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This biography of Marlon Brando is somewhat unusual in that it concentrates mainly on his professional life and personal philosophy, rather than delving into details of his personal life. After describing Brando’s childhood (with a loving but alcoholic mother, and an overly strict father), Mizruchi goes on to talk about his career in acting, and discusses many of his most famous film roles. She describes his attraction to a role, his preparation for it, and how he went on to become a character, as well as other details about the making of each film. In each case, Mizruchi draws comparisons between the character or storyline of the film and connects it back to events in Brando’s own life.

For that reason, this book is not the one to read if you are looking for Hollywood gossip or salacious details about Brando’s many relationships and often difficult personal life. Indeed, while his career is detailed in relatively chronological order, you would struggle to learn anything else about his life that is not already a matter of public record. For example, Mizruchi mentions his marriages, but does not give any details about the relationships or why they didn’t ultimately work out. However, I found that somewhat refreshing, as instead, I learned far more about Brando’s beliefs, his humanitarianism and his parts in civil rights campaigns, which he clearly felt passionately about.

Mizruchi had unprecedented access to Brando’s own personal book collection, which numbered around 4000, and which – as we are frequently reminded – he annotated heavily. She uses such annotations, as well as his varied choice of reading material to draw conclusions about the man himself. The sheer vastness and variety of the collection does support her view of him as an intelligent and curious man, who found enjoyment in learning.

Overall, I definitely enjoyed this book. As mentioned before, I did not learn an awful lot about Brando’s personal life, but I certainly learned more about what was important to him, his views on acting and his determination to leave the world a better place than he found it. At times, it is a little sycophantic – there’s no doubt that Mizruchi is a devoted Brando fan – but it is a respectful, interesting and clearly very well researched biography.

I would recommend to fans of Marlon Brando, or fans of the film making process.

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Paul Newman was mainly known to the world as a movie star – an icon, really – with a beautiful face, mesmerising blue eyes, and a air of rascality about him.  His long marriage to Joanne Woodward was revered in a profession where marriages often seem to break up almost as soon as the vows are read.  This book is a journey through Newman’s life, from his happy childhood as the son of the owner of a successful sporting goods business, to the start of his acting career, and of course, his Hollywood stardom.  However, just as interesting are the details of Paul’s passion for motor racing, his political activism, and his philanthropy.  The book also covers darker periods of his life, such as the tragic death of his son Scott, and a period when he and Joanne  briefly separated. 

The book was written in a respectful, but not fawning fashion, and painted a picture of a man who was sometimes uncomfortable with his stardom, who was almost obsessive about details regarding his characters and the settings of films, and whose greatest love in life was his wife.  Shawn Levy has taken a huge number of interviews that Paul Newman gave, and put them into chronological order; in this way, although Newman did not participate in any way with the writing of this book, we are still able to see his thoughts on certain times in his life, certain films that he made, etc.  The book does not portray Newman as a saint, but he is treated with the warmth and respect that such a man would deserve.

One of the most fascinating parts of the book for me was when Newman set up the Hole In The Wall camps – places where sick children could go to simply have fun, play games, forget about their illnesses for a while.  Newman was determined that no child’s family should have to pay for their child to go to the camp, and importantly, as well as giving his money to the project, he also gave his time – he would often pop into the camps on spec, and play games or chat with the children.  I knew that Newman was a generous man, but I was surprised to learn of some of the things that he did, at no benfit to himself.

The book is very readable, and not at all dry – it’s a fascinating read from start to finish.  I actually found myself with a lump in my throat at the end, when reading about the death of this mercurial, precise, rogueish, handsome, kind, intelligent and funny man.  I would urge fans of Paul Newman to read this book.

(Author’s website can be found here.)

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Singin’ In The Rain is one of Hollywood’s best loved films.  The American Film Industry named it the Best Musical Film of all time.  They also listed it as the fifth best film of any genre of all time, and it came the top 20 films of both their lists of romantic movies, and comedy movies.  More importantly, it is loved by film fans all over the world, even almost 60 years after it was released.

