Cult Movie Stars

Danny Peary
Simon and Schuster. London. 1991.
Pbk. 608 pages, index, bw photos £12.99.

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We could do with more critics like Danny Peary. His three Cult Movies collections are among the most enjoyable film books available: readable without being fatuous, clever without being pretentious, and personal without being self-indulgent. As an editor, his Close-Ups anthology about movie stars combines the appeal of fan literature with some intelligent anti-auteurist analysis. 

Cult Movie Stars sounds like a publisher's idea for a follow-up to Peary's best known books, but if it isn't in the same league as those, it's certainly worth owning. Peary deals with 750 performers, ranging from major stars like Dietrich, Davis and Bogart, to horror actors, skin-flick starlets and even British comedians (at last an American book which recognises the Sid James phenomenon, even if it does mistakenly say he was in Carry On Nurse). Certainly one can quibble about the selection criteria (De Niro is included but not Pacino; I looked in vain for Mariana Hill; and to bring the book up to date, perhaps the likes of Winona Ryder and Christian Slater should have been present) - but that would be to miss the point. This does not attempt to be a definitive reference book but an appealing dip into the world of cult stars - hence there is no attempt to provide complete filmographies, just a smattering of the stars' most interesting output. 

Peary writes: ‘My intention is to get movie fans to seek out particular stars and show why others are so devoted to them.’ His mini-essays succeed at this, communicating a real enthusiasm for cultural icons and obscure exploitation stars alike. His criticism is concise and full of insight - and he has a talent for useful subjective writing. Of Natalie Wood, he writes: ‘It's such a relief when Santa gets her the home she dreams about in Miracle on 34th Street, when James Dean loves her in Rebel Without a Cause ...I just wish someone was there for her in Splendor in the Grass. She was my favourite actress and, like many, I get chills when, in that picture, she almost drowns.’ 

Darren Slade 
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