nevers: A Book About the MoviesIt doesn’t have to be Christmas for interesting film books to be published, as evidenced by these new cinema-themed tomes:

Musts, Maybes and Nevers: A Book About the Movies by David V. Picker: The author was one of the movers and shakers at United Artists, and had a large hand in bringing The Beatles to the big screen, making James Bond the most successful series in film history, and helping to shepherd such efforts as Midnight Cowboy and Lenny through production problems to success and awards. Later, he produced Steve Martin’s early films, as well as such well-intentioned duds as Smile, The Greatest Story Ever Told and Leap of Faith. In this engaging recapitulation of his career, Picker writes about his triumphs and disappointments, and gives us the scoop on the inner workings of Hollywood. Along with a breezy writing style, Picker—the son of a motion picture exhibition veteran—has no problem discussing those he didn’t along with, whether it be director Robert Altman, producer Walter Mirisch, or Bill Cosby. Many of Picker’s tales are humorous—meeting Ingmar Bergman in Sweden, persuading Woody Allen to put Sweet and Lowdown on hold, the hubbub about Tom Jones during and after production. But he also makes time to take us into the boardroom for meetings and negotiations and some backstabbing, oh my. And all of it is filtered through Picker’s sharp and knowing writing style and keen perception. (Createspace)

A Life of Barbara Stanwyck: Steel True (1904-1940A Life of Barbara Stanwyck: Steel True (1904-1940) by Victoria Wilson: 860 pages and it covers only half of actress Barbara Stanwyck’s life? What could have happened in those formative years that warranted such coverage? According to Victoria Wilson’s walloping biography—years in the making—lots. Not only does the author tell Stanwyck’s story—her troubled childhood under the given name of Ruby Stevens, shuttling between orphanages and relatives;  her start in show biz as a chorus girl and on stage;  and her marriages to alcoholic, opportunistic vaudeville entertainer Frank Fay and, near book’s end, conservative actor Robert Taylor. Steel True also gets into the folks Stanwyck knew: the actors, directors, studio heads, friends, Hollywood associates, etc. And if you thought Tinseltown has scandals now, Wilson has no problem divulging some of the sordid stories of the past, although she treads discreetly. As for Stanwyck, she’s viewed as a gritty gal and determined actress who could woo audiences with either her toughness or her sensuality before the Hays Code and after. The book ends right after 1937’s Stella Dallas, so there’s still Ball of Fire, The Lady Eve, Double Indemnity, Sorry, Wrong Number, The Big Valley, and a whole lot more to get to.  We would guess it’s likely to be at least as engrossing and engagingly comprehensive as this first part. (Simon & Schuster)   

Crab Monsters, Teenage Cavemen and Candy Stripe Nurses: Roger Corman, King of the B MoviesCrab Monsters, Teenage Cavemen and Candy Stripe Nurses: Roger Corman, King of the B Movies by Chris Nashawaty: There have already been a load of books written on legendary skinflint director-producer Roger Corman—including his own autobiography.  So what makes this latest one about the low-budget legend so special? Well, for one thing, it’s a gorgeously illustrated book, filled with color pictures of classic color Corman posters, movie stills, and publicity photos. Crab Monsters is also presented, for the most part, chronologically and as an oral history. Nashawtany, a film critic for Entertainment Weekly, has done extensive labor talking to the folks who worked with Corman, from actors to directors to others who crossed paths with him. While Corman’s “Brilliance on a Budget” mystique has been put forth often, we actually get first-hand accounts here from Martin Scorsese, Joe Dante,  Peter Bogdanovich,  and others to whom Corman served as mentor.  It’s a shame the likes of Boris Karloff and Vincent Price aren’t around to add their own two cents to stories about movies that may have been made for not much more than two cents. (Abrams)