August Staff Picks

STAFF Picks (1)

Dragana’s Picks
tunnel.jpgTV Series: The Tunnel
Remake of Danish-Swedish TV series The Bridge, but this time, a British and a French detectives must work together to resolves crimes. It casts old European enmities in a new light.mefistofele

CD: Mefistofele by Arrigo Boito
Not very known opera of Arrigo Boito, Verdi’s greatest librettist. Based on the tragedy Faust by Goethe. Excellent performance recorded in 1995, at Teatro alla Scala.

Jamie’s Picks
Thor-Ragnarok-Poster(2)Movie: Thor: Ragnarok
The best of the Thor movies; Taika Waititi brings his signature style (also directed What We Do in the Shadows and Hunt for the Wilderpeople) to the superhero movie to great effect. This movie is hilarious and so much fun. I told my husband in the middle of it that I never wanted it to be over!room on fire

CD: Room on Fire by The Strokes
A classic album for early 2000’s pop rock. Punchy and catchy on the surface with somewhat melancholy lyrics. This album cemented The Strokes as a giant in indie rock.

Jessie’s Picks
black pantherMovie: Black Panther
This movie takes place after “Captain America: Civil War” and follows the new Black Panther as he becomes King of Wakanda. The great cast brings to life the complex characters of the wondrous kingdom of girl waits with gunWakanda.

Audiobook: Girl Waits with Gun by Amy Stewart
Based on the true story of one of the first female deputies, this mystery series debut has humor, intriguing characters, and suspense. A good read for fans of historical mysteries!

Kim’s Picks
the killersMovie: The Killers
Talk about a debut. One-time trapeze artiste Burt Lancaster gets the lead role in this classic 1946 film noir featuring screen siren Ava Gardner and a host of great supporting and character actors. The action takes place in New York, Philly and Pittsburgh, where Edmond O’Brien’s insurance investigator orders a steak sandwich that looks more like creamed chipped beef on toast and proceeds to eat it with a knife and fork.

Audiobook: The Earth is Weeping: The Epic Story of the Indian Wars for the the earth is weeping.jpgAmerican West by Peter Cozzens
This is a full-scale treatment of a long and violent episode in U.S. history. The major players are here: Sherman, Sheridan, Miles, Grant, Red Cloud, Captain Jack, Cochise, Geronimo, Sitting Bull, Crazy Horse. The battles and massacres are here: Sand Creek, Little Big Horn, Wounded Knee. The tribes are here:  Modoc, Comanche, Apache, Shoshone, Nez Perce, Crow, Lakota. Cozzens investigates the effects of the press, racism, and the misunderstandings that ensued when a stone age and diverse culture confronted a more homogeneous and increasingly technological society convinced of its Manifest Destiny. One of many takeaways: cessation of the Northern Pacific Railroad’s construction was not caused by Indian attacks, rather the stock market Panic of 1873.

Mary’s Picks
the money pitMovie: The Money Pit
Great comedy from the 80’s. Classic Tom Hanks when he was just life of pibecoming famous.

Audiobook: Life of Pi by Yann Martel
When reading you first think this is just about a boy’s adventure stranded in the ocean, but by the end realize the story is much more complex with a lot of symbolism.

Stephanie’s Picks
white oleander.jpgMovie: White Oleander
An emotional drama centered around crime, foster homes, and the love between a mother and daughter.a colony in a nation

Audiobook: A Colony in a Nation by Chris Hayes
Deft and thoughtful exposé on race and the “Two Americas” that we inhabit.

All quoted summaries from catalog.ccls.org.

Musings on Film Genre: The Minimalist View

Film genres blog post (1)

During recent decades it has been customary for film critics to scatter movie genres willy-nilly, e.g., “Buddy Movies,” “Disaster Films, “Epics,” “Biopics.”  But aren’t these really subgenres or components of already existing genres?  Buddy movies are usually Comedy or contained in the Crime, Mystery & Suspense genre.  Disaster movies are encompassed within Adventure & Historical; or Drama; or Science Fiction, Fantasy and Horror.  Epics come under Adventure & Historical or Western, maybe War.  (Think The the great ziegfeldDevil at 4 O’Clock, How the West Was Won, The Longest Day).  Biopics are about real people but can take place in any time period, and the person in question could be a western lawman (Wyatt Earp), a medieval world conqueror (Genghis Khan), or a scientist (Louis Pasteur).  Biopics do not constitute a genre.  They are Drama—unless they are Western, like Wyatt Earp.  Or Adventure & Historical, like Alexander the Great.  Or Musical, like The Great Ziegfeld.  A biography of a singer or dancer is a Musical—as long as there is singing and dancing.

So what makes a film genre?  Writer Neil Gaiman contends that subject matter does not a genre make, but perhaps he’s applying this only to literature.  For the cinema, the number of movies made on a certain subject seems entirely appropriate to genre definition.  In other words, if hundreds or thousands of movies deal with, say, the winning of the west, the Western becomes a genre.

For in-depth, highfalutin analysis of film genre, see Film Genre Reader (1986) edited by Barry Keith Grant.  This investigates classification, the auteur, conventions, and so on.  In “Chapter 9. Genre Film:  A Classical Experience,” Thomas Sobchack refers to An Illustrated Glossary of Film Terms in which Harry M. Geduld and Ronald Gottesman “define genre as a ‘category, kind, or form of film distinguished by subject matter, theme, or techniques’.”  For those authors there are 75 film genres!

The minimalist, while not denying overlap, recognizes only 8 authentic film genres:

Adventure & Historical
Comedy
Crime, Mystery & Suspense
Drama
Musical
Science Fiction, Fantasy & Horror
War (Combat)
Western

Let’s look at each.

Adventure & Historical.

Sometimes action is equated with adventure and the genre called Action Adventure, but action is not a genre because it can permeate such other genres as Science Fiction, Fantasy and Horror; War; and Western.  Even Adventure, which might be defined broadly as a perilous journey where the characters overcome natural and/or man-made obstacles, is compromised on occasion by films in which the protagonists do not move.  For instance, The Adventures of Robin Hood (1938) takes place in King John’s castle and nearby Sherwood Forest.  Garden of Evil (1954) is a Western first although it involves theraiders perilous trek. 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968) is certainly Science Fiction yet it meets the criteria for Adventure:  again, a perilous trek.  Pirate movies fit here, don’t they?  But what about Pirates of the Caribbean?  Voodoo, ghost crews, and various oceanic monstrosities must relegate this franchise to the Science Fiction, Fantasy & Horror genre.  Strictly speaking, Raiders of the Lost Ark is not Adventure.  A major supernatural element inhabits each Indiana Jones outing.

