On the 8th of October 1934, long before the wider world knew him from his Letter from America broadcasts, his television series America, or his introductions to Masterpiece Theatre, Alistair Cooke sat down at a BBC microphone to give his first radio talk. His subject was cinema. The Corporation's new film critic, he was twenty-five, cocky, fresh from a glittering university career at Cambridge, Yale, and Harvard. The BBC knew they had found a perfect radio voice – fluent, conversational, a voice you wanted to listen to. He relinquished his job in 1937, when he left to live in what had become his promised land: America.
Cooke began film reviewing in the 1920s as a Cambridge undergraduate, and continued to broadcast on cinema from New York. With the Second World War, the coverage of real lives and dramas finally took priority, but throughout his long career reporting on America for the BBC and the Guardian newspaper his fascination with cinema never faded. Under his watchful gaze, Hollywood reached its Go lden Age, only to be tarnished by television; he clocked every new technological development, from the arrival of talkies to the video cassette. He also observed cinema's personalities, writing tributes to Marilyn Monroe, Gary Cooper, James Cagney and others, always illuminating their special gifts and the way they reflected the American scene.
Since the 1930s, Alistair Cooke's lively film reviews have largely slumbered unpublished and unheard. Alistair Cooke at the Movies selects the most sparkling. It also salutes Cooke the reporter, documenting everything from the trauma of the Hollywood blacklist to the robbery of Zsa Zsa Gabor's jewels. Finally, we meet Cooke the biographer, affectionately recalling various stars he knew and admired, among them Charlie Chaplin and Humphrey Bogart.
Covering 75 years of journalism, from 1928 to 2003, this is a fascinating new collection for Cooke's devoted readers and listeners, and for anyone interested in the 20th century parade of American and European films.
"Alistair Cooke had a unique critical voice: He was suave. This does not mean he was dispassionate or careless in his prose or his judgments. It does mean that he was equally unruffled by masterpieces or by their opposites. He saw movies clearly and democratically, neither inflating their importance nor dismissing their power. To spend a few hours in his company--even when he's writing about movies that are sometimes lost to memory--is to experience the lost joys seemingly casual wit and elegance--and of civilized discourse at its unself-conscious best."
– Richard Schickel, film critic, author and documentary producer