Mick LaSalle's excellent follow-up to Complicated Women is as much about evangelizing on behalf of his favorite actors as it is about proving his theme. Just as Complicated Women sung the praises of Norma Shearer, Ann Harding, Miriam Hopkins and other lesser known actresses of the pre-code era, so Dangerous Men delves into the work of Richard Barthelemess, William Warren and Lee Tracy. Of course, LaSalle must deal with Frederick March, Clark Gable, Edward G. Robinson and Jimmy Cagney just as he had to talk about Greta Garbo and Marlene Dietrich in his first book. One gets the sense that his real joy is bringing people to these lesser-known actors and their films. His opinions and analysis of Frederick March's films have made me want to go back and look again at several of his movies, such as Merrily We Go to Hell and The Eagle and the Hawk. I'd watched both of these films once years ago because Cary Grant has small parts in them. I seem to remember that I though both movies were good, but since Cary's parts were so small, I really didn't ever bother to think of them again.
As in his first book, Dangerous Men does an excellent job of setting the historical and cinematic backdrop for the pre-code era. This is where his book is probably most valuable for someone of our era, trying to understand these movies. Yet, the author is certainly at his most entertaining when he is letting his critic's wit loose on some of the lesser movies of this era. His writing on The Devil and the Deep had me laughing out loud and wishing I'd thought of half the pity comments he made on the film. Though I wish he liked Gary Cooper more or had anything to say about Cary Grant or William Powell in this period, I can't help but love a writer who is so completely unafraid of holding an unpopular opinion about such an American Institution as Gary Cooper. (In a recent podcast, he drew the wrath of his core audience and co-host when he said that watching Judy Garland was "torture" and that Top Hat was superior to Singin' in the Rain.)
I'm looking forward to working my way through the films he discusses in his book, even though they will certainly add to my already over-burdened Tivo.