Book Review: SEX IN THE CINEMA The ‘Pre-Code’ Years (1929-1934) by Lou Sabini (Bear Manor Media 2017)

Those of you who faithfully follow this blog know what a huge fan of Pre-Code films I am, even devoting an entire series to them, “Pre Code Confidential”. Well, film scholar and all-around good guy Lou Sabini has gone a step further and written a new book, SEX IN THE CINEMA: THE PRE-CODE YEARS, published by the fine folks over at Bear Manor Media, a handy reference guide to 107 Pre-Code films covering topics like illicit sex, gangland violence, drug addiction, alcoholism, prostitution, abortion, and Busby Berkeley… what more could a Pre-Code fan ask for!!

Helen Twelvetrees & Charles Bickford in 1932’s PANAMA FLO

Out of the 107 movies covered here, I’ve seen a mere 36, and covered seven on CRV. That will certainly change, as a few of them are sitting in my DVR ready to be enjoyed (thanks, TCM!). Lou was a student of noted film historian/collector William K. Everson (who wrote the seminal CLASSICS OF THE HORROR FILM, among others), and the man obviously knows his subject matter. Each entry is crammed with a detailed plot synopsis, background information, and biographical data on the stars and directors behind the films, all in a light, easy to understand manner for those unfamiliar with the era. There are some Pre-Codes included even I’ve never heard of before! A few that definitely piqued my interest are THE FINGER POINTS (an early gangster role for Clark Gable), PALMY DAYS (featuring a musical number entitled “Bend Down, Sister”!), and PANAMA FLO (with the marvelous but forgotten Helen Twelvetrees).

Joan Blondell in 1931’s BLONDE CRAZY

Lou Sabini runs an excellent Facebook page for film fans called MY ‘REEL’ LIFE, on which your humble scribe is a regular contributor. His latest book serves as both an essential primer for those unfamiliar with the Pre-Code era and a fun look back for fans of these wild & wooly films. It’s packed with movie stills and behind the scenes anecdotes, and cinemaphiles of any era will want to own it. It’s available from Bear Manor Media  , purveyors of some great film-related books, Amazon, and wherever fine books are sold. Pick up your copy today and discover the joys of SEX IN THE CINEMA: THE PRE-CODE YEARS!

Book Review: HOPE: Entertainer of The Century by Richard Zoglin (Simon & Schuster, 2014)

He was unquestionably one of the most famous, most recognized persons of the 20th Century, the father of what we now know as stand-up comedy, the first true multi-media star. A patriot and a philanderer, a giver and a taker, a smart-mouthed comic and a friend to presidents and generals. But who was Bob Hope, really? This ambitious 2014 biography by Richard Zoglin attempts to answer that question, a meticulously researched tome that tries to uncover the private man behind the public mask.

with vaudeville partner George Byrne

Zoglin digs deep into the available archives and uses interviews with those that knew him to paint his portrait of the notoriously reticent Bob Hope, reaching all the way back to his hardscrabble beginnings as an immigrant in Cleveland with six brothers, an alcoholic father who was an itinerant stone cutter, and a stern but loving mother who served as the de facto head of the household. Little Leslie Townes Hope was a wild child who spent time in reform school. He entered vaudeville at age 21, working with various partners (including at one point Siamese twins the Hilton Sisters), engaging in songs, dance, and snappy patter. Hope became an emcee for the shows, honing his future stand-up skills to perfection with rapid-fire comic delivery and engaging his audience by breaking the “fourth wall”, a gimmick he’d later utilize in his movie career.

with Shirley Ross in “The Big Broadcast of 1938”

It’s all here: his Broadway successes in ROBERTA and  RED, HOT, & BLUE; his early two-reelers for Educational and Vitaphone; his ascent to ratings domination on radio and television; entertaining the troops in conflicts around the globe for the USO; making Oscar broadcasts must-see TV as a 17 time host. Hope’s film career is well documented, from his first feature THE BIG BROADCAST OF 1938 where he and singer Shirley Ross introduced “Thanks for the Memory”, to his last starring role in 1972’s dreary CANCEL MY RESERVATION. The book details his marriage to Dolores Reade (née DeFina), a devout Catholic who kept the family together while Hope travelled the world, remaining loyal despite his myriad affairs with showgirls and starlets (Doris Day, Marilyn Maxwell, and Barbara Payton were among his better-known conquests).

