A legendary actor and director reflects on the innumerable films he watched during his first decades as an audience member.
This first book in Reiner’s (Tell Me a Silly Story, 2010, etc.) two-volume pictorial memoir is essentially an opulently produced memory album commemorating many of the earliest movies he watched in a lifetime devoted to film, with the selections dating from the early 20th century to 1950. The book is heavy and generously oversized, and as memoirs go, it takes the unconventional approach of being 90 percent visual: page after page of large period photographs and gorgeous full-color posters accompanied by minimal text comments from the author along the way. He consistently quotes from reviews of the movies in question, but the draw of the volume remains his own reflections. Some of those reactions are jaundiced (about William Wyler’s 1939 Wuthering Heights, starring Merle Oberon and Laurence Olivier, for instance, he grouses: “Fine actors perform in a beautiful love story, but I prefer beautiful love stories where the lovers don’t separate and then die”). And some are winningly idiosyncratic (as when the author presents 1940’s The Mark of Zorro and talks about its famously charismatic star: “Nobody would argue if you said that Tyrone Power was the handsomest leading man of his day and if they did, it’s likely they never saw him in ‘The Mark of Zorro’ ”). A large part of the work’s delight is the way it brings so many of these indelible old movies back into the spotlight, often in touchingly personal tones, as when Reiner mentions 1946’s Stairway to Heaven: “Even though I’m a confirmed atheist I was able to suspend my beliefs so I could enjoy the prospect of climbing the myriad of steps on The Stairway to Heaven so I might, once again, see the deceased members of my beloved family and also my old and dear friends.” The book delivers a series of pleasant surprises, as each film sparks some new memory or quip from a man who’s lived a great deal of Hollywood history himself and frequently recounts meetings with some of the titans of the industry’s golden age.
A wonderful trip down movie Memory Lane.