The League of Alternate Superstars: Joel McCrea

Born in South Pasadena, CA in 1905, Joel McCrea is not a legendary name amongst today’s general populace despite having made in excess of 100 movies that include many classics equaling those of such Hollywood contemporaries as Tyrone Power, Errol Flynn, and Clark Gable. It may be that McCrea’s decision to concentrate almost exclusively on westerns in the fifties (24 films) and early 60s negatively affected his legacy.  He’d demonstrated a comic as well as dramatic flair in the 30s and 40s, working with such master directors as Alfred Hitchcock, Preston Sturges, George Stevens, William Wyler, and Cecil B. DeMille.

As David Shipman wrote in The Great Stars:  The Golden Years, “Joel McCrea was one of the leading Leading Men of the 30s, a tall, good-looking, reliable actor without any great pretension.  Physically, he was not unlike Gary Cooper…”  He had no illusions and told the Evening Standard he never attempted acting:  “A placid sort of fellow, that’s me…”  Shipman added that, “McCrea didn’t reach the heights because he didn’t really want to.”

McCrea’s best movies include:

The Most Dangerous Game (1932).  You would not be wrong to discern jungle sets that were used again in 1933’s King Kong.  In Most, McCrea’s the-most-dangerous-game_FmozdiBob Rainsford survives a South Seas Island shipwreck and becomes the guest of Count Zaroff (Leslie Banks), who hunts the most dangerous game, aka man.  As a big game hunter, Rainsford provides Zaroff with a special prey, and Fay Wray, about to achieve cinema immortality in Kong, was the appropriately named and lovely Eve, to become Zaroff’s prize—if he succeeds in his nefarious activity.

Despite a restrictive Production Code that wouldn’t be implemented until 1934, Bird of Paradise (1932) was notorious for McCrea’s nude underwater swim scene with the equally unclothed and aptly named Luana (Dolores Del Rio).

In 1933 McCrea married a Hollywood leading lady of repute:  Frances Dee.  Her films include Little Women, Souls at Sea, If I Were King, and I Walked with a Zombie.  McCrea and Dee were married until his death in 1990.

These Three (1936) was based on a Lillian Hellman play but skirted the issue of lesbianism in its account of a student (Bonita Granville) falsely accusing two of her teachers (Miriam Hopkins and Merle Oberon) of indiscretion.  The object of their desire:  Joel McCrea’s physician.

Dead End (1937) top-billed Sylvia Sidney and McCrea in one of the decade’s socially conscious gangster movies.  This is the film that introduced the “Dead End Kids” to the cinema and became a major stepping stone to stardom for Humphrey Bogart as “Baby Face” Martin, a criminal.  McCrea was the ostensible hero, an out-of-work architect and youthful chum of Martin who needed to make a terrible decision regarding his one-time friend.

Union Pacific (1939) was one of director Cecil B. DeMille’s better epics.  McCrea played a troubleshooter for the famous railroad entrepreneurs, their dream of connecting the country by rail hurtling to its denouement after the end of the Civil War.  Major star Barbara Stanwyck played mail union-pacific_iFWgIlcoach mistress Molly.  With whom would she align herself, McCrea or likable but morally weak Dick Allen (Robert Preston)?  Great character actors abounded, including future leading man and Oscar-winner Anthony Quinn, Lynne Overman, Akim Tamiroff, Stanley Ridges, and Brian Donlevy (Academy Award Supporting Actor nominee the same year for portraying the menacing Sergeant Markov in Beau Geste, also with Robert Preston).

In 1940’s Foreign Correspondent, director Alfred Hitchcock used his cinematic expertise to entertain while simultaneously warning the western democracies about the coming storm.  World War II had begun in 1939 and a full-scale attack by Germany on France and England would take place only days after Foreign Correspondent opened.  As one might expect from a Hitchcock film, there are numerous tense set-episodes, perhaps the most suspenseful the scene in which McCrea’s American journalist Huntley Haverstock/Johnny Jones’ trenchcoat is caught in a windmill’s gears, threatening to injure or kill him or at the very least alert the spies to his presence.  Gary Cooper was the original choice to play Jones and apparently rued his decision not to take it.  Lesley Coffin wrote, “But one quality McCrea did have that became signature to him was a sincerity and trust with his audiences.”  The movie “benefits from having an anchor like McCrea who is completely trustworthy, as the audience is left to question the loyalties of so many surrounding him.”  After surviving a plane crash into the sea, Johnny radios to the still free world an ominous warning:  “It’s too late to do anything here now except stand in the dark and let them come as if the lights were all out everywhere except in America.  Keep those lights burning.  Cover them with steel.  Ring them with guns.  Build a canopy of battleships and bombing planes around them.  Hello, America!  Hang on to your lights, they’re the only lights left in the world!”

