Daily Archives: November 15, 2020

Review of Peter Biskind’s SEEING IS BELIEVING


From the Autumn 1984 Film Quarterly. I reviewed this book at Biskind’s request, and my position was hampered by the fact that he was the main editor of American Film at the time, where his commissions were essential to my livelihood. Our relationship became even more strained after I was all set to review the book and he then informed me that he wished I weren’t reviewing it. — J.R.

SEEING IS BELIEVING: How Hollywood Taught Us to Stop Worrying and Love the Fifties By Peter Biskind. New York: Pantheon Books, 1983. $22.95 cloth, $10.95 paper.

The first thing to be said about Peter Bis­kind’s ambitious and long-awaited study of ideology in Hollywood movies of the fifties is that it can’t be dipped into at random with­ out a considerable amount of confusion setting in. Without the benefit of Biskind’s careful construction and preparation, the unwary reader who plunges in midstream is bound to be bewildered or dismayed by many of the political labels, whereby Thieves Highway, for instance, is designated as a “right-wing film,” or High Noon and The Blob as “radical films.” Even in the Introduction, which tends to be more cautious than the rest of the book, several eyebrows are likely to be raised by the followingsentence: “The films of Robert Aldrich can usually be counted on to be somewhere on the left, just as the films of Elia Kazan are frequently in the middle, while those of John Ford are to the right of his and those of Alfred Hitchcock are to the right of his.

While nothing in Seeing is Believing quite succeeds in eliminating all the booby-traps contained in the above declaration, the book is a lot more reasoned and reasonable than any sort of scattershot spot-checking might suggest. Examining the… Read more »

Black and Tan (1976 review)

The following was written for the Monthly Film Bulletin — a publication of the British Film Institute, where I was serving at the time as assistant editor — and it follows most of the format of that magazine by following credits (abbreviated here) with first a one-paragraph synopsis and then a one-paragraph review. (For his resourceful photo research, thanks once again to Ehsan Khoshbakht.)–J.R.

Black and Tan

U.S.A., 1929
Director: Dudley Murphy

Dist—TCB. p.c—RKO. p. sup—Dick Currier. sc—Dudley Murphy. ph—Dal Clawson. ed—Russell G. Shields. a.d—Ernest Feglé. m/songs—“Black and Tan Fantasy” by James “Bubber” Miley, Duke Ellington, “The Duke Steps Out”, “Black Beauty”, “Cotton Club Stomp”, “Hot Feet”, “Same Train” by Duke Ellington, performed by—Duke Ellington and His Cotton Club Orchestra: Arthur Whetsol, Freddy Jenkins, Cootie Williams (trumpets), Barney Bigard (clarinet), Johnny Hodges (alto sax), Harry Carney (baritone sax), Joe Nanton (trombone), Fred Guy (banjo), Wellman Braud (bass), Sonny Greer (drums), Duke Ellington (piano), (on “Same Train”, “Black and Tan Fantasy”) The Hall Johnson Choir. sd. rec—Carl Dreher. with—Duke Ellington and His Cotton Club Orchestra, Fredi Washington, The Hall Johnson Choir. 683 ft. 19 min. (19 mm).

Duke Ellington rehearses his “Black and Tan Fantasy” for a club date in his flat with trumpet Arthur Whetsol until interrupted by two men from the piano company, sent to remove the instrument because he has fallen behind in the payments.… Read more »

The Ring (1976 review)

This was originally published in the July 1976 issue of the Monthly Film Bulletin (vol. 43, no. 510), to coincide with the release of Hitchcock’s Family Plot (illustrated on the cover, and reviewed in that issue by the editor, Richard Combs).  — J.R.

Ring, The

Great Britain, 1927
Director: Alfred Hitchcock

Dist—BFI. p.c–British International Pictures. p–John Maxwell. asst. d—Frank Mills. story/sc—Alfred Hitchcock. continuity—Alma Reville. ph—John J. Cox.  a.d—Wilfred Arnold. l.p—Carl Brisson (“One Round” Jack Sander), Lillian Hall-Davies (Nelly), Ian Hunter (Bob Corby), Forrester Harvey (Harry), Harry Terry (Barker), Gordon Harker (Trainer), Billy Wells (Boxer). 3,179 ft. (at 16 f.p.s.) 132 min. (16mm). Original 35 mm footage—8,400 ft.

At a traveling circus, prizefighter “One Round” Jack Sander is knocked out and defeated for the first time in his show by Bob Corby, an Australian heavyweight, and a mutual attraction develops between the latter and Nelly, Jack’s ticket-seller fiancée. With his prize money, Bob buys Nelly an arm bracelet which she hides from Jack, and Bob’s manager offers Jack the chance of a job as the champion’s sparring partner if he wins a trial match, which he grudgingly accepts.… Read more »