This book tells the story of how the film was created, beginning right at the genesis of the project, when screenwriters Betty Comden and Adolph Green were asked to write a musical using MGMs back catalogue of Freed/Brown songs.  All they knew was that it was to be called ‘Singin’ In The Rain’; they had no guidance regarding what the storyline should be about.  The book describes the writing process, and then goes on to describe how all the main players in the cast came on board, providing short but detailed biographies of the main cast.

There are detailed descriptions of the various problems encountered by the cast and crew during filming, and also of the personal relationships between the people involved in the film.  It also gives details of how the dances were worked out, how the sets were created, and how the characters were developed.  (And finds time to debunk a few myths – for example, despite popular reports that milk was used instead of water for the title dance, this is not true.)

Finally the book describes the impact which the film had on the cast and crew, the critics, and the viewing public, and discusses its enduring appeal (giving details of life after the film for the main cast).

This book is jam-packed with details and facts, but it is all presented in a very readable and engaging style.  It’s clear that the authors love their subject (and indeed, who doesn’t?!), and have carried out exhaustive research for this book.

Above all, it is a fitting tribute to a wonderful film, and is definitely recommended for fans of the film, or anyone interested in how movies were made.  And I guarantee that when you’ve finished it, you will want to get the film out and watch it!

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Click here for my review of the 1952 film.

Click here for my review of the 2012 (started) West End Theatre production.

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Frequently topping ‘best musical’ lists (the American Film Industry voted it the best musical ever made) and appearing high on any list of film favourites, this really is a delightful film that deserves all the accolades it has received.

Gene Kelly is Don Lockwood, a star of silent movies (the film is set in the 1920s), who has to make the transition from silent to talking movies.  For Don this is not a problem, but for his co-star Lina Lamont, it most certainly is – Lina has an incredibly irritating voice, and cannot act or sing.  Additionally, Don and Lina are in a fake relationship, the only purpose of which is to garner publicity.  When Don meets aspiring actress Kathy Selden (Debbie Reynolds) he starts to fall for her.  She is brought in to dub Lina’s voice in the talking movies, but Lina is not happy.  Will true love win out….?

Man films are described as ‘feel good’ movies – this is one film that is especially deserving of this description.  The high points?  There’s just so many; I loved the ‘Moses Supposes’ dance routine, performed by Gene Kelly and Donald O’Connor (who plays Don’s best friend Cosmo).  It’s incredibly vibrant, fluid and so graceful to watch – and makes you smile too.  O’Connor also performs the fantastic solo number ‘Make ‘Em Laugh’ where he does the incredible trick of running up the walls and completing the move with a somersault.  Supposedly O’Connor was so drained by this sequence that when he finished filming it, he went to bed for three days straight – only to find upon his return to work that the footage had been lost and he would have to film it all again.  The result however, is breath-taking.  I also loved Gene Kelly’s dance to the title song.  His sheer exuberance and happiness shines through and is totally infectious – and there’s no doubt about it, Kelly is simply mesmerising when he dances.  I found it hard to take my eyes off him.  A special mention also for the sultry nightclub dance number with Kelly and a stunning Cyd Charisse (with possibly the most fantastic pair of legs ever seen on celluloid).

Gene Kelly is simply amazing throughout this film, and Donald O’Connor, who like his character, plays it for laughs, is just perfect as his best friend; Jean Hagen also puts in a great comic turn as Lina Lamont, and a very young Debbie Reynolds is adorable.

Any low points?  In a word – no.  This is a film to watch time and again, and one that surely can’t fail to make you feel good.  A definite 10 out of 10!

Year of release: 1952

Director: Stanley Donen, Gene Kelly

Writers: Adolph Green, Betty Comden

Main cast: Gene Kelly, Donald O’Connor, Debbie Reynolds, Jean Hagen

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Click here for my review of the 2012 (started) West End Theatre production.

Click here for my review of the book ‘Singin’ In The Rain: The Making of an American Masterpiece’ by Earl J. Hess and Pratibha A. Dabholkar.

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