Customer Reviews

20
4.5 out of 5 stars
Victor Fleming: An American Movie Master
Format: HardcoverChange
Price:$29.17 + Free shipping with Amazon Prime
Your rating(Clear)Rate this item


There was a problem filtering reviews right now. Please try again later.

19 of 20 people found the following review helpful
Format: Hardcover
I snatched this book up at my local bookseller's the week it was released and allowed it to languish on my book shelf for 2 weeks. Big mistake!

If ever there were a case study on how to write a biography of a person who had been dead for nearly sixty years, this book is it.

I've long loved movies that were directed by Victor Fleming and knew the basic info.......Fleming was a ladies man, a competent director, someone who died when he still looked good and should have had had many good years left. It could have well been summarized by his rather unimpressive crypt at Hollywood Forever Cemetery.......here was someone who once was somebody but was now relegated to obscurity. Not so! Michael Sragow had me within the first five minutes of starting this book. Here was a guy who was larger than life......handsomer than most of the male stars he directed and more fearless, too. A real life romeo, an adventurer, a guy who could be tough when necessary and a gentleman too. Based on interviews with Fleming family members, contemporaries, archival data, analysis, Sragow was able to put together a detailed profile of Victor Fleming that was not only very informative but compelling. I wanted to know where his story was going even if I knew where it was going to inevitably end.

If you are interested in film or just interested in reading a good bio, this book is a wonderful choice.
0CommentWas this review helpful to you?YesNoSending feedback...
Thank you for your feedback.
Sorry, we failed to record your vote. Please try again
Report abuse
12 of 14 people found the following review helpful
on January 24, 2009
Format: Hardcover
I had long admired Victor Fleming, (primary) director of Gone With The Wind, and The Wizard of Oz, two movie greats. This biography by Michael Sragow is outstanding in its meticulous presentation. Origins of Fleming's early life and beginnings as a movie director, as well as a glimpse into the early silent picture era are well documented and make for a good read for those interested in the motion picture era. Interesting as well, for noting the pictures he wanted to have made and didn't, among those, "The Yearling" for reasons too obtuse to be real!
Fleming was a very sensitive artist, a director who could also have been a psychologist, as he understood and dealt with his actors in ways beyond the sterotypical factory approach among directors of the era. Also well documented are the director's various paramours (another word for girlfriends) and marriage. Although a little long, it is fascinating reading. A must for fans of Fleming and the magnificent pictures he directed, or anyone interested in the golden age of movies.
0CommentWas this review helpful to you?YesNoSending feedback...
Thank you for your feedback.
Sorry, we failed to record your vote. Please try again
Report abuse
5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
HALL OF FAMEon November 8, 2009
Format: HardcoverVerified Purchase
I remember reading Michael Sragow's movie reviews years ago, when Pauline Kael ws still alive and Sragow was among the very first of her acolytes, the Kaelettes people used to call them. His reviews sounded like hers, though now as stimulating. However in his biography of Victor Fleming, he has developed his own voice. Occasionally it is a shrill one but on the whole it has some resonances and strengths that even Kael never had--perhaps she never bothered with them. Sragow's extended considerations of Fleming's films tell a persuasive story, though methinks he gopes too far when he decides that the lost epic, "The Rough Riders" was probably a great film because the faces of the actors in what stills survive look interesting (and, of course, because Fleming was the man behind the camera). He tells us over and over again that Fleming was the real Clark Gable (the first chapter is called "The Real Rhett Butler"), as if Rhett Butler was an interesting thing to be. Sragow builds up Fleming as handsome enough to be a movie star, so charismatic that every star (Gary Cooper, Gable, Spencer Tracy) modelled himself upon him, --and then he shoots himself in the foot by including dozens of photos in which Fleming appears as a sort of very tall nonentity with a forced smile.

