Wednesday, January 24, 2018

Directed by Frank Wisbar

As even the author acknowledges, the audience for a book about writer-director Frank Wisbar is apt to be limited. His is not a household name, even among film buffs. Yet those who love classic horror often have a soft spot for his two best-known American films: Strangler of the Swamp and Devil Bat's Daughter, both released in 1946.

Despite what those titles might suggest, Wisbar was never just a schlockmeister merrily scraping the bottom of the barrel on Poverty Row. As Henry Nicolella shows in Frank Wisbar: The Director of 'Ferryman Maria,' from Germany to America and Back (McFarland), Wisbar traveled a long and circuitous route from his native Germany to Hollywood. Often thwarted in making films as he wished to do amid the political turmoil of Nazi Germany, Wisbar faced completely different challenges when he emigrated to America during World War II. After adapting his far more artistically ambitious German film Ferryman Maria into a PRC potboiler (albeit one that continues to have a cult following), Wisbar went on to a successful career in early television drama. Nicolella's coverage of Wisbar's work on the anthology series Fireside Theatre offers an engaging look into television's formative years.

I can readily imagine that this was an extremely difficult book to research, and I'm afraid it's unlikely to make the author wealthy. But discerning readers will appreciate the elusive bits of history he uncovers, as well as a writing style that hits the sweet spot of intelligent and informed commentary that's never dry or pretentious. Nicolella has given us a significant slice of film history that merits the attention of scholars and film lovers.

1 comment:

  1. Great review! Henry's 1st solo effort was nothing if not well researched and well written.

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