Nonfiction, February 1, 2019 | Xpress Reviews

Hoffman’s work on Hecht is assiduously researched and delightfully entertaining; a solid acquisition for all performing arts and modern Judaica collections

Week ending February 1, 2019

Hoffman, Adina. Ben Hecht: Fighting Words, Moving Pictures. Yale Univ. (Jewish Lives). Feb. 2019. 264p. photos. index. ISBN 9780300180428. $26; ebk. ISBN 9780300182408. FILM
In the latest entry in Yale’s excellent “Jewish Lives” series, noted essayist, film critic, professor, and award-winning author Hoffman ( Till We Have Built Jerusalem: Architects of a New City) beautifully illuminates the life and work of the protean 20th-century American literary genius Ben Hecht. A newspaperman, playwright, director, producer, staunch Zionist, and advocate of Jewish causes, Hecht is best known as one of Hollywood’s most successful and influential screenwriters. Credited with solidifying if not creating several cinematic genres, Hecht received an Academy Award for Best Original Screenplay for the film Underworld at the academy’s inaugural ceremony in 1929. In his prolific career, he worked with film luminaries Ernst Lubitsch, Howard Hawks, David O. Selznick, and Alfred Hitchcock, to name-drop a few. Hecht was plagued by lifelong doubts that he squandered his considerable literary gifts in Hollywood, but Hoffman definitively claims “screenwriting was Hecht’s calling, whether he liked it or not.” The author relies on standard biographical tropes, progressing chronologically through Hecht’s life and highlighting personal, professional, and artistic demarcations.
VERDICT Assiduously researched and delightfully entertaining; a solid acquisition for all performing arts and modern Judaica collections.—Barry X. Miller, Austin P.L., TX

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