Categories
Documentaries and Books

The Inventor: Out For Blood in Silicon Valley

I direct a speakers series at Stanford Medical School which features prominent thinkers and policymakers in health. In 2015, as I huddled with advisors to choose our upcoming guests, I heard the name Elizabeth Holmes for the first time. Smart people I respect told me that she was upending the diagnostic testing industry and that she was being advised by luminaries like former cabinet Secretaries George Schultz and Jim Mattis. I didn’t really understand what her company did, but judging how many impressive people were impressed with her, I joined the rational herd and assumed she’d be a terrific guest. It was just dumb luck that I didn’t invite her before a brilliant investigative reporter exposed the fraud for which she is slated to soon go on trial. The story of this strange, beguiling, person and the company she founded is expertly told in Alex Gibney’s 2019 documentary The Inventor: Out For Blood in Silicon Valley.

As he showed in his documentary on Enron (my recommendation here) Alex Gibney has a talent for telling complex stories of corporate malfeasance in a clear and compelling fashion. With his trademark superb editing of his own interviews with principals, candid footage provided by insiders, and news stories, Gibney introduces us to the weirdly unblinking, suspiciously baritone-voiced, black turtleneck-wearing Stanford dropout who transfixed my local community and the world for a few years with the claim that myriad diseases could be detected in the tiniest drops of blood: Elizabeth Holmes. Gibney makes clear how Holmes’ boundless confidence in her own ideas likely made her more effective at persuading employees, journalists, investors, and politicians to aid her cause.

The gender dynamics Gibney illuminates are one of the more fascinating aspects of the film. Stanford Professor Phyllis Gardner, who was never fooled, notes that Holmes had a particular talent at getting old, highly accomplished men to see her as surrogate daughter or granddaughter, and to trust and protect her as such. Much of the media and political world, desperate to have a female Silicon Valley star to promote, also gave her a pass she did not deserve.

Even though some journalists are shown in a poor light, overall this movie made me feel better about the enterprise. Roger Parloff is candid about how he was initially taken in by Holmes and then to his great credit, publicly recanted. John Carreyrou’s investigative instincts and determination are impressive, as is the fact that his employer, the Wall Street Journal didn’t cave under pressure despite the fact that Rupert Murdoch invested in Theranos (That pressure by the way was applied by David Boies, who between representing Theranos and Harvey Weinstein serves as an object lesson in how to torch a hard-won reputation in late life).

The Inventor is not the most visually interesting movie. Gibney does the best he can, but there are only so many shots of blood testing equipment and corporate headquarters that the human eye can stand. Yet even after having read Carreyrou’s excellent book Bad Blood and knowing a number of the people in this movie, it still taught me new things and engaged me throughout. Bravo to Gibney, who again fulfills his reputation as one of the world’s leading documentary makers.

Categories
Documentaries and Books

I Am Not Your Negro

I Am Not Your Negro | Film of James Baldwin's Words on Race in America |  Independent Lens | PBS

Late in his life, James Baldwin began writing a book about three of his friends, all of whom had been assassinated: Medgar Evers, Martin Luther King Jr., and Malcolm X. The book, entitled Remember This House, was to be a reflection both on their remarkable lives as well as on the nature of America. Baldwin unfortunately never got very far with the project, leaving behind at his death only a 30-page draft. Thankfully, a talented filmmaker named Raoul Peck picked up the pieces by using the draft and assorted filmed interviews of and lectures by Baldwin to weave together I Am Not Your Negro.

Effectively narrated with the right touch of anguish by Samuel L. Jackson, this 2006 Academy Award-nominated documentary could not have had a better screenwriter. The words are almost entirely those of Baldwin himself, an acknowledged master of the language. The film also helps the viewer appreciate Baldwin’s comparable facility with silence. Whether giving a prepared talk or speaking off the cuff, Baldwin’s cadence is a thing of beauty: a devastating insight, an memorable phrase, and then just long enough of a pause (never with an “um” or an “uhhh”, just silence) to let it sink in before his next powerhouse observation.

The documentary also illuminates the content of Baldwin’s thoughts about race and America, and obviously, it’s not frothy and uplifting. Baldwin is angry at, yet in his way, also loving of, his country. He is weighed down by the burden of American racial oppression, yet says “I am an optimist, because I’m alive”. And he’s in my opinion undeniably correct in seeing the fate of Blacks, Whites, and the nation as fundamentally tied together. As my Baldwin-quoting collaborator Ekow Yankah once wrote “A furnace fed by racism eventually consumes us all“.

