(iUniverse, Inc. 348 pages, $32.95)
By Robert Relyea with Craig Relyea
In this episodic, bracingly foul-mouthed and highly compelling memoir, producer and assistant director Robert Relyea recalls the last gasp of buccaneering, big-budget Hollywood filmmaking as the studio system passed into history. Arriving at MGM in the early 1950s, Relyea started out as an AD, graduating to second unit director on expensive and logistically demanding productions such as The Magnificent Seven, The Alamo and West Side Story. In 1966, he partnered with Steve McQueen to head the actor's production company, resulting in both the most exciting car chase movie ever made (Bullitt) and the least exciting race car movie (Le Mans). Besides providing a fascinating look at how the role of assistant director and second unit director evolved as the studio system died, Relyea details the practicalities and nightmares of big-budget, on-location productions at a time when the studios were selling off their backlots, moguls were passing, and new stars were displacing the dinosaurs of the past.
The "macho" of the book's subtitle is dead-on; this is an era of Hawksian/Hustonian/Hemingwayesque derring-do in hostile locations. From the Amazonian locations of Green Mansions, which could only be exited by flying a seaplane off a 300-foot waterfall, to Relyea's own potentially suicidal role as the stunt pilot who really crashed the German plane in The Great Escape, there's plenty of hair-raising stuff to enjoy. And Relyea is not short of anecdotes illustrating the brilliance and/or total inanity of some of his work mates. We learn of Glenn Ford's debilitating fear of flying, how director Richard Brooks savored his reputation as a tyrant on the set, and what Gina Lollobrigida looked like without a wig or makeup (it ain't pretty). We're on the set as John Wayne bosses the bloated Alamo project (the mouth on that Duke!), and get a close-up of the enigmatic Steve McQueen. If there's a funnier, more entertaining film memoir than this all year, I want to read it.
Review written by John Patterson.