Vixens, Floozies and Molls: 28 Actresses of Late 1920s and 1930s Hollywood (Limited/Limiting Roles) (review)
- Film & History: An Interdisciplinary Journal of Film and Television Studies
- Center for the Study of Film and History
- Volume 30, Number 2, 2000
- p. 86
- Additional Information
Book Reviews | Regular Feature Book Reviews Hans J. Wollsteln. Vixens, Floozies and Molls: 28 Actresses of Late 1920s and 1930s Hollywood (Limited/Limiting Roles). McFarland, 1999. 284 pages; $45. This volume on Hollywood vamps is one of McFarland's new series of books designed to appeal to the general reader—particularly popular culture buffs—ofnon-reference oriented works, costing less than $50 and with a shiny eye-catching case binding . In keeping with the spirit ofthat format, each ofthe author's bad girls is presented to the reader in one or more photo stills— many of them flattering studio glossies. Although most Hollywood actresses during the reign of the studio contract at some time played vixens, floozies or molls, a number of these ladies, some of whom had at least briefly achieved stardom, became typecast in these lusty vamp roles. Author Hans J. Wollstein , a retired Danish film/TV actor, obviously has an affection for these "other women who struggled with their limited/limiting roles, both on and offthe silver screen, during Hollywood's not so Golden era." But Wollstein approaches his subjects in a rather pedestrian manner. After abriefintroductory chapter on "Hollywood's Other Women," there are twenty-eight additional chapters, each devoted to one of his featured vamps—appearing in alphabetical order from Olga Baclanova, of Freaks (1932) infamy, to the enigmatic Anna May Wong, perhaps best known for her role as the jaded Chinese prostitute who matched Marlene Dietrich for sultriness in von Sternberg's 1932 classic Shanghai Express. While Wollstein provides key biographical information on these floozies, et al, it is delivered in a more or less straightforward chronological format. He makes sure we know how and when most of these ladies went to their graves— although in at least one case, that ofVivienne Osborne, the information on her age when she passed does not match up with the dates given for her birth and death. Reader titillation aside, details of various scandals are not always clearly linked to the vicissitudes of the actresses' careers. Basic plot descriptions on most of the actresses ' key film roles are provided, along with some useful information on contemporary audience reception. Yet there is little in the way of close analysis of these films, let alone any penetrating interpretation of what made these bad girls so good at playing bad. Evelyn Brent's starring gangster moll role in the wellknown Underworld (1927), directed by Josef von Sternberg, receives only modest attention—which is rather surprising since the film is considered a seminal work in the cinematic presentation of gangster stereotypes, both male and female. Yet, occasionally , Wollstein can and does provide the reader with some useful insights upon his subjects. For instance, in his discussion of Brent's Bolshevik vamp character in another von Sternberg classic, The Last Command (1928), the author makes an interesting comparison between Brent's Natasha and Greta Garbo's famous title role in Ninotchka (1939). Wollstein makes liberal use of quotes from contemporary gossip columns, biographies and assorted interviews, but does not always make clear the exact source. This is a particularly acute problem for scholars, since no citations appear in the text. Overall, this book is a pleasant read, whose primary value is to satisfy curiousity about whatever became ofthis or that particular actress—such as, what was the fate of "what's her name" who played the red-haired prostitute, Belle Watling, in Gone With the Wind (1939)? Michael S. Shull Frederick Community College/The Washington Center Shull MS Scott Allen INollen. Robin Hood: A Cinematic History of the English Outlaw and his Scottish Counterparts (One Thousand Years ofHistory). McFarland, 1999. 269 pages;$36.50. In Robin Hood: A Cinematic History ofthe English Outlaw and his Scottish Counterparts, Scott Allen Nollen embarks on the monumental task of providing "an exhaustive analysis of a specific cinematic subgenre: motion pictures based on the legends ofRobin Hood." No stranger to the world offilm analysis, Nollen is the author of several titles on cinema history. As such, it should come as no surprise that the book is well written and researched. Manifesting "the benefits of a classical education," Nollen is equally at home discussing film technique, musical...