52 More Must-See Movies (Volume 2 of The Essentials) by Jeremy Arnold
Book Review by Lee Sobel (10/2/20)
5 out of 5 stars
This book is a magnificent second volume in the Turner Classic Movies "Essentials" series. Cineastes who are devout TCM fans will love this book and enjoy the many hours of reading facts about many of their favorite movies and gazing at all the gorgeous photos. That said, there are so many books out there that try to be the definitive guide book to movies and as this one is not aligned with a specific genre, it may get lost in the shuffle. I doubt, for instance, that most fans of Stagecoach would care about The Women, except for me - I happen to love great movies from all genres. So many movies I am a huge fan are included in this book: Freaks, Kiss Me Deadly, The Asphalt Jungle, Night of the Hunter, Sweet Smell of Success, Rebel Without A Cause, Mutiny on the Bounty, Psycho, 2001, The Producers and so many more.
Jeremy Arnold is a terrific writer and each movie is covered in a tightly
written format that pulls in the most important information and the photographs are stunning. I do wish the book was hardcover instead of trade paper, but that is a minor qualm. The information in this book is fascinating. Here are a couple of tidbits:
Freaks (1932) was made in the pre-code era when movies were much racier. In the wake of the success of Dracula and Frankenstein at Universal Pictures, MGM's production chief Irving Thalberg directed the screenwriter of Freaks to make it even more horrible than those Universal horrors; the result at the first preview was mayhem. One woman in the audience later tried to sue the studio for causing her miscarriage. The UK banned the movie for 30 years. Numerous offending scenes were cut and are now lost. Director Tod Browning's career was ruined by this movie. A damn shame too because this movie is fantastic and as author Jeremy Arnold points out, the movie is actually sympathetic to the circus characters - the real freaks are the so-called normal people who try to exploit them. When, oh when, is the Criterion Collection going to do a proper blu ray release of Freaks? "One of us!" indeed.
Rebel Without A Cause (1955) opened only four weeks after the fatal car crash that took James Dean's life at age 24. Natalie Wood was 16 when she made the movie. Jim Backus was a comedian prior to playing Dean's weak, destroyed father. Originally the movie was filmed in black-and-white but when Warner Bros. saw what they were getting, they scrapped the first three day's of shooting and restarted production in color and Cinemascope. Director Nicholas Ray let Dean direct some scenes -- Dean had aspirations to be a director. The knife fight scene at the Griffith Observatory was shot with real switchblades and without body doubles. The abandoned mansion where the movie's climax takes place was also used as Norma Desmond's mansion in Sunset Boulevard (1950). The swimming pool, empty in Rebel, is the same one that William Holden was floating in. It was built by Paramount Pictures and you can see in Rebel that is has no drain. I love goodies like this!
I could tell you more but why spoil it? Get this book if you are a true movie addict like me!