Sunday, January 26, 2014

Majestic Hollywood: The Greatest Films of 1939 by Mark A. Vieira

Chances are very good that if you are a serious classic film buff you are familiar with the work of author, filmmaker, and photographer Mark A. Vieira. He is the author of several books related to the Golden Age of Hollywood, including Greta Garbo: A Cinematic Legacy, Sin in Soft Focus: Pre-Code HollywoodHollywood Horror: From Gothic To Cosmic, and many others. He has appeared in various documentaries related to classic film, including Moguls & Movie Stars: A History of Hollywood. I rather suspect that many classic film buffs have been looking forward to Mr. Vieira's latest book, Majestic Hollywood: The Greatest Films of 1939.

As one might expect from the title, in Majestic Hollywood: The Greatest Films of 1939 Mr. Vieira examines fifty films from 1939. That having been said, one should not expect a simple catalogue of some of the best films of the year. In the introduction Mr. Vieira explains how and why 1939 came to be one of the most phenomenal years in the history of film. The entries for the films themselves are incredible as well. Not only does Mark A. Vieira give us behind the scenes looks at the making of some of the greatest films of all time, but he also gives us the gossip of the time and reviews from the critics as well. He has clearly done a good deal of research on both the factors which led to 1939 being  banner year for movies, as well as a good deal of research on the films themselves. What makes all of this all the more delightful is that Mark A. Vieira discusses the films in the context of the time in which they are made. He does not try to judge the films from a modern day perspective.

As to the various films discussed in Majestic Hollywood: The Greatest Films of 1939, they are quite a varied lot. Of course, the films from 1939 usually counted among the greatest films of all time are all there: Gunga Din, Stagecoach, Wuthering Heights, The Wizard of Oz, The Women, and Gone with the Wind. That having been said, Mr. Vieira discusses some more obscure films that the average person might never have heard of (Rose of Washington Square being an example). He also selected films from a variety of genres. Within the pages of Majestic Hollywood: The Greatest Films of 1939 one will find entries for horror movies (Son of Frankenstein, Tower of London), romances (Love Affair), Westerns (Jesse James and Stagecoach), and yet other genres.

Of course, given that Mark A. Vieira covers only fifty films from a year that might well have boasted over 100 truly great films, I rather suspect some people will complain that he omitted at least one or more of their favourites from the year. I must admit that I myself was a little disappointed to see Another Thin Man was not included, a film I consider to be the best in what could be the greatest series of films Hollywood ever made. While film buffs might quibble over the films omitted from Majestic Hollywood: The Greatest Films of 1939, I have to point out that it would be terribly difficult for anyone to choose only fifty films from 1939 without leaving something out. I then think Mr. Vieira did a very good job in the choices he made and I really can't complain about any of the films that were included.

Majestic Hollywood: The Greatest Films of 1939 is a coffee table book, so as might be expected there are a good deal of pictures. And with his photographer's eye Mr. Vieira chose some incredible photographs to include in the book. Here I must point out that the collection of photographs in the book not only include the expected publicity shots and movie stills one so often sees, but also a few behind the scenes shots as well. Over all the book is beautifully designed,  from its cover to the fonts used in the interior of the book. Running Press is to be congratulated for designing a book that is as enjoyable to look at as it is to read.

Anyone who has seen Mark A. Vieira's other works know that he loves classic film and it shows in Majestic Hollywood: The Greatest Films of 1939. In many respects it can be described as a love letter to a year many consider to be the greatest one for film of all time. It is certainly a must have book for any fan of classic film.

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