What about using true events to signify Adventure?  That ties it strongly to Historical.  What of The Last Valley (1970), which takes place during the Thirty Years War (1618-1648) but is based on a novel?  Ditto A Tale of Two Cities (1935), which uses the French Revolution as backdrop but Dickens’ fictional characters in the prime roles.  Alexander the Great (1956) certainly covers a lot of geographic territory, so it’s Adventure and Historical.

“Costumers” is old lingo for historical flicks and is almost an insult in that such films may have little or no action. Think Forever Amber (1945).

Comedy.

If one wants to be truly minimalist, everything is either Comedy or Drama although Musical would subsume them both.  Many modern films are touted by the studios as comedies but are in fact in the crossover realm, Comedy-Drama.  See, for example, The Apartment; The Courtship of Eddie’s Father; Soldier in the Rain; The World of Henry Orient; Goodbye, Columbus; Crossing Delancey; Manny & Lo; The Family Stone.  The Comedy-Drama is hard to balance.  The Landlord (1970) begins amusingly but descends toward a gloomy denouement.

Comedy is rife with subgenres:

Black/dark comedy (The Loved One, Eating Raoul, Harold and Maude)
bringing up babyComedy-western (Along Came Jones, The Paleface, Cat Ballou, Texas Across the River, The Hallelujah Trail)
Romantic comedy (It Happened One Night, When Harry Met Sally, Notting Hill)
Satirical comedy (Dr. Strangelove, Being There, The King of Comedy)
Screwball comedy (Bringing Up Baby, The Devil and Miss Jones, The Lady Eve)
Service comedy (Operation Mad Ball, Imitation General, Don’t Go Near the Water, The Last Time I Saw Archie)
Sophisticated comedy (Trouble in Paradise, The Philadelphia Story, The Palm Beach Story)
Spy comedy (Our Man Flint, The Silencers, The Last of the Secret Agents?)

Question:  Is Being John Malkovich a Comedy or is it Drama?  Science Fiction?  Fantasy?

Crime, Mystery & Suspense.

It’s all about murder.  Other than comedic spoofs like Our Man Flint and The Silencers,anatomy of a murder.jpg espionage films fall here.  Trial films are properly in Drama because the crime itself is tangential to the story and usually not seen, e.g., 12 Angry Men, Anatomy of a Murder.  Film noir is not a genre, it is a style.  Terror movies without supernatural elements go here, e.g., Psycho; Die! Die! My Darling; Manhunter; The Silence of the Lambs.

Subgenres include heist (The Asphalt Jungle, Five Against the House) and prison (Brute Force, Riot in Cell Block 11) films.  Should prison films that do not feature riots and whose plots are not predicated on murder (Caged, Chained Heat) be designated Drama?

Drama.

streetcar.jpgWe know it when we see it, presumably.  Definitive dramas include The Good Earth, Kings Row, Gentleman’s Agreement, Death of a Salesman, A Streetcar Named Desire, Executive Suite, The Rose Tattoo, The View from Pompey’s Head, Sweet Smell of Success, Look Back in Anger, David and Lisa, The Sterile Cuckoo, Love Story, Play It As It Lays, The Paper Chase, Norma Rae.

Modern age biopics fit here, e.g., A Beautiful Mind.

Musical.wizard of oz

The musical genre is easiest to identify.  If there’s singing and dancing, it’s Musical.  Musical subsumes into its bailiwick all other subjects.  Thus The Wizard of Oz is Musical first, Fantasy second.

Tricky:  is a musical biography in which there is little or no singing a Musical or Biography, thus Drama, e.g., The Glenn Miller Story, The Eddy Duchin Story?

Science Fiction, Fantasy & Horror.

Horror here is Supernatural horror, not merely “terror,” e.g., Psycho, Homicidal, The the thing.jpgSilence of the Lambs.  Those fit into Crime, Mystery & Suspense.

Science Fiction and Horror often overlap. Frankenstein is generally considered Horror, but the good doctor uses scientific means to create the monster.  Fantasy, too, may have elements of supernatural horror. The Thing from Another World (1951) is about a UFO and its dangerous passenger found in the ice, but the occupant acts like the Frankenstein monster—or Dracula, as it grows offspring using human blood.

War (Combat).

For the minimalist, War is the modern combat film, the hard helmet school as it were, thus beginning with World War I. Films dealing with pre-WW I battle belong in Adventure & Historical, e.g., The Crusades, Spartacus, Waterloo, Zulu, Kingdom of Heaven.

Subgenres include aerial dogfight (The Dawn Patrol, The Blue Max), submarine (The Enemy Below, Run Silent, Run Deep), POW escape (The Colditz Story, The Great Escape),great escape wartime planning (Command Decision, The Man Who Never Was), and wartime espionage (Pimpernel Smith, The Man Who Never Was, The Counterfeit Traitor).  Casablanca probably goes here even though there’s no real espionage going on.  People are fleeing the Nazis, not spying on them or waging a guerilla war, at least during the time of the film itself.  Should War be divided into Combat and Non-Combat? From Here to Eternity is, except for the attack on Pearl Harbor finale, a Drama of pre-World War II army life.

Western.

The Western, a distinctly U.S. genre, can be defined by geography and/or time period.  A Western should take place in North America, i.e., the United States, Canada or Mexico.  South America and Australia might deserve some consideration. See 1955’s The Americano with Glenn Ford and 1990‘s Quigley Down Under with Tom Selleck.

The time period is more problematic. Is The Alamo Western or Adventure & Historical?  northwest passageThe actual siege took place in 1836 in Texas. What about films set in the Colonial period? Northwest Passage or The Last of the Mohicans, for instance?  There are Native Americans in these films. But they are more properly Historical (based on a novel based on a good deal of fact). One often sees Civil War films classified as Western, but they are really Historical. However, there is a subgenre of movies in which Yanks and Rebs join forces to track (Major Dundee) or fight off the indigenous tribes (Under Two Flags).

Does the presence of Native Americans automatically make a film a Western? If so, the Floridian-set Distant Drums and Seminole are Westerns.

