Saturday, March 19, 2016

Heflin's Lives

Derek Sculthorpe's Van Heflin: A Life in Film (McFarland, $35) could easily have been subtitled "Lives in Film." As this thoroughly researched, intelligent appreciation of his career makes clear, the talented actor (1908-1971) demonstrated his versatility in a number of well-remembered films of Hollywood's Golden Age. Heflin's subtle, layered performances -- skillfully delineating men of widely varied backgrounds, temperaments, and abilities -- are capably covered here, in a book his admirers will want to pick up.

Naturally, full attention is given to the roles for which most of us know him, in films like Johnny Eager (1942), which netted him an Oscar as Best Supporting Actor, Airport (1970), and especially Shane (1953). Sculthorpe's analyses not only encouraged me to see more of Heflin's work, but also gave me a new appreciation for what he contributes to films I'd already seen, like Possessed (1947). Although the emphasis here is on his film work, I appreciated the attention the author paid to Heflin's radio career as well. Too often, biographers overlook, or downplay, the importance of this medium; Sculthorpe gives it the attention it merits. Also interesting was the author's account of Heflin's work in television, a medium he was decidedly slow to embrace, yet one in which his talent could have easily taken him farther.

Both the book, and the actor it memorializes, are worth your attention.

NOTE: I was furnished a review copy of this book, in exchange for an honest review.

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