Nice Guys Don’t Work In Hollywood: The Adventures of an Aesthete in the Movie Business by Curtis Harrington (Drag City, paper, 272 pp.).
Review by James Marshall
Fans of esoteric film trash will be delighted to know that before passing director Curtis Harrington (1926-2007) left us with this dirt-filled and conversationally written volume about his five decades in Hollywood and beyond. His career was unlike any other, having started alongside pal Kenneth Anger as an experimental film maker, he was inspired by Maya Deren, and learned his craft making low budget exploitation films for Roger Corman. He ended up directing episodes of Charlie’s Angels and Dynasty before returning sixty years later to remake his first movie, The Fall Of The House Of Usher (1942). The second version was simply called Usher and was released in 2002, shortly before his death.
Searching the index (I always do this before I read an autobiography) and taking in its cast of characters–Anger, Deren, Christopher Isherwood (who punches him out), Dennis Hopper, Cameron Parsons, Don Siegel, Basil Rathbone, Aaron Spelling, Marlene Dietrich, Gavin Lambert, et al.–lets you know it’s going to be a fun-filled and rewarding read before you even start it, and it doesn’t disappoint, but I won’t ruin it for you, the stories are too good to let slip.
Harrington is first and foremost a fan of great movies (or, as he calls it–an aesthete), and in the days before Netflix, DVD or VHS, one had to go to great lengths to see forgotten classics—pleasures we take for granted in this age of instant gratification. It’s fun to read his comments on his first exposure to films like The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari, Metropolis, and the films of von Sternberg (his 50’s era study “An Index To The Films Of Josef von Sternberg” is included here as an appendix).
In fact, it’s a lot more fun than reading most of the crap written these days about films. Harrington never loses his enthusiasm for great films, or for the magic created by light and shadows on the screen, and as his final days approach he ends the story lamenting the death of celluloid and explains why digital is not the same (or as I would say “looks like shit.”)
From his earliest shorts, to his classic early films–the ethereal Night Tide (his best), Games (which we learn is based on the real life couple of Night Tide star Dennis Hopper and Brooke Hayward), through 70’s hackwork, Harrington gives us his peculiar bird’s-eye view of filmmaking, done fast, cheap, and sadly, not always to his own satisfaction. But that makes Nice Guys… such an interesting and unique book. Skip the Pauline Kael revival and do yourself a favor and get this one. And give thanks to the amazing archivist and editor Lisa Janssen for getting it out there.
House of Harrington doc. part one:
Night Tide (1961, full movie):
Voyage to the Planet of Prehistoric Women (1968, full movie):