Hope was considered a risqué comedian in his heyday, his brash and irreverent monologues frequently getting him in trouble with network radio censors. The wild and zany ROAD movies with Bing Crosby and Dorothy Lamour caused audiences to howl with laughter at the madcap ad-libbing (and Zoglin uncovers the truth about Hope’s relationships with his costars). But yesterday’s cutting-edge comic quickly becomes today’s establishment shill, as Hope found out with his unpopular stance on the Vietnam War. Caught in a political crossfire and out of touch with the younger generation, Hope was a staunch supporter of both the war and President Richard Nixon, with whom he became an ally and confidant.

Bob Hope entertaining the troops in Vietnam

Zoglin’s book sheds light on Bob Hope’s inner workings: driven by memories of early poverty and his father’s failures, he used humor and performing as a coping skill, and like an addict with a needle or alcoholic with a bottle, developed an addiction to fame, fortune, and the spotlight, unable to stop until well past his prime. Inaction was death to Hope, he had to hear that applause and laughter to validate himself. It’s a fascinating, well written and researched book that belongs on any classic film lover’s shelf.

Book Review: STICK IT! MY LIFE OF SEX, DRUMS, AND ROCK’N’ROLL by Carmine Appice with Ian Gitting (Chicago Review Press 2016)

About three weeks ago, I attended the Vanilla Fudge 50th Anniversary show at the Narrows Center for the Arts in Fall River, MA. It’s a great venue to see a concert, with an intimate 280 seat capacity. Three of the four original members performed (bassist Tim Bogert is retired from active touring), and their psychedelic, proto-metal stylings had the joint rocking hard. Keyboard wizard Mark Stein, guitarist Vinnie Martell, new bass player Pete Bremy, and legendary drummer Carmine Appice tore the house down with their renditions of hits like “You Keep Me Hangin’ On”, “Take Me for a Little While”, and “People Get Ready”.

Much as I enjoyed all their musicianship, the main reason I went was to catch Carmine Appice,  one of rock’s all-time greatest drummers. The band did a meet-and-greet after the show, and I snatched by a copy of Appice’s recent book, STICK IT! MY LIFE OF SEX, DRUMS, AND ROCK’N’ROLL. Mr. Appice (whose drum solo was blindingly fantastic!) was gracious enough to autograph my copy, and the band members were all very cordial (guitarist Martell and I had a fun conversation about the Patriots’ Super Bowl victory). Between all the other things I’m currently juggling, I managed to finish reading this tome on the life and times of one of rock’s truly talented wildmen.

If you’re easily offended reading about the misogynistic sexual escapades of a decadent rock star, this book is not for you. Among the highlights (or lowlights) is the infamous incident involving members of the Fudge, Led Zeppelin, a nymphomaniacal groupie, and a live mudshark immortalized in song by Frank Zappa and the Mothers. Appice takes us on a deranged trip from his youthful days running wild with a Brooklyn street gang, to Vanilla Fudge’s psychedelic heyday, to his later gigs as drummer for Cactus, Jeff Beck, Rod Stewart, Ted Nugent, Ozzy Osbourne, and King Kobra. Along the way, he befriends young Jimi Hendrix, smokes pot with Buddy Rich, rooms with Prince, and encounters such movie legends as Telly Savalas, Gregory Peck, and even Fred Astaire!

Appice and co-author Ian Gittins (who co-wrote Nikki Sixx’s THE HEROIN DIARIES and penned books on Talking Heads and U2) use a light, breezy style recounting the hotel trashings, sexual exploits, and crazy tales of life on the road. I have the feeling Gittins acted more in an editorial capacity, as Appice has had experience writing for Circus Magazine, and wrote his own best-seller THE REALISTIC ROCK DRUM METHOD. Carmine Appice is now 70 and has mellowed out quite a bit, but back in the day he was one of rock’s true characters, and anyone interested in rock history will enjoy this book. And if you don’t know who Vanilla Fudge were, here they are on Jimmy Fallon doing “You Keep Me Hangin’ On”. Enjoy!

     And buy the book!

