A reference book of extraordinary literary merit, this eccentric, audacious, sparkling work returns—revised, updated, and bulging with 300 new entries (including Rin Tin Tin and Graham Greene), which helps to account for its nearly 1,000 closely printed double-column pages. Probably the greatest living film critic and historian, Thomson, an Englishman who lives in San Francisco, writes the most fun and enthralling prose about the movies since Pauline Kael. His judgments in these pungent mini- and not-so-mini-essays can be exasperatingly wrong: He characterizes Mike Nichols's vacuous and pretentious wife Diane Sawyer as "lovely and smart"; how can he express any reservations about Children of Paradise? And although he's hardly an auteurist, his book focuses on directors at the expense of writers and producers.
But regarding the important issues Thomson is almost always dead-on: He champions the supreme genius of Howard Hawks, who captured better than any other filmmaker both "masculine romanticism" (in Red River) and "the dazzling battles of word, innuendo, glance, and gesture" between men and women (in Twentieth Century, Bringing Up Baby, Only Angels Have Wings, and, of course, His Girl Friday). He astutely observes that Agnes Moorehead figures in "the two most indelibly humane moments in the work of Orson Welles"—the scene in Citizen Kane in which Kane's mother opens the window "to call in her son from the snow so that he may advance on his destiny" and the scene in The Magnificent Ambersons in which "Aunt Fanny watches Georgie devouring her strawberry shortcake, pleased to be useful ... but knowing that he does not need her, deeply aware that her vibrant romantic hopes are growing shrill with neglect." He appreciates the often neglected Jean Arthur, prizing her "rare, querulous charm" and the "earnest, furious thought" she brought to comedy and romance. He knows that Cary Grant "was the best and most important actor in the history of the cinema"—and he even has the perspicacity to recognize as Grantlike the "wit, narrative speed, and good-natured ease" of the great TV show The Rockford Files. The book is a marvel.
by George Orwell, edited by John Carey
Everyman, 1408 pages, $35.00Buy this book. Unless, that is, you already have the four-volume The Collected Essays, Journalism, and Letters—available now only in paperback—or the twenty-volume Complete Works. (I own both, but I'm keeping this one for my desk.) Orwell's are the most important essays of the twentieth century, and reading them—along with his nonfiction books The Road to Wigan Pier and Homage to Catalonia—will make you a clearer thinker, a cleaner writer, and a more thoughtful human being. This handsome, 1,372-page hardcover volume contains his complete essays (even his unfinished piece on Evelyn Waugh, which is missing from the four-volume edition) and selected reviews and journalism. It also includes an incisive introduction by the brilliant John Carey, but lacks an index—a grievous fault, but its only one.