Sullivan’s Travels (1941) was the first of McCrea’s collaborations with comedic genius and director Preston Sturges.  In this one, film director John L. Sullivan  (McCrea) masquerades as a hobo to get the real dope on the downtrodden of the Depression years.  He teams up with “The Girl” sullivans-travels_6d27e8d3(Veronica Lake) and endures a number of misadventures before returning to his milieu with the goal of again making comedies to soothe people.  Sullivan’s Travels was one of the first films to be placed on the Library of Congress’ National Film Registry.

The Palm Beach Story (1942) featured McCrea and Claudette Colbert as husband and wife in this Sturges screwball comedy with a surprise ending.  It is reckoned another jewel in Sturges’ crown—and certainly in McCrea’s.

The More the Merrier (1943) was a delightful comedy from director George Stevens.  McCrea was Sergeant Joe Carter, desperate to find housing in more the merrierWashington, DC during World War II while waiting for orders to ship out. Endearingly curmudgeonly Benjamin Dingle (Charles Coburn, Supporting Actor Oscar-winner) sublets his so-called apartment to Carter without telling landlady Connie Milligan (Jean Arthur), who is aghast but has spent Dingle’s rent money and can’t oust him or Carter.  This suits Dingle fine; he’s playing matchmaker for the twosome.

Ramrod (1947) was considered by Brian Garfield “a little classic” that had “hardly dated at all.”  The title character Dave Nash (McCrea) tries to ameliorate the feud between Connie Dickason (Veronica Lake) and her father (Charlie Ruggles).  Surprisingly, matters are not wrapped up smoothly.

Four Faces West (1948) presented a pseudo-Pat Garret/Billy the Kid scenario with Charles Bickford’s Garrett tracking bank robber Ross McEwen (McCrea).  McEwen’s decision to risk his life helping a sick Mexican-American family convinces Garrett to vouch for him at the upcoming trial.  Brian Garfield found “Stretches of lyrical beauty” in the film.  “It’s a splendid example of what a low-budget Western can be:  its excellence is such that it can make you feel as if you have never seen a Western before.”

Colorado Territory (1949) was the western version of High Sierra (1941), the film that helped turn Humphrey Bogart into a leading man.  Here Wes McQueen (McCrea) plans a final robbery but it goes awry.  Wounded and in hiding, he agrees to marry the female member of the gang, Colorado Carson (Virginia Mayo), but cornered in the ruins of ancient cliff dwellers, both meet their dismal fate.  The most enjoyable scene is a gun-toting Mayo, blazing away at the posse.

Wichita (1955) allowed McCrea his take on the Wyatt Earp legend as he comes to Kansas and is appointed marshal.  Instituting a no guns in town policy works temporarily but when the wife of one of the town’s fathers is killed, Wyatt buckles on his sidearm and tames the essentially uncivilized cattlemen. Director Jacques Tourneur might deserve the back-handed compliment also given another director, Robert Wise (The Curse of the Cat People, The Flame and the Arrow, Executive Suite, West Side Story, The Sound of Music, The Andromeda Strain), i.e., a chameleon who could not be labeled an auteur.  But like Wise, Tourneur created classics in various genres, including I Walked with a Zombie with McCrea’s wife, Canyon Passage, Out of the Past, and Curse of the Demon.

In Fort Massacre (1958) McCrea played against type a psychologically-disturbed cavalry officer trying to keep his unhorsed troop together.  This is a movie containing a variation on the outrageous sentiment, “The only good Indian is a dead Indian, baptized or not!”  (Francis McDonald as Old RidehighposteraPiute Man). Garfield wrote, “The McCrea character is unusually complicated and it is fascinating to watch the changes in him.”

Ride the High Country (1962) was McCrea’s last significant film and although relegated to the lower half of a double bill, was soon recognized as a classic, even winning the Grand Prix e I’UCC from the Belgian Film Critics Association.  McCrea costarred with another actor from Hollywood’s golden age who chose to inhabit characters from the old west during his last working years:  Randolph Scott.  Ride the High Country was an early feature-length movie from director Sam Peckinpah.  Joining forces with Gil Westrum (Scott), ex-marshal Steve Judd (McCrea) is hired to transport gold from a mining site only to have his mission compromised by a half-witted gang of thugs and Elsa (Mariette Hartley), trying to escape an abusive father.  On-location filming near Mammoth Lakes, California, judicious gunplay, and a score by George Bassman enhanced the proceedings.


Coffin, Lesley L.  Hitchcock’s Stars:  Alfred Hitchcock and the Hollywood Studio System.  2014.

Garfield, Brian.  Western Films:  A Complete Guide. 1982.

Meyer, William R.  The Making of the Great Westerns.  1979.

Shipman, David.  The Great Stars:  The Golden Years.  1970.