It is difficult to designate a starting time for Westerns. One might use the Civil War’s conclusion and the rapid expansion into the interior, but that was already underway almost as soon as Europeans entered the Continent, and the Oregon Trail became a way west for settlers in 1836.  (Trappers and traders had been out there for many years.)  Bad Company (1972) takes place during the Civil War, when the Union is rounding up young men in the hinterland and on the frontier for the army.  The protagonists, played by Barry Brown and Jeff Bridges, fleeing conscription, hightail it across the Mississippi and into the West.  The end of the Western?  Purists scoff at the notion that films set in the West and feature automatic weapons and cars (Big Jake) are to be included, but who can deny The Wild Bunch (1969) a honored place in any discussion of great westerns?  Or The Professionals (1966)?

Genre Crossover

Musical-Comedy.  What predominates?  Musical.  Again, if there’s singing, it’s a Musical.

To recap, biographical films cross genres, from Musical (The I Don’t Care Girl, The Eddy Duchin Story, The Rose) to Adventure & Historical (Alexander the Great, The Last Emperor, Lincoln).  Therefore Biography is not a distinct genre.princess bride

The Princess Bride is Adventure and Comedy, or, perhaps, amusement.  Adventure wins out.  Or does it?  There’s a perilous trek.  However….how about Science Fiction, Fantasy and Horror with an emphasis on Fantasy?

Comedy-western or western-comedy?  For the minimalist, comedy takes precedence.

Discussion Questions

Where does King Kong (1933) fit?  The title character is a giant ape.  Are his nemeses, dinosaurs, which once lived, science fiction?  Is the film fantasy?  Maybe the genre of Science Fiction, Fantasy & Horror can encompass it.  Placing it in Adventure might not be out of bounds.  The Historical part sounds wrong, though.  It’s not based on fact.

Is Mark of the Vampire (1935) Science Fiction, Fantasy & Horror?  In the end it is revealed that there were no supernatural blood-suckers.  So does it belong in Crime, Mystery & Suspense?  There is a murderOthers of this disreputable ilk include Curucu, Beast of the Amazon (1956), Macabre (1958) and I Bury the Living (1958).

How many songs must a film have to be a Musical?  Are a half dozen enough?

Elvis Presley’s Follow That Dream (1962) features songs but is otherwise a cute comedy apollo 13with darker elements (gangsters).  So it remains Musical, right?  Or Comedy-Drama with music that makes it Musical-Comedy?  It boggles the mind.

What is Apollo 13 (1995)?  It’s fact-based, therefore not Science Fiction.  It’s a prime candidate for the Adventure & Historical genre.

Does a jungle setting relegate a movie to Adventure?  Not necessarily.  The Naked Jungle (1953) mostly takes place on a plantation.  Only the army ants are going anywhere.

Conclusion

As this analysis demonstrates, most films fit without undue pressure into one of eight specific genres.  Others are more intractable.  Perhaps what is needed is a very large chalkboard on which, like mathematicians and theoretical physicists, film aficionados draw arrows and other symbols to establish relationships between genres.  Nevertheless, the nagging suspicion is that, as with 2001: A Space Odyssey, there is no final answer.

Written by Kim Holston

July Staff Picks

STAFF Picks (1)

Dragana’s Picks
history of ancient egyptGreat Courses Audio: The History of Ancient Egypt
You will definitely want to know more about the Ancient Egypt after listening to this Bob Brier’s enthusiastic, passionate and knowledgable story. Go back in time and learn about the pharaos, mummies, everyday life and influence of this amazing culture.220px-Justin_Timberlake_-_The_2020_Experience

CD: The 20/20 Experience by Justin Timberlake
This 2013 comeback album combines Justin Timberlake’s trademark shape-shifting digital funk with a warmer, more organic sound. Some big hits like “That Girl,” “Mirrors” and “Tunnel Vision.”

Jamie’s Picks
bourdainNonfiction DVD: Anthony Bourdain: No Reservations
Anthony Bourdain’s wonderful original travel show that uses food as a gateway to understanding a place, people, and culture. Bourdain shows that while fancy restaurants are well and good and there are chefs out there doing amazing work, it can be just as valuable and important to be invited into someone’s grandmother’s home for a great meal.siracusa

Audiobook: Siracusa by Delia Ephron
A story about domestic strife told via multiple perspectives with a somewhat unexpected ending that makes you wonder what you would do in that situation. A great beach read!

Jessie’s Picks
jumanji welcome to the jungleMovie: Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle
Hilarious adventure movie about four teens that get sucked into a video game and become their avatars. They then embark on a thrilling, and very amusing, quest to save Jumanji and get back home.circe

Audiobook: Circe by Madeline Miller
Miller wonderfully brings to life and retells the story of Circe, a daughter of a Greek god that plays an important role in Homer’s The Odyssey.

Kim’s Picks
it terror from beyond spaceMovie: It! The Terror from Beyond Space
Inspired by The Thing from Another World (1951) and inspiring Alien (1979), It! recounts an expedition to Mars (in 1973) to rescue the lone survivor of a previous mission who is suspected of murdering the rest of the crew so he could subsist on limited supplies until a rescue craft arrived.  To their eventual horror, an airlock is not closed before an unwanted passenger climbs aboard.  Soon it’s a fight for survival as the intruder thwarts humankind’s puny weapons as well as rays from the atomic pile powering the ship.  Rightly ranked by some as the best science fiction B movie of the 50s, It! might seem primitive to modern audiences but that doesn’t make it any less frightening.

Audiobook: Sapiens:  A Brief History of Humankind by Yuval Noah Harari sapiens
Unusual, superbly written history divided into four parts based on the continuum of physics to chemistry to biology:  The Cognitive Revolution, The Agricultural Revolution, The Unification of Humankind, The Scientific Revolution.  Harari astounds us with his insight, e.g., agricultural societies are more disease prone and work harder than hunter-gatherers, we live in a world of fictions, scientists who developed the atomic bomb should have received the Nobel Peace Prize for making future global wars nothing less than collective suicide, death by aging might become a thing of the past by 2050, neither invention nor a dogmatic belief in the inevitability of progress is true, humans might be advised to value the happiness of animals as much as themselves.

