Richard Derus's Reviews > Frances Farmer: The Life and Films of a Troubled Star

Frances Farmer by Peter Shelley
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May 25, 2013

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Read in May, 2011

The Book Report: Librarian and film fanboy Peter Shelley takes a new tack on explaining the waste that was the life of Frances Farmer: He gives a lot of background in a biographical essay, then analyzes quite thoroughly the actual work turned out by Frances Farmer in her short career. He goes on to bring us the details of the various post-mortem biopics made about her, with analysis of their merits aesthetic and factual. It's quite a lot of work, this, finding and screening and mulling over entertainments long unseen. Kudos for caring so much.

My Review: Because I certainly don't. This is amazingly dense stuff. Since I, a mere civilian, can't get most of these films, I have no context to put them in. I trust Mr. Shelley a little less with each sloppy mistake, like I do all authors. The one that came close to causing me to put the book down permanently came in the biographical essay, where Frances was was fobbed off with a car. A Plymouth Dusenberg.

This is a Duesenberg:

This is a Plymouth of the same era:

Google is your friend. Use it. Duesenbergs were huge, luxurious cars not made after 1936. Plymouths were cheapiemobiles sold to Aunt Mildred and Uncle Cyrus to get them from the farm to the church on Sunday. Mr. Shelley's Australian, it's true, but a quick check would've told him what was what. Why, even a car-phobic friend to whom I bleated disgruntledly said "you're kidding" when I mentioned this!

There were others much more minor that I caught; but I find that, when I catch one or two howlers like this, I wonder what howlers I'm too ignorant to catch, and trust the book I'm reading less and less. So why give it three stars? Why not simply consign it to the local cathedral's charity bin, as I do with books I detest and don't ever want to see again? Because of Farmer and her enduring mystique. She's famous if you know who she is, she's got that tragic queen of Hollywood thing, she's forgotten by all but the few who, in this day and age, seek out Jessica Lange's memorable portrayal of her from 1982 in the film "Frances". I batten on obscure grandeur. This book limns it for me in klieg lights. I like that enough to hold my nose and add a star to what I feel the book, solely on its merits, deserves.

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Comments (showing 1-11 of 11) (11 new)

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message 1: by Henry (new)

Henry Avila Very underrated actress, seen her films.

Richard Derus You're among the select few, then!

message 3: by Henry (last edited Apr 25, 2012 08:44PM) (new)

Henry Avila I love old movies.Even silent ones. Like THE Black Pirate, THE Thief of Bagdad.Which I have.Douglas Fairbanks MAKES TODAYS HEROES LOOK WEAK.Fances was great in EBB TIDE, '37.

Richard Derus It was a completely, utterly different definition of hero in operation, and it shows.

message 5: by Henry (new)

Henry Avila Stars back then, had to do most of their own stunts.

Richard Derus A thing I still find amazing. And they all, without exception or regard for aptitude, had to sing and dance on screen.

Jimmy Stewart really really shoulda been let off from that one.

message 7: by Henry (new)

Henry Avila Sing, dance and act.The old triple threat.All but gone today.

message 8: by Karla (new)

Karla I've only seen one FF movie - Come and Get It w/Joel McCrae. Very good. A Northwoods timber epic, IIRC.

message 9: by Henry (new)

Henry Avila Probably her best film and role and a big hit in'36.

message 10: by [deleted user] (new)

I watched the film "Frances" back in the early 80's probably due to Oscar buzz about Jessica Lange's performance. I had not heard of Frances Farmer at the time. Sadly, nearly 30 years later, I still don't think I have seen a Farmer film. Did this book settle the controversy on whether or not Frances was really lobotomized (as portrayed in the movie)? I like your line about "battening on obsure grandeur."

Richard Derus The probability is that she was not lobotomized, Steve, but the Hollywood choice is going to stand because it's a more dramatic story.

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