Staff Picks April 2021

STAFF Picks (1)

Emily’s Picks

DVD: Funny Face
funny faceA sweet, lighthearted, and romantic musical featuring some incredible dancing from the main cast. Audrey Hepburn plays a bookshop clerk who unexpectedly becomes a model and muse to a famed photographer (Fred Astaire). Together they travel to Paris for a photo shoot, and find themselves falling for one another in the city of love…

CD: Ocean Eyes by Owl City
Can you believe this album’s old enough to be nostalgic? Best known for the chart-topping hit (and total ear worm) ocean eyes“Fireflies,” this CD is full of other hidden gems, especially for fans of mellow, heartfelt electronic pop. The lyrics are quirky and emotional, and the backing music has a twinkly, dreamlike quality– great for these clear-skied spring nights. Standout tracks (besides “Fireflies,” of course) include “Vanilla Twilight,” “On the Wing,” and “The Saltwater Room.”

Jessie’s Picks

DVD: The Great Mouse Detective
between shadesthe great mouse detective“The story of a clever little hero on a great big adventure. Join the Sherlock Holmes of Mousedom on a heroic journey unraveling clues through London.”

Audiobook: Between Shades of Gray by Ruta Sepetys
“In 1941, Lina and her family are pulled from their Lithuanian home by Soviet guards and sent to Siberia, where her father is sentenced to death in a prison camp while she fights for her life, vowing to honor her family and the thousands like hers.”


John’s Picks

Libby Audiobook: Great Courses: History of Ancient Egypt by Bob Brier
history of ancient egyptWe all go through that weird phase when we’re absolutely addicted to learning about ancient Egypt, right? You know, the phase when you start to consider making a dramatic career change to become an Egyptologist hoping to uncover the next King Tut tomb? This Great Course taught by Bob Brier is a really good fix for that phase. It’s basically a 24-hour podcast hosted by a super engaging and accomplished scholar on ancient Egypt. Not only is it insightful learning about this advanced civilization, their art, and their scientific breakthroughs, but it’s just plain fun imagining what daily life was like for them nearly 5,000 years ago!

CD: Dreamland by Glass Animals dreamland
Super fluid album that serves as a nostalgic escape. This dreamlike, pop-ish album will be a great summer listen. The band has been enjoying the recent success brought on by their wildly popular song “Heatwaves.”


Kim’s Picks

DVD: Moulin Rouge
moulin rougeIn this 1952 biopic based on the novel by Pierre La Mure, director John Huston, scenarist Anthony Veiller, and cinematographer Oswald Morris create the Paris of the late 19th century—its gaiety, its backstreet denizens, and the artist who captured it all:  Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec (1864-1901).  As Lautrec, Academy Award winner for Cyrano de Bergerac Jose Ferrer received another Academy Award nomination.  Future Dracula and horror film icon Christopher Lee appears briefly as artist Georges Seurat.

CD: The Best of Ronnie Milsap by Ronnie Milsap ronnie milsap
Included from multiple Grammy winner, third all-time country #1 hit maker (behind only George Strait and Conway Twitty) and crossover artist Milsap are “I Wouldn’t Have Missed It for the World,” “It Was Almost Like a Song,” “Any Day Now,” and “Smoky Mountain Rain.”

Mary’s Picks

DVD: Gaslight
gaslight girlboss gatekeepEver wonder where the term gaslighting comes from? It comes from this movie! An absolute classic psychological thriller. Ingrid Bergman and Charles Boyer deliver excellent performances.

Audiobook: Caste: The Origins of Our Discontents by Isabel Wilkersoncaste
Should be required reading for all. Powerful and extremely necessary. Very well researched and documented. Eye opening but heartbreaking at the same time.

Stephanie’s Picks

DVD: Game of Thrones
game of thrones s7“Set in a world where summers span decades and winters can last a lifetime. From the scheming south and the savage eastern lands, to the frozen north and ancient Wall that protects the realm from the mysterious darkness beyond, the powerful families of the Seven Kingdoms are locked in a battle for the Iron Throne. This is a story of duplicity and treachery, nobility and honor, conquest, and triumph. In the Game of Thrones, you either win or you die.”

Libby Audiobook: Beastie Boys Book by Michael Diamond and Adam Horovitz
“Formed as a New York City hardcore band in 1981, Beastie Boys struck an unlikely path to global hip hop superstardom.beastie boys book Here is their story, told for the first time in the words of the band. Adam “ADROCK” Horovitz and Michael “Mike D” Diamond offer revealing and very funny accounts of their transition from teenage punks to budding rappers; their early collaboration with Russell Simmons and Rick Rubin; the debut album that became the first hip hop record ever to hit #1, Licensed to Ill–and the album’s messy fallout as the band broke with Def Jam; their move to Los Angeles and rebirth with the genre-defying masterpiece Paul’s Boutique; their evolution as musicians and social activists over the course of the classic albums Check Your Head, Ill Communication, and Hello Nasty and the Tibetan Freedom Concert benefits conceived by the late Adam “MCA” Yauch; and more. For more than thirty years, this band has had an inescapable and indelible influence on popular culture. With a style as distinctive and eclectic as a Beastie Boys album, Beastie Boys Book upends the typical music memoir. Alongside the band narrative you will find rare photos, original illustrations, a cookbook by Chef Roy Choi, a graphic novel, a map of Beastie Boys’ New York, mixtape playlists, pieces by guest contributors, and many more surprises.”


