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Mercury Pictures Presents/Anthony Marra

I was disappointed by this book, which promised to be about a B-movie Hollywood studio in the late 1930s and early 1940s, a subject of great interest to me.

In fact, but it was more about a film executive Maria Lagana, whose father – a Roman human rights lawyer – was exiled by Mussolini.

Indeed his internment in Calabria and life there occupies more pages than Hollywood at a most interesting time.

In the late 1930s the USA was conflicted about joining the war.

The decision was made for them after Pearl Harbour, following which both Hitler and Mussolini had declared war.

The Jewish studio bosses came in for flak for supporting the intervention.

One such was Art Feldman the production boss of Mercury.

Once America had entered the war, the studio was tasked with making propaganda movies.

They had an influx of emigres who were treated as aliens with restricted movements and identity papers.

Japanese Americans were interned.  All this is covered but not  in the same detail as the Calabrese section.

Lagana does not escape from San Lorenzo prison but his friend Nino does with the false papers of another prisoner.

Perhaps it was the narration by Loretta Brenton in the audio book but all of this escaped my attention.

Added to this Marra does not have a pleasing prose style and has a tendency to digress into lengthy life stories of characters such as the minaturist Anna Weber.

In accordance with modern trend Maria not only becomes the central character but her talents are overlooked in a male dominated world.

In fact, whilst Hollywood may have been male orientated during the war years, it produced at least two memorable films – Casablanca (1942) and the ultimate film noir Double Indemnity (1944).  

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About Neil Rosen

Neil went to the City of London School and Manchester University graduating with a 1st in economics. After a brief stint in accountancy, Neil emigrated to a kibbutz In Israel. His articles on the burgeoning Israeli film industry earned comparisons to Truffaut and Godard in Cahiers du Cinema. Now one of the world's leading film critics and moderators at film Festivals Neil has written definitively in his book Kosher Nostra on Jewish post war actors. Neil lives with his family in North London. More Posts