He seems to have scoured every memoir written by any participant in Hollywood's studio system, looking for favorable references to Victor Fleming. Of such scattered gold dust a portrait does not appear, at least not a cohesive one. I couldn't tell whether he was a nog good son of a gun, as Henry Hathaway paints him, or a sensitive and cultured aesthete. Sragow attempts to broaden the canvases constantly, insisting that Fleming was both. He was in fact everything. The book begins with a listing of many such paradoxes, and then never really goes anywhere with them. One thing is for sure, he makes a convincing case that Fleming should indeed be named the auteur of GWTW and THE WIZARD OF OZ. What he can never really address is why Fleming's last films, ADVENTURE and JOAN OF ARC, are such indescribably bad failures. He admits it, just lets it sit there as an ignominous caboose to his glorious Fleming railroad. Was he in love too much with Ingrid Bergman to get a good performance from her? Sragow notes that Joan of Arc has more closeups of Ingrod than "Hula or Mantrap did of [Clara] Bow, The Wizard of Oz did of Garland, Gone with the Wind of Leigh, or all of them combined." And yet that can't be the answer because ADVENTURE is just as bad, and Fleming could barely conceal his dislike of its leading lady (Greer Garson).

This book was a gift to me from a wonderful American poet, Judith Goldman, now based in Chicago. I read it thinking of her all the way through, trying to see her in these pages. A funny thing happened the other dasy, we were watching the TCM documentary on Johnny Mercer, and a TV host asks Mercer how he came up with the phrase "Jeepers Creepers," and Mercer recalled watching a then current picture called THE FARMER TAKES A WIFE, where Henry Fonda says the phrase long and slow. The documentary director included the clip: it's a Victor Fleming picture, I knew that much from reading this wonderful book! And, as Sragow argues, you can get a lot more American history from watching THE FARMER TAKES A WIFE and all of Fleming's other films (including even OZ) than from reading the Congressional Record from cover to cover. Thank you, Judith!
22 commentsWas this review helpful to you?YesNoSending feedback...
Thank you for your feedback.
Sorry, we failed to record your vote. Please try again
Report abuse
5 of 6 people found the following review helpful
on July 27, 2009
Format: HardcoverVerified Purchase
Quick! Who directed those two great masterpieces of 1939, "The Wizard of Oz" and "Gone With the Wind?" The correct answer is the talented Victor Fleming (1889-1949). Fleming has long deserved a full-length biography of his life and career. Baltiomore film critic Michael Sragrow has accomplished that task using vivid prose in telling the saga of an American original artist of the cinema.
Fleming was a native Californian born to poor farmers who had migrated west from Missouri. He was enamored of photography, tinkering with cars, chasing women and general old fashioned carousing with his friends. During World War I he became an officer who photographed President Woodrow Wilson during the Versailles Peace Conference of 1919 which transpired in Paris.
Fleming became known as a photographer who soon won a director's chair during the Silent Screen era. He directed and befriended the great Douglas Fairbanks Sr. Fleming was the lover of such silent sexpots as the alluring Clara Bow the famous "It" girl and several starlets. He would later go have affairs with among many others: No
Bessie Love, Norma Shearer and most famously the incandescent Swede Ingrid Bergman.
Fleming was not faithful to his wife Lu but was a good father to his two daughters. He never got past the seventh grade in school but was an autodidatic chap who knew a good deal of history, the art of film directing, mechanics and flying aircraft. His pals were such he-men as Clark Gable, Spencer Tracy and Henry Fonda. He was a macho Hemingway man who was handsome, well spoken, sometimes gruff and always professional on the set. His best pal was probably the irascible film genius Howard Hawks.
We remember him, of course, for the great films he directed. In aadditon to Oz and GWTW that number includes such gems as: Tortilla Flat; Test Pilot; Dr Jekyll and Mr. Hyde; Treasure Island, "The Virginian, Abie's Wild Irish Rose;Red Dust with Gable and Harlow and Joan of Arc starring Ingrid Bergman. Fleming is notable for working in all genres from comedy to adventure to melodrama. He was the top director on the MGM lot. He had previously spent several years at Paramount.
Fleming was a tough hombre who was conservative who, suprisingly, often voted for the Democratic party. He did not care for easterners being proud of his native California heritage. He was an avid big game hunter, fisherman and loved the outdoors. Fleming was tall, handsome and well tanned. Gable based his GWTW role of Rhett Butler on Fleming's persona. He was loved by women and respected by men in the tough show business world of early Hollywood.
Sragow's biography will, hopefully lead to a renewed interest in such figures as Fleming, Wellman, Walsh, Ford and Hawks who were the men who made the movies great in the long ago golden age of Holywood.
0CommentWas this review helpful to you?YesNoSending feedback...
Thank you for your feedback.
Sorry, we failed to record your vote. Please try again
Report abuse
4 of 5 people found the following review helpful
on June 8, 2009
Format: HardcoverVerified Purchase
An excellent biography of Victor Fleming who was most famous for directing Gone with the Wind and the Wizard of Oz. Authorized by his daughters who were extensively interviewed for the book, this covers the life of a true American Master of the Film world. Fleming who died in 1949 not only left a legacy of two iconic films but was responsible for directing classics including Test Pilot, The Virginian, Red Dust, Captains Courageous, Treasure Island, and A Guy Named Joe. The author meticulously relates the backstories of the films directed by Fleming and reveals little known facts including the two endings shot for A Guy Named Joe (the what might have been ending is revealed) and Katherine Hepburn's desire to play a dual role as the two women in Dr. Jekyll's life. Fleming's earliest films starred Douglas Fairbanks, a megastar of early Hollywood. Fleming also directed highly successful "star turns" of Clark Gable and Spencer Tracy plus was responsible for Gary Cooper's first breakout emergence as a star in The Virginian (which Cooper said was his favorite film). Fleming's personal life is chronicled and his love affairs with screen legends Clara Bow, Norma Shearer, and perhaps the most turbulent of all, with Ingrid Bergman. Fleming's marriage to Lu Rosson took place in the thirties and they had two children Victoria and Sally.