 All quoted material is from

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All My Life
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American Masters: How It Feels To Be Free
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Margaret Atwood: A Word After A Word After A Word Is Power
Robert Kirkman’s Secret History of Comics
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TV Series
Finding Love in Quarantine
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Soulmates season 1
The South WesterliesNiratias chevelle

American Soul by Aaron Watson
Shore by Fleet Foxes
Open Door Policy by The Hold Steady
Detroit Stories by Alice Cooper
Way Down in the Rust Bucket by Neil Young & Crazy Horse
All the Good Times by Gillian Welch & David Rawlings
The Lunar Injection Kool Aid Eclipse Conspiracy by Rob ZombieEvolution Joyner Lucas
That’s Life by Willie Nelson
Niratias by Chevelle
Poster Girl by Zara Larsson
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Evolution by Joyner Lucas
Obviously by Lake Street Drive
The Moon and Stars: Prescriptions for Dreamers by Valerie June
Revelacion EPRevelacion Selena Gomez by Selena Gomez
Spaceman by Nick Jonas
Alone With My Faith by Harry Connick Jr.
Andrew Farriss by Andrew Farriss
Chemtrails Over the Country Club by Lana Del Rey
Duets by Sting
J.T. by Steve Earle & The Dukes
Coming 2 America Amazon Original Motion Picture Soundtrack
Rhythms of Zamunda: Music Inspired by Coming 2 America
Justice by Justin BieberStill Woman Enough Loretta Lynn
No One Sings Like You Anymore by Chris Cornell
Now That’s What I Call Muisc! Outlaw Country
Still Woman Enough by Loretta Lynn
We Are by Jon Batiste
Zoom In EP by Ringo Starr
The Bitter Truth by Evanescence
The United States vs. Billie Holiday Music from the Motion Picture by Andra Day

AudiobooksThe consequences of Fear
Dark Sky by C. J. Box
Win by Harlan Coben
The Bounty by Janet Evanovich & Steve Hamilton
The Consequences of Fear by Jacqueline Winspear
Eternal by Lisa Scottoline
Sunflower Sisters by Martha Hall Kelly 

Libby Updates: What You Need to Know

Some exciting new changes have come to Libby that will make using the app simpler and more streamlined. Most of the changes have to do with the toolbar at the bottom of the page, which has been streamlined for user convenience. Libby has provided a brief tutorial on this change for returning users, but in case you missed it, here is a quick rundown of the new tools:libby toolbar

  • The Magnifying Glass icon on the far left allows you to search for a title, author, or genre of book. Just tap the icon and type whatever you want to find.
  • Next to that, the Library Card icon sends you to the Library page, where you can find librarian likes, new reads, and other suggested titles.
  • In the very middle of the toolbar, the Libby icon takes you to a page where you can manage your linked library cards or contact technical support.
  • Next to that, the Book Stack icon takes you to your Shelf, where you can view your loans and holds.
  • Finally, on the far right, the Clock icon allows you to view your timeline, to see what you have read and when you have read it.

In addition to these changes, users with multiple linked library cards can now tap the library card icon next to any title while searching, to see if the title is available through any of their other saved libraries. This makes it easier to see what books will be available to you—if it’s not in Chester County’s Libby library, it might be in another’s!

Want to know more? Click here to view a brief video about all the new updates. If you need more help, visit the Libby Help Page, or call or visit us at the Multimedia desk—we’ll be happy to help you!

American Postwar Movie Villains of the Terrestrial and Contemporary Kind, 1946-1958

It seems common wisdom now that the experience of World War II—the combat and devastation, the economic travails, and the murder of millions of Jews and others deemed enemies of the fascist states—had a significant effect on films, especially crime movies, including film noir.  Of course we now reckon classic noir as having been birthed by The Maltese Falcon (1941).  A case can be made that another Bogart movie, The Big Sleep (1946) was the first to tie the brutality of the war years into criminality in modern urban life.  Recall the scene when Canino (Bob Steele) unloads his pistol on the car in which he thinks Bogart’s Marlowe is hiding in the driver’s seat only to have the private dick rise up and empty three slugs into his guts.  The dazed look in Canino’s eyes as the life drains out of him and he steps backward before falling into the dirt is a particularly gruesome death scene.

On the heels of The Big Sleep came Crossfire (1947), a social drama in the guise of a mystery.  Several soldiers on leave, one of whom is an anti-semite (Robert Ryan), targets for murder a Jew (Sam Levene).  It’s the film of “the three Roberts,” and the chief detective (Robert Young) is helped by another G.I. (Robert Mitchum) to get the goods on Ryan.  Ryan could play good or bad, but opposite Mitchum here and four years later in The Racket (1951), he’s the vicious criminal.  In On Dangerous Ground (1951) Ryan is a police detective much addicted to beating up hoods with little forethought.  It takes a blind girl (Ida Lupino) to reform him.  His psychosis is a gentler variation on that malady of gangster Tommy Udo.