This could have easily been a talky and boring film, but Peck never forgets that he’s making a movie rather than a book. The editing is crisp, the images well-chosen, and the pacing is exactly right. Some of the juxtapositions between newsreels, movie clips, and the like with Baldwin’s words are a bit overdrawn (e.g., the Doris Day movie clips), but overall Peck masterfully uses the power of cinema to give Baldwin’s words even more impact.

Some of the putatively positive reviews of this film contained dreadful comments like “All of White America should have to watch this movie”, as if Peck had assembled a fourth-rate implicit bias training that was a punishment to be endured rather than a skillfully made, compulsively watchable film. To listen to James Baldwin is to be in the presence of greatness, and Peck shows greatness of his own in translating the writer, thinker, and advocate so effectively to the screen.

Categories
Documentaries and Books

Unseen

Unseen (2016)

One of my formative professional experiences was clinically assessing individuals entering addiction treatment in Detroit at the height of the crack cocaine epidemic. I follow each patient up many months later to see how their lives were going and whether they had benefited from treatment. In the low-income, predominately Black neighborhoods of an industrial city in steep decline I witnessed and heard about horrifying things, but also came away impressed by the resilience and decency human beings can summon in extreme circumstances. No film brought me back to those experiences more than Laura Paglin’s powerhouse 2016 documentary Unseen.

The subject matter of the movie could at one level not be more grim: the serial rape and murder of 11 African-American women in the Mount Pleasant neighborhood of Cleveland. Though the sociopathic killer behind the crimes committed them over a series of years, almost no inquiries were made by the police until a brave woman survived his attack, went to the police, and was believed (I emphasize this last point because the police had done little or nothing when presented with similar complaints by other women in the past). Unseen asks why so little notice was taken for years of multiple human beings being assaulted, tormented, and murdered.

To answer this question, Paglin takes an approach unlike most documentaries about serial killers: putting the focus on the victims rather than the perpetrator. Multiple women who survived terrifying assaults tell their shattering stories directly to the camera with courage and insight.

Why did no one intervene? The victims were all low-income Black women who were addicted to crack cocaine, engaged in sex work, or both. Many were already estranged from their families or anyone else who could have noticed and reported their disappearance. They had no worth in the eyes of the killer of course, but the film makes clear that this was a disturbingly widely held sentiment. A local shopkeeper says the killer did a service by cleaning up the neighborhood’s “garbage” and many of the police clearly could not be bothered to investigate complaints of sexual assault filed by drug using prostitutes. The women themselves sometimes took this devaluation into their own hearts and therefore lacked the self-respect to demand better treatment from the world around them.

The film’s great achievement is humanizing the victims. It does this via moving interviews of those women who survived and of the friends and family of those who did not. Several interviewees are particularly skillful as well at humanizing the neighborhood as a whole, illuminating how the loss of jobs, prosocial cultural institutions, and hope for the future, ground down almost everyone in Mount Pleasant. The interviews are interspersed with scenes of the neighborhood, from the court trial, and from the police interrogation of the killer, making the movie even more compelling.

I also respect the way this movie dismantles myths (some conservative, some liberal) that many people who have never been in neighborhoods like Mount Pleasant propagate. The bigoted stereotype of inner city immorality cannot survive the love for family and community that the interviewees evince. The trope that crack cocaine was just another drug about which there was an overblown moral panic (which my friend David Kennedy, who worked in the same sorts of neighborhoods I did, eloquently refers to as “bullshit”) is also deservedly left in ruins by addicted women describing its uniquely destructive effect on their lives. And the currently fashionable idea that getting rid of police would help low-income African-Americans looks both naive and dangerous in light of the monster that stalked and murdered so many. These women needed more and better police, not a perpetual absence of protection from law enforcement. The latter would be the ultimate fantasy of the man who raped and murdered them.

Can material this dark be uplifting? I think it can. You weep with the victims and share their pain and rage, but also come away in awe of their grit, honesty, and desire for justice.

Categories
Documentaries and Books Drama Mystery/Noir

In a Lonely Place

To hell with happiness. More important was excitement and power and the hot stir of lust. Those made you forget.

Dorothy Hughes’ bewitching and disturbing novel In a Lonely Place was thankfully re-issued by New York Review of Books in 2017. It very much recalls some of Jim Thompson’s darkest works, though she’s arguably an even better writer than he was. Hughes’ stylish evocation of a psychopathic psychology is like one of those sweetened Russian cocktails that tastes wonderful going down even though you know it’s burning out your insides and will leave you full of the blackest regret in the morning. I can’t recommend the book strongly enough, though not for the faint-hearted.

