THE HOLLYWOOD STUDIOS: House Style in the Golden Age of Movies by Ethan Mordden
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THE HOLLYWOOD STUDIOS: House Style in the Golden Age of Movies

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KIRKUS REVIEW

Caviar for film lovers as Mordden serves his tastiest book ever, comparing the studio styles of the Hollywood majors and minors during the first golden quarter-century of the talkies. Even as a child, a 30's and 40's moviegoer quickly could distinguish the luscious MGM house style from, say, the hard-bitten light of a Warner Brothers street drama. Paramount, MGM, Warners, Fox, RKO, Columbia, Universal, Samuel Goldwyn, Selznick, even Republic and Monogram: each had a signature style as distinctive as the house logo. To show why, Mordden begins with the rise of the moguls, of whom the greatest was Adolph Zukor, founder of Paramount. Zukor made hay from the idea of luring the middle classes into the film houses by showing them famous plays with famous players. Remaining aloof from art and focused on finance, he came to dominate the industry by creating a company of free-wheeling, sophisticated directors and giving them more power than any other company would dream of allowing. Zukor built up DeMille, Lubitsch, Von Sternberg, Von Stroheim, Leisen, LaCava, and later Preston Sturges and Billy Wilder--a great stable of mavericks. And they rode herd on Gary Cooper, Maurice Chevalier, Jeanette MacDonald, the Marx Brothers, Mae West, William Powell and Cary Grant, among other draws. Paramount was all ""sexy vitality, wit, devious excess and technical expertise""--which it did not begin to lose until new life was given the censors in 1934. Meanwhile, MGM pretended to work on a star-based system--but under Thalberg that idea was pure myth; the studio belonged to the producers. And Warner Brothers?--quick and cheap, the actors barely having time to learn their lines, its style is ""hit-and-run, modern-dress smarts laced with a touch of sentiment but a grab of honesty. The look is close, plain, flat. . .a diner, a hideout, a few clubs, offices and halls, apartments, and, above all, city streets."" Witty, unacademic, a lemony celebration unsweetened by nostalgia.

Pub Date: April 30th, 1988
Publisher: Knopf