A seminal attribute of the dastardly villains of this era was mental instability, which we now label PTSD.  No one was more psychotic than Richard Widmark, who debuted with a bang in Kiss of Death (1947).  As Udo, who did the dirty kiss of deathwork for mobster kingpins, Widmark cemented his place in cinema history by pushing the wheelchair-bound Mildred Dunnock down the steps to send a message to her snitch son to stay out of town.  Gleefully he cackled:

“I’m askin’ ya, where’s that squealin’ son of yours. (weird laugh) You think a squealer can get away from me? Huh?  (crazy laugh) You know what I do to squealers? I let ‘em have it in the belly so they can roll around for a long time thinkin’ it over. You’re worse than him, tellin’ me he’s comin’ back! Ya lyin’ old hag! (maniacal laugh)”

The Fiend Who Walked the West (1958) was a lower budget remake.

Nineteen-forty-seven also introduced audiences to one of noir’s nastiest femme fatales, Kathie Moffatt (Jane Greer), who turned the life of Jeff Bailey (Robert Mitchum) upside down in the quintessential noir, Out of the Past.  During a fracas involving Bailey and former buddy Fisher (Steve Brodie), Kathie watches on in close-up and for a brief few seconds the camera reveals a sadistic smile spreading across her face, as if she has finally lifted the mask presented to the affectionate lover and now exposed a cold-blooded killer beneath, someone who was capable of shooting her ex-lover Sterling as well as finishing off Fisher when Bailey cannot.  She dispatches Fisher with a bullet and takes off in the car into the night (Duncan and Muller, Film Noir, 2017).

The following year (1948) Ted de Corsia played Willie Garzah, wrestler turned petty hood in The Naked City, one of the semi-documentaries, aka “police procedurals” popular at mid-century.  (See, for instance, Call Northside 777, The Street with No Name, T-Men).  Shot on location in New York City, the Williamsburg Bridge becomes iconic when the worn out and cornered Garzah is seen against the distant NYC skyline.  De Corsia had numerous other memorable bad guy roles, including Crime Wave (1953), where he’d broken out of jail and gathered some of his former anti-social gang together for a bank job.  Charles Buchinsky, soon to be Bronson, and the aptly categorized “wild man” Timothy Carey were gun-crazy_BZZTTqamongst his crew.

Another psychotic villain was Cody Jarrett, played by James Cagney in 1949’s White Heat.  It was a bravura performance.  The mother-fixated Jarrett, an inveterate criminal, moans and groans like some injured beast when in prison he learns that his mother has died.  Breaking out shortly thereafter, he re-forms his gang and adds Edmond O’Brien, a FBI plant.  With his help, Jarrett and his gang are cornered in an oil refinery.  “Made it, ma! Top of the world!” were his immortal parting words.

Peggy Cummins (Gun Crazy, 1950) was another psychotic femme fatale, using her feminine wiles to control the weak-willed John Dall on their murderous rampage, a precursor to 1967’s Bonnie and Clyde.

Psychopathy was an anti-social attribute not only of the low or middle class.  It infected Jean Simmons’ crazy rich girl inangel-face_tMitMj Angel Face (1952). The climactic moments of murder and suicide, however, are not attenuated by the casting, against type of Jean Simmons.  Her more usual, heroic parts belie the barely repressed violence of her character for the viewer as well as for Frank (Robert Mitchum). By encouraging the audience to empathize with Frank’s uncontrollable attraction to Diane and by adding visual stability to her insular, mentally unbalanced world, Preminger compels them to coexperience both Frank’s hopes for ultimate salvation and also, in the film’s fundamental noir statement, the moral resolution of his death (Silver and Ward, Film Noir, 3rd ed.).

The Hitch-Hiker (1953) featured future Perry Mason D.A. Hamilton Burger (William Talman) as the, you guessed it, psychotic killer who carjacks Frank Lovejoy and Edmond O’Brien and impels them to drive him into Mexico.  With a lazy eye that never closes, Talman is a suitably menacing villain, and the movie is considered the only noir directed by a woman, actress Ida Lupino.

the-hitch-hiker_in0kP4Who was the greatest cinematic villain of the 1950s by number of roles?  Is there a case for Raymond Burr?  Think His Kind of Woman (1951) where Robert Mitchum, the seminal noir hero or anti-hero, plays a patsy to unknowingly impersonate Burr’s extradited mob boss Nick Ferraro in order for the criminal to return to the States.  More famously, Burr was the albinish apartment resident James Stewart suspected of murdering his wife in Hitchcock’s Rear Window (1954).  Bride of the Gorilla, Great Day in the Morning (as Jumbo Means), The Brass Legend (1956), and Affair in Havana (1957), gave Burr other devilish roles.

