When Newsreels Stood Still

A little-known ancestor of the nightly news comes to light

The Colorado farmer opened the barn door for me. There, hanging from a nail on the back wall, was an empty 35-mm reel. With that excitement peculiar to collectors, I asked if there were any films left. “I reckon so. Since maybe sixty years ago when my daddy give up his road showin’.” Read more »

Master James Is Home For Christmas!

Some of the best moments in hundreds of movies took place at Christmastime. And the author may have seen every one of them.

Christmas hasn’t been all that merry on the screen in the past couple of decades. Santa was as likely as not to be Gene Hackman in costume to make a drug bust in The French Connection; the holiday itself became a horror in films like Black Christmas and Silent Night, Bloody Night; and there was even an extraterrestrial turkey called Santa Claus Conquers the Martians.Read more »

Facing Zanuck

It was a great life being a contract writer for a major studio during the high noon of the American movie industry—but it could also be a nightmare. A survivor recalls the pleasures and ardors of working at 20th Century-Fox forty years ago.

“COME ON OUT, DAD. SWANIE.” These homely words unlocked the gates of paradise, opened the road to fortune and easy living. They were from my West Coast agent, H. N. Swanson, and climaxed the telegram announcing the sale of my story Low Pressure to the 20th Century-Fox Film studio and giving the terms. It was a nice deal—a tidy sum for the story and a six-week writing contract, all traveling expenses paid, first class of course—the 20th Century Limited to Chicago, the Santa Fe Chief to L. A.Read more »

The Warner Mob

With the Depression pushing the studio toward bankruptcy, Warner Brothers had to resort to crime—and crime paid so well that the company was able to recruit the toughest guys that ever shot up a sound stage.

JACK WARNER RAN HIS organization the same way Al Capone ran his: ruthlessly. The problem was that, unlike Capone, he couldn’t simply wipe out the competition. In 1930 Jack and his two older brothers, Sam and Harry, owned one-quarter of all the movie houses in the United States, plus the Warner Brothers studio and fifty-one subsidiary companies. But their theaters were now frighteningly empty. Millions were out of work, and the novelty of talking pictures, which had started with Warner’s Vitaphone process, had lost its drawing power.Read more »

Paintings From a Picture Palace

George Eastman didn’t think the posters the movie companies supplied were good enough for his theater. So he commissioned a local artist to paint better ones.

IN 1922 GEORGE EASTMAN, the great photographic industrialist, built an elaborate movie house in his hometown of Rochester, New York. Eastman paid close attention to its every detail, from the massive, imported chandeliers to the seating capacity of the second balcony. Since the mass-produced studio artwork of the time didn’t meet Eastman’s standards, he commissioned a young local artist named Batiste Madalena to herald his picture shows. Read more »

An Interview With John Huston

The Dean of American Movie Men at Seventy-Five

John Huston was born on August 5, 1906, in Nevada, Missouri, a town that his grandfather won in a poker game, according to family legend. He was the son of Walter Huston, who, after fifteen years as a vaudeville headliner, became one of America’s finest dramatic actors, best known for playing the old farmer in Eugene O’Neill’s Desire Under the Elms and for the title role in Dodsworth .Read more »

History And The Imagination

Ragtime and Reds

Hollywood ordinarily leaves American history well alone. But two of the winter’s big movies turn out to be meditations on early twentieth-century America. Ragtime , drawn from E. L. Doctorow’s novel, is set in the period from 1906 to 1908; Reds , based on the lives of John Reed and his wife, Louise Bryant, from 1915 to 1920.Read more »

History And The Imagination

As three recent films show—one on the atomic bomb, one on women defense workers during the Second World War, one on the government arts projects of the thirties —this history of our times offers film makers arresting opportunities. Footage shot on the spot supplies a measure of raw actuality, and survivors are still available for interview. The real problem is to give abundant but diffuse materials a shape and structure. This is not, however, a problem that automatically solves itself. Read more »

History And The Imagination

The editors have invited me to write an occasional column on history as encountered in movies and on television. The assignment is welcome to one who has been irregularly a film critic as well as regularly a historian. But the job may not be so simple as it first appears. For the relationship between history and film takes a diversity of forms—from film as rendition of past history to film as material for future history. Read more »

History and The Imagination

Films like Sidney Lumet's Prince of the City add a human dimension to the sense of the past.

Every man is the prisoner of his own experience; and no artistic production can escape the impress of its time. That is why works of art, properly utilized, can be valuable historical sources—as, oddly enough, Marx and Engels were more prepared than academic historians to recognize.Read more »