A Review of Leonard Maltin's Classic Movie Guide, Third Edition
October 1, 2015
The release of Leonard Maltin's Classic Movie Guide: From the Silent Era Through 1965 this past Tuesday, September 29, appropriately co-branded with TCM, marks the end of an era. Though this book is the author's third Classic Movie Guide, Maltin has been penning and updating his Movie Guides since 1969, and his last edition of that publication, Leonard Maltin's 2015 Movie Guide, made its final bow last year.
As one could guess, as the years passed and thousands of new films were introduced to the world, Maltin's Movie Guides grew bigger and bigger. With close to 19,000 capsule reviews in Leonard Maltin's Movie and Video Guide 2004, I guess it seemed as good a time as ever to manage the page count and spin off a classic edition. Maltin's first Classic Movie Guide was published in 2005 (featuring over 9,000 movies) and the second edition debuted five years later in 2010 (boasting more than 10,000 titles). The brand new concluding volume still highlights more than 10,000 pictures, with the addition of 200-300 films (I've seen sites that reference both those numbers).
This photo may be deceiving; though compact, this book still runs over 850 pages!
With these classic editions ranging from the silent era up until 1965, how can new films appear in each book, you may ask? Well, there are several ways. Firstly, in his introduction Maltin wrote that he actually added some titles back in that had been deleted in previous volumes due to size constraints. Which movies were welcomed back - and how many, at that - would have been a nice detail to point out. Secondly, countless films sit in archives and libraries, catalogued and all, but they rarely make their way to the movie theater, television, or home video for various reasons. I'm guessing these titles are harder to track down and review and could also count for some of the new entries added over the years. I'm not 100% sure of this statement, but when I picked two rarely seen pictures I watched at UCLA's Festival of Preservation this year, 1932's Bachelor's Affairs and 1935/1936/1941/?'s bizarre Ouanga, aka The Love Wanga, I found neither in the guide (though 1947's The Guilty, which also played the festival, has an entry). Thirdly, each year classic films once thought lost - or even worse, never really known to exist at all - are uncovered all over the globe in archives, attics, basements, sheds, and the like. Hopefully, these prints are in good enough condition to save and preserve, but it still could take years for the public, and even perhaps Maltin, to watch and review.
I would love to one day hear what Maltin has to say about this film...
For example, 1929's Why Be Good?, one of the seven new titles added to the third edition that Maltin highlighted on TCM Monday night during primetime, was thought a lost picture until the mid-1990s when the only known copy was discovered in an Italian archive, along with another Colleen Moore film from the same year, Synthetic Sin. According to Ron Hutchinson's article, it took over a decade to wrangle the loan-outs of each, and finally, restoration work began in 2012. Since then, Why Be Good? has been released on DVD while Synthetic Sin has not (yet, hopefully), and when I checked, Synthetic Sin was not listed in the guide. I wonder how many similar stories of once thought lost films that are found today will come out in a few years and sadly miss their chance at inclusion - and hopefully a wider audience - in Maltin's Classic Film Guides.
I believe the first Movie Guide I owned was the 1998 or 1999 edition, and I can tell you I spent hours sifting through that book. At the time, before my family subscribed to TCM, I recall reading the classic film reviews, hoping one day I'd get the chance to watch them if I couldn't locate a copy on VHS in the local library or video store. Thankfully, due to platforms like TCM and Warner Archive, many of these titles I read about all those years ago and never thought I'd have the chance to see I've luckily been able to cross off my list over the years.
To be honest, I haven't opened one of Maltin's Movie Guides in quite a while and flipping through this new edition was both pleasurable...and a bit overwhelming (in a fun way, of course). I eagerly rocketed back and forth checking the reviews for all my favorite films, movies I'd recently watched, and titles that were on my radar, and then BOOM, an hour somehow flew by. To my pleasant surprise, some of my most beloved films received higher praise from Maltin than I thought they would, including three star reviews for both Dear Heart (1964) and I See A Dark Stranger (1946), which I felt were both spot-on. Ironically, I found many more three star reviews than I anticipated (well, for the movies I looked up), including one that I firmly disagree with: 1930's Madam Satan, which I just re-watched the night before; personally, I would give the DeMille musical two stars, max. Alas, I guess Maltin and I can't agree on everything!
Besides the always informative and well-crafted entries, I really appreciated Maltin's enlightening introduction and some of the special features included in this edition, specifically Maltin's fun list of "Memorable Performances - from A to Z" (which introduced me to a new Barbara Stanwyck film, 1950's The Furies) and the "Widescreen Glossary" (I did not know that many processes existed!); particularly, I valued the acute attention paid to detail that Maltin outlined in the introduction, which included, among other things, once tracking down sheet music from 1910 to ensure proper punctuation for the song "Ah! Sweet Mystery of Life" (exclamation point, not a comma) from 1935's Naughty Marietta. Additionally, the indexes for major directors and actors also proved helpful, and I especially enjoyed the attention paid to series, which included an overview as well as all the titles produced in each one.
Nice touch with the series, Mr. Maltin.
Some other features, like the "Key to This Book" and the "Mail-Order Sources for Home Video" I initially thought felt 'old school,' but both turned out to be intriguing and beneficial. For example, I found myself constantly checking to see what format the titles I looked up were available on - DVD, VHS and even laserdisc - and was surprised and a bit disappointed to find some movies, such as 1931's Consolation Marriage, out only on VHS (still). As for the Mail-Order Sources page, it reminded me of companies I hadn't heard of in years and introduced me to some new potential browsing sites.
In the past, I had always enjoyed Maltin's reviews on TCM's online schedule, when available, which provide sufficient commentary and act as a great resource for cross-checking; though I adore TCM and their synopses in their online, Watch TCM, and Now Playing schedules, I have to admit that sometimes the simple loglines don't provide enough information for me (or sadly aren't 100% accurate or - GASP- contain spoilers). However, now I can pick up the guide for further info, and I've already found the volume to be extremely helpful in deciding what to watch, like 1953's Stolen Identity, one of the new additions featured on TCM.
Thank you TCM and Leonard Maltin for introducing me to new movies.
Speaking of the internet, though it stands as a wonderful resource when researching and finding films (and also apparently one factor in the demise of Maltin's print Movie Guides), sometimes the world wide web makes it hard to discover new-to-me pictures; after all, you have to either type in a particular title or click a link - again, specific - to read about a certain movie. Consequently, I've always loved books like this, because as you flip through the pages you can uncover titles you've never heard of and perhaps never would have stumbled across otherwise.
For that reason, I highly suggest you pick up a copy of the third and final edition of Leonard Maltin's Classic Movie Guide; who knows what new discoveries await you!
Special thanks to TCM and Penguin Random House for providing me a review copy of the book.
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I See a Dark Theater is a website dedicated to classic movie-going—and loving—in the City of Angels. Whether it's coverage on screenings, special presentations, or Q&As around Los Angeles that you're looking for, or commentary on the wonderful and sometimes wacky world of classic cinema, you've come to the right place for a variety of pieces written with zeal, awe, and (occasionally) wit. Enjoy.