Once you have read it, consider watching the unforgettable film adaptation, which I review below.

I was born when she kissed me. I died when she left me. I lived a few weeks while she loved me.

Amazingly, there are people who consider themselves Humphrey Bogart fans who have never seen the brooding, powerful 1950 film In a Lonely Place. In one of his greatest roles, Bogart plays bitter, hard-drinking Hollywood screenwriter Dixon Steele, whose best days seem to be behind him. After being tasked with adapting a dreadful novel for the silver screen, he asks a ditzy hat check girl who loves the book to come to his apartment and tell him the plot. The next morning, the police inform Dix that the girl has been murdered and dumped by the side of the road. As the audience, we do not know what really happened. Steele is initially alibied by sultry neighbor Laurel Gray (Gloria Grahame, all eyebrows, curves and nimbly masked emotional turmoil), who promptly yields to his romantic advances. They fall in love and Dix is able to regain his gifts as a writer. But as Laurel sees Dix continue to be volatile and aggressive, she begins to wonder, Suspicion-style, whether Dix is a murderer after all.

This movie is cynical about fame, Hollywood, and human relationships, but tantalizes us with the possibility that new love can redeem it all. The suspense emerges less from the murder mystery than from the warring internal emotions of the characters. Director Nicholas Ray knew life’s dark places and how to get actors to go there. His marriage to the volatile Grahame ended in the most sordid way imaginable while they were making this movie, and the anguish and anger on the set comes out in the electric performances of the cast. The film is also remarkable for its opening five minutes, which are a clinic in how a great director and actor can establish a character with ruthless economy (incidentally, the bar in the opening scene was modeled after Romanoff’s, Bogart’s favorite watering hole).

There are countless movies told from the man’s point of view in which a beautiful, younger woman falls in love with the protagonist (indeed, Bogart himself made a number of such films). The women in those movies are flat characters and we aren’t told why they go for the hero. He wants her, the story needs them to fall in love, so they do. What is truly remarkable about this movie’s structure is that it follows this formula about half-way through and then flips the perspective to the woman’s point of view.

Categories
British Documentaries and Books

They Shall Not Grow Old

Americans understandably think of World War I as a far less severe conflict than World War II. But for most European nations, the slaughter was on a larger scale in The Great War, making the 2018 Armistice centennial a major cultural and historical event. The British Imperial War Museum’s contribution to the commemoration was to open their film archive to Peter Jackson, who in addition to being a famous filmmaker is also a Great War buff. The astounding result is They Shall Not Grow Old.

Jackson and his team began with unpromising visual material: scratchy, battered, over and underexposed, silent, film footage taken during the war with hand crank cameras. The audio material — interviews with many veterans long after the war ended — was in better physical shape but had no essential connection to the images. With remarkable technical skill and artistic vision, Jackson spun dross into gold.

Computer scanning was used to counterbalance for light exposure problems, add vivid color, and impute missing frames (the latter of which eliminates the herky-jerky motion produced by the slow pace of filming in this period). Professional lip readers were employed to determine what the soldiers in the film were saying and actors were hired to voice the lines. And an array of preserved WWI tanks, rifles, artillery, and other equipment were recorded and the resulting sound track synced up seamlessly to the original footage. The stories of soldiers were then skillfully assembled to narrate the film entirely in the words of “ordinary” people.

The resulting film is a technical marvel and an emotional wallop at the same time. Watching so many young men marching cheerfully from the recruiting station to the front line, and seeing them later dying in the muck and staring shell shocked into the camera is a devastating experience for the audience. And the stories told by the veterans, which range from the lighthearted (e.g., fishing soldiers out of the latrine when the bench broke) to the gut wrenching (e.g., seeing horrific injuries…and smelling them too), are utterly compelling. The banal aspects of military life are interspersed between the terrifying moments, including the shattering climax when the troops go over the top into the teeth of machine gun fire.

Many film makers would have had the impulse to have some authority figure add narration regarding “What it all means morally” either to (a la Stanley Kramer) “make sure the audience drew the correct conclusions” or to signal their own virtue. Peter Jackson is wiser than that: he lets the soldiers speak for themselves and the audience to draw their own lessons. The overpowering result is a unique cinematic achievement. Indeed, it even made me forgive Jackson for The Hobbit.