Mary’s Picks
War-horse-posterMovie: War Horse
An emotional and epic film for horse lovers with a great cast. Showing the trauma of WWI through the journey of a horse and the people he impacts.forever vienna

CD: Forever Vienna by André Rieu
Andre Rieu’s concerts are guaranteed to put you in a great mood. He is fantastic at really showcasing how wonderful classical music is.

Stephanie’s Picks
insecureTV Series: Insecure
Comedy series about two twentysomething best friends trying to navigate the navigate the tricky professional and personal terrain of L.A., while reconsidering their life choices.i see you

Audiobook: I See You by Clare Mackintosh
In this psychological thriller, danger lurks around every corner. You won’t want to stop listening.

All quoted summaries from catalog.ccls.org.

The Best (and Last) of the Bs

Cover imageIn common movie parlance, B stands for B, not A. The B movie could be made cheaply (“on a shoestring”), feature a cast of up-and-comers (Lee Marvin, Dennis Hopper), actors who’d found their niche (Randolph Scott, John Payne), character actors (Riot in Cell Block 11), or actors whose glory days were behind them (Van Heflin). Because of a tight script and competent behind-the-scenes personnel, B-movies could exceed expectations and even become classics. A prime example of this is Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1956), directed by low-budget master Don Siegel, produced by big-time Hollywood veteran Walter Wanger. B movies can have an edge major studio productions lack. Had they been large-scale studio films they might have been censored under the restrictions imposed by the Production Code until they were shadows of their former selves. The B movie was also termed a “programmer,” i.e., a small-scale production that could run as a matinee feature or part of a double bill with another B film plus cartoons and newsreels.

B movies have a heritage that goes back to the ’30s. Examples include the Three Cover imageMesquiteers western series, some of which starred the young John Wayne. “Poverty Row” studios like Monogram and Producers Releasing Corporation churned out innumerable B films in various genres, sometimes hitting a home run with the likes of PRC‘s Detour (1945).

It’s convenient, of course, to plot trends by decade, but it’s rarely true. The best and last of the Bs extended from the ’50s into the ’60s. Slowly TV took over as prime purveyor of film entertainment, helped when color became common by the end of the decade. Why go to the theater for a modest western when a modest western was on the tube every night? Double features and matinees were also on their way out. The “beach” movies petered out well before decade’s end. They were B movies to be sure, but hardly art or “good” except for the now iconic pop stars and groups who showed up to serenade the surfers, motorcycle men and molls, beach bums and assorted older actors and actresses generally slumming as crackpots or square adults.

The quality B movies released between 1951 and 1962 that are held in Chester County Library’s Multimedia Department are:

Cover imageFixed Bayonets (1951) — Gene Evans’ Sergeant Rock (!) doesn’t care if Corporal Denno (Richard Basehart) uses one or six bullets to kill a Commie, just do it!

The Prowler (1951) — Webb Garwood (Van Heflin) ingratiates himself with Susan Gilvray (Evelyn Keyes) after she complains about a peeping-tom. Adultery leads to murder and a slag heap.

When Worlds Collide (1951) — A star christened Bellus approaches the solar system and threatens life on earth. A rocket is constructed to transport a selected few to safety on Bellus’s orbiting planet, Zyra.

The Thing from Another World (1951) — A flying saucer crashes in the arctic. The Air Cover imageForce men who find it also discover its pilot, a very tall humanoid, frozen in a block of ice. Too late do they realize that an electric blanket has thawed out the less than benevolent visitor from space. “Keep watching the skies!” urges reporter Scotty.

Kansas City Confidential (1952) — A flower delivery man (John Payne) is set up to take the fall for a bank robbery in this intricately plotted heist film.

The Narrow Margin (1952) — Tough as nails police detective (Charles McGraw) escorts to a trial via train a prime witness who’s targeted for murder. Surprise ending.

Invaders from Mars (1953) — “Moo-tants! What would they want here?” is the anguished question Dr. Pat Blake (Helena Carter) asks the astronomer (Arthur Franz). But is it all a young boy’s dream?

It Came from Outer Space (1953) — Crash landing their spacecraft in the American Southwest (typical ’50s environment), aliens try to keep humans at bay while fixing their spacecraft. Richard Carlson helps them finish their task and tells teacher Barbara Rush they’ll return when the time is right.

Cover image99 River Street (1953) — John Payne again, this time as a one-time boxer turned cabbie framed for his shifty wife’s murder. With help from the underrated Evelyn Keyes (The Prowler), he proves his innocence and takes down the criminals.

Split Second (1953) — Murderous convict Sam Hurley (Stephen McNally) and his wounded companion take hostages in a Nevada ghost town the day before a scheduled atomic blast.

War of the Worlds (1953) — Although H. G. Wells’ classic adventure is updated to 1953 Los Angeles, it’s a decent rendering of the novel.

Creature from the Black Lagoon (1954) — The last of the now iconic Universal monsters Cover imagemakes his auspicious debut (he/it appeared in two other ’50s films) in the Amazon, where in a classic scene the creature parallels from underwater Julie Adams swimming above. Once again, it’s a beauty and the beast fable.

Riot in Cell Block 11 (1954) — Character actor all-stars in Don Siegel’s docudrama. Psychopathic Crazy Mike Carney (Leo Gordon) was actually incarcerated before becoming an actor and writer.

The Tall Texan (1954) — With a plot similar to the same year’s A production, Garden of Evil, this film features a bow and arrow sequence that is supremely dangerous.

The Big Combo (1955) — Subtext abounds in this gangster saga. Police Lieutenant Diamond (Cornel Wilde) aims to take down the criminal empire of Mr. Brown (Richard Conte) even as he develops a craving for his moll (Jean Wallace). Significant noir features Cover imagethe compelling hitmen duo of Lee Van Cleef and Earl Holliman.

Kiss Me Deadly (1955) — The threat of nuclear holocaust is the backstory in this noir classic featuring Ralph Meeker as Mickey Spillane’s uber tough private eye Mike Hammer.  How appropriate that his assistant is named Velda?

Shack Out on 101 (1955) — Propagandistic anti-communist tract is unintentionally hilarious tale set in a beanery on the California coast where hash-slinger Cottie (Terry Moore) dreams of working behind a desk in a great, big government building while fending off the advances of short order cook Slob (Lee Marvin), who just might have invented the V-neck t-shirt.

Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1956) The first and best of the “pod” movies features Kevin McCarthy and Dana Wynter as Santa Mira residents who discover their hometown has been infested by alien seed pods that recreate humans as emotion-less automatons. Where can you hide in a small town where everybody knows your name and residence?

