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At the Movies

Michael Wood: ‘Cleopatra’

8 August 2013
... have of it, and it’s not bad enough to acquire the lurid glow of DeMille’s Ten Commandments (1956) or Wyler’s Ben-Hur (1959). It’s too intelligent for one thing: its director is, after all, JosephL.Mankiewicz, who had made not only Julius Caesar (1953) but also All About Eve (1950) and The Barefoot Contessa (1954). What he couldn’t do here was get the actors to rise to some of the wit in ...

My son has been poisoned!

David Bromwich: Cold​ War movies

26 January 2012
An Army of Phantoms: American Movies and the Making of the Cold​ War 
by J. Hoberman.
New Press, 383 pp., £21.99, March 2011, 978 1 59558 005 4
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... So began the 1954 Senate hearings on subversive influence in the army. But those hearings turned out to be McCarthy’s last crusade; in a formal and spectacular sense, his career ended when Joseph Welch, a Boston lawyer and counsel for the army, replied to the ascription of Communist connections to a young lawyer on his staff: ‘Until this moment, Senator, I think I never really gauged your ...
4 September 1980
The Films in My Life 
by François Truffaut, translated by Leonard Mayhew.
Allen Lane, 358 pp., £6.95, May 1980, 0 7139 1322 3
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... Science Fiction was outside his range: but there may have been personal strains on Truffaut then – including that of filming in England, with uneasy backing and a perhaps too-pat idea. Tirez sur le pianiste, his second full-length feature, had actually been enrichedby mixing slapstick, melodrama, romance and tragedy, whatever some reviewers wrote at the time. And although La Chambre Verte (1978 ...

Say thank you

Clive James: Witty Words in Pretty Mouths

23 May 2002
Fast-Talking Dames 
by Maria DiBattista.
Yale, 365 pp., £19.95, June 2001, 0 300 08815 9
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... to assume that Gene Hackman can be interviewed for an hour of airtime on the assumption that the actual chap is the same fluent character we see on the big screen.) When talking about the films of JosephMankiewicz and Preston Sturges, both of whom she admires – two more testaments to her acumen – DiBattista is obliged to concede in each case that the writer-director is the shaping spirit. But in ...

I’m not an actress

Michael Newton: Ava Gardner

7 September 2006
Ava Gardner 
by Lee Server.
Bloomsbury, 551 pp., £20, April 2006, 0 7475 6547 3
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... until things are more graphically spelled out a littlelater. A reporter once asked Gardner what she saw in Sinatra, a ‘hundred-and-nineteen-pound has-been’. Ava blandly replied: ‘Well, I’ll tell you – nineteen pounds is cock.’ Broadly speaking, Ava Gardner’s life is that of a small-town girl who became a Hollywood star, then a hard-drinking rabble-rouser, and finally a grand and ...

Business as Usual

J. Hoberman: Hitler in Hollywood

19 December 2013
Hollywood and Hitler, 1933-39 
by Thomas Doherty.
Columbia, 429 pp., £24, April 2013, 978 0 231 16392 7
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The Collaboration: Hollywood’s Pact with Hitler 
by Ben Urwand.
Harvard, 327 pp., £19.95, August 2013, 978 0 674 72474 7
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... and ran most of the large movie studios as only one part of Hollywood and is sensitive to the pressures both on and within the industry (his previous books include a study of the Hollywood censor Joseph Breen). He concludes, with some generosity, that when it came to dealing with the Nazis, Hollywood was ‘no worse than the rest of American culture in its failure of nerve and imagination, and often ...


David Bromwich: This was Orson Welles

3 June 2004
Orson Welles: The Stories of His Life 
by Peter Conrad.
Faber, 384 pp., £20, September 2003, 0 571 20978 5
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... and yet as mortal as his own.’ The station cut away to a weather report, and then to a swing band in the Meridian Room of the Park Plaza Hotel, playing, with numbing tediousness, a tango, ‘La Cumparsita’, sodden at half-tempo, followed by a sleepwalk through that ‘perennial favourite, "Stardust"’. The music was interrupted once for a bulletin, something about an atmospheric event on ...
3 October 1996
Orson Welles: The Road to Xanadu 
by Simon Callow.
Cape, 640 pp., £20, March 1995, 0 224 03852 4
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Rosebud: The Story of Orson Welles 
by David Thomson.
Little, Brown, 460 pp., £20, September 1996, 0 316 91437 1
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... steaks and muffins and swilled brandy’. These instructions, an admiring co-worker recalls, were orders, not suggestions: ‘Orson only knew one way and that was “Now everybody keep quiet and I’ll tell you what to do.” That was his only way of working. He simply didn’t know any other.’ He was not much good at sharing either, as Howard Koch, Herman Mankiewicz, John Houseman and others ...

How do you see Susan?

Mary Beard: No Asp for Zenobia

20 March 2003
Cleopatra: Beyond the Myth 
by Michel Chauveau, translated by David Lorton.
Cornell,​ 104 pp., £14.95, April 2002, 0 8014 3867 5
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The Roman Mistress: Ancient and Modern Representations 
by Maria Wyke.
Oxford, 452 pp., £40, March 2002, 9780198150756
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... of The Roman Mistress are held together by the figure of Cleopatra, with one essay on her image in Rome under Augustus leading into two chapters on Cleopatra movies from the early 20th century to JosephMankiewicz’s 1963 ‘Lizpatra’, as the Taylor/Burton epic was nicknamed. The first essay makes it clear why Chauveau’s attempt to ‘exorcise the myth’ of Cleopatra and concentrate only on ...

A Rumbling of Things Unknown

Jacqueline Rose: Marilyn Monroe

26 April 2012
... ever started with a bigger, more revealing or more resounding pratfall.’ To say that Monroe was attuned to this is again an understatement. In 1950, a mere starlet with a walk-on part in JosephMankiewicz’s All about Eve, she took the autobiography of Lincoln Steffens, the original muck-raking journalist, onto the set. All about Eve is another of her films about the lengths to which an ...

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