Mrs. B’s Book and Film Lists

Mrs. B’s Annotated Book List

Please note: This is certainly not a comprehensive list of the editor’s favorites, but is merely, as the title suggests, an introduction to a fairly broad spectrum of books.  The list includes two non-fiction works, as well as novels by English, American, Spanish, French and Welsh authors.

The Count of Monte Cristo by Alexander Dumas

This is a very good story set against the backdrop of Napoleonic France.  There are moments of intense agony, gripping suspense and luscious mystery.  No film has ever done justice to this story.  Without the intriguing and dynamic women of the story, which most movies exclude, you lose its full impact.  Keep turning those pages!  Everything is explained in the end and the bad guys—well, you won’t be disappointed with what happens to them.

Dandelion Wine by Ray Bradbury

Though you may know Ray Bradbury only as a writer of science fiction, this book deserves a place among his best-known works.  Told from the viewpoint of young Douglas Spaulding, this story in a quaint and peaceful Iowa town, recounts the most memorable summer in Douglas’ life.  You’ll meet his friends, his family, the residents of the boarding house his family runs, the residents of the town.  Among these people and experiences, you may recognize some of your own ambivalent feelings about growing up and watching the world and people around you change as you do.  Meet Mrs. Bentley, Colonel Freeleigh and The Lonely One and shop with Douglas as he buys the first pair of tennis shoes of the summer.

Don Quixote by Miguel Cervantes

Do not wait as long to read this book as I did!  I was several decades old once I finally picked it up.  This is truly a “laugh out loud” book.  It tells the story of Don Quixote and his faithful servant Sancho Panza who, astride their emaciated horse and donkey, ride off to conquer imaginary foes.  This is the book, from which the famous phrase “tilting at windmills” comes.  Don Quixote, who has read too many books about chivalry, has found himself thoroughly—and menacingly—persuaded into that line of work.  He rides about the countryside to defend the honor of his ladylove, Dulcinea, who is anything but one.  This is called a “classic” for a very good reason.

Gift from the Sea by Anne Morrow Lindbergh

This is one of only two non-fiction books on this list.  It is such an amazing book that the editor of this list has given away over sixty copies of it.  It is must reading for women (but men, be brave enough to read it without wounding your sense of masculinity) who are trying to balance all the responsibilities which we cannot escape, and yet remain sane and sweet as we accomplish them.  The chapters are short and poignant.  This makes an ideal gift for any woman you love.

The Hound of the Baskervilles by Arthur Conan Doyle

This is probably the most famous of the Sherlock Holmes novels.  Meet Sherlock Holmes and his faithful assistant, Dr. Watson.  Travel with them to Baskerville Hall to learn about the curse of the Baskervilles—a giant vicious hound that routinely massacres the Baskervilles who are foolish enough to walk the moor alone.  Once you read this one, you’ll want to read the other novels, as well as the short stories.  Everyone should read Sherlock Holmes at least once!

How Green Was My Valley by Richard Llewellyn

If you love stories about close family relationships, this is the book for you.  The Morgan family—strong, respected father, gentle, self-sacrificing mother, several sons approaching manhood, beautiful daughter of marriageable age and young son, Huw, through whose eyes the story is told—will forever endear themselves to your heart.  This is the story of a Welsh mining family, impacted by industrialism and at the threshold of being impacted by unions.  This is a classic theme of young people who want their parents to “catch up to the times” and end up finding that they love their parents unconditionally.  Have a box of tissues handy (if you’re a girl).  This is lyrically written and will make you want to book a trip to Wales as soon as possible.  This story is one of the very few, which has been made into a film, which is every bit as good as the book.  It’s also included in the Film List.

Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain

Of all Twain’s books, this has to be the most hilarious, as well as the most instructive.  This book is sometimes banned because of its liberal racial nicknames.  However, do not let that prevent you from reading it. As a matter of fact, Jim, the slave Huck and his friend Tom Sawyer are trying to help to escape, is the only character, who exhibits any sense at all.  Though you won’t read these exact words, Twain, especially through Tom, illustrates that the South is afflicted with the “Walter Scott Disease.”  Look that up and you’ll have a well-rounded understanding of Twain’s supposition that the South in the 19th century was basically a replica of medieval feudalism.

The Human Comedy by William Saroyan

Meet the Macauley family of Ithaca, California.  The mother is widowed; the oldest brother, Marcus, is away in the war.  Sister Bess is friends with Homer’s sweetheart, Mary.  Little brother Ulysses doesn’t say much, but has very deep thoughts.  And Homer is trying to make sense of everything.  He takes a job as a delivery boy in the telegraph office.  This is a more poignant “coming-of-age” story that Dandelion Wine, but you’ll probably recognize some of your own emotions here, too.  There is a particularly enjoyable chapter called “At the Public Library.” 

