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Book Report: The more personal side of a Hollywood director plus a bit of craziness make for good reads

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"Men of Texas" (Universal, 1942)

"Sin Town" (Universal, 1942)

"Don Winslow of the Coast Guard" (Universal, 1942)

"White Savage" (Universal, 1943)

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"Cobra Woman" (Universal, 1944)

Thus begins the filmography index in a new book issued by the University of Wisconsin Press' Film Studies Series entitled "Tough as Nails: The Life and Films of Richard Brooks," by Douglass K. Daniel ($26.95 paper).

Not a very auspicious beginning for an icon in the pantheon of Hollywood's writer directors.

But wait! Soon after potboilers like "Cobra Woman," there begins to appear some of the great films of my youth: Like "Brute Force" in 1947, "Key Largo" written with John Huston in 1948, followed by a slew of fine movies like "Deadline-USA," "Blackboard Jungle," "The Brothers Karamazov," Cat on a Hot Tin Roof," "Elmer Gantry," "Sweet Bird of Youth," "Lord Jim" and "In Cold Blood."

Biographer Daniel doesn't spend too much time establishing that these are quality as that's been established. Instead, he concentrates on Brooks' life, his crotchety personality and how these aspects contributed to the successes and failures of his films.

The book is studded with interviews of the people who knew him best, fellow directors, actors like Robert Culp and Robert Blake and family, including Jean Simmons, his wife of 20 years.

There's a wonderful scene in which Brooks tells his boss Louis B. Mayer that he not only wants to write the next movie, but also direct it. The cunning Mayer evades Brooks in his "fatherly" way: "Richard, anyone can direct a movie, but few can write one."

Later, Brooks asks Mayer if he can write a movie he was about to direct.

Mayer replies, "Richard, anyone can write a play, but few can direct one."

Simmons complained of her 20-year marriage that her husband was obsessed by his career and spent little time with the family. Symptomatic of the situation occurred when Simmons' alcoholism became a problem, Brooks writes a screenplay about a middle aged woman who was having trouble with her marriage and with the bottle. It was called "The Happy Ending" and starred Simmons as the alcoholic!

The movie was largely ignored as were many of Brooks' films. Brooks was apparently prepared for such eventualities when he said, "The privilege of failure has been taken away in America. All they want is success, success, success, one after the other. And what is continual success? Mediocrity!"

***

In the mood for bit of craziness? Try a fantastical thriller called "Moondogs," by Alexander Yates (Doubleday, $25.95).

Yates, who was born in Haiti and grew up in a diplomat's household in various countries, makes good use of his experience in his first novel, which earned a star review from Kirkus.

The book is all about Benicio who decides to mend his relationship with his father, Howard, a jet setter who has just lost his wife, Benicio's mother.

So he heads for the Philippines only to find that his father is nowhere to be found. Here's where the craziness begins.

Actually, Howard has been kidnapped by a drug addict cabdriver and his "accomplice," who happens to be a rooster.

No, not Cogburn -- a real rooster.

As Benicio tracks down his father, he has the assistance of a policeman who leads a special operation unit named Ka-Pow, which peopled with some memorable characters. One of the cops can transform himself into an animal at will. Another is an ex-soldier who can shoot to kill -- just as long as he knows the victim's name.

Yet another acts as a magnet to attract everyone else's bad luck.

Yates makes good use of his experience in diplomatic circles as he meets Philippine diplomats in his search for dad. Whenever he gets close, jargon suffuses the text and in an interview Yates said this is actually how diplomats talk.

It's all a lot of fun and little wonder that the author's fictional skills landed him in the 2010 edition of "American Fiction: The Best Unpublished Short Stories by Emerging Writers."

Dave would like to hear from you. Phone him at 715-426-9554.

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