“The B List: The National Society of Film Critics on the Low-Budget Beauties, Genre-Bending Mavericks and Cult Classics We Love” is a collection of essays edited by David Sterritt and John Anderson. As the book’s lengthy subhead would suggest, all of these essays come from members of the National Society of Film Critics, of which David Sterritt is chairman.
Here’s the little blurb from the back of the paperback edition to give you a bit more background on the book’s purpose:
“Once, the B movie was the Hollywood stepchild, the underbelly of the double feature. Today it is a more inclusive category, embracing films that fall outside the mainstream by dint of their budgets, their visions, their grit, and frequently — sometimes essentially — their lack of what the culture cops call ‘good taste.'”
I have a huge soft spot for B movies, as anyone who has visited this blog more than once would know… so when I stumbled upon this book while browsing the film section at my local library I knew I had to pick it up.
The essays are separated into 11 sections: film noir, neo-noir, madness and melodrama, science fictions, horror and terror, road movies, westerns, political films, rock ‘n’ roll films, cult classics and “midnight movies.” The films range in release year from 1933 to as recent as 2007, so there’s a bit of something for everyone, from noirs like Out of the Past to war films like Platoon. (A full list of films featured in the book can be found at the end of this post.)
Obviously, the essays on older films interested me most in this book, especially those of films I’ve already seen like Detour and The Space Children. (The films I haven’t seen have been swiftly added to my “to watch” list, of course.)
My favorite essay in “The B List” would have to be Carrie Rickey’s beautifully written piece on I Walked with a Zombie. Rickey is a phenomenal writer and her word selection in discussing the film is very embellished. She describes I Walked with a Zombie as “an unpretentious trance-inducer” full of “pervasive gloom.”
I also very much enjoyed Peter Travers’ discussion of the film Forty Guns, which stars Barbara Stanwyck, and I am very much in agreement with his statement that “the femme-fatale allure she exuded in such 1940s classics as Ball of Fire (1941) and Double Indemnity (1944) hadn’t aged a bit,” even though she was nearly fifty when the project was filmed.
The essays on modern films are just as fascinating, though. They gave me a new perspective on the films. Some of them I’d never heard of. Some I’d seen but had never given much thought to, or had not even realized they were of “B movie” status. The only newer film that I was aware of as a “B movie” prior to reading the book and am a huge fan of that is featured in this collection of essays is The Rocky Horror Picture Show (which is discussed by Kevin Thomas).
“The B List” is a great read and is incredibly easy to get through since the reader can attack it one little essay at a time. It’s a book that’s sure to provoke thought from the reader, to introduce us to some of the best B movies ever produced, and to help us understand the films and see them in a different light.
Here’s the full list of films discussed in the book, in order that the essays appear:
Detour (1945), Gun Crazy (1950), Out of the Past (1947), Pickup on South Street (1953), Kiss Me Deadly (1955), Crime Wave (1954), Murder by Contract (1958), The Well (1951), Reservoir Dogs (1992), The Last Seduction (1994), One False Move (1992), Point Blank (1967), To Live and Die in LA (1985), Croupier (1998), Grindhouse (2007), Peeping Tom (1960), The Conversation (1974), The Stepfather (1987), Pretty Poison (1968), Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1956), The Brother from Another Planet (1984), Primer (2004), Red Planet Mars (1952), The Space Children (1958), Tales from the Crypt (1972), The Fly (1958), The Rage: Carrie 2 (1999), The Son of Kong (1933), I Walked with a Zombie (1943), May (2002), Stranger than Paradise (1984), Two-Lane Blacktop (1971), Vanishing Point (1971), The Big Bus (1976), The Naked Spur (1953), Man of the West (1958), Will Penny (1968), Seven Men from Now (1956), Forty Guns (1957), Platoon (1986), Salvador (1986), The President’s Analyst (1967), Man on a String (1960), Heroes for Sale (1933), The Buddy Holly Story (1978), King Creole (1958), American Hot Wax (1978), The Girl Can’t Help It (1956), Greendale (2003), Videodrome (1983), Vampire’s Kiss (1989), The Core (2003), Beat the Devil (1953), Mona (1970), Pink Flamingos (1972), The Rocky Horror Picture Show (1975), Targets (1968), Night of the Living Dead (1968), Eraserhead (1977)