Veteran journalist Glenn Frankel tells the story of the 1952 classic film High Noon against the tumultuous backdrop of the era of the Red Scare and Hollywood blacklist. Influenced very much by those times, the movie was conceived as a Western parable with a quiet political message defying the reactionary, toxic spirit of the era. The film’s success surprised many people, including its creators, and bitter arguments ensued over who was actually responsible for its greatness. A dogged and meticulous researcher, Frankel sorts through these disputes and provides a number of fresh facts, a good deal of clarity, and lots of fascinating trivia. But the larger relevance of the book, especially given present-day echoes to the blacklist movement and its fears of an America being usurped by outsiders, is what the story illustrates about how our politics and our creative enterprises can play off each other.
Alfred Hitchcock’s life, his films, and the ways in which they intersect are well trodden territories. Peter Ackroyd’s Alfred Hitchcock (Nan A. Talese, $26.95) gives a chronological overview of Hitch’s life and his work. We are guided through the filmmaker’s upbringing in Dickensian London, through war-ravaged Britain, and taken to Hollywood. Ackroyd pays special attention to the director’s Catholicism, his macabre sense of humor, and his grueling work ethic. He also details and analyzes each of Hitchcock’s films. Ultimately, this comprehensive biography shows us just how hard it is to know Hitchcock, a man who directed his life’s story with the same control he wielded in his films.
The moment the Chicago Cubs won the World Series, cameras converged off-field around Bill Murray, whose unwavering fandom of the tormented team heralded the end of their one-hundred-eight-year Billy Goat curse. In The Tao of Bill Murray: Real-life Stories of Joy, Enlightenment, and Party Crashing (Random House, $26), Gavin Edwards uses The Ten Principles of Bill (my favorite being The Second: Surprise is golden; Randomness is lobster), to examine the endearing zen of this actor/comedian/everyman. In addition to highlighting these principles, Edwards attempts to reconcile Murray’s mythic man with his true identity. In doing so, the author aptly assesses Caddyshack, Stripes, and Ghostbusters as developing an onscreen persona where “the wiseass slacker gets the girl,” while revealing Murray’s off-screen identity as an actor who “throws away the script, only to improvise the best scene in the movie.” Edwards also considers the phenomenon of random Bill Murray sightings at archeological digs, weddings, and, most dramatically, at red lights—when fingers cascade to cover the eyes of a waiting pedestrian, only to disappear and reveal our beloved clown who jokingly says, “No one will believe this happened.”