Anthony Puzzilla’s book Hollywood’s Victory Lap: The Films of 1940 is a sweeping and in-depth examination of notable movies, serials, short subject films, and animated shorts released the year before the United States entered the Second World War. Pundits and others often label moments in history as “watersheds” and the word has lost some of its gravitas due to overuse, but 1940 deserves the term. The star system, long since consigned to the dustbin of Hollywood history, lived in full flower at the time and many of the finest directors and performers of in history were either in their prime or else on the cusp of their greatest work. Serials, once an important cog in Hollywood’s machinery, still enjoyed considerable popularity and animated short films were entering a golden age as well. Puzzilla’s book does an exceptional job chronicling this legendary era in entertainment history.
The book opens with a brief look at the Hollywood of that era. The author includes well chosen photographs representative of that time and his text gives readers an early taste of the prose style defining the work overall. Puzzilla writes with fluent intelligence about Hollywood and movies alike; there are no digressions or self-indulgent passages where Puzzilla’s focus runs off the rails. He introduces readers to the studio heads, directors, and stars of the time with brief biographies that are satisfying rather than exhaustive.
Film buffs and historians will likely find little to quibble with about the movies Puzzilla has chosen to include. Puzzilla examines the story, the basics behind each film’s background, production notes, the reception each film received from the movie going public, and its critical reviews at the time. Photographs from the film and movie posters accompany each entry but, once again, the focal point is Puzzilla’s writing. He marshals his research about each film in a clear and concise way and there’s no wasted motion in each of these entries. Puzzilla doesn’t engage in any direct personal evaluation of the films and, instead, aims at providing interested readers with information and nothing more. Those looking for his value judgments about the films should note what movies he selected for inclusion.
He follows the “Very Honorable Mention Feature Films” section with an examination of the films nominated for Academy Awards that year. It has the same design as the earlier section and a comparable page length. The book’s final sections covering serials, short films, and animated shorts dispenses with the template of earlier chapters , but they retain the same fine writing and comprehensible structure defining earlier portions of the book. Puzzilla engages in more outright critical evaluation than elsewhere during these chapters, but his conclusions are never strident, but fair and even-handed.
Anthony Puzzilla’s Hollywood’s Victory Lap: The Films of 1940 is an excellent coffee table book, has great value as reference material, and communicates his obvious love for this time period in movie history. It is a little over two hundred and fifty pages long, so it isn’t particularly weighty and readers can dip into the book at any point and enjoy what it offers.