Book Review: CAPTAIN AMERICA AND THE FALCON: MADBOMB (Marvel 2004)

madbomb1

Evil elitists are plotting to transmit mind-controlling madness, turning America’s citizenry into docile sheep to do their bidding! No, I’m not talking about today’s election (though I could be!), it’s the plotline of CAPTAIN AMERICAN AND THE FALCON: MADBOMB, Jack Kirby’s 1975 seven part epic collected in this 2004 graphic novel release. The King was making his return to Marvel after five years working for rival DC, and took over the reigns of his baby Cap’s monthly book as writer/artist/editor.

kill-derby

Kirby was never a great writer, but he shines in this tale of an attempted hostile takeover of America by a group of elitists using the Madbomb to control the populace and rule the good ol’ USA. Cap and the Falcon are enlisted by no less than Secretary of State Henry Kissinger to thwart the fiendish plot. King Kirby’s artwork is stunning, embellished by inkers Frank Giacoia and D. Bruce Berry. Kirby gives us some great two-page spreads filled with gadgets and non-stop action as only he could.

madbomb3

A sci-fi superhero spectacular, CAPTAIN AMERICA AND THE FALCON: MADBOMB is a visual delight that all Kirby fans will enjoy. Now don’t forget to go out and vote today… before the elitists set off the Madbomb and all hell breaks loose! Defenders of Liberty Unite! (That’s an unabashed plug to vote for Gary Johnson, folks!)

madbomb4

 

ROCK ‘N’ROLL MONSTERS: THE AMERICAN INTERNATIONAL STORY

Today’s Halloween Havoc! Extra comes courtesy of Kevin G Shinnick at SCARLET THE FILM MAGAZINE, and is worth reading for AIP fans:

scarletthefilmmagazine

ROCK ‘N’ROLL MONSTERS: THE AMERICAN INTERNATIONAL STORY by Bruce Hallenbeck (Hemlock Books) paperback pages 280 published August ,2016

rock-n-roll-monsters-the-american-international-story-2016-book-bruce-g-hallenbeck
U.K. £16.25 http://www.hemlockbooks.co.uk/Shop/category/7
U.S.: $47.85   https://www.amazon.com/Rock-Roll-Monsters-American-International/dp/0993398936/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1477073892&sr=8-1&keywords=rock+n+roll+monsters

arc_1955_logo
Author /film historian Bruce Hallenbeck has published another must have book for lovers of movies. After giving us wonderful books on many of the British companies Amicus and Hammer, Bruce Hallenbeck turns his focus on the little upstart company that grew and challenged the majors in areas where they could not or did not compete. American International Pictures finally began to become a major, only to find that the other studios were now churning out higher end versions of the type of movies that AIP had done, and so the studio vanished into corporate buyouts after 26 years.aiplogo001

AMERICAN INTERNATIONAL PICTURES began when studios began to lose audiences to television. Small independent producers began to create their own films outside the studio…

View original post 711 more words

Book Review: JOHN WAYNE: THE LIFE AND LEGEND by Scott Eyman (Simon & Schuster)

wayne1

He’s a walking contradiction, partly truth, partly fiction” –

Kris Kristofferson, The Pilgrim

He was a football star at USC who also starred on the debate team. A primitive that could quote Shakespeare, Keats, and Churchill with ease. A two-fisted, hard drinker who was adept at chess and bridge. A man some called racist whose three wives were all Hispanic. To his friends, he was Duke Morrison, but to the world he was known as John Wayne. This definitive, well researched biography by Scott Eyman was released in hardcover in 2014, and is now available in trade paperback form. Eyman, who also wrote the definitive book on John Ford (1999’s PRINT THE LEGEND: THE LIFE AND TIMES OF JOHN FORD), spent years to make this the last word on John Wayne, separating the man from the myth, in this in-depth study of how the boy from Winterset, Iowa became the enduring box-office superstar.

stage2

The book covers young Duke from his beginnings with a job-hopping father and ice-cold mother, through his formative years growing up in Glendale, California. We learn that Wayne, despite his reports to the contrary, didn’t just “fall into” filmmaking. From his time as prop boy for John Ford, to his doomed blockbuster THE BIG TRAIL (1930), to his years toiling in low-budget oaters, Wayne absorbed everything about the making of movies. When Ford cast him as The Ringo Kid in 1939’s STAGECOACH, a star was born, and soon John Wayne became a well constructed screen persona. He developed this character piece by piece over the years, learning from Ford, Harry Carey Sr, Yakima Canutt, and Paul Fix to craft the image we’re all familiar with, an image Wayne carefully protected over the decades.

