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Charles McGraw: Biography of a Film Noir Tough Guy

5.0 out of 5 stars 11 customer reviews
ISBN-13: 978-0786431670
ISBN-10: 0786431679
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Editorial Reviews


A spellbinding account of the great noir heavy…and a must-have addition to all film-noir libraries. Deft biography and overall wild tale. --James Ellroy

About the Author

Film historian and journalist Alan K. Rode is a director of the Film Noir Foundation. He lives in Los Angeles, California.

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 228 pages
  • Publisher: McFarland (September 25, 2007)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0786431679
  • ISBN-13: 978-0786431670
  • Product Dimensions: 10 x 7.3 x 0.7 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 13.6 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (11 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #3,028,747 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Charles McGraw: Biography of a Film Noir Tough Guy (McFarland) relates the startling life of the memorable character actor against the backdrop of the old Hollywood studio system through anti-trust divestiture and the rise of television into the modern era of filmmaking.

Rode examines McGraw's lengthy acting career that began when he hitchhiked to New York at the height of the Great Depression and landed a key role in the hit play Golden Boy alongside such Group Theatre luminaries as Luther Adler, John Garfield and Elia Kazan.

With his rough hewn profile, stocky build and guttural growl, Rode explains how Charles McGraw's acting ushered in a new post war era of authentic screen toughness. After getting his big break from producer Mark Hellinger in The Killers (1946), McGraw parlayed subsequent roles into a starring contract at RKO in 1950.

Rode writes about the evolution of RKO Studios as the "Capital of Noir" dating back to Citizen Kane (1941), the Val Lewton pictures and other classic films including Crossfire, Out of the Past and Blood on the Moon. Rode explains that the distinctive RKO style was more the result of extraordinarily talented cinematographers, such as Nicholas Musaraca, and RKO craft department experts than any specific directorial auteur.

Rode also details the destruction of RKO Studios as a major filmmaking entity due to the bizarre behavior of Howard Hughes who bought the studio in 1948. Even though Charles McGraw would star in acclaimed second features such as The Threat, Armored Car Robbery and The Narrow Margin, and was hailed as the next Burt Lancaster and Kirk Douglas, he was forced to vacate his contract in 1952 in order to find work as a freelance actor.
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Format: Hardcover
By: Tommy Garrett, Editor, Canyon News in Beverly Hills

Being an historian of Hollywood and films, I am always amazed when I run across a great read, as I recently did with McFarland Publishing's "Charles McGraw: Biography of a Film Noir Tough Guy." It was written by fellow historian of Hollywood and fellow author, Alan K. Rode (though I don't consider myself a writer in this man's league). The foreword was by Jim Steranko. Being an avid reader, I found myself engrossed in a story about a film tough guy that I had enjoyed in my youth. Being a fan of film noir, I cannot remember any actor who was cast so perfectly for this genre. And after reading this book, I cannot think of another author better prepared to write about McGraw.

Photo of Charles McGraw. Courtesy of Alan K. Rode.

My favorite McGraw film was "Blood on the Moon." Rode has a very extensive collection of photographs of the actor, both candid and action packed. I was pleased to see a still of the actor from this film. But reading the book, I found myself mystified by some of the new things that I learned about Charles McGraw. The word "spellbinding" is an appropriate way to describe the style of writing and the way Rode entices the reader to continue chapter after chapter.

McFarland Publishing always puts together great books for the educational oriented reader, but in hatching this story, they are now on a new publishing level. The iconic actor Charles McGraw appeared in over 140 roles on film and television, including the classic noir pictures "The Killers" 1946 and "The Narrow Margin" 1952. The man became an incredible presence on the screen whenever he was cast in a role and worked with some of the most beautiful ladies in Hollywood.
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Format: Hardcover
I was favorably impressed with this biography. I was most pleased to see that the author provided a compelling narrative that put the career of Charles McGraw in its proper context within the now vanished studio system, which once included minor studios, such as Producers Releasing Corporation, Monogram Pictures and, later, their successors, Eagle-Lion and Allied Artists. Throughout the book, Rode also faithfully describes a Los Angeles and a Southern California that no longer exist. Urban sprawl and commercial real estate development have erased so much from the Hollywood landscape.

Typecasting made McGraw an iconic Hollywood tough guy (Turner Classic Movies uses an artistic profile representation of McGraw as its logo). Alan K. Rode patiently picked through the studio biographies, press releases and publicity to reveal as much about the actual man, himself, as we are ever likely to know. McGraw was a private and enigmatic man. He frequently told columnists what they wanted to hear rather than the truth. His biographer does a good job of separating the facts from the fanciful boasts of an actor who reinvented himself, sometimes on a daily basis after drinks were served.

Upon his arrival in Hollywood after a stage apprenticeship, Charles Crisp Butters set out to make a name for himself in the motion picture industry. He promptly dropped his surname in favor of "McGraw" and went on to make an impression in a series of supporting roles, which included memorable performances in such noteworthy films as "The Killers," "Brute Force," and "T-Men." McGraw had a remarkable presence and a distinctive voice. He was also an actor who remembered his lines, hit his marks and showed up on time.
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