Saturday, December 14, 2013

Book Review: Garlen's Guide to Movies

I was taken aback recently when a Netflix search for classics suggested that I try Beetlejuice (1988). If your idea of a classic movie is more likely to star Joan Crawford or Humphrey Bogart than Michael Keaton, then you'll appreciate Jennifer C. Garlen's book Beyond Casablanca: 100 Classic Movies Worth Watching (Westview, $18.00). Garlen, who writes regularly about Golden Age cinema for, has compiled a smart, readable, and eminently browsable guide to the best of the best.

After a brief introduction covering 10 films so famous that even classic movie novices have likely seen them (It's a Wonderful Life, Citizen Kane), Garlen delves eagerly into her Top 100 list. Many won't surprise anyone who cares enough to pick up this book -- All About Eve, High Noon, North by Northwest -- but there are others you might not so easily guess. Able to appreciate, and assess, a variety of genres, Garlen's good taste ranges across Westerns, comedies, musicals, and even horror films (House of Wax, Horror of Dracula). Most of her choices are American releases from the 1930s through the 1950s; however, silent and foreign films are represented as well. For each film, she offers not only intelligent commentary (being a Georgia boy myself, I was amused by her crack about the cast of Jezebel: "They all go around mouthing that Hollywood version of a Southern accent, but Southerners who watch old movies have grown used to hearing it...") but also tips for further viewing if you liked the cast, genre, or premise.

Veteran old movie watchers will enjoy seeing some of their old favorites through her sharp eyes, and maybe even note a few movies they've overlooked. Those relatively new to classic movies will find this a treasure trove of suggestions that will keep their Netflix queue or their DVD player occupied for weeks, or months, to come. It would make a great stocking stuffer, or a last-minute gift, for someone on your list.

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