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Film International, issue 29, Fall 2007:
Delson clearly enjoys and admires many of his films, but maintains a scholarly distance that allows for even-handed and clear assessments of Murphy’s works. . . . A fine biography, as well as a fine work of film studies; indeed, these two elements of the book reinforce one another. [more >>]

GreenCine, November 9, 2006:
“A lively, sometimes ribald, constantly entertaining but no less thought-provoking read. . . . both complex and integral to the understanding of early American film. ” [more>>]

Leonard Maltin, critic and film historian,
October 23 , 2006:
"Delson has done an impeccable job of research to tell [Murphy's] story and tie the loose ends of his improbably career together."[more (click on Film Books) >>]

Kirkus Reviews, August 1, 2006:
“The author displays a scholarly grasp of the facts, but also the fluid, resonant prose to animate them.” [more>>]

Library Journal, October 1, 2006:
“The first full-length study of wealthy, eccentric, enigmatic filmmaker Dudley Murphy.... Finely written and researched.” [more>>]

Kurt Andersen, novelist, journalist, and cultural commentator:
"Such a cogent, intelligent book about such a splendidly messy life. Dudley Murphy seems more like a wacky fictional character than a real person, and I'm grateful to Susan Delson for introducing me to him."

August 1, 2006

Delson, Susan
DUDLEY MURPHY: Hollywood Wild Card

Univ. of Minnesota (272 pp.)
Oct. 1, 2006
ISBN: 0-8166-4654-6

Dudley Murphy (1867–1968) doesn’t bear a household name like vaunted film directors John Ford or King Vidor, but, as chronicled by Delson, his ambitious career out-barnstormed them all— even if it often only sputtered in the public eye.

Murphy was an innovative, socially adventurous Hollywood insider, a reckless aviator and playboy to outgun Howard Hughes, but with artistic aspirations forged in European modernism. He is often recalled as merely the technical facilitator behind his two enduring works, the experimental
montage Ballet Mecanique and the film that rendered Paul Robeson a diasporic icon, The Emperor Jones. Delson challenges this notion and makes a convincing case for the filmmaker as auteur. The author displays a scholarly grasp of the facts, but also the fluid, resonant prose to animate them. She illuminates what certain cultural, corporate and technological developments meant to both Murphy and his tumultuous times. Cineastes looking for rigorous analysis of Murphy’s work might find the early passages tough going, filled as they are with the minutiae of the subject’s life. But this personal intimacy proves useful, locating plausible and compelling connections between Murphy’s life and art. Like his near-contemporary Luis Buñuel, Murphy was the son of upper-crust intellectuals. He, too, broke through with an avant-garde classic and made a globetrotting career of blending experimental techniques into more mainstream fare. Along the way, Delson treats us to encounters with Murphy’s dizzying roster of collaborators and pals: DeMille, Selznick, Hemingway, Man Ray, James Joyce, Ezra Pound, Charlie Chaplin, Fats Waller, Sergei Eisenstein. Yet Murphy never gets lost in the fray.

A balanced portrait of a man and a panorama of his times, told with exceptional grace. [Back to top]

Library Journal , October 1, 2006 :

Delson, a New York-based writer, presents the first full-length study of wealthy, eccentric, enigmatic filmmaker Dudley Murphy (1897-1968). When Murphy decided to break into the business in the 1920s, his idea was to meld music, dance, and the visual arts into experimental short subjects. His avant-garde short subjects, among them Soul of the Cypress, Danse Macabre and especially the classic Ballet mécanique proved to be successes, but ultimately, Murphy succumbed to the lure of features. Those he directed were largely mediocre, and he remained on the fringes of Hollywood until the dawn of talkies, when he undertook sound shorts. His St. Louis Blues and Black and Tan (both 1929) are still considered among the best of the genre. Murphy had his greatest opportunity with the adaptation of Eugene O'Neill's The Emperor Jones (1933) starring Paul Robeson, but it was not the masterwork he had hoped it would be. He was simply too much the dreamer and outsider to succeed in Hollywood, and his career petered out in the early 1940s. This finely written and researched work will profitably add to the literature of such directors. Recommended for large cinema collections.
Roy Liebman, Los Angeles P.L. [Back to top]