Film buffs may most enjoy the chapters on the Wizard of Oz and Gone with the Wind and the backstories behind these films. After reading this book though, readers might want to have another look at Fleming's films.

A wonderful book that belongs on the shelves of academic and public libraries and should be on the bookshelves of film fans and historians. It is hoped TCM will collaborate with the author on a documentary about Victor Fleming.
0CommentWas this review helpful to you?YesNoSending feedback...
Thank you for your feedback.
Sorry, we failed to record your vote. Please try again
Report abuse
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
Format: Hardcover
In this impressively researched, breakthrough book on Victor Fleming -- the first ever published in America on the most popular movie director of all time -- Michael Sragow takes great pains to fill in all the minor and most of the major details of Fleming's personal and professional life. Many of the movies directed by this hitherto neglected giant are scrupulously set in their studio contexts. But although Sragow brings an enormous amount of information to the reader's attention, he has a tendency to over-rate the importance of trivia. Sragow's policy seems to be that so long as the source is American, no matter how petty the incident, or picayune the anecdote, it's worth reprinting. However, if the source is French or British, Sragow obviously believes the information is not worth mentioning at all. This is a shame, because chapters like Fleming's tussle with the sound director on "The Wolf Song" would have been very neatly capped by the revelation that Fleming had previously complained about exhibitors screening talkies at uncomfortably high sound levels. The British press reported that Fleming suggested this tendency be counterbalanced by recording dialog and effects at a much lower volume!

Sragow concentrates on Fleming's love life and his work as a director but neglects to give any account of his work as a photographer, even though several of these movies are currently available. Generally speaking, the author also falls down in his failure to inspire readers to race out and view Fleming's films for themselves. While Sragow often goes to great lengths to pile background quote upon quote, a movie-lover's heartfelt enthusiasm for the artistic, emotional and entertainment quality of a Fleming production is often sadly lacking. Although he is a professional film critic, Sragow always seems oddly reluctant to give a personal opinion as to whether a movie is a turkey or a masterpiece. Of course, most of his readers will already have seen "Gone With The Wind", "The Wizard of Oz" and "Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde". But, as said above, although Sragow's text is loaded with studio politics and shooting details, he often fails to set the reader hankering to actually view Fleming's lesser-known gems like "When the Clouds Roll By", "Mantrap", "Hula", "The Virginian", "Red Dust", "Captains Courageous", "The Great Waltz", or even "Treasure Island". For further reading, might I recommend my own book, Award-Winning Films of the 1930s which covers Fleming's "Captains Courageous", "Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde", "GWTW", and "Oz", among many others.
0CommentWas this review helpful to you?YesNoSending feedback...
Thank you for your feedback.
Sorry, we failed to record your vote. Please try again
Report abuse
5 of 7 people found the following review helpful
on March 2, 2009
Format: Hardcover
Michael Sragow writes with great exuberance and enthusiasm. This is a great read. This is from the Los Angeles Times BOOK REVIEW--by Wendy Smith, December 11, 2008:

Victor Fleming strides through Michael Sragow's eponymous biography with the panache of Rhett Butler -- and no wonder, since the director helped forge Clark Gable's onscreen persona with "Red Dust" and "Test Pilot" years before they reunited for "Gone With the Wind."

