Writing Sample: Book Review

AN ARMY OF PHANTOMS: American Movies and the Making of the Cold War
Author: Hoberman, J.
Review Date: February 1, 2011
Publisher: New Press
Pages: 400
Price ( Hardcover ): $27.95
Publication Date: April 1, 2011
ISBN ( Hardcover ): 978-1-59558-005-4
Category: Nonfiction
Classification: Popular Culture

Sharp analysis of postwar-era Hollywood by a leading film critic and historian.

Longtime Village Voice movie critic Hoberman (Cinema History/Cooper Union; Bridge of Light: Yiddish Film between Two Worlds, 2010, etc.) published the second part of his projected Cold War trilogy The Dream Life: Movies, Media, and the Mythology of the Sixties in 2003; here he covers the politically tumultuous and often dangerous period that preceded it, from the end of World War II in 1945 through Eisenhower’s first term, ending in 1956. It was an era when some of the canon’s greatest movies appeared (High Noon, On the Waterfront, The Searchers) alongside some of the schlockiest kitsch (My Son John, The Next Voice You Hear, The Prodigal). Hoberman, whose historical narrative is as richly detailed as his movie lore, masterfully shows how Washington’s anti-communist crusaders influenced the culture-makers in Hollywood in the projects they chose to develop. Both sides of the divide were especially motivated by paranoia, of communism on the right and on the left of Senator McCarthy and HUAC. Paranoia inspired some of the most interesting, multilayered films, including several of the aforementioned, as well as Don Siegel’s Invasion of the Body Snatchers, Elia Kazan’s Panic in the Streets and Samuel Fuller’s Pickup on South Street. Quoting period memoirs, FBI files, HUAC hearing transcripts and movie reviews from the mainstream and communist press, Hoberman argues that many of the themes of these movies—fear of alien invasion and the rescue of captives, to name two of the most pungent examples—were already deeply ingrained in the American national consciousness from its earliest days and continue to resonate today. The author’s engaging prose will provoke many an urge to revisit the familiar and forgotten gems of a film era that was less placid than it pretended to be.

Urbane, witty cultural history.

First published in Kirkus Reviews.

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