Wayne’s flaws as a human are all here: his affair with Marlene Dietrich, contributing to the failure of his first marriage; his association with the Communist-blacklisting Motion Picture Alliance for the Preservation of American Ideals; his hawkish stand on the Vietnam War (and the critical drubbing he took for making THE GREEN BERETS); his controversial 1971 Playboy Interview. But there’s a softer side to the man, as well: a devoted family man to his children; his fierce loyalty to those who were there when he was a struggling actor; his regret at not serving in World War II (mainly because Republic Studios honcho Herbert Yates kept getting deferments so as not to lose his only cash cow); and his final battle with the cancer that killed him.

rooster

There are drinking stories with Ford, Howard Hawks, Ward Bond, and Robert Mitchum, a glimpse into his literary tastes (everything from Zane Grey to J.R.R. Tolkein), his Oscar-winning role for TRUE GRIT, and his decade-plus long, Ahab-like quest to film his vision of THE ALAMO, which almost bankrupted him. His collaborations with Ford are well covered here. Wayne looked up to Ford, the only man who could browbeat him in public and get away with it. With lesser directors, Wayne pretty much took over the reins, as he knew more about making movies than any dozen film school grads could possibly imagine.

Duke Morrison and John Wayne shared an important common trait; both are rugged individualists who did whatever it took to achieve their own manifest destiny. For the screen Wayne, it was the taming of the American West. For Duke Morrison, it was an escape from childhood poverty and B-movie obscurity to become an iconic hero to millions. He’s a fascinating, all-too-human man, and this book should be required reading for lovers of The Duke and classic film. Love him or hate him, agree or disagree with his politics, John Wayne was a true American cinema original, and JOHN WAYNE: THE LIFE AND LEGEND tells his story in full, vivid detail. There’s a passage on page 563 that, for a lifelong Wayne fan like myself, sent shivers up my spine:

“The tribute that might have meant most to Wayne happened in Durango, Mexico, where Burt Lancaster was on location. When word came that John Wayne had died, the cast and crew paused for a minute of silence. They were making CATTLE ANNIE AND LITTLE BRITCHES.

They were making a western.” -Scott Eyman, JOHN WAYNE: THE LIFE AND LEGEND (Simon & Schuster, copyright 2014)

wayne4

Book Review: ANDY & DON: The Making of a Friendship and a Classic American TV Show (Simon and Schuster)

andy1

THE ANDY GRIFFITH SHOW is one of the most beloved sitcoms in television history, still being run on cable networks fifty-five years after its debut. The show about life in small town Mayberry revolves around the friendship between mellow Sheriff Andy Taylor and his hyperactive deputy, Barney Fife. ANDY & DON not only tells us about them, but about the real life friendship between the two stars, Andy Griffith and Don Knotts.

andy2

The book shows us the very similar backgrounds of the two comic legends. Both came from poor rural towns (Knotts in West Virginia, Griffith in North Carolina), and had their share of grief and difficulty growing up. The pair met when both were cast in the Broadway hit No Time for Sergeants, and hit it off right away. When Griffith was slated to star in a new sitcom as a country sheriff, Knotts called and asked if he could use a deputy. The rest is television history, as THE ANDY GRIFFITH SHOW became a consistent top ten smash, winning several Emmys for Knotts as klutzy, inept Barney Fife. Even after Knotts left to do movies, the two remained friends until their dying day.

Andy Griffith and Don Knotts, winners of the Legend Award for "The Andy Griffith Show" TV Land Awards - Press Room The Hollywood Palladium Hollywood, CA USA March 7, 2004 Photo by Steve Granitz/WireImage.com To license this image (2367035), contact WireImage: U.S. +1-212-686-8900 / U.K. +44-207 659 2815 / Australia +61-2-8262-9222 / Japan: +81-3-5464-7020 +1 212-686-8901 (fax) info@wireimage.com (e-mail) www.wireimage.com (web site)

Author Daniel de Vise’ was brother-in-law to Knotts by his third marriage (both stars were thrice wed). He seems a little biased, painting Knotts more sympathetically despite his flaws, while Griffith comes off as kind of a jerk, more Lonesome Rhodes than Andy Taylor. But the book is meticulously researched, as the author interviewed people like Ron Howard, Jim Nabors (Gomer!), Tim Conway, Ken Berry, and various members of the Griffith and Knotts clans, as well as their managers, so the claims may be true. It’s an enjoyable read for fans, and gives us a warts-and-all look at both stars. Through all their triumphs and tragedies, their friendship remained intact, a testament to the warmth you feel whenever Griffith and Knotts share the screen. If you like behind the scenes tales of Hollywood, ANDY & DON is a book you shouldn’t miss.