Movies don’t exist in a vacuum. Each MGM movie is a tiny piece of a large, colorful (although often black-and-white) quilt, with threads tying it into all of the rest of that studio’s product, going forward, yes, but also backward, and horizontally, and three-dimensionally across its entire landscape. Not necessarily a “best of” compilation, this book discusses the films that for one reason or another (and not all of them good ones) changed the trajectory of MGM and the film industry in general, from the revolutionary use of “Cinerama” in 1962’s How the West Was Won to Director Alfred Hitchcock’s near-extortion of the profits from the 1959 hit thriller North by Northwest. And there are the studio’s on-screen self-shoutouts to its own past or stars, in films like Party Girl (1958), the That’s Entertainment series, Garbo Talks (1984), Rain Man (1955), and De-Lovely (2004), or the studio’s acquisition of other successful franchises such as James Bond. But fear not—what we consider MGM’s classic films all get their due here, often with a touch of irony or fascinating anecdote. Singin' in the Rain (1952), for example, was in its day neither a financial blockbuster nor critically acclaimed but rather an excuse for the studio to reuse some old songs it already owned. The Wizard of Oz (1939) cost almost as much to make as Gone With the Wind (also 1939) and took ten years to recoup its costs. But still, the MGM mystique endures. Like the popular Netflix series The Movies that Made Us, this is a fascinating look behind the scenes of the greatest—and at times notorious—films ever made.
Steven Bingen is an author, archivist, lecturer, and Hollywood insider who has written or contributed to dozens of books, articles, and documentaries regarding popular culture, film history, and in particular, Hollywood's physical past, including MGM: Hollywood's Greatest Backlot, Warner Bros.: Hollywood's Ultimate Backlot, Paramount: City of Dreams, and recently, Hollywood’s Lost Backlot: 40 Acres of Glamor and Mystery. He lives in Los Angeles.
Feature in "The Film Stage: Your Spotlight on Cinema"