News Column

Biography brings out energy of Dwan's life

September 8, 2013

YellowBrix

The height of Allan Dwan's career was probably in the 1920s, as he directed two of Douglas Fairbanks' great swashbucklers ("Robin Hood" and "The Iron Mask,") as well as a series of comedies with Gloria Swanson that remain delightful. Dwan had begun directing in 1911 -- Peter Bogdanovich's "Nickelodeon" is largely based on Dwan's early life -- and he continued directing for 50 years. He made a couple of the best Shirley Temple films of the mid-1930s, and his last huge hit was "The Sands of Iwo Jima" with John Wayne.

Frederick Lombardi's "Allan Dwan and the Rise and Decline of the Hollywood Studios" (McFarland) is an excellent biography of the man and his films. Dwan's great strength was the fact that he didn't have a specific aesthetic or style, but did have energy -- there are very few boring Dwan films -- and a natural warmth that made him a perfect talent for the studio system.

I only met Dwan once. He was a charming gent, but too tough- minded to be called twinkly. He had a rough end -- a business manager blew all his money and he ended up getting by on Social Security while living in the spare bedroom of his housekeeper, who had also been his mistress for years. Or maybe it wasn't a rough end after all; Dwan seemed content with both his career and his lot in life.

Lombardi's book is impeccably researched, cleanly written and a huge overall boon to film scholarship.

In the Pipeline ...

Norton has paid more than six figures for David King's "The Trial of Adolf Hitler," about the aftermath of the Beer Hall Putsch that catapulted the ideologue of National Socialism onto the German stage. It will be published in 2017 ... Dan Ephron is writing "Killing a King," a non-fiction work about the assassination of Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin by an Israeli zealot determined to stop Rabin's attempts to forge a peace agreement with Arabs. Norton will publish in 2015, on the 20th anniversary of Rabin's death.

Mike Browning's Word of the Week ...

umbratile: carried on in seclusion.

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