Appreciatively chronicling Fleming's work on these and other classic films, including "The Virginian," "Treasure Island," "Captains Courageous" and "The Wizard of Oz," Sragow -- who is a film critic at the Baltimore Sun -- portrays his subject as a man's man who enjoyed fishing, hunting, flying airplanes, riding motorcycles, driving fast cars and making love to beautiful actresses.

In Sragow's view, Fleming's extracurricular activities enhanced his stature on the set: "Actors felt energized by the sight of this tall, powerfully built figure reflexively brushing back his mane and training a sharpshooter's vision on their performances. . . . Craftsmen felt secure serving a director who could correct errors on the run, from lax ad libs to skewed camera angles."

Sragow is eager to rescue Fleming from his posthumous reputation as a studio hack. This image grew from the troubled production histories of his two most famous movies.

Fleming assumed command of both "The Wizard of Oz" and "Gone With the Wind" after shooting had begun. In the 1970s, Aljean Harmetz's "The Making of 'The Wizard of Oz' " and Roland Flamini's "Scarlett, Rhett, and a Cast of Thousands" implicitly credited producers Mervyn LeRoy and David Selznick, respectively, as the primary guiding forces of those films.

Sragow begs to differ. Indeed, by the time we get to "The Wizard of Oz" and "Gone With the Wind," which were shot in 1938 and 1939, he has amply made his case that the director was much more than a competent craftsman.
0CommentWas this review helpful to you?YesNoSending feedback...
Thank you for your feedback.
Sorry, we failed to record your vote. Please try again
Report abuse
3 of 4 people found the following review helpful
on March 20, 2012
Format: HardcoverVerified Purchase
This is a beautifully written book about one of the great all time movie directors. A staple at MGM during the "Golden Years" in Hollywood, this man directed so many wonderful films.In 1939 alone he directed "The Wizard of Oz and Gone With the Wind. He was a man's man and a woman's man also. His buddies were men like Clark Gable and Spencer Tracy and almost every female star who worked with him fell in love with this man. A rare and wonderful book, it is a must have for anyone who is interested in the "Old Hollywood"...
0CommentWas this review helpful to you?YesNoSending feedback...
Thank you for your feedback.
Sorry, we failed to record your vote. Please try again
Report abuse
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on August 6, 2013
Format: HardcoverVerified Purchase
The author also provides details on other celebrities and movies as well. It therefore gets a bit side-tracked at times, but overall a good book about Victor Fleming himself, more than I've been able to get elsewhere.
0CommentWas this review helpful to you?YesNoSending feedback...
Thank you for your feedback.
Sorry, we failed to record your vote. Please try again
Report abuse
2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
Format: Hardcover
This informative, entertaining bio sheds light on the life of one of Hollywood's most prolific directors (whom most people know little about). Sragow shows us a creative filmmaker, flaws and all, whose influence is still being felt today. A great read for anyone who wants to know what Hollywood was like nearly from the beginning (Fleming didn't make movies in the 'teens because he was Woodrow Wilson's official cameraman) until the late 1940s. Sadly, many of Fleming's films are now out of press; however, perhaps this book will spur reissues of his classics. (Are you listening, Turner Classic Movies??)
0CommentWas this review helpful to you?YesNoSending feedback...
Thank you for your feedback.
Sorry, we failed to record your vote. Please try again
Report abuse
     
 
Customers who viewed this also viewed

Cecil B. DeMille: The Art of the Hollywood Epic
Cecil B. DeMille: The Art of the Hollywood Epic by Cecilia DeMille Presley (Hardcover - December 16, 2014)
$44.56
 
     

Send us feedback

How can we make Amazon Customer Reviews better for you?
Let us know here.

Your Recently Viewed Items and Featured Recommendations 
 

After viewing product detail pages, look here to find an easy way to navigate back to pages you are interested in.