A Film History Book That Easily Could (But Definitely Shouldn’t) Escape Your Attention.

Film historian Rudy Behlmer has done it again—made an invaluable addition to our behind-the-scenes knowledge of important movies, as he did with books like Memo from David O. Selznick, Memo from Darryl F. Zanuck, Inside Warner Bros., Behind the Scenes, and others. (And as he has done in many a DVD commentary and LP/CD booklet.)

The difference is that this time he has done it with a book that is destined to fly below the radar even of the most dedicated film buffs, who would glom onto it if only they knew of it.

Shoot the Rehearsal!: Behind the Scenes with Assistant Director Reggie Callow is based on interviews Behlmer conducted in the early seventies. Callow was the A.D. on 74 films starting in 1930, and they included some of the most important ones in film history: Hell’s Angels, Gone With the Wind, Rebecca, Julius Caesar, Seven Brides for Seven Brothers, the remake of Mutiny on the Bounty, and The Sound of Music, just to scratch the surface. Assistant directors are uncelebrated; generally, only others in the business know their names. But they are party to or witness to nearly every decision that gets made on a film (they work out the logistics of a shoot and wrangle the cast and crew moment-to-moment to make sure the director’s bidding gets done), and sometimes they may take over the director’s function for parts of a film. In terms of the “name value” they possess that can help sell a book, a fair estimate might be nil. But in terms of the stories they have to share, they can be a treasure trove.

You have to know the right questions to ask, of course, and with his incomparable grounding in the history of classic film, Behlmer was the ideal interviewer. Callow lived about fifteen minutes away from him, and after an introduction by a mutual acquaintance brought them together, Behlmer would pop over and get Callow talking. For this book, Behlmer has edited the transcripts of those conversations into a compelling read from start to finish. You may think you’ll be tempted to skip around the book, looking for the “good parts” about the films, directors and stars that happen to be your favorites, but the book is so well-constructed that starting on page one and reading it in order is a compelling experience. If only Callow had worked on 150 films instead of a mere 74, the book would be twice as long and still a page-turner.

Leonard Maltin, on his Movie Crazy blog, has written an informative, enthusiastic, and thoroughly deserved appreciation of the book.

Now for a bit of bad news followed by a bit of better news. The book is expensive. The publisher, Scarecrow Press, envisions that the primary customers of the book will be libraries (they are not entirely wrong, as posterity will value this work), and has priced it at $50. However…Amazon is selling it for 28% off, or $36. That is still pricey for a 168-page paperback, but if you are into movie history, you will discover that the book brings you pleasure and learning worth multiples of that.

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