Saturday, November 06, 2010

Book Review: Tennessee Williams and Company: His Essential Screen Actors

For the last year or two I've very much enjoyed John DiLeo's website and book, both titled SCREEN SAVERS, which call attention to relatively little-known or underappreciated films. Among the favorites John featured in his book are titles such as IT STARTED WITH EVE (1941), PORTRAIT OF JENNIE (1948), RACHEL AND THE STRANGER (1948), THE TALL TARGET (1951), and THE BIG COUNTRY (1958).

I was thus delighted when John offered to send me a review copy of his latest book, TENNESSEE WILLIAMS AND COMPANY: HIS ESSENTIAL SCREEN ACTORS, which had its official release date earlier this week.

Aside from the author, the book was of interest to me for multiple reasons. Williams' A STREETCAR NAMED DESIRE has been a favorite play of mine since I studied it in depth in college, and I loved the informative Special Edition DVD. I additionally enjoyed the film version of CAT ON A HOT TIN ROOF. I've also seen later TV versions of both these plays.

On the other hand, I know relatively little about the personal lives and careers of some of the actors who were in the film versions of Williams' plays, so the book was a great opportunity for me to learn more about actresses Madeleine Sherwood, Geraldine Page, Joanne Woodward, and Mildred Dunnock, as well as pick up further details about actors I admire, such as the great Karl Malden and Vivien Leigh. DiLeo's book focuses on 11 actors who each appeared in at least two film versions of Williams' work; in the case of Elizabeth Taylor, she appeared in three Williams films. The other actors featured in the book are Marlon Brando, Paul Newman, Anna Magnani, and Richard Burton.

The entries for each actor are lengthy; for instance, the chapter on Vivien Leigh is 25 pages. Each chapter reviews the actor's career, going into particular depth analyzing the actor's performances in Williams' films. In the case of Vivien Leigh, for example, roughly 10 pages of her chapter focus on a detailed examination of her performance in STREETCAR. In the chapters on Malden and Brando, the film is examined in equal detail from the perspective of their characters. This aspect of the book, merging film criticism and literary analysis, made the book unique and especially enjoyable.

Periodically there are "sidebar" columns with trivia, opinions, and additional analysis. Although I love the film version of STREETCAR, I completely agree with DiLeo's (negative) critique of Kim Hunter's portrayal of Stella, and I think he's probably the first person I've ever read who's expressed my disappointment with her casting in print. Hunter also played the role on the stage, and I wish the part had been recast for the film, just as Vivien Leigh replaced Jessica Tandy.

On the other hand, I disagreed with some of the author's other points, such as his opinion of Leigh's 1941 film THAT HAMILTON WOMAN, but comparing opinions is part of the fun of reading such a book.

The book is an oversized softcover about the size of a book in the old Citadel THE FILMS OF... series, for those film buffs who are familiar with those titles. It's from Hansen Publishing Group and is 204 pages. Although the book is illustrated with some photos, the focus is on the writing. The reproduction quality of the photos, printed on non-glossy paper, is good but not great. The book's full retail price is $25.95; at Amazon it's currently discounted to $18.68.

As regular readers know, I tend to be on the lookout for proofreading issues, which seem to be increasingly prevalent in today's publishing environment. I'm happy to say that while I spotted a couple minor copy-editing errors -- a stray period here, an uncapitalized word there -- they were minimal and didn't detract from the book's quality.

TENNESSEE WILLIAMS AND COMPANY: HIS ESSENTIAL SCREEN ACTORS is an informative, rewarding read which I recommend to anyone interested in Williams or the actors discussed in the book.


Blogger Raquel Stecher said...

I really love films based on Tennessee Williams plays! This sounds like a great book. I'm going to add it to my To-Be-Read list. I think it would be a great companion to my Tennessee Williams boxed set I got last year (during one of Amazon's blowout sales)


12:26 PM  
Blogger Laura said...

If you love Williams I think you'll really enjoy this book, Raquelle. Let me know!

Best wishes,

1:29 PM  

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