Categories
Comedy Documentaries and Books

Three Oscar Snubs

Rather than focus on a single film, I am going to commend to you to three fine movies that the Motion Picture Academy snubbed by failing to recognize Oscar-worthy work.

Comic performances are massively undervalued by Oscar voters, who just don’t seem to appreciate what the legendary English actor Edmund Kean allegedly said when terminally ill: “Dying is easy; comedy is hard”. Exhibit A this week is Steve Martin’s brilliant performance in All of Me, in which he plays a man whose body is partially taken over by the spirit of deceased harridan (a quite funny Lily Tomlin). Martin’s matchless comic gifts make this movie a joy to watch. This clip is one of the highlights because it lets Martin demonstrate his flair for hilarious physical comedy. It’s appalling that he didn’t even garner a Best Actor Oscar Nomination. Shame on you, Academy philistines!

The next snub comes from another funny Steve Martin movie, Bowfinger, but this time it’s Eddie Murphy who was robbed at Oscar time. Murphy plays both an arrogant, psychologically unstable movie star (first clip) and his meek, errand boy brother (second clip). Hang your head Oscar, this was a Peter Sellers-like multi-character tour de force and you didn’t even nominate Murphy for his comic genius.

In addition to comic performances, the Oscars also have a blind spot regarding movies about African-Americans. Perhaps the most inexcusable snub in Oscar history is that the powerful, moving documentary Hoop Dreams not only didn’t get nominated for Best Picture — it wasn’t even nominated for best documentary! The entire nomination committee should have publicly committed seppuku to atone for their sins. My review of this magnificent film is right here.

Categories
Documentaries and Books

Enron: The Smartest Guys in the Room

Enron: The Smartest Guys In The Room Review | Movie - Empire

How did one of the country’s largest companies go from riches to rags almost overnight, if it ever truly had riches in the first place? That question is skillfully and intelligently answered in Alex Gibney’s 2005 documentary Enron: The Smartest Guys in the Room.

The title refers to Ken Lay and Jeff Skilling, who convinced themselves and the world that they had a created a new kind of company that could make unprecedented profits in the energy sector. As one insider puts it, as each quarterly report approached it seemed the company was not going to make its numbers yet somehow it always did, and then some. Enron’s astronomical reported profits did not gain credibility in a vacuum: Its books were audited by Arthur Anderson, its accounts were interconnected with those of some of the nation’s most trusted financial firms (e.g., Merrill Lynch) and all the “objective” stock analysts were singing the company’s praises. But of course it was all a lie, and it unraveled with shocking speed and horrific destructiveness.

This movie adroitly combines interviews of journalists, former Enron insiders and political figures with archival news footage (e.g., Skilling and fellow crook Andrew Fastow’s Congressional hearings) and some truly damning movies made by Enron executives themselves. Although it’s a bit long-winded at 110 minutes, the film has an admirable ability to explain even to financial novices how Enron executives defrauded investors (not least its own rank and file employees) as well as put California through living hell by intentionally starving the state of electricity.

When this muckraking documentary came out, some critics complained that the film massaged the facts for the sake of left-wing axe-grinding. The narrator being staunch anti-capitalist Peter Coyote and one of the key interviewees being the lawyer who led the class action suit against the company (Bill Lerach) could trigger worries for some viewers that the film is simply comfort food for socialists. But any concerns about bias disappear as the film unfolds because the perpetrators so thoroughly hang themselves before the viewers’ eyes. The film accuses Enron of dodgy “mark to market” accounting and backs it up with Skilling himself appearing in a company produced comedy sketch where he brags about the phony nature of Enron’s books. Likewise, the accusation that Enron traders delighted in destroying California with contrived energy shortages and price gouging is immediately backed up by audiotapes of traders laughing over doing just that (Most disgustingly, cheering on a raging wildfire because it is damaging power lines).

Gibney has done a public service with this movie, but it doesn’t feel like eat your peas viewing. It’s fascinating, disturbing and compelling throughout. And also, there is something refreshing about a movie in which white collar criminals who steal billions actually go to prison in the end. Those were the days.

Categories
Documentaries and Books Drama Mystery/Noir

The Naked City

Disruptive innovations in technology have been one of the defining aspects of the short history of cinematic art. The introduction of sound in the 1920s, followed by color in the 1930s, followed much more recently by computer-generated imagery — all of which had profound creative implications — are the ones with which most movie fans are familiar. A lesser known but still important set of innovations occurred in the 1940s: faster film, improved microphones and lighter-weight cameras and equipment. Combine these enhanced technologies with a large number of cinematographers gaining experience in shooting under every conceivable condition during World War II, and you had the basis for a raft of films shot in realistic style on location. A high-quality example of the form, which explicitly packaged itself as such, is Jules Dassin’s 1948 docu-drama The Naked City.