Running Target (1956) — Modern-day western features a Colorado sheriff (Arthur Franz) reluctantly leading a posse to retrieve escaped convicts dead or alive.

The Killing (1956) — One of director Stanley Kubrick’s early films is a heist saga told from different viewpoints. Needless to say, the race track robbers don’t quite succeed. Chalk up another topnotch escapade for Sterling Hayden (The Asphalt Jungle).

Slightly Scarlet (1956) — One of the few fifties noir films in color features John Payne yet Cover imageagain, this time fending off two redheaded sisters, Rhonda Fleming and Arlene Dahl, who has the best line: “Oh please call me Dor, won’t you? A frank and open door.”

The Brass Legend (1956) — Just before his stint as TV’s Wyatt Earp, Hugh O’Brian faced down outlaw Raymond Burr, so large we feel sorry for his steed.

Seven Men from Now (1956) — One-time sheriff Randolph Scott tracks the men who killed his wife during a freight office robbery. Complicating matters are a husband and wife heading west, Apaches, and a gunman. It all comes down to a showdown between Scott and Lee Marvin.

Decision at Sundown (1957) — Randolph Scott stirs up the residents of Sundown, where he intends killing John Carroll, whose affair with Scott’s wife led to her death—or did it?

Cover imageThe Incredible Shrinking Man (1957) — After a radioactive cloud envelops Scott Carey (Grant Williams) during a fishing trip, he begins shrinking. In short order he must beware of the cat and what has become for him a giant spider.

The Tall T (1957) — Taken hostage along with fellow stage traveler Maureen O’Sullivan, Randolph Scott ingratiates himself with kidnapper Richard Boone and sows dissention among Boone’s cadre comprised of Skip Homeier and Henry Silva. When Boone goes to collect the ransom and Silva follows to make sure he’ll return, Scott gets his chance to survive.

20 Million Miles to Earth (1957) — Returning from Venus, a U.S. spaceship crashes off the Italian coast. A small container holds a strange reptilian creature that proceeds to grow and terrorize the inhabitants.

The Blob (1958) — Seminal goo movie has a Cold War subtext.Cover image

Buchanan Rides Alone (1958) — Riding into the Texas-Mexico border town of Agry, Randolph Scott finds himself at odds with two feuding families and stymied in his attempt to start a ranch.

Fiend Without a Face (1958) — At a Canadian research facility, scientists inadvertently unleash swiftly-moving brains that feast on human ones. Excellent special effects.

Hell’s Five Hours (1958) — Prescient thriller features Vic Morrow as mentally deranged, hostage-taking terrorist intent on blowing up a rocket fuel plant.

It! The Terror from Beyond Space (1958) — Sometimes ranked the best science fiction B movie of the decade, this film can be seen as an inspiration for Alien and was itself triggered by The Thing from Another World (1951).

Thunder Road (1958) — Robert Mitchum had hoped Elvis would play his younger brother Cover imagein this drive-in circuit cult favorite about moonshiners.

The 4D Man (1959) — Robert Lansing invents an “electronic amplifier” that allows him to walk through solid objects and naturally visit vengeance upon his enemies.

Ride Lonesome (1959) — Bounty hunter Randolph Scott captures James Best, who warns Scott about the toll his brother Lee Van Cleef will take. Enter Karen Steele, the ingratiating gunmen Pernell Roberts and his sidekick James Coburn (his first film), and Indians. And don’t forget, Van Cleef is still out there.

Terror is a Man (aka Blood Creature, 1959) — A U.S.-Filipino co-production version of H. G. Wells’ The Island of Dr. Moreau has atmosphere in spades and the gorgeous Ms. Denmark, Greta Thyssen, as she who soothes the monster in this beauty and the beast scenario.

Comanche Station (1960) — Jefferson Cody (Randolph Scott) buys a recently captured white woman (Nancy Gates) from the Comanches but needs the help of Ben Lane (Claude Akins) and his gunslingers to make his way back to civilization. Surprise ending.

Night Tide (1961) — On leave sailor (Dennis Hopper) encounters the seashore sideshow Cover image“mermaid” Mora (Linda Lawson), who just might be the real thing. Besides the story, this is a snapshot of a California entertainment pier in the early ’60s.

Carnival of Souls (1962) — One of those movies that are probably less than meets the eye but have influenced future filmmakers.

Panic in Year Zero! (1962) — Veteran star Ray Milland acts in and directs this thoughtful apocalyptic thriller where the protagonists make sensible decisions to stay alive after a nuclear attack.

Were there any foreign language B movies in the ’50s and ’60s? Yes. The Italian “sword and sandal” mini-epics spawned by Hercules (1958) and Hercules Unchained (1959), and the late ’60s and early ’70s spaghetti westerns generated by Sergio Leone and Clint Cover imageEastwood’s “Man with No Name” trilogy (but not the classier Once Upon a Time in the West, Red Sun, and Duck, You Sucker). Also horror like Italy’s Black Sunday (1960). Japan contributed Godzilla (1954) and its kin, such as Rodan and Mothra. As for Britain’s Hammer Studios, their Gothics may have been lower budget than more mainstream films, but the use of color, sets, music and excellent acting raise them to a higher level.

Post written by Kim Holston

The League of Alternate Superstars: Joseph Cotten

Although he’s not well remembered by most people, especially those under, say, 50, citizen kaneJoseph Cotten, 1905-1994) had a superior number of classic movies to his credit.  A member of Orson Welles’ Mercury Theater ensemble, Cotten joined Welles on the director’s Citizen Kane (1941) and immediately afterward starred in the wunderkind’s star-crossed The Magnificent Ambersons (1942).  With Welles uncredited, Cotten starred with him in Journey Into Fear (1942, U.K., 1943 U.S.)

That was quite an initiation for a novice film actor but the quality work continued throughout the ensuing decade.  (It is hardly ever noted that even the biggest stars, the legends, rarely appear in excellent and successful movies for more than a decade.  In this sense, David Shipman downplayed Cotten’s career in The Great Movie Stars:  The International Years.)

