ROBERT SIEGEL, host:
Writer Tony Giardina is a movie buff. Our series You Must Read This gives authors the chance to extol the virtues of one of their favorite reads, and Giardina's choice is about the old days of film. Reading the book left him with one of his favorite summer memories.
Mr. ANTHONY GIARDINA (Author): Ten years ago, I discovered a book that gave me so much pleasure, I found I could only read it at one time of the day, in one place and in one season.
Early on a summer evening, I'd light the coals in my barbecue grill, sit back in my favorite chair in the garden, and open James Harvey's "Movie Love In The Fifties." It took about half an hour for the coals to get hot enough, so I read the book in half-hour increments over two or three summers, and I count those 30-minute increments as among the most pleasurable of my life.
I can imagine there might be those who would question how a book called "Movie Love In The Fifties," a book whose subject is just what its title promises, could possibly be so ecstatically interesting. But maybe such people don't remember how different movies used to be a half century ago, when they weren't just giant technological marvels whose primary interest lies in how much money they gross on their opening weekends.
Movies in the '50s weren't all pitched to the appetites of teenage boys. They were made for adults. And one of the marvels of Harvey's book is the way he opens up the adulthood of our parents and grandparents through the movies they went to see, movies that not only reflected their adult dilemmas and choices but actually had a hand in shaping the kind of people they became.
That's the key to Harvey's great book. It's not just about the movies, it's about the country we were 50 years ago a country where the very white Lana Turner's relationship with her black maid in "Imitation of Life," Montgomery Clift's relationship with Elizabeth Taylor in "A Place in the Sun," and Janet Leigh with her various bras in "Psycho" - all of these tweaked a postwar nation into thinking more deeply about how they felt about race and sex and fashion.
Harvey manages to make us see how every movement in those movies counted and how much actors counted, how we relied on each of them for something specific. When he writes about the way Doris Day embodied our national will to happiness, he deepens the way we think about an actress like Day, showing us the bitter edge behind her highly worked-at cheerfulness. Her eyes look desolate, he writes, and when you watch her movies, you see just what he means.
He's great too about the rebels - Brando, Clift and James Dean - and the way girls flirting with rebels but marrying the suits constituted a code as to what it meant to grow up. As a little boy in the '50s, I can remember sitting in the backseat of my parent's car on long night journeys, catching sight through the trees off the sides of the highways of images of Rock Hudson and Marilyn Monroe, James Stewart and Kim Novak, on the drive-in screens that were as ubiquitous then as McDonalds are today. I thought they were just alluring images in the dark. Harvey has made me realize that, for my parents, those images were important signposts on a long, uncertain path.
SIEGEL: Tony Giardina. His most recent novel is called "White Guys." And you can read an excerpt from the book that he was recommending, "Movie Love in the Fifties," at npr.org.