Thursday, March 20, 2014

Book Review: What's the Matter with Curtis Harrington?

If you've admired the sleek, stylish horror and suspense films of director Curtis Harrington, you'll enjoy reading his posthumously published autobiography Nice Guys Don't Work in Hollywood: The Adventures of an Aesthete in the Movie Business, published in 2013 by Drag City. Among his memorable films are Night Tide, What's the Matter with Helen?,  and the TV-movies The Cat Creature and The Dead Don't Die.

Harrington (1926-2007) pulls no punches in discussing his career, or his colleagues. Of one producer, he writes, "There is no one that I've ever encountered in the film business for whom I have more loathing and contempt than [him]. He did everything possible to destroy the film." One popular and well-regarded actress whom he refused to cast in a project he describes as "short, dwarfish, unsexy and unattractive." Readers will be both impressed by the battles he fought to bring his visions to life, and saddened by the stupidity that sometimes compromised the films he left behind.

Harrington resented the fact that film work dried up for him in the 1970s, leaving him on the "slippery slope" to television work he regarded as inferior. An incisive observer, he offers revealing anecdotes about the many famous names he met along the course of his career -- Kenneth Anger, Bette Davis, Simone Signoret, James Whale, and many more. Who else can you think of who knew both Josef von Sternberg and Aaron Spelling?

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