As the famous voice-over narration tell us as the film opens with a stunning airplane shot of Manhattan, The Naked City is not just a story of a murder investigation but of New York City and the people in it. The narration was provided by producer Mark Hellinger, a Runyonesque Big Apple journalist whose own colorful life could have been the basis for a fine biopic itself if he hadn’t sadly dropped dead shortly after the movie was finished. With New York and New Yorkers being the main characters, the film tells the story of the murder of a beautiful striver/gold digger and the efforts of the police to solve it. In addition to being distinctly its own film, The Naked City also fits into the then-emerging subgenre of crime investigation procedurals (Call Northside 777, The Street With No Name, and He Walked by Night were also released in 1948).

The City that Never Sleeps, as seen through the Oscar-winning camerawork of William H. Daniels, has rarely been captured so vividly in film. Dozens of small performances, most of them I assume turned in by average NYCers rather than professional actors, add flavor throughout: The lady at the root beer stand, the guy hawking newspapers on a street corner, the funeral home director, the cop on the beat, the woman having her hair done and many others get their moment. Many of these little slices of life bear no relation to the murder mystery, but are instead intended to bring alive post-war Gotham.

The murder mystery itself is actually a bit slow and convoluted, but it’s watchable because Barry Fitzgerald once again plays a twinkly-eyed charmer with a brogue. As Detective Lieutenant Muldoon, he has wonderful father-son style byplay with his eager-beaver protege and investigative leg man Jimmy Halloran (Don Taylor). The two of them help the film along during its slow spots, which most viewers will forget anyway because of the thrilling conclusion in which the police chase the killer on the Williamsburg bridge.

One critical note on The Naked City. It is often referred to as a film noir, but that’s only true to a degree. Jimmy Halloran’s incredibly happy and loving suburban family is revealed underneath to be…an incredibly happy and loving suburban family. The cops are all honest and clearly differentiated from the very bad gang of criminals. Urban dwellers are generally portrayed without cynicism and the look of the film owes more to Italian Neorealism than noir. If you want a police docu-drama that is also a noir, see my recommendation of He Walked by Night.

Final suggestion: The Naked City is so visually striking that if you seek it out, you owe it to yourself to watch the restored print available from the Criterion Collection.

Categories
Documentaries and Books Drama Mystery/Noir

He Walked By Night

Crime investigation procedurals became popular after World War II and continue to be a staple of television and movies today. A fine example of the form with pronounced noir elements is 1948’s He Walked by Night.

Normally, police detectives have substantial advantages over perpetrators. The typical violent offender is unintelligent, impulsive, minimally-skilled and ignorant of police procedures. But every once in awhile a criminal comes along who is smart, planful, technically proficient and knowledgeable about the investigative methods of law enforcement. One of such extraordinarily dangerous people was Erwin M. Walker, who repeatedly evaded Los Angeles law enforcement while engaging in an extended violent crime spree in 1946. He Walked by Night is a Dragnet-style dramatization of the Walker case, and indeed the origins of that famous radio and TV show are right here to see.

Richard Basehart gives an icily compelling portrayal of Walker, who is here re-named Roy Morgan. Basehart is particularly skilled at embodying Morgan’s disturbing level of emotional restraint, even when he is inflicting violence on others. The only visible break in the killer’s sociopathic detachment comes in a riveting scene in which he does meatball surgery on himself to remove a bullet from his ribcage. On the other side, Roy Roberts, as Police Captain Breen, is credible as usual in one of his many no-nonsense authority figure roles. Some of the portrayals of police procedure (e.g., the assembling of a composite sketch) will be dramatically slow for modern audiences who have seen it all before. But of course that wasn’t true of audiences in 1948, so be forgiving.

The docudrama’s look is one of the many jewels in legendary cinematographer John Alton’s crown. In an interview, he said the crew and director all asked him where the lights were when they started filming the justly famous chase through the sewers. He told them that a single flashlight was enough, which gives you an idea of how very dark he preferred his shots. If you watch very carefully you will see that the king of darkness did have a trick up his sleeve: There are wires visibly trailing the actors in some of the sewer chase shots, indicating that he rigged the flashlights with much more powerful than usual light bulbs.

