Makers & Moguls | Fine Arts Reviews

An in-depth look at the rise and fall of studio head William Fox; with thorough knowledge of film history, telling anecdotes and interviews, Rode illuminates Curtiz’s colorful career

Krefft, Vanda. The Man Who Made the Movies: The Meteoric Rise and Tragic Fall of William Fox. Harper. Nov. 2017. 944p. notes. bibliog. index. ISBN 9780061136061. $40; ebk. ISBN 9780062680679. BIOG

Studio head William Fox (1879–1956) was a relatively benign ruler, although ruthless when he needed to be. Like other first-generation movie moguls, he began by buying small storefront theaters and ultimately expanded into producing films. By the mid-1910s, he had struck filmic gold with pioneering “vamp” star Theda Bara, male stars such as William Farnum and Tom Mix, and directors including John Ford. Most of the 1920s saw continuing success, but Fox had overextended himself financially. The 1929 stock-market crash hastened the end of his empire, and he was later imprisoned for several months. In her first book, journalist Krefft has done an exhaustive study of Fox (the notes alone run to 130 pages). Arranged chronologically, some of Fox’s biography is rather hastily covered while whole chapters are devoted to a single film or player. Seemingly, every aspect of his personal and professional life has been included in this suitably engaging narrative. VERDICT It is no reflection on Krefft’s accomplishment that this may be more than most casual readers need to know about the man whose name lives on in 20th Century Fox. For those desiring less in-depth coverage, Merrill T. McCord’s recent William Fox and the Fox Film Corporation may be a suitable alternative.—Roy Liebman, formerly with California State Univ., Los Angeles

redstarRode, Alan K. Michael Curtiz: A Life in Film. Univ. Pr. of Kentucky. Nov. 2017. 630p. photos. filmog. notes. bibliog. index. ISBN 9780813173917. $50; ebk. ISBN 9780813173962. FILM 

Once hailed as “the king of Warner Brothers,” Hungarian-born director Michael Curtiz (Mihaly Kertesz) helmed such diverse classics as The Adventures of Robin Hood, Captain Blood, Casablanca, and Mildred Pierce, along with other significant films. The first comprehensive, in-depth biography of ­Curtiz portrays him as a man who abandoned acting to make films in Hungary, was recruited by Jack Warner, and despite a formidable language barrier, transitioned to Hollywood. A lifelong workaholic, he was known for his explosive tirades and frequent malapropisms (referring to one film as “the pinochle of my career”). He was also notorious for his perfectionism and demand for realism, which led to verbal abuse of cast and crew members, working long hours and driving them to the breaking point; battles with studio bosses; and allegations of mistreatment of stunt animals. Rode (Charles McGraw: Film Noir Tough Guy) examines Curtiz’s eye for new talent, intuitive storytelling sense, and fluid use of the camera. Although his name may not be well remembered outside Hollywood, his legacy is secure, with a body of work rarely matched in Hollywood. ­VERDICT With thorough knowledge of film history, telling anecdotes, and interviews, the author illuminates Curtiz’s colorful career while also providing insightful portraits of actors, writers, and studio heads. Highly recommended.—Stephen Rees, ­formerly with Levittown Lib., PA

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