WRITERS IN HOLLYWOOD 1915-1951 by Ian Hamilton


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A large, long survey of ""author-auteurs"" of screenplays, from Birth of a Nation to the HUAC hearings on Communism in Hollywood, the blacklists and loyalty oaths, and the Supreme Court's breakup of studio monopolies. Hamilton kept one step back from his subjects when writing Robert Lowell (1982) and the legally controversial J.D. Salinger (1986, but enjoined from publication, reworked, and released in 1988 as In Search of J. D. Salinger). Still, the reader sensed the magnetism of Lowell and Salinger drawing the author into those works. This time the impulse that draws Hamilton to his subject is less clear. Why recycle or rebundle these overfamiliar anecdotes about the writing of famous screen properties? What we get is a mechanical packaging job that only here and there enlivens the page with an irony or an argument with Hamilton's sources, as when he takes issue with Tom Dardis' much livelier and more deep-delving Some Time in the Sun on the subject of Faulkner's rhetoric in his scripts. Once more, as in any number of books, we get the birth of screen-writing from one-paragraph scenarios to printed titles, to the Erich von Stroheim Greed saga, to the introduction of talkies and Hollywood's panicky grab for stiff Broadway dialogue, and the rise of the Production Code. Again we go through the Welles-Mankiewicz Citizen Kane script saga, the four--or six-author Casablanca script saga, some of the Raymond Chandler Hollywood saga, nearly all of the Preston Sturges saga, and even a serving of the Hammett-Hellman saga--among other sagas. A much smaller compass with larger script excerpts comparing styles from the various periods might have been more absorbing. Hamilton does have his moments--he digs into the visual elements of the film noir style, for instance, and is quite eloquent on the fated screenwriter hero of Sunset Boulevard. But between these more charged passages come the worn quotes from Sam Goldwyn, Billy Wilder, et al. Nothing new--but unfamiliarity could breed enjoyment.

Pub Date: May 23rd, 1990
Publisher: Harper & Row