Despite Burr’s credentials, Lee Marvin poses a true challenge to his villainy.  In director Fritz Lang’s famous noir The Big Heat (1953) Marvin, like Richard Widmark in Kiss of Death, is a hitman and all-round dog’s-body for crime boss Mike Lagana (Alexander Scourby).  His sadism is demonstrated by his putting out a cigarette on a woman’s hand and tossing hot coffee into and disfiguring the face of Debby (Gloria Grahame).  The same year Marvin was sometimes ally, sometimes Johnny’s (Marlon Brando) motorcycle “club” enemy Chino in The Wild One.  For a short time they terrorized a small town after forging an uneasy alliance.  In Bad Day at Black Rock (1955), at the behest of Robert Ryan, Marvin and Ernest Borgnine attempt to intimidate the one-armed stranger (Spencer Tracy) come to the dusty southwestern town to make sense of a Japanese-American’s demise.  By no means a high-class production, rather an anti-communist screed filmed in a studio hash house and on a beach, Shack Out on 101the-big-heat_gu8U2V (1955) featured Marvin as short-order cook “Slob,” who sexually harassed waitress Cottie (Terry Moore) while her paramour, a nuclear scientist (Frank Lovejoy), worked to identify the “Shack” employee or customer passing secrets to the Russians in an offshore submarine.  In Violent Saturday (1955) Marvin was a benzedrine addict member of a gang run by Stephen McNally, intent on robbing a modern day copper mining town’s bank.  This time out he was on the opposite side of Amish farmer Ernest Borgnine

In The Bad Seed (1956) Patty McCormack played Rhoda, a psychotic 8-year-old.  She was lethal, killing a classmate and a maintenance man before attracting a lightning bolt.

Many character actors and actresses made impressive villains in all genres during the late 40s and 50s in both major and B-movies. Some of the notable ones were Leo Gordon (Riot in Cell Block 11), Neville Brand (Kansas City Confidential), Charles McGraw (The Killers, His Kind of Woman), Lee Van Cleef (The Big Combo), Jack Elam (Kansas City Confidential), Richard Boone (Man on a Tightrope), Jack Lambert (The Killers), Marie Windsor (The Killing), and Beverly Garland (Swamp Women).

Generally considered the last of the classic noirs is 1958’s Touch of Evil.  Director Orson Welles played a corrupt detective opposite Charlton Heston’s Mexican narcotics investigator and his wife (Janet Leigh).  Dennis Weaver was the creepy “night man” at a motel in which Leigh was incarcerated.  How intriguing is it that in two years Leigh would drive herself to a motel inhabited by another “night man”—Anthony Perkins’ Norman Bates in Psycho.

Note:  The movies herein discussed took place after World War II, therefore the Depression Era The Night of the Hunter (1955) is not included.  A further expansion would include Preacher Harry Powelll (Robert Mitchum), one of the most despicable and frightening characters of any cinematic era.  Although it’s a western, not a mid-20th century crime film, Shane (1953) makes a case for having the most inherently evil of 50s cinematic bad guys:  Walter (Jack) Palance.  Hired by rancher Ryker (Emile Meyer), Palance is the notorious gunman for hire, Wilson. Confirmation of his nature is that the saloon dog slinks from the room when Wilson enters. Prior to ’53 Palance had essayed a modern-day criminal.  In Panic in the Streets (1950), his unsavory denizen of the New Orleans underworld did not know he was carrying plague.  How appropriate is that his name was Blackie.  Bad guy, black death.


Cameron, Ian and Elisabeth.  The Heavies.  1967. 

            ______.  Dames.  1969.

Duncan, Paul, and Muller, Jurgen, eds.  Film Noir.  2017.

Silver, Alain, and Ward, Elizabeth, eds.  Film Noir:  An Encyclopedic Reference to the American Style.  3rd ed.  1993.

Staff Picks March 2021

Emily’s Picks

Libby Audiobook: The Thief Lord by Cornelia Funke
ballet one more timethe thief lordA splendid, richly detailed young adult novel. Set in a Venice brought to vivid life by Funke’s masterful prose, the story follows a pair of orphans, Prosper and Bo, who flee their cruel relatives and join a ragtag group of child thieves, led by a charismatic boy who calls himself the Thief Lord. The Thief Lord is a colorful, mysterious figure with a wealth of secrets, and soon Bo and Prosper find themselves entangled in his exciting but dangerous lifestyle.

CD: Ballet Suites by P.I. Tchaikovsky
This CD features highlights from Tchaikovsky’s three famous ballets– Sleeping Beauty, Swan Lake, and the Nutcracker –arranged for the piano. Beautiful music, some of the best of all time, great for studying or relaxing to!


Jessie’s Picks

DVD: Miss Congeniality
the book of secretsmiss congenialityThis movie is one of Sandra Bullock’s best Rom-Coms.  She is a tomboy FBI agent who has to go undercover at a beauty pageant. Michael Caine is great as her stylist and coach. 

CD: The Book of Secrets by Loreena McKennitt
Loreena McKennitt combines celtic, world, and new age music together to create her own unique, melodic sound.  Includes “The Mummer’s Dance” and her song version of “The Highwayman” poem.

