Books by Melissa Holbrook Pierson

Released: Oct. 22, 1999

A heartfelt if uneven collection on the stars and zhlubs worth remembering. Embracing a personal, not theoretical, approach to film (where it's "just you and that mug up there on screen"), Sante (Low Life, 1991, etc.) and Pierson (The Perfect Vehicle: What It Is About Motorcycles, 1997) undertake a "proper investigation of the screen's ordinary Joes" and the stars who "render themselves ordinary" to viewers. Readers who spent childhoods awash in The Million-Dollar Movie will be pleased with the homages to the scene-stealing character actors who ensured that the story ahead would be jake. Sante does a cheery roundup of worthy (and half-forgotten) male suspects like Andy Devine, Ralph Bellamy, and Raymond Burr, who, Sante posits, "would have made a better Goldfinger." In a lovely ode to "Warner Bros. Fat Men," Dana Gioia bemoans the current cinematic world where "even the heavies are skinnies" and honors past corpulent heroes Sydney Greenstreet and Eugene Pallette, both of whom require a citation from Thomas Aquinas to define their beauty. Charles Simic conveys the erotic hold Gene Tierney had on postwar viewers, including himself, on the strength of one film, Laura. John Updike does likewise for his heartstopper, Suzie Creamcheese—a.k.a Doris Day. Elsewhere Day's Pillow Talk co-star Thelma Ritter is given her due as an alternative persona for any non-heartstopping female viewer. For those who accept that good films have been made since The Godfather, there's a tidy analysis of Robert Carlyle's appeal and an enlarging look at J. T. Walsh. But some of the appreciations don't convince, such as those for Timothy Carey, Jeanne Moreau, and Jean Arthur. Like an old drive-in double bill of Bananas and Kotch, the works here span the memorable and the middling. But the faces invoked will remain, sending readers running to Blockbuster for Casablanca or Rear Window—and not just to see the stars. (b&w photos, not seen) Read full book review >