Ok, first thing’s first. The “research assistant” for this book was esteemed silent film historian William K. Everson so we know that we are in good hands. This is yet another long out-of-print book that I added to my collection. It’s pretty easy to find a used copy online for just a few dollars. I highly recommend that you do just that. This book is ideal as your first-ever silent movie book.
What is it?: A highly affectionate tribute to the silent screen. It was first published in 1959, a time when interest in silent movies was just starting to rekindle. The book chronicles 75 silent stars and reviews 50 silent films. The films are listed in chronological order and the stars are listed alphabetically.
Pictures: This book is almost all pictures, both movie stills and publicity shots.
Review Style: Practically bursting with love. The enthusiasm is infectious. After reading this, I dare you not to rush to Netflix as fast as your little fingers can type. Unfortunately, some of the highly praised films in this book (A Kiss for Cinderella for one) are currently unavailable for the consumer market.
What else?: I greatly enjoyed the splendidly dated discussion of Valentino’s appeal. A sample:
“Valentino’s characterization is of a type that has completely disappeared from the screen today. The gentlemanly hero with dishonorable (if unrealized) intentions just doesn’t stand a chance with today’s code. Thus he has been replaced by the hero whose intentions are always honorable, but who is, alas, never a gentleman! Valentino, Barrymore, Lewis Stone, Adolphe Menjou and Clive Brook have given over the leading ladies to the louts: the Widmarks, the Palances, the Mitchums. However, since Vilma Banky, Dolores Costello, and Norma Shearer have been replaced by Mamie Van Doren, Terry Moore, and Jayne Mansfield, perhaps matters aren’t as tragic as they might be. Hero and heroine are now pretty evenly matched in aggressiveness.”
Remember, this was 1959. Isn’t it delightful? A little unfair (these were hardly the top romantic leads of the 1950’s) but still exceedingly grumpy and amusing. (And, for the record, I love Richard Widmark!)
Availability: It’s out of print but there are a lot of copies around so you can snag a used copy for pennies in some cases.