Sunday, August 07, 2022

Book Review: There Are No Small Parts

Last weekend we spent an enjoyable afternoon "out and about" in Los Angeles, including a visit to Larry Edmunds Bookshop on Hollywood Boulevard.

Our visit was due to a special occasion: Author John DiLeo gave a presentation and book signing for his newest title, THERE ARE NO SMALL PARTS: 100 OUTSTANDING FILM PERFORMANCES WITH SCREEN TIME OF 10 MINUTES OR LESS. It was published earlier this year by Glitterati Incorporated.


Our movie tastes tend to be very much in sync, particularly with regard to the lesser-known titles he wrote about in his SCREEN SAVERS books. It was thus a real treat to have the chance to meet in person for the first time!

John began the event by reading a brief introduction from his book and then sharing a clip of the first performance he writes about, Elsa Lanchester in BRIDE OF FRANKENSTEIN (1935). He's seen here on the left, along with Larry Edmunds' Jeffrey Mantor at the right.

There were also some fun questions and comments from the audience, including a discussion of the difficulty in selecting the 100 performances for the book. My husband inquired about the omission of one of his favorite short performances, Dorothy Malone in THE BIG SLEEP (1946); John said he seriously considered her but when tough choices had to be made whittling down his list he ultimately decided she wasn't critical enough to the story.

As I mentioned in a comment of my own that afternoon, one of the things I appreciated about this very enjoyable book is the way it caused me to more deeply consider brief performances. I've always been very aware of character actors and love seeing the great "faces" in small roles in classic films, but I enjoyed musing over performances I might have included myself, and I think I'll be even more cognizant going forward of what an actor can add to a movie with just a few minutes of screen time.

The performances discussed in the book date from 1935, as previously mentioned, all the way up to 2019. Just over half of the films are from 1965 or earlier, which is my personal definition of the classic film era, with the rest from films released from 1966 forward.

This heavy 2-1/2 pound book is beautifully presented on glossy paper; there's even a built-in bookmark, a lovely touch rarely seen anymore. Each entry has a glossy photo and between two and three pages of text, including the running time of the performance. As with his earlier books, John is very detailed and evocative in his descriptions, so the print is on the small side to fit everything in, making me glad I recently got reading glasses for the first time in my life!

Some of my favorite inclusions in the book:

*Jean Dixon as Molly, the maid in MY MAN GODFREY (1936), 7-1/2 minutes: "Dixon wears a proper cap and uniform, which seems at odds with her cool-customer demeanor, making Molly practically a sight gag." He then traces the character's evolution, falling for Godfrey (William Powell, seen here with Dixon) and becoming "the jester who finds she has a soul."

*Granville Bates as the exasperated judge in MY FAVORITE WIFE (1940), 9-1/2 minutes: "a vaudeville of judiciary confusion: befuddled, crusty, and extremely impatient." The bit where he realizes Irene Dunne and Randolph Scott were alone on the island is utterly hilarious ("That should be in the brief; that's the most interesting part of the case!").

*Judith Anderson as Ann, the waspish relative of Gene Tierney's LAURA (1944), just under 10 minutes: "The beauty of the role and Anderson's civilized approach is that Ann is a woman with no illusions...There's no fuss in Anderson's acting." I also enjoyed his description of the movie itself: "...a world of grand apartments, priceless objects, and some of the best women's hats ever seen onscreen." Yes, definitely!

*Thelma Ritter as the harried Macy's shopper in MIRACLE ON 34TH STREET (1947), 2 minutes: "When Ritter pricelessly deadpans, 'I don't get it,' it's the moment when her two-decade love affair with movie audiences official began...Even with only two minutes onscreen, Ritter has time to make a transition from jaded to optimistic."

*Thomas Gomez as gangster Luigi Rossi in COME TO THE STABLE (1949) 7 minutes:  The shot of Gomez in the church near the end of COME TO THE STABLE never fails to move me to tears. DiLeo writes, "What Gomez brings to this light feel-good comedy is postwar real-world resonance...His understated private pain still resonates."

As someone who loves musicals, I also really appreciated DiLeo including Cyd Charisse's wordless dance performance in SINGIN' IN THE RAIN (1952) (5-1/2 minutes). He also includes Lena Horne's 5-minute performance as Julie in the mini-production of SHOW BOAT in the Jerome Kern bio musical TILL THE CLOUDS ROLL BY (1946).

I also like that he chose some performances in relatively lesser-known films which I've enjoyed, such as Jan Sterling in MYSTERY STREET (1950) and Frank Puglia in BLACK HAND (1950).

More recent performances I have enjoyed which are included in the book include Beverly D'Angelo in a 9-1/2 minute role as Patsy Cline in COAL MINER'S DAUGHTER (1980) and Jane Lynch in her 5-minute part as Julia Child's sister Dorothy in JULIE & JULIA (2009).

Each entry is filled with insights on the character and performance, while also placing the role in the context of the actor's career.  The book is an engaging read which will interest readers in seeing some of the films for the very first time, while also causing the reader to want to revisit old favorites with fresh eyes.  I enthusiastically recommend it.

THERE ARE NO SMALL PARTS is 320 pages including index and acknowledgments.

Thanks to John Di Leo and Glitterati Incorporated for providing a review copy of this book.


Anonymous Barry Lane said...

There are plenty of small parts, but those described are significant moments and the opposite of anonymous. I am sure the book is of significance.

6:53 PM  
Blogger Laura said...

I really enjoyed the book and think you would probably enjoy it. The author writes with depth and detail, and I think you would appreciate checking out his choices and seeing both where you agree and disagree with the selections.

Best wishes,

6:53 PM  

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