Next up for Cotten was Alfred Hitchcock’s Shadow of a Doubt (1943), the murder mystery that turned the star’s charming demeanor upside down.   As Teresa Wright’s Uncle Charlie, he ingratiated himself with his niece’s family, but she soon realized there was something terribly dark about him.

gaslightIn Gaslight (1944) Cotten was part of a triumvirate of topnotch stars that included Ingrid Bergman and Charles Boyer.  That same year Cotten returned to form, playing a naval lieutenant on leave who provides Claudette Colbert and her children (Jennifer Jones, Shirley Temple) a shoulder to cry on in Since You Went Away.

Cotten would see much more of Academy Award-winner Jones, who became a lifelong friend.  First up was Love Letters (1945), followed by the western epic Duel in the Sun (1946), and in 1948 they co-starred in the romantic fantasy Portrait of Jennie (1948).  For that he received the Best Actor International Award at the Venice Film Festival.  (Cotten had co-starred with another Academy Award winner in 1947’s The Farmer’s Daughter:  Loretta Young.)

third manThe end of the decade reteamed Cotten and Orson Welles in the classic The Third Man (1949).   Everything revolved around Cotten despite Welles playing the title character.

Like Richard Widmark in Don’t Bother to Knock (1952), in 1953 Cotten may have been cast to help 20th Century Fox’s rising star Marilyn Monroe improve her acting.  The film was Niagara, a big success.

As the fifties progressed, Cotten, like so many others, found himself on TV and increasingly in character parts.  Nevertheless, on occasion he found some leading movie roles.  Based on Jules Verne’s novel, From the Earth to the Moon (1958) saw him as the leader of the expedition.

During this time Cotten continued doing radio programs.  In fact, he’d begun on radio in the 30s.  His voice was perfect for that medium as it would be when he narrated the 22 episodes of the 1963 TV documentary, Hollywood and the Stars.

lady frankensteinFollowing Vincent Price and Ray Milland into the horror genre, he battled Price’s maniac in The Abominable Dr. Phibes (1971) and that same year played Baron Frankenstein in the low budget but curiously compelling Italian horror movie Lady Frankenstein.  Then came another Italian horror film, Baron Blood, in which he menaced Elke Sommer.

About his life and career Cotten had no regrets.  He married actress Patricia Medina and closed his autobiography with, “I continue to love my wife passionately, spiritually, and completely.  That she calmly and unregretfully closed the door on a thriving and glamorous movie career to be at my side, tells of her love for me.  We are ordinary, extraordinarily lucky people.  For that, all I can say is ‘Amen’.”

By Kim

References

Cotten, Joseph.  Vanity Will Get You Somewhere.  1987.

Shipman, David.  The Great Movie Stars:  The International Years.  1972.

June Staff Picks

STAFF Picks (1)

Dragana’s Picks
art of the stealDocumentary: The Art of the Steal
This excellent documentary follows the struggle for controlling the art collection of Dr. Albert C. Barnes and the Philadelphia Barnes Foundation. It is about how you can steal art worth billions and violate Dr. Barnes last wishes.villa lobos

CD: Villa-Lobos Par Lui-Même by Villa-Lobos
This disc is for the Villa-Lobos lovers and has a lot of historical value. It is Villa-Lobos’s vision of his work and almost all pieces are conducted by himself. Recorded between 1954 and 1958, and performed by the Orchestre National de la Radio Diffusion Française.

Jamie’s Picks
Lady_Bird_posterMovie: Lady Bird
Funny and affecting coming-of-age story of a Sacramento teenager and her complicated relationship with her mother. Excellent acting by Saoirse Ronan and Laurie Metcalf.
when-they-call-you-a-terrorist-1
Audiobook: When They Call You a Terrorist: A Black Lives Matter Memoir by Patrisse Khan-Cullors
A powerful memoir that poignantly depicts what it was like to grow up black around LA at the height of the war on drugs and the generational effects of imprisonment and surveillance on a community.

Jessie’s Picks
cocoMovie: Coco
Heart-warming Pixar film about a young Mexican boy that loves music, but his family does not. He travels to the Land of the Dead, meets his musical idol, and discovers his family’s history.still life

Audiobook: Still Life by Louise Penny
The first book in the numerous awards-winning Three Pines mystery series. The characters and the setting, which makes you want to travel to small Quebecois towns, sets this series apart from other mysteries. In this book Chief Inspector Gamache travels to Three Pines to solve the murder of a retired school teacher/ amateur artist.

Kim’s Picks
panic in year zeroMovie: Panic in Year Zero!
Only months before the 1962 Cuban Missile Crisis, moviegoers were presented with this apocalyptic film about a middle-class California family on vacation trying to survive a nuclear attack and remain civilized.  Academy Award-winning actor Ray Milland (The Lost Weekend, 1945) directed this very compelling low-budget thriller.

Audiobook: The Lost City of the Monkey God: A True Story by Douglas Preston the lost city of the monkey god
Preston, a prolific author of crime (the Pendergast series), true crime (The Monster of Florence), and modern-day adventure (Talking to the Ground:  One Family’s Journey on Horseback Across the Sacred Land of the Navajo) here details another authentic contemporary saga:  the expeditions into the pristine Honduran department known as  Mosquitia in search of La Ciudad Blanca, the fabled “white city,” aka City of the Monkey God.  Writing for National Geographic, Preston accompanied the camera crew, archaeologists, sponsors, and two British ex-special forces men into a savage habitat replete with poisonous snakes, sucking mud, and disease-carrying insects.  The journey was only possible after the forest canopy was penetrated with lidar (Light Detection and Ranging).  The explorers paid a high price for their discoveries as many came down with the horrific and often fatal parasitic disease known as Leishmaniasis.  Despite the discovery of a lost civilization, serious issues must be addressed:  who created the white city and its satellite population centers centuries ago, what catastrophes caused the citizens to leave, and how can we combat the spread of tropical diseases and potential pandemics when deadly microbes take advantage of global warming to move north?

Mary’s Picks
divine secrets of the ya ya sisterhoodMovie: Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood
A true chick flick, with a great female cast. After years of mother-daughter tension, Sidda’s mother’s friends kidnap her to try to bring them closer together.the secret

Audiobook: The Secret by Rhonda Byrne
Great introduction to the law of attraction, the power of positive thinking and how it effects your entire life. Listeneing to this audiobook just puts you in a good mood.


Stephanie’s Picks

young adult.jpgMovie: Young Adult
Raw and honest, funny yet uncomfortable to watch at times, Young Adult is the story of a writer of teen literature who returns to her small hometown to relive her glory days and attempt to reclaim her happily married high school sweetheart.

