Review: Movie Love in the Fifties by James Harvey
By Ben Patrick
ANGELES, 1 April 2002 - When a singer gets to the heart of a song,
or an actor plumbs the depths of a particular characters psyche,
his or her performance becomes a joy to witness, regardless of genre.
Likewise, when an author is passionate about his subject
matter, his writing takes on a vital obsessiveness that gives it a
three-dimensional quality, causing it to leap from the page to grab
us, tugging us between the lines of text toward the core of the
A fine example of this is Movie
Love in the Fifties, James Harveys new appraisal of
mid-century American film. Harveys encyclopedic knowledge of his
subject matter demonstrates a life-long love affair with cinema. He
invites us to see the world of the movies through his eyes, both in
wonderment and as a barometer of the cultural psychology of the Cold
Postwar America was ripe with repressed emotion that
would burst forth a half-generation later in an LSD-hued cultural
revolution. Harveys 1950s were all about caution and longing. He
takes us from the film noir of the late 40s, with its archetypal
femmes fatales (Barbara Stanwyck, Joan Bennett), through the safer,
blonder heroines who replaced them (Doris Day, Grace Kelly), and on to
the crop of restless men (Brando, James Dean) whose cool apathy and
disenfranchisement presaged the tumultuous decade that would follow.
Along the way, Harvey illustrates master filmmakers Elia Kazan and
Orson Welles exploration of realism at a time when escapist fare
was the order of the day.
Harveys prose is passionate,
kind, and astute. What could have been a dry, 425-page scholarly
thesis or a tearsheet from People Magazine avoids either
extreme, greatly abetted by the authors wit and intelligence.
He is a keen observer who loves these movies, and he makes
us love them, too. And he is such a talented writer that if it was
athletics or architectureinstead of cinemawhich he placed
in the crosshairs, he would likely affect us just as acutely.
Love in the Fifties
By James Harvey
Alfred A. Knopf; 448
pages; October 2001
Ben Patrick Johnson is a writer and
free-lance journalist in Los Angeles. His novel, The Valley of Smoke,
will be published in 2002.
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