James Harvey's MOVIE LOVE IN THE FIFTIES is the third book read from my Summer Reading List.
The list was created for Raquel's Summer Reading Classic Film Book Challenge at Out of the Past. I'm halfway to my goal of reading and reviewing six film books by mid-September! Books 4 and 5 are both partway read so I think there's a good chance I will make the goal by September 15th.
Harvey is also the author of another book on my summer list, ROMANTIC COMEDY IN HOLLYWOOD: FROM LUBITSCH TO STURGES, and I suspect I might have been better off starting with that book, as the author clearly has more of an affinity for the '30s and early '40s than the '50s.
I also didn't care for the sections on Method actors, which simply held no personal interest for me, or a chapter on Nicholas Ray's BITTER VICTORY (1957), where the plot described was so depressing I finally gave up and moved on to the next chapter.
There were other comments he made which I found interesting to read, though I really couldn't see where he was coming from, such as this comment on Doris Day: "...for all her cheeriness, real gaiety seemed beyond her."
THE RECKLESS MOMENT (1949), IN A LONELY PLACE (1950), and WRITTEN ON THE WIND (1956), revisiting the films in my mind's eye and considering his insightful comments. The chapter on THE RECKLESS MOMENT, in particular, made me anxious to see the film again soon and take a fresh look at Joan Bennett's performance. I also read the chapter on CHRISTMAS HOLIDAY (1944), one of the last Deanna Durbin films I need to see, and was intrigued.
The chapters where he surveys various random films reminded me of the books by one of my favorite historians, Jeanine Basinger, such as I DO AND I DON'T, A WOMAN'S VIEW, or especially THE STAR MACHINE, in that he stirred interest in a number of films I've not yet seen; I jotted down some titles mentioned to check out in the future.
I also enjoyed the chatty, conversational comments about movies I've already watched. For example, I liked his comment on PUSHOVER (1954), which I recently saw, calling it "one of those quiet triumphs of straightforward genre filmmaking." And he made a comment about REAR WINDOW (1954) which made me sit bolt upright in startled agreement: he suggests that Grace Kelly's refined character, with her social and financial aspirations, would have been the "other woman" in a '30s film! Yet in the '50s Kelly is the leading lady we should all aspire to be. (Perhaps she does become the bolder '30s heroine towards the end, when she visits Raymond Burr's apartment house...) That was the kind of interesting insight which I felt made the book particularly worth reading.
As with Basinger's books, Harvey's book is not meant for a reader who wants to avoid plot spoilers. He provides detailed examinations of myriad films, which he says are meant to help viewers experience the films "more deeply and sharply and richly."
I should also make note that this is not a book for fans who want to read about '50s Westerns, a topic he largely avoids, other than JOHNNY GUITAR (1954). Harvey writes that he mostly excluded fifties Westerns "because the subject is so large and important: a book in itself." (And I know just the person to write on that topic...)
MOVIE LOVE IN THE FIFTIES is a softcover book from Da Capo Press, originally published in 2001. It is 448 pages, including a very useful index.
Recommended, with the above caveats; those who are interested in Method movies and who share Harvey's negativity toward the '50s may enjoy it more than I did. I hope to review Harvey's book on romantic comedies in the next couple weeks.