Historical Movies

How does one choose a list of great historical films? Is the emphasis on great or historical? And how far should one be willing to compromise with either? Fortunately, Hollywood has simplified the task by producing few films that can reasonably be called great or historically accurate. For instance, whatever the merits of John Ford’s Young Mr.Read more »

Actor Against Actor

What are the 10 greatest movies ever about the Civil War?

Since movies began, less than 40 years after the guns had fallen silent at Appomattox, Hollywood has churned out more than 700 Civil War-related films—nearly three times the number of movies about World War II. Most of them have stressed reunification, honoring the bravery of the soldiers on both sides, assigning no guilt, and declaring no true winner.

Forever Hollywood

THE PLACE where the greatest early movie stars built their final homes is returning to life


Paramount Pictures stands at its back door. Film crews shoot B movies on its sixty-two-acre grounds. And the thousands of tourists stop at the office, pick up maps, and go searching for its resident celebrities.

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The Taste Of Time

All across America there are restaurants that serve up the spirit and conviviality of eras long past

Mr. Henry Erkins had a flash of inspiration in 1908. He could see every detail of it in his mind. Nevertheless he resisted the temptation to say too much at his first press conference, in case someone stole the idea and opened their own five-thousand-seat waiterless restaurant with ancient Assyrian decorations. Read more »

Caution: I Brake For History

A BOLD NEW KIND OF COLLEGE COURSE BRINGS the student directly to the past, nonstop, overnight, in squalor and glory, for weeks on end


O Public Road … you express me better than I can express myself. ” I first read Walt Whitman’s “Song of the Open Road,” in Leaves of Grass , as an Ohio schoolboy. The great democratic chant struck me hard, a lightning bolt of simple, authoritative words proclaiming that only in motion do people have the chance to turn dreams into reality. Even as a fourteen-yearold I already suspected this. Read more »

Germany’s America

For a century and a half Germans have been deeply ambivalent about the United States, and their contradictory feelings say much about their future in Europe and the world

In 1989 the Berlin wall came down. A year later the unimaginable had become a reality: Germany, divided in 1945, was reunified, and it was beginning to raise a major voice not only in Europe but also in world politics. Hopes are high that this time Germany will assume a role among nations different from the one it played in the first half of the century. But in East and West there are deep and traumatic memories of two world wars, of how the Germans saw themselves then and of how they treated their neighbors. Read more »


Desperate improvisations in the face of imminent disaster saw us through the early years of the fight. They also gave us the war’s greatest movie.

America’s favorite World War II movie has led a charmed life. While it was being filmed, each looming disaster turned out to be a cleverly disguised blessing, and after its completion everything that could go right did go right. But of all the lucky accidents it enjoyed on its way to screen immortality, the fact that shooting began before there was a finished script may have been the most providential. Read more »

When Hollywood Makes History

No less a fan than President Wilson said “The Birth of a Nation” was “like writing history with Lightning.” Movies have taught everybody else history too.

When the 1935 Mutiny on the Bounty failed to enchant local audiences, a distributor begged MGM to make “no more pictures where they write with feathers.”

Nevertheless, people have been writing with feathers since the dawn of the industry: as soon as movies began to tell coherent stories, they found subjects in the past. 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 »