image A long title, but a book I’m glad I didn’t miss . Laura Wagner has reviewed over 100 film books for the magazine Classic Images and this is her unedited reviews for the period 2001 to 2010.

This is a reviewer who doesn’t pull punches. She has been described as “a piranha with a taste for sloppy writers who don’t do their homework.”

Her encyclopedic knowledge of all things Hollywood shines through and I ended up thinking she’s the person to go to if I was thinking of buying a book.

Maybe if I was an author, I wouldn’t  be so charitable! Laura has had some hate mail over the years, and she shares some of that too.


Laura got to know Virginia Mayo in 1998 and describes Virginia as one of her favourite actresses. But that didn’t stop her commenting negatively on Virginia’s autobiography,”The Best Years of My life” as told to LC. Van Savage:

“This book is a missed opportunity, and L.C. Van Savage has fumbled the ball, leaving poor Virginia in the rain to hold this soggy piece of crap as a document of her life.”

On “Clark Gable,Tormented Star” by David Bret:

“….merely another example of a trend that has completely debased the Hollywood biography and has made a sewer of Hollywood history.”

     “….the thoughtful reader will make a wide berth around this steaming dung heap.”

On the other hand, Laura is full of praise for other books – “Virginia Bruce,Under My Skin” by Scott O’Brien, and Julie Adams’ autobiography,”The Lucky Southern Star”.

One of her all time favourite books is “Eleanor Parker,Woman of a Thousand Faces” by Doug McClelland.

One I’d like to read is “Featured Player,An Oral Autobiography of Mae Clarke“,edited by James Curtis.

Laura rates it “One of the best, first hand documents we have on what it was like to work in Hollywood in the 30s.”


I think I’ll give a wide berth to “Film Noir;A Comprehensive Illustrated Reference to Movies,Terms and Persons” by Michael L.Stephens. Just a few of the misspellings Laura spots – Ann Blythe,Signe Hassa,Edmond Gwenn,Lew Ayers,Warren Williams,Erroll Flynn.
She also points out that Barbara Stanwyck didn’t bleach her hair blonde for Double Indemnity.
On one page,Deadline at Dawn is called a ‘gem’. On another,it’s labelled “One of film noir’s most pretentious films.”

“Walter Huston had a brief cameo in his son’s film,The Maltese Falcon – but as a dying ship captain who delivers the falcon ,not as ‘one of Sam Spade’s clients’.”

On Lloyd Nolan, “His most important role was in Brute Force as a sadistic prison guard.” (Nolan isn’t in the movie.)

Mona Freeman is described as Faye Emerson’s teenage daughter in Danger Signal. (Mona was Faye’s sister.)

There’s praise for “Jackie Coogan,The World’s Boy King” by Diana Serra Cary:

“….Extremely well written,well thought out meticulously researched volume.”


One of the funniest reviews is of “The Films of Reginald Le Borg,Interviews,Essays and Filmography” by Wheeler Winston Dixon:

“Some people can interview. Others cant. You truly cant appreciate a really good interview until you experience one so awful, it actually makes you shudder.”

( “Director Le Borg’s career is filled with good solid B movies – Calling Dr.Death,,Dead Man’s Eyes,Weird Woman,San Diego, I Love You,,The Mummy’s Ghost, Philo Vance’s Secret Mission and Wyoming Mail.”)

Interviews were conducted in 1988 in front of students at the University of Nebraska.

Here are some of the author’s questions to the director:

‘Was Honeymoon Ahead any good?’

Who played Joe Palooka?’

‘Was Wyoming Mail in color?’

Le Borg directed the musical sequences in That Certain Age. Dixon  says, “Did you know that she was going to become such an enormous hit?”

Le Borg replied,”She (Deanna Durbin) was already a hit when they made that picture.”

Some of Laura’s highly critical reviews provoked some stinging responses from the authors or their friends. Strangely,none seemed willing to answer points raised by Laura.

“Critics are usually people without talent….”

“Who does that amateur book critic, Laura Wagner, think she is….”

“…She sounds naïve and childish.”     “Insensitive, petty, spiteful,ignorant…”

I couldn’t put this book down. I’ve only scratched the surface of the reviews. If anyone has read it and wants to agree or  disagree with any of Laura’s reviews, I’d love to hear from you.

Laura Wagner is the co-author with Ray Hagen of “Killer Tomatoes,15 Tough Film Dames“.  And she wrote a biography , “Anne Francis:The Life and Career.”

And I have just purchased a second volume of Laura’s Classic Images reviews which came out recently.

And if you spot any mistakes in this post, please be kind, don’t do a ‘Wagner’!

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