John’s Picks

DVD: Letters from Iwo Jima
fahrenheit 451iwo jimaDirected by Clint Eastwood, Letters from Iwo Jima is not your typical World War Two movie. It captures the famous battle in the Pacific from the perspective of a Japanese soldier. This movie is a really good reminder that, at the most fundamental level, wars are fought by real people doing what they believe is the right thing. It’s easy to think about battles and wars being fought between massive armies, but look closer and you’ll see individuals like Saigo—individuals just trying to fulfill their orders, defend the emperor, and live.

Audiobook: Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury
This classic dystopian novel about firefighters tasked with burning books to protect society is still really relevant nearly 60 years later!  (Please do not burn this book!)


Kim’s Picks

DVD: Canyon Passage
canyon passageBased on a tale by master storyteller Ernest Haycox (Bugles in the Afternoon), Canyon Passage is special in many ways.  It was shot in gorgeous color on location in the Great Northwest, treated Native Americans with sympathy, and featured characters with depth.  Added bonuses:  Susan Hayward’s red tresses and Oscar-nominated “Ol’ Buttermilk Sky” sung by its composer, Hoagy Carmichael.

Libby Audiobook: Evil Geniuses: The Unmaking of America: A Recent History evil geniusesby Kurt Andersen
Following Fantasyland: How America Went Haywire:  A 500-Year History (2017), Andersen explores the unraveling of our social contract due to corporate greed, conspiracy theories, economic falsehoods, skepticism over government’s ability to help citizens, wish fulfillment fantasies, willful ignorance of climate change, and attacks on public education and healthcare under the pretext that “it costs too much.”  Like Fantasyland, this fact-filled interpretation of our predicament will make the reader’s blood boil.  Provides grist for the mill of those who believe our society is getting dumber.


Mary’s Picks

DVD: Lark Rise to Candleford
ooh theres lorelark rise to candlefordAn absolutely endearing series. You will fall in love with the place and the characters. Heartwarming stories, one of BBC’s best. 

CD: Lore by Orla Fallon
An enchanting collection of traditional Celtic favorites. Orla Fallon is a founding member of Celtic Woman, with a beautiful voice that will get you in the mood for St. Patrick’s Day.


Stephanie’s Picks

Audiobook: Milkman by Anna Burns
“In an unnamed city, middle sister stands out for the wrong reasons. She reads while walking, for one. And she has milkmanbeen taking French night classes downtown. So when a local paramilitary known as the Milkman begins pursuing her, she suddenly becomes ‘interesting,’ the last thing she ever wanted to be. Despite middle sister’s attempts to avoid him—and to keep her mother from finding out about her maybe-boyfriend—rumors spread and the threat of violence lingers. Milkman is a story of the way inaction can have enormous repercussions, in a time when the wrong flag, wrong religion, or even a sunset can be subversive. Told with ferocious energy and sly, wicked humor, Milkman establishes Anna Burns as one of the most consequential voices ofif i can dream our day.”

CD: If I Can Dream by Elvis Presley and the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra
“Classic Elvis performances with brand new orchestral accompaniment.”


All quoted materials from

New Releases

Love, Weddings & Other Disasters
Wild Mountain Thyme
Let Him Go
The Wanting Mare
Tribes on the Edge
Ken Burns: Here and There
Wander Darkly
The State of Texas vs. MelissaSaving Notre Dame
The Informer
The Blackout
A Call to Spy
Tomato Red: Blood Money
Saving Notre Dame
The Croods: A New Age
Chop Shop
The Last Vermeer
Man Push Cart
American Masters: Laura Ingalls Wilder – Prairie to Page
Smooth Talk
Hot MessAll Creatures Great and Small
Nature: Santa’s Wild Home
Narratives of Modern Genocide
Inherent Good

TV Series
The Sounds
All Creatures Great and Small
Harley Quinn season 2
The Long Song
Lovecraft Country season 1
Bang series 2
Inside Amy Schumer complete series
We Got This
You season 2

Déjà Vu by CNCOThe highlights the Weeknd
The highlights by The Weeknd
Medicine at Midnight by Foo Fighters
Demidevil by Ashnikko
Life Rolls On by Florida Georgia Line
The Lucky Ones by Pentatonix
Living Off Xperience by The Lox
R+R= Now Live by R+R= Now
Death By Rock And Roll by The Pretty Reckless
Music: Songs From And Inspired By the Motion Picture by Sia

The Russian by James Patterson & James O. Born
The Four WindsThe Four Winds by Kristin Hannah
Serpentine by Jonathan Kellerman
The Survivors by Jane Harper
Faithless in Death by J.D. Robb
Missing and Endangered by J.A. Jance

Golden Globe Winners 2021

This past weekend, The Golden Globes held a remote ceremony to award the very best in movies and TV from the last year. Last year being what it was, many of the night’s big winners were streaming exclusives, and have not been added to our collection yet. But there are still quite a few winners you can check out here at Chester County Library. Titles underlined in blue are available from our catalog, and those marked with an asterisk (*) can be found on Netflix, which you can watch with our Roku Express+ devices. Check out all of this year’s winners below!