The Hunchback of Notre Dame by Victor Hugo

This is a meticulously researched book and is another instance of a book that has not yet translated well in its entirety to the screen.  As well as one might think he knows the deformed Quasimodo from seeing him portrayed in animation or by Lon Cheney or anyone else—no, one must read about him to understand him. Your heart will be wrenched right out of you as you ponder on his gentle spirit and hopeless isolation.  When he first meets Esmerelda, well—few scenes are as memorable as that.  Look for the well-known word “Sanctuary!”

Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte

Any well-educated person should have read at least one book by at least one of the Bronte sisters.  Jane Eyre would be my first recommendation.  This story is told in first-person, which quickly and irreversibly gives you a kinship with the narrator.  Although Jane suffers many reverses in her life, don’t expect her to be a weak-willed woman—she is a tower of strength, as the saying goes, and this story is a testament to the triumph of the human spirit—a spirit, by the way, which is chaste and determined always to do the right thing.

Nicholas Nickleby by Charles Dickens

If I had to choose just one Dickens’ book as a favorite, this would be it.  This is a carefully crafted story with captivating and diverse characters.  Besides the title character, a noble hero in many ways, one of Dickens’ most endearing characters also appears in this story—Newman Noggs.  Only Joe Gargery is dearer than Newman.  There are great highs and lows in these chapters—sad days and happy conclusions.  You’ll grow quite attached to Smike and cheer when he’s finally—well, it wouldn’t be fair to give away too much.  The Royal Shakespeare Company did an 8-hour production of this story and it is well worth the time you would invest to watch it.  Amazing story, incredible production.  Enjoy them both.

Shackleton’s Way by Margot Morrell

This is the other non-fiction book—quite simply the best book ever on leadership.  Ernest Shackleton set out to explore the Antarctic in 1914.  His ship, the Endurance, was caught in an ice floe and crushed.  Though Shackleton and his men endured many months stranded in a frozen world, all of them survived, due to Shackleton’s extraordinary capabilities as a leader. Each chapter in the book tells a portion of the story, then defines what leadership quality that particular incident illustrated.  Then the chapter is concluded with a testimony of someone who employed Shackleton’s strategies to achieve success.  This is must reading for anyone who intends to work with people on a daily basis.

Mrs. B’s Annotated Film List

Please note: With only two exceptions, these films are from the era known as Hollywood’s Golden Age (the 1930’s & 1940’s) and provided both inspiration and comfort during the dark days of the Depression and World War II. They must also be appreciated on that level.

The African Queen [1951] Humphrey Bogart/Katharine Hepburn

Of all the films of “The Divine Kate,”[1] this is my favorite.  Rose Sayer and her brother are missionaries in Africa as World War I rages across Europe.  After German soldiers, advancing on British colonies in Africa, kill Rosie’s brother, she prepares to leave with Charlie Allnut, a steamboat captain with a very bad drinking problem.  Not satisfied merely to flee, she persuades Charlie to help her blow up a German boat, so the British can advance safely.  This film is based on the novel by C.S. Forester, who also wrote the Horatio Hornblower series.  This is the only color film on the list. 

Casablanca [1942] Humphrey Bogart/ Ingrid Bergman

Though Citizen Kane is often called the greatest film ever made, Casablanca is always listed as a close second and, in my opinion, should be first.  You’ve probably heard quotes from this film—it’s known for some very famous lines like “Here’s lookin’ at you, kid;” and “Round up the usual suspects.”  The final scene is legendary.  Set in Nazi-occupied French Morocco, bar owner Rick Blaine is minding his own business when the love of his life, Ilsa Lund, shows up after a long and unexplained separation.  This film won Best Picture honors in 1943 and richly deserves its place in cinematic history.

Gaslight [1944] Charles Boyer/ Ingrid Bergman/ Joseph Cotton/ Angela Lansbury

Since the current trend in scary movies mainly involves semi-automatic weapons and explosives, you may not realize that a villain can be even more sinister if he appears to be quite nice and speaks always in calm and measured tones.  However, this is indeed the case and nowhere will you see that more brilliantly acted than by Charles Boyer in this film.  Set in Victorian England, this story chronicles the slow and almost complete descent into madness by Paula Alquist Anton.  The suspense begins very early in the film, so to say any more would be to give the whole plot away.  Ingrid Bergman won Best Actress for her portrayal.   If you know Angela Lansbury from reruns of Murder, She Wrote or as the voice of the teapot in Disney’s Beauty and the Beast, you’ll recognize her here in her first screen appearance as the feisty maid.

Grand Hotel [1932] Greta Garbo/ John Barrymore/ Joan Crawford/ Lionel Barrymore

This film gives you two opportunities to identify the characters before the story begins—the opening credits, illustrated with the actors’ pictures, and the opening scene, featuring each character, talking on a phone in the lobby of the Grand Hotel in Berlin.  Featuring John and Lionel Barrymore[2], as well as Greta Garbo (famous for her line, “I want to be alone”) and a very young Joan Crawford, the story, set during the interwar years, intertwines the lives of these characters and propels them to a dramatic and surprising conclusion.  This film won Best Picture in 1932.

