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Goldwyn: The Man and His Movies

He may have been a controlling, undiplomatic, heartless, cagey, opportunistic gambler with a mother complex, but Samuel Goldwyn sure knew how to make movies. The erstwhile Schmuel Gelbfisz, who was born in the Jewish ghettoes of Warsaw, Poland, and eventually became one of Hollywood's most legendary producers, is the subject of Peter Jones and Mark Catalena's fascinating documentary Goldwyn: The Man and His Movies, which traces the irascible mogul's life from start to finish. Fittingly, though, it concentrates on Goldwyn's years in the movie business, which began in 1913, when he convinced his brother-in-law, vaudevillian actor Jesse Lasky, to help him form a film production company; the pair enlisted the aid of then-theater director Cecil B. DeMille, and made The Squaw Man — the first feature produced in Hollywood (the rest, as they say, is history...). Goldwyn, which is based on Pulitzer Prize-winning author A. Scott Berg's book Goldwyn: A Biography, is narrated by Dustin Hoffman and uses movie clips, still pictures, and interviews (some new, some vintage) with the likes of Bette Davis, William Wyler, Howard Hawks, John Huston, Merle Oberon, Berg, and Goldwyn's son Samuel Goldwyn Jr. to tell the story of the self-made man who conquered Hollywood despite its repeated rejection of his often combative, ultra-hands-on producing technique. When he was shown the door at Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, for example — the studio his name and resources helped found — he remade himself as an independent and went on to produce critically lauded films like Dodsworth, Dead End, Wuthering Heights, The Pride of the Yankees, The Secret Life of Walter Mitty, and The Best Years of Our Lives (his only film to win a Best Picture Oscar). Offering details on Goldwyn's two marriages (the second, to actress Frances Howard, lasted almost 50 years, despite its many problems), coldly calculating business sense, and unrelenting desire to put quality over quantity, the documentary creates a detailed portrait of a man who left an indelible impression on Hollywood and the world of moviemaking. It may not push the envelope when it comes to style or technique, but Goldwyn is an engaging look at a true mogul and the cinematic era he helped define. Columbia TriStar's DVD edition of the film offers a clean, digitally mastered full-screen transfer with English stereo sound and subtitles. Special features include Goldwyn's filmography and trailers for Anne Frank Remembered and The Celluloid Closet. Keep-case.
—Betsy Bozdech

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