Sunday, March 09, 2014

Book Review: Majestic Hollywood: The Greatest Films of 1939

2014 marks the 75th anniversary of Hollywood's greatest year, 1939, and the new book MAJESTIC HOLLYWOOD: THE GREATEST FILMS OF 1939 does a fine job celebrating that amazing year. It's a beautiful softcover coffee table book by Mark Vieira.

Vieira is the author of other outstanding books on my shelves, including HOLLYWOOD DREAMS MADE REAL: IRVING THALBERG AND THE RISE OF MGM and HARLOW IN HOLLYWOOD: THE BLONDE BOMBSHELL IN THE GLAMOUR CAPITAL, 1928-1937, so it's no surprise that MAJESTIC HOLLYWOOD is also a quality book with exceptionally fine photo reproductions. Even the insides of the front and back covers are attractive, featuring small, tantalizing photos from many of the films featured in the book.

MAJESTIC HOLLYWOOD is reminiscent of the style of the many Citadel FILMS OF... books which I collected as a young film fan in the '70s and '80s, though it's slightly larger, with glossy pages showing off the photographs to best effect.

Following an introduction which analyzes some of the reasons 1939 was Hollywood's greatest year, the book presents multipage spreads on 50 films released in 1939. The films are listed in order of release, starting with SON OF FRANKENSTEIN (1939) from January 13th and concluding with GONE WITH THE WIND (1939), released on December 28th. Each film has a synopsis of a line or two, accompanied by some production notes and snippets of critical reactions.

The relatively brief written portions are enjoyable, but MAJESTIC HOLLYWOOD is all about the beautiful photographs. I have a huge library of books on film, yet many of the stills in this book were new to me, such as a lovely publicity photo of Tyrone Power and Nancy Kelly in JESSE JAMES (1939) and a terrific scene still with Chester Morris, Lucille Ball, and other cast members in FIVE CAME BACK (1939).

I also own a book on the same topic which was published 25 years ago, Ted Sennett's HOLLYWOOD'S GOLDEN YEAR, 1939: A FIFTIETH ANNIVERSARY CELEBRATION from St. Martin's Press, and it was interesting to compare the two books.

Sennett chose to focus on just 17 films, with briefer lists of additional films of 1939 toward the end of the book; some of my favorite entries in MAJESTIC HOLLYWOOD, on FIVE CAME BACK (1939) and FIFTH AVENUE GIRL (1939), are films which didn't even make the listings at the back of Sennett's book! This reflects the depth of the roster of films from 1939, along with perhaps a greater appreciation for lesser-known films thanks to increased access in recent years from sources such as Turner Classic Movies and the Warner Archive.

Anyone who loves classic films is sure to enjoy this book, and I particularly recommend it for those who are relatively new to older films. As a child it was books such as this which helped spur my lifelong interest in movies, as I wanted to know more about the stories and the actors behind the beautiful photographs, and this book is sure to do the same for new film fans today, as well as providing some context for these movies.

MAJESTIC HOLLYWOOD was published in December by Running Press. It's 224 pages, including the index. For more on the book, please visit its Facebook page.

As a side note, in a time when I find so many books have typographical or other errors, this book was a well-produced pleasure. The only mistake I recall coming across offhand was a reference to Alexander Graham Bell's wife Mabel as Myrtle.

My sincere thanks to Running Press for providing a review copy of this book.


Blogger LĂȘ said...

I also love when books are filled with great pictures!
Although 1939 has some "essentials" (GWTW, Wizard of Oz, Stagecoach, Mr smith goes to Washington), the quantity of great films in this year is astounding. From the big ones, I think I have not seen only Love Affair and Destry Rides Again.

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