How Green Was My Valley [1941] Walter Pidgeon/ Maureen O’Hara/ Donald Crisp/ Sara Allgood

See the Book List for the synopsis of this story and my highest praise of this film—that it is one of the very few films, which is every bit as good as the book.   This is considered director John Ford’s best work.  Not only did this film win Best Picture, but it also won Best Director and Best Black and White Cinematography.  This last award cannot quite be appreciated fully until you look at the film itself.  The only word to describe it is luminescent.  You’ll never forget hearing the Welsh miners sing as they come home after a long day at work.

It’s a Wonderful Life [1946] Jimmy Stewart/ Donna Reed/ Henry Travers, Lionel Barrymore/ Beulah Bondie

As often as this film has been aired at Christmas time, I am amazed that there remain some people who have never seen it.  If this is the case with you, wait no longer!   The theme of this story is timeless. Meet George Bailey—watch the progress of this ordinary man’s life and then suffer with him as things start to fall apart.  Just in the nick of time, he’s saved from suicide by—well, that would be spoiling the story.  This is the work of famed director Frank Capra and is a must for any family movie collection.

Mr. Smith Goes to Washington [1939] [3] Jimmy Stewart/ Jean Arthur/ Claude Rains

Here’s a proposition for you—every American must watch this film at least once a year.  Here again is Jimmy Stewart at his absolute best as Jefferson Smith, who is selected to fill a temporary post in the Senate and arrives in Washington wide-eyed and full of good intentions.  It takes all too short a time for him to realize that his ideals have no place among corrupt politicians.  Watch him wage battle against impossible odds and get ready to cheer.  This is another of Frank Capra’s best-known films.

 

Mrs. Miniver [1942] Walter Pidgeon/ Greer Garson

Your education or interest in WW II is not complete until you’ve seen this film about how England withstood Hitler’s assault.  Travel with Mr. Miniver across the English Channel to rescue the soldiers trapped at Dunkirk or join the whole family in their shelter as German warplanes descend on Britain.  Your film education is not complete until you’ve met the lovely Greer Garson, who was often paired with the debonair Walter Pidgeon (also in How Green Was My Valley).  Also a winner of the Best Picture award, Mrs. Miniver was credited with helping the Allied cause.  Make special note of the inspiring address by the village vicar.

Random Harvest [1942] Ronald Colman/ Greer Garson

Here you’ll see Greer Garson in what some critics call her “finest hour.”  This time, she’s facing the aftermath of WW I.  Paula Ridgeway meets and falls in love with a shell-shocked soldier who has lost his memory as a result of long months in the trenches.  They marry and move into a lovely cottage in the country and there seem to be only happy days ahead, until Charles Rainier leaves on a short business trip.  As with 1939, this was a great year for films.[4] Random Harvest might have won top honors had it not been in competition with Casablanca.

Rebecca [1940] Laurence Olivier/ Joan Fontaine

Like Gaslight, this film features a very dispassionate and menacing villain.  This time it’s the diabolical Mrs. Danvers, who resents the simple and lovely second wife of her employer, Maxim de Winter.  Joan Fontaine (who played Jane Eyre in the 1944 film) is the young bride who returns to Manderley to try to assume Rebecca de Winter’s place as lady of the mansion.  She is hopelessly out of place, intimidated by her surroundings and justly afraid of Mrs. Danvers.  Based on a novel by Daphne du Maurier, this was Alfred Hitchcock’s only Best Picture award.

Roman Holiday [1953] Gregory Peck/ Audrey Hepburn

No classic film list is complete without a mention of the elegant Audrey Hepburn, who, in this film, portrays a princess bored with royal appearances while making a state visit to Rome. One evening, she is so upset by her situation, that her staff gives her a sedative. Hopelessly drowsy, she escapes from her quarters and falls asleep on the streets of Rome, there to be rescued by a newspaper reporter, who is desperate for a good story.  Princess Ann and Joe Bradley spend a fun-filled day together, while Bradley’s photographer is, without the princess’ knowledge, taking photos for an exclusive story.  Of course, love enters the picture. Gregory Peck would later win Best Actor for his portrayal of Atticus Finch in To Kill a Mockingbird.

Top Hat [1935] Fred Astaire/ Ginger Rogers

This is the only musical on the list and is included, not only because Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers are the most famous screen pair and have delighted audiences for generations, but also because they are a part of American culture.  In their first screen appearance together, Flying Down to Rio, they performed only one number, but their chemistry and charisma were so immediately evident that they soon starred in their own film.  Thankfully, this was the first of many films.  With songs by the legendary Irving Berlin, Top Hat is the story of a romance, which goes awry as a result of mistaken identity.  If you’re a fan of I Love Lucy, you may be interested to see a blonde Lucille