Best Motion Picture, Drama: Nomadland

Best Motion Picture, Musical or Comedy: Borat Subsequent Moviefilm

Best Actress in a Motion Picture, Drama: Andra Day, The United States VS. Billie Holiday

Best Actor in a Motion Picture, Drama: Chadwick Boseman, Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom*

Best Actress in a Motion Picture, Musical or Comedy: Rosamund Pike, I Care a Lot*

Best Actor in a Motion Picture, Musical or Comedy: Sacha Baron Cohen, Borat Subsequent Moviefilm

Best Supporting Actress in a Motion Picture: Jodie Foster, The Mauritanian

Best Supporting Actor in a Motion Picture: Daniel Kaluuya, Judas and the Black Messiah

Best Motion Picture, Animated: Soul

Best Motion Picture, Foreign Language: Minari

Best Director, Motion Picture: Chloe Zhao, Nomadland

Best Screenplay, Motion Picture: The Trial of the Chicago 7*

Best Original Score, Motion Picture: Soul

Best Original Song, Motion Picture: “Io Si (Seen),” The Life Ahead*

Best Television Series, Drama: The Crown*

Best Television Series, Musical or Comedy: Schitt’s Creek*

Best Actress in a Televison Series, Drama: Emma Corrin, The Crown*

Best Actor in a Television Series, Drama: Josh O’Connor, The Crown*

Best Actress in a Television Series, Musical or Comedy: Catherine O’Hara, Schitt’s Creek*

Best Performance in a Television Series, Musical or Comedy: Jason Sudeikis, Ted Lasso

Best Limited Series, Anthology Series, or Television Motion Picture: The Queen’s Gambit*

Best Actress in a Limited Series, Anthology, or TV Movie: Anya Taylor-Joy, The Queen’s Gambit*

Best Actor in a Limited Series, Anthology, or TV Movie: Mark Ruffalo, I Know This Much is True

Best Supporting Actress in a Television Series: Gillian Anderson, The Crown*

Best Supporting Actor in a Television Series: John Boyega, Small Axe

Roku Roundup: What’s New on Netflix This March?

It seems amazing to say, but it’s been almost a year since COVID-19 lockdowns began. In those first few months of lockdown many found solace in streaming shows and movies, from old favorites to surprising new finds. And that trend shows no signs of slowing down, as Netflix has released a ton of new content for everyone to enjoy this month.

Feel-good movies seem to be the flavor of the month, as two star-studded comedies make their premieres in March. The first, biggieMoxie, is Amy Poehler’s second Netflix movie. In it, a shy high school student, inspired by her mother’s own rebellious past, gathers the girls in her local high school to publish a zine that shines a spotlight on the sexism they endure every day. It premieres March 3rd. Later, on the 12th, Jennifer Garner stars in Yes Day, a family comedy about two parents who decide to let their kids make the rules for one day. And music lovers will want to catch the new documentary Biggie: I Got a Story To Tell, which celebrates the life and work of rapper Notorious B.I.G. The film features rare footage of the star and interviews with his closest family and friends as it traces his rise to rap royalty.

There’s a whole host of exciting new TV series premiering this month as well. First, on the 12th, is The One, a sci-fi series that takes place in a world where scientists can determine a person’s irregularssoul mate using DNA. Then on the 15th comes Zero Chill, a new teen comedy for the skating and sports fans. In it, a talented young figure skater must leave everything behind to follow her brother to a high-end hockey academy. Finally, March 26th will see the series premiere of The Irregulars, a Sherlock Holmes spinoff story with a fun and youthful twist. Mystery lovers won’t want to stop watching.

These titles are exclusive to Netflix, and can’t be seen anywhere else. But with Roku Express+ devices you can watch all the shows and movies Netflix has to offer, as well as a huge selection of films from our VUDU library. Click here to reserve your Roku and start streaming today!

Feel-Good Films for Black History Month

There are lots of films to shine a spotlight on this Black History Month, but many of the most popular ones tend to have some pretty heavy subject matter, covering all sorts of hardships from the past and the present. These movies are important, and fully deserve their spotlight—but Black joy matters too, and ought to be celebrated, especially in hard times like these. With that in mind, here are some Black comedies, romances, and feel-good films from our collection!

About Last Night

Akeelah and the Bee


The Best Manakeelah and the bee

Black Dynamite

The Brother from Another Planet

Cabin in the Sky

Car Wash

Coming to America



Fridaydope 2

Girls’ Trip

Hidden Figures

I Think I Love My Wife

Jumping the Broom


Lilies of the Field

The Photograph

The Preacher’s Wife ease on down

The Princess and the Frog

Queen of Katwe

Southside with You

Undercover Brother

The Wiz