Tuesday, December 29, 2015

Brooks on Books: Leonard Maltin's Classic Movie Guide (Third Edition)

I was a devotee of film author/critic/Disney Treasures host/whatever he does on Reelz  Leonard Maltin's original "TV Movies" books (referring to movies that appeared on TV, not just made-for-TV movies). It gave you tons of capsule entries for movies, including plot summaries, pithy comments, cast lists, years of release, director credits,  and the ever-important star ratings (DUD or BOMB to ****).

Eventually the books kept getting bigger yet somehow less comprehensive as the onset of Turner Classic Movies (The Greatest Cable Channel Known to Mankind)  and lesser outlets like Fox Movie Channel expanded the amount of films available to home viewers. The problem was that Hollywood stubbornly continued to make movies, and readers wanted those ones in the Guide (as I called the book), so much to the chagrin of lovers of vintage movies, Maltin and his editors started chopping out entries of older flicks.

The solution was to make a separate book--easy enough, right? Only the Classic Movie Guide, which established a cutoff point beyond which no movie released would be eligible for inclusion, was a little bigger, more expensive, yet still lacking plenty of films. Yes, "Gone with the Wind" and "Casablanca" were there, but what about all the stuff that was showing on TCM early mornings? How rare can they be? They're on TV!

Maltin and co. have refined the process, added a bunch of titles, and established 1965 as the cutoff point--fair enough, I say. TCM even "presents" the book now and gets its logo on the cover. I have decided the book is never going to have everything, and sadly, there are still lots of old films from major studios that are on home video, television, and streaming video but not in the Guide. That doesn't mean there isn't value in this book, though.

No, I like having an actual book. It is irritating to see a cool-sounding obscurity pop up somewhere, then have to go to the Internet to get info, but there are thousands of titles in the "Classic Movie Guide," and sometimes I just don't want to be on the Internet. I want something I can leaf through, something I can hold. I want something I can put under the fourth leg of the dining room table if Bobby Osbo ever comes over and wants to share a pizza while we watch a Joe E. Brown marathon. I want something I can hurl across the room in anger when I realize Wallace Beery isn't in the "Index of Stars."

This Guide is all of those things and more. It's a great reference I love having by my recliner. There's just one big problem with my copy: It's missing over 30 pages.

That's right, my copy goes from the middle of a review of "Mr. Deeds Goes to Town" on page 464 to the end of a review of "Nothing Sacred" on page 497! There is nothing in between--no sign of binding damage nor of papers ripped out, no nothing. It's just an odd leap forward.

It's only 33 pages out of almost 850, but it's kind of a bummer if  I want to read about something like, say, "Mr. Smith Goes to Washington," "North by Northwest," or who knows how many lesser-known gems. Not to mention a REAL classic like Wheeler and Woolsey's "The Nitwits."

I'm going to try to exchange it and get a complete copy, but right now it's kind of like that weird situation when TCM ran the Bowery Boys' "Spy Chasers" (p. 654, **.5, "practiced farce") with several reels mixed up. I would love to give this version of the guide ***.5 or ****, but right now, missing all those pages, I can only give it DUD.

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