CITY OF DREAMS by Bernard F. Dick


The Making and Remaking of Universal Pictures
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 Though not thorough enough to be definitive, this concise account of Universal's transformation from the silent era to the present is a useful resource for anyone interested in James Whale, Deanna Durbin, or Howard the Duck. Fans of Universal Pictures will find a friend in Dick (Communication Arts/Fairleigh Dickinson Univ.), who dedicates the book to child star Gloria Jean (``Scranton's Own'') and admits in his preface that Abbott and Costello still make him laugh out loud. Balancing his personal fondness with solid research, Dick chronicles every phase, high and low, of Universal's history: its founding in 1912 by German immigrant ``Uncle Carl'' Laemmle; its silent classics, such as The Hunchback of Notre Dame; its great monster-movie cycle of the '30s (e.g., Frankenstein); its diminished status in the '40s as a ``purveyor of horror, low comedy, and teenage hijinks''; its return to prestige filmmaking in the '50s with directors like Anthony Mann and Douglas Sirk; and its high-powered association with Steven Spielberg since the '70s. In this brief history, peppered with cinematic analysis, much detail is left out: The passages on Laemmle and his thwarted son, Carl Jr., are not as richly anecdotal as the analogous material in Neal Gabler's An Empire of Their Own; the section on Lon Chaney neglects even to mention makeup. Sometimes too much detail is given without enough context: The closing chapters on Universal's recent changes in corporate ownership read like a pastiche of Variety articles. However, most major turning points in the studio's fortunes are clearly recounted, and many obscure matters are highlighted--from the early works of William Wyler and John Ford to Ron Howard's box-office track record. Not everyone may think it worthwhile to analyze the opening minutes of the talking-mule movie Francis; that Dick does so instructively will endear him to Universal's fans. (illustrations, not seen)

Pub Date: May 1st, 1997
ISBN: 0-8131-2016-0
Page count: 312pp
Publisher: Univ. Press of Kentucky
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1st, 1997


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