Combustible Celluloid

Just Making Movies: Company Directors on the Studio System, by Ronald L. Davis

Review by Jeffrey M. Anderson

Buy Just Making Movies: Company Directors on the Studio System, Ronald L. Davis

At first I only wanted to read this book, which collects interviews with twelve old-time studio film directors, for one reason: Budd Boetticher. Boetticher is the only one of the twelve who could be considered an auteur, or a filmmaker with a personal style that translated from film to film. Most of the guys in this book made very few classics between them, and certainly no films with any personal style.

But as I flipped through the other interviews, it occurred to me that there's something to be said for a studio director who showed up on time, did his work and got movies made. Even directors with the most boring output at least have interesting stories to tell; they've met and worked with some of the greatest talent of the 20th century. And stories by Frederick de Cordova (Bedtime for Bonzo), Gordon Douglas (Them!), Michael Gordon (Cyrano de Bergerac), Henry Hathaway (Kiss of Death), Henry Koster (The Bishop's Wife), Arthur Lubin (Hold That Ghost), Joseph Newman (This Island Earth), Irving Rapper (Now, Voyager), Vincent Sherman (All Through the Night), George Sidney (Annie Get Your Gun) and Charles Walters (Easter Parade) all have something worthy to say. Sherman in particular says something quite moving:

"I would have loved to have done Casablanca. I would have loved to have done Treasure of the Sierra Madre, but I didn't get those. I don't think that there was any concerted effort not to give me top pictures. It's just the way the schedule worked out. It's true that if you did a successful picture, you could demand a little bit more in the next one. I was always what I thought was a pretty good company man."

Though Boetticher's crusty interview is the best in the book, I was embarrassed to realize that these other guys had something to teach that was just as valuable as anything Boetticher had to say. And in some cases, more so.

April 29, 2005

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