Audiobook: Defending Jacob by William LandayCover image
“Andy Barber has been an assistant district attorney in his suburban Massachusetts county for more than twenty years. He is respected in his community, tenacious in the courtroom, and happy at home with his wife, Laurie, and son, Jacob. But when a shocking crime shatters their New England town, Andy is blindsided by what happens next. His fourteen-year-old son is charged with the murder of a fellow student.”

All quoted summaries from catalog.ccls.org.

May Staff Picks

STAFF Picks (1)

Jamie’s Picks
the-crownTV Series: The Crown
Beautifully filmed with fantastic costumes, this series chronicles the reign of Queen Elizabeth II. The chemistry and tension between Claire Foy as Queen Elizabeth and Matt Smith as Prince Philip is palpable, and as an American I found it interesting to learn more about palace dynamics– such as how much control the “courtiers” have on the royals.
emotion
CD: E·mo·tion by Carly Rae Jepsen
Super catchy and poppy; a distillation of being a boy crazy young girl without being too juvenile or sugary, meaning anyone can give this a listen and enjoy it.

Jessie’s Picks
ant-manMovie: Ant-Man
“Armed with the astonishing ability to shrink in scale but increase in strength, master thief Scott Lang must embrace his inner-hero and help his mentor, Dr. Hank Pym, protect the secret behind his spectacular Ant-Man suit from a new generation of towering threats. Against seemingly insurmountable obstacles, Pym and Lang must plan and pull off a heist that will save the world.”between shades of gray

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.”

Kim’s Picks
running targetMovie: Running Target!
Future Academy Award-winning cinematographer Conrad Hall shows his early skill with this beautifully photographed color adventure set in the Colorado Rockies.  Future Academy Award-winning composer Ernest Gold provides the significant score.  The story:  a sheriff (Arthur Franz) reluctantly leads a modern day (circa 1956) posse into the wilderness to recapture four escaped convicts.  Richard Reeves’ obsession with his weapon (his “brother”) remains germane today.

Audiobook: Sons and Soldiers: The Untold Story of the Jews Who Escaped the Nazis and Returned with the U.S. Army to Fight Hitler by Bruce Hendersonsons and soldiers
The author follows a half dozen German-born Jews who as teenagers in the 1930s were sent or made their way from Hitler’s increasingly-dangerous Reich to the United States.  As they reached military age and Germany declared war on the U.S., they enlisted and found themselves training at Camp Ritchie, Maryland.  These “Ritchie Boys” learned interrogation techniques and because of their familiarity with the German language and culture became invaluable assets in front-line units from D-Day until the war’s conclusion.  Some actually made contact with their families, others expected and found the worst:  their kin had died in extermination camps.  This is an exciting and moving tale one hopes Hollywood will turn into an epic film—with actors of the appropriate age as the real Ritchie Boys.

Mary’s Picks
chocolatMovie: Chocolat
A woman and her daughter open a chocolate shop in a small French village. Their unconventional style changes the rigid community.

CD: Eden by Sarah Brightmaneden.jpg
Sarah’s best album with a mix of English, Italian, French and Latin, as well as a mix of classic Opera, pop and New Age.


Stephanie’s Picks

hungerAudiobook: Hunger: A Memoir of (My) Body by Roxane Gay
Listening to Roxanne Gay read her beautifully-written memoir Hunger was like listening to a close friend divulging some of her most intimate yet painful feelings and memories. It is quite literally the story of her body, and the way she and others have treated it. Powerful, raw, and heartbreaking, it is a must read.

CD: Beast Epic by Iron & Winebeast epic
After multiple albums of experimenting with new sounds, it seems that singer Sam Beam has gone back to his sweet melodic folk roots. This is his best album since Our Endless Numbered Days.

All quoted summaries from catalog.ccls.org.

April Staff Picks

STAFF Picks (1)

Dragana’s Picks

Image result for home again posterMovie: Home Again
Very, very, light, fairy tail comedy with no strong characters. But, if you are looking for entertainment, this movies does deliver it!

CD: Lady Soul by Aretha FranklinImage result for lady soul aretha franklin
This is another Aretha classic and it includes the full-length version of Chain of Fools, as well as other hit songs. Enjoy the wonderful voice of the “Queen of the Soul.”

Jamie’s Picks

Image result for how to train your dragon posterMovie: How to Train Your Dragon
So much fun and so heartwarming! Any pet lover will relate to the relationship between Hiccup and Toothless. Witty and insightful script with great voice-acting by Jay Baruchel.Image result for the buried giant

Audiobook: The Buried Giant by Kazuo Ishiguro
A historical fantasy set just following the end of King Arthur’s reign. An easy read but a thoughtful one that reflects on the relationship between memory and trauma in a society.

Jessie’s Picks 

Image result for death in paradise posterTV Series: Death in Paradise
“British cop Richard Poole is a fish out of water when he is sent to the tiny island of Sainte Marie to solve a mysterious murder. Awaiting Richard is a ramshackle station and a very different type of policing.”

CD: La Roux by La RouxImage result for la roux cd
The debut album by La Roux, a synth pop duo comprised of Elly Jackson and Ben Langmaid. Heather Phares of AllMusic calls this group “…a standout, not just among the many other ’80s revivalists, but the entire late-2000s pop landscape.”

Kim’s Picks

Image result for stargirl jerry spinelliAudiobook: Stargirl by Jerry Spinelli
The late John Ritter does a marvelous job reading another terrific Jerry Maniac Magee Spinelli book for teens that will go down well with adults.  The curiously named Stargirl arrives at Arizona’s Mica High and confounds the entire school by carrying on her person a pet rat, strumming a ukulele in the cafeteria, singing “Happy Birthday to You” to those she barely knows, and cheering for the home team and its opponent.  Initially confounded, then ecstatic, and finally fed up with this odd duck, her classmates shun her—all, that is, except Dori Dilson and Leo Borlock, but even Leo eventually bows to the crowd.  Nevertheless, Stargirl has made an indelible mark on her classmates.  A sequel, Love, Stargirl, takes place right here in Chester County.Image result for generation war

Miniseries: Generation War
Originally a TV mini-series, this epic German film beginning with the invasion of Russia in 1941 and concluding with the fall of Berlin in 1945, chronicles the calamitous events affecting five friends:  two brothers in the Wehrmacht, a nurse, a chanteuse, and a Jewish tailor.  A tragic tale writ large.

Mary’s Picks

Image result for pan's labyrinth posterMovie: Pan’s Labyrinth
In the Falangist Spain of 1944 a young girl tries to travel into a fantasy world to escape her evil stepfather.Image result for the secret life of bees

Audiobook: The Secret Life of Bees by Sue Monk Kidd
A picture of the South in the 1960’s with strong women working together to support each other. All act as mother figures for Lily while she searches for her own mother’s past.

Stephanie’s Picks

Image result for small great thingsAudiobook: Small Great Things by Jodi Picoult
“Ruth Jefferson is a labor and delivery nurse at a Connecticut hospital with more than twenty years’ experience. During her shift, Ruth begins a routine checkup on a newborn, only to be told a few minutes later that she’s been reassigned to another patient. The parents are white supremacists and don’t want Ruth, who is African American, to touch their child. The hospital complies with their request, but the next day, the baby goes into cardiac distress while Ruth is alone in the nursery. Does she obey orders or does she intervene?”

CD: The Golden Echo by KimbraImage result for the golden echo kimbra
Kimbra famously sang on the major hit song “Somebody That I Used to Know” with Gotye, but she is a talent in her own right. This album includes collaborations with artists such as the Mars Volta, Muse, Foster the People, Silverchair, John Legend and Bilal. Heather Phares of AllMusic notes: “An album that just becomes more engaging with time, The Golden Echo lives up to its name: it refashions the best of what came before it into something alluringly modern and a lot of fun.”

All quoted summaries from catalog.ccls.org.

New Releases

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Survival Guide for Pain-Free Living With Peggy Cappy

TV
Unforgotten season 1
Shameless season 8

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Primal Heart by Kimbra
Port Saint Joe by Brothers Osborne
Eat the Elephant by A Perfect Circle
Family Tree by Black Stone Cherry
Unexpected by Jason Crabb
Volunteer by Old Crow Medicine Show
44/876 by Sting & Shaggy

AudiobooksSand_9780525525141_box_all_r1.indd
Shattered Mirror by Iris Johansen
Twisted Prey by John Sandford
The Girl Who Smiled Beads by Clemantime Wamariya & Elizabeth Weil

Happy Anniversary, Nellie Forbush and Gigi

South Pacific

March 19 marked the 60th anniversary of the New York premiere at the Criterion Theatre of the film version of Rodger and Hammerstein’s South Pacific, which debuted on Broadway in 1949.  It was one of Rodgers and Hammerstein’s “Big 5,” whose other members were Oklahoma!, Carousel, The King and I, and The Sound of Music.  Like Oklahoma!, South Pacific differed from traditional musical theater in its emphasis on story, even a hard-edged story.  Racism was at the core as sailors, soldiers airmen, and nurses island-hopping across the Pacific toward Japan encountered and interacted with indigenous peoples or, in the case of American nurse Nellie Forbush (Mitzi Gaynor), expatriate French planter Emile (Rossano Brazzi, his singing voice dubbed by Ezio Pinza, Broadway’s Emile) who’d fathered children with a Polynesian woman, and Lieutenant Cable (John Kerr), who romanced Liat (France Nuyen).

The public made the film the highest grosser of the year.  Unsurprisingly, critics, who rarely complimented Broadway director Joshua Logan’s films, belittled South Pacific.  Complaints ranged from casting Gaynor as Nellie rather than, say, Mary Martin from the stage play or Judy Garland, to the curious color palette developed by Logan and 20th Century-Fox’s “house cinematographer” Leon Shamroy.  Shamroy had helped develop CinemaScope and photographed The Robe (1953), the first movie in the process.  Logan hated Technicolor and did not want to make a film that looked like a picture postcard.  He took a still photographer’s advice to “Use filters, overexposure, shoot through a Navajo blanket or a Spanish shawl.  Anything!  Just don’t make it look as though you could turn it over and find written, ‘Having wonderful time in colorful Tahiti—wish you were here.’”  Taking the advice, Logan “thereby made one of the major mistakes of my career.”  Nevertheless, in The Musical Film, Douglas McVay complimented the rich score “and some at times slightly bilious but often strangely atmospheric use of colour films,…”

Mitzi Gaynor, who could dance up a storm and sing more than adequately, had been under Fox contract for her most of her career.  That was a mixed blessing as Fox worked in MGM’s shadow in the musical realm, continuing to make backstage musicals rather than create art via spontaneous singing and dancing.  Gaynor did get to do one good MGM musical, Les Girls, but like her work at Fox, it was mostly a backstage affair.

 

Gigi

Like South Pacific, Gigi, which premiered on May 15, 1958 in New York at the Royale Theatre, was a reserved-seat roadshow and a smash hit, taking in $40,000 in advance, mail-order tickets before opening night.  Unlike South Pacific, Gigi was one of the last Hollywood musicals whose score Lerner and Loewe wrote specifically for the screen and included such memorable songs as “The Night They Invented Champagne,” “Thank Heaven for Little Girls,” “I Remember It Well,” and “Say a Prayer for Me Tonight.”  Gigi won a record 9 Academy Awards, including Best Picture.

There is a relationship between Gigi and 1951’s An American in Paris.  Both were MGM productions, both were directed by Vincente Minnelli, both featured Leslie Caron as the lead femme, both were set in Paris.  Both won the Best Picture Academy Award.  One thing was radically different:  Douglas McVay identified “virtually no dancing (the numbers frequently being shot in long, static takes with the singers sitting down).”

In fact, there wasn’t a tremendous amount of dancing in South Pacific either.  (Of course it’s difficult to dance on sand.)  Nevertheless, dancing or a simulacrum of it was part of “A Wonderful Guy,” “Honey Bun” “A Cockeyed Optimist,” and “I’m Gonna Wash That Man Right Outa My Hair.”

Sidenote:  In the mid-sixties South Pacific and Gigi were reissued, which was the only way audiences who’d missed them in ‘58 could catch up.  There were no VHS tapes, RedBox, YouTube, streaming, or Turner Classic Movies.

By Kim

References

Holston, Kim.  Movie Roadshows.  2013.

Logan, Joshua.  Movie Stars, Real People and Me.  1978.

McVay, Douglas.  The Musical Film.  1967.