Romantic Comedy: Hollyw

Jim Harvey, Author, James Harvey, Author Alfred A. Knopf $35 (716p) ISBN 978-0-394-50339-4
Why is a book titled Romantic Comedy such a depressing read? Two reasons: with the disappearance of the nation's revival houses and the movie studios' hesitation to put all but the most popular classic films of the '30s and '40s on video, many of the marvelous movies Harvey describes here are virtually unavailable to contemporary viewers; and, sadly, they don't make them like they used to. A State University of New York teacher, Harvey is an enthusiastic student and devotee of the genre, and he has assembled a wealth of information about its leading directors and performers. But as hard as he tries in his detailed film descriptions, he can't recreate the unique spark that characterized screwball comedies and their antecedents. Of course he can'tgenerations of filmmakers have failed to revive the screwball spirit, whose kinetic blend of polish, pacing and personality cannot possibly be captured by print alone. Nevertheless, like too many writers on the topic of film, Harvey attempts the impossible, and loses readers in a jumble of transcribed entrances, exits and asides that, regrettably, do not play on the page. This is aggravated by Harvey's tendency to spend his analytical energies on attempts to articulate viewers' reactions to the films he discussestrying to pin down exactly how we feel about Barbara Stanwyck in The Lady Eve, for examplewhich ultimately compels readers to put down the book and head for the video store to see for themselves. Photos not seen by PW. (November 6)
Reviewed on: 12/01/1987
Release date: 12/01/1987
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