In addition to Alton’s bravura work behind the camera, this film also benefits from effective use of silence. In several highly arresting sequences (no pun intended), the sound goes dead as the police close in on the killer. The suspense is amped up enormously by these eerie scenes, as hunter and prey creep noiselessly through the dark until a violent confrontation shatters the silence.

The one mystery this film does not solve is who directed what. Alfred Werker got the director’s credit on screen, but it was later revealed that much of the film was actually directed by Anthony Mann (whose work I have touted here and here). Some scenes scream “Mann” in their style but others could have been directed by either him or Werker. Whoever did what, this taut, exciting film hangs together in tone and style with no directorial seams showing.

He Walked by Night is sadly little remembered today, but it did launch some much better known radio and television shows. Jack Webb, who plays a police investigator here, befriended L.A. police technical advisor Marty Wynn on the set and soon launched Dragnet to dramatize the real-life cases of the L.A.P.D. (FYI: This story is well-told in John Buntin’s terrific book L.A. Noir). Richard Basehart never became a big movie star, but was able to parlay his modest cinema success into a long-running career on television, most notably as Admiral Nelson on Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea.

This thrilling, visually stunning docudrama is in the public domain, so you watch it for free right here.

p.s. The fabulous sewer chase sequence in one of the greatest films in British history, 1948’s The Third Man bears more than a little resemblance to the similar sequence in He Walked by Night. No one seems to know for sure, but given that He Walked by Night’s production studio, Eagle-Lion films, had extensive British ties it is entirely possible that Carol Reed et al saw this movie and decided to mount something along the same lines.

Categories
Documentaries and Books

Hollywood Enigma: Dana Andrews

I take a break from recommending movies in favor of recommending the next best thing: A book about the movies! I have always found Dana Andrews intriguing because he was such a towering star in the 1940s, anchoring films of superlative quality that were also wildly popular with audiences, including A Walk in the Sun, Laura and of course The Best Years of Our Lives. But beginning in the 1950s his career dissipated very rapidly and few people today even remember his name. What happened to this talented and toothsome actor, who seemed poised to dominate the screen for decades as did similar performers such as Henry Fonda and Gregory Peck?

That’s one of the central questions addressed by Carl Rollyson’s fine recent biography Hollywood Enigma: Dana Andrews. Nothing else written about Andrews over the years pulls together so many sources of information so skillfully, making this likely the definitive biography of the man for all time. Crucially, Rollyson obtained the support of Andrews’ family and with it access to home movies, letters and anecdotes that get beneath the glossy images that the Hollywood publicity machine creates for its stars.

Rollyson makes clear that Andrews’ path to Hollywood was neither certain nor easy. Dana’s domineering, colorful father was a Baptist preacher in Texas and money was at times tight in the large Andrews clan. Dana and his siblings worked at odd jobs to keep the family afloat, and even as he was later getting a foothold in Southern California theater, he was still driving trucks to make ends meet during The Great Depression. His humble origins may have accounted for why, throughout his life, he remained an unpretentious regular guy more comfortable with the average person on the street than the glitzy Hollywood types who came to surround him when he became a star. It also helped account for him later becoming an avid New Dealer who loathed the political rise of Ronald Reagan (Both Reagan and Andrews would serve as President of the Screen Actors Guild).

Through extracts from love letters Rollyson movingly conveys the central conflict of Andrews’ young adult life. He had moved to California and was excited by what he might achieve there. But he was still strongly attached to his long-time girlfriend back in Texas. A painful choice had to be made and he ultimately broke off the engagement with the girl-next-door and married a woman he had met in his new life. Yet he stayed lifelong friends with his first girlfriend, whom he probably recognized understood him and loved him in a way that the many women who later swooned over the famous star never would.

After success in theater, Andrews began to land movie parts of growing significance. He was the epitome of a certain kind of masculinity that was cherished in that era. Outwardly strong, noble and fearless on screen, he simultaneously conveyed, in a minimalistic and naturalistic way, churning emotion underneath. Clearly, he had a handsome face, but it was what was going on underneath that transfixed most movie-goers. Rollyson dissects Andrews’ most critical roles well, helping the reader understand both Andrews’ talents and how some directors (but not others) knew how to maximize them.

In the mid-to-late 1940s, Andrews was one of the most beloved, most highly-paid movie actors in the world. But how many people remember him today compared to Bogart, Peck and Fonda, or even Fred MacMurray, who attained similar heights in that era? Andrews’ steep decline fascinates Rollyson and he goes a long way towards sorting out why it happened.