Wood's excursion into the ""moral and physical geography"" of American film stakes out classic Hollywood--roughly the years between Gone with the Wind (1939) and Cleopatra (1963), a period when a coherent set of assumptions, plots, characters and recognizable dialogues dominated the screen and the public fed its dreams on the twice-weekly moviegoing habit. The films of the '40's and '50's evoke fragments of American mythology and Wood suggests that it is a mythology bedeviled with doubt, contradiction and the desire ""to have your cake and eat it too."" After all, ""anything is possible in the kingdom of myth""; opposites are not mutually exclusive, every truth has its underside. This, in a way, makes the critic's job deceptively simple. He is never wholly wrong, every angle of vision reveals some aspect of reality. When Wood talks about ""the several varieties of isolationism behind whatever we mean by individualism,"" as the core of Casablanca or The Ox-bow Incident, when he sees women as carnivores in all those flamboyant Rita Hayworth films of the '40's, when he muses on America's ambivalence toward success and power in What Makes Sammy Run? or The Hustler he is at once subtle and obvious; he is hedging his bets continually, offering no final resolution, content to be suggestive rather than definitive. His sharpest insights come in the casual apercus that run through the book: Marilyn Monroe's ""appalling innocence""; Marion Brando who ""taught a whole generation how to be rude""; the ghost town in the westerns, so desolate because it represents ""the failure of community""; Hitchcock's ""general, almost metaphysical, skepticism about appearances."" This is a skepticism which Wood shares and it makes him, finally, a curiously reticent and unadventurous critic.