PANDAEMONIUM by Leslie Epstein


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 A sprawling and frequently ponderous tale about the film industry in Hollywood and on location elsewhere in the late 1930s and the early days of WW II, from a scion of Hollywood families who's distinguished himself as the author of such novels as King of the Jews (1979) and Pinto and Sons (1990). The story begins in 1937, with a flight carrying famed director Rudolph Von Beckmann and his cast (including narrator Peter Lorre) and crew to Munich, where the master will stage a theatrical production of Sophocles' Antigone. But the burgeoning Nazi momentum changes their plans--particularly those of Von Beckmann's adored star Magdalena Mezaray, who is appropriated, as it were, by the government for its new FÅhrer's entertainment. Other distractions--such as the great director's homosexual passions and Lorre's hopeless fixation on his colleague and sometime co-star Rochelle Hudson--variously affect Von Beckmann's ingenious plan: to film his Antigone in the guise of a Wild West melodrama, to be shot in a remote Nevada town named (all too sympathetically) Pandaemonium. The outcome is tragic, but its impact is lessened by the distance at which we're kept from Epstein's confusing host of fictional and real characters (including his well-known father and uncle, the successful screenwriters Philip G. and Julius J. Epstein). The momentum is further flattened by recurring excerpts from the columns of gossipmonger Louella Parsons, whose participation in the climactic action doesn't seem fully credible. Peter Lorre is a potentially attractive focal character--his barely contained fury at contractual obligations binding him perhaps forever to the unfulfilling role of serial sleuth ``Mr. Moto'' is well conveyed, as are his fears for the fate of Jews, including himself--but Epstein has given him a whiny, self-absorbed voice and manner that severely undercut our identification and empathy with him. The materials for a fine novel are here, but this one feels both overwrought and uninvolving.

Pub Date: May 1st, 1997
ISBN: 0-312-15622-7
Page count: 384pp
Publisher: St. Martin's
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1st, 1997


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