Originally Posted on

By David Hudson


This month’s round of book reviews, excerpts, events, and lists is top-heavy with titles rooted in Hollywood’s golden age. Let’s begin with Joseph McBride, the author of critical biographies of John Ford and Orson Welles (McBride appears as a film critic in Welles’s The Other Side of the Wind) and the editor of two collections on Howard Hawks. In his latest book, Frankly: Unmasking Frank Capra, McBride tells the story of his years-long struggle to get his 1992 biography Frank Capra: The Catastrophe of Success out into the world. McBride’s version of the life of the director of such classics as It Happened One Night (1934) and It’s a Wonderful Life (1946) differs considerably from the one Capra told himself in his 1971 book, The Name Above the Title.

“Virtually all of Capra’s autobiography is fictitious,” McBride tells Ray Kelly at MassLive. But his original publisher sided with Capra’s allies, who included the director’s sons and archivist Jeanine Basinger, and after a series of face-offs in court, The Catastrophe of Success finally found a home at Simon & Schuster. Politically, Capra was “all over the map,” McBride tells David Walsh at the World Socialist Web Site. Perhaps the most damning discovery McBride came across during his research was Capra’s willingness to pass along the names of writers he’d worked with to the FBI during the Hollywood Red Scare. “That was a shock,” he tells Walsh. “He violated the principles, for example, of his finest film, Mr. Smith Goes to Washington [1939], which was written for him by a Communist Party member, Sidney Buchman.”

The bulk of McBride and Walsh’s conversation, though, is given over to McBride’s new critical study, How Did Lubitsch Do It? “The roster of those who claimed him as their master or as an artistic model is astoundingly long, including such figures as Hitchcock, Capra, Howard Hawks, Yasujiro Ozu, Max Ophuls, Douglas Sirk, Billy Wilder, Preston Sturges, and Orson Welles,” says McBride. The interview swerves from the “Berlin style” that Ernst Lubitsch brought with him to Hollywood in 1922 through to the director’s “anti-puritanical point of view”—McBride notes that a “good number of his films suggest that affairs can enhance a marriage”—and accusations of anti-Semitism leveled against Lubitsch by historians Siegfried Kracauer and Lotte Eisner—which both Walsh and McBride refute.

Lubitsch was among the exiles from Germany and elsewhere who, during the 1930s and ’40s, as fascism was on the rise in Europe, gravitated to 165 Mabery Road in Santa Monica. The home of Berthold and Salka Viertel. . .