Pandaemonium

Leslie Epstein, Author
Leslie Epstein, Author St. Martin's Press $24.95 (384p) ISBN 978-0-312-15622-0
Reviewed on: 04/28/1997
Release date: 05/01/1997
Paperback - 398 pages - 978-0-312-18752-1
Hardcover - 978-0-614-27910-8
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With chutzpah worthy of the early movie moguls he so richly describes, Epstein (King of the Jews) stages a darkly comic fantasia about Hollywood and Nazis, power and imagination. Narrated by a wry, mildly tragic Peter Lorre, the tale begins in 1938 in Austria, where Rudolph Von Beckmann, a legendary stage and screen director who demands loyalty and adoration from his employees, arrives at the Salzburg Festival to present his production of Antigone. But while ""Von B"" and his cast are in Austria, Hitler annexes the country, and Joseph Goebbels demands that Von B fire all Jews in his production. After Von B cravenly obliges, Goebbels strips him of his many false faces (the director is secretly Jewish) and blackmails him into handing over starlet Magdalena Mezaray for Hitler's pleasure. Two years later, in Hollywood, Lorre (ne Loewenstein), sick of playing secret agent Mr. Moto, is on hand when Von B arrives to make a western. Lorre and others, including Mezaray (freed from Hitler's orbit by a movie studio's lavish payoff), sign on to the project, which is being shot in an isolated Nevada ghost town. But Von B is really shooting Antigone in the guise of a kitschy western, and he intends the film to be an indictment of Hitler. The great irony is that Von B runs his shoot the way Hitler ran Germany, leading his troupe to disaster. Piling his narrative high with Hollywood knowledge and bracing portrayals of real personalities, Epstein delivers his tale on a grand if somewhat unwieldy scale that shuttles bumpily between broad humor and moral seriousness. What keeps it all from unraveling is the ever-worldly voice of the appealingly anti-heroic Lorre. (May) FYI: Epstein grew up in Hollywood, where his father, Philip, and his Uncle Julius together wrote such memorable films as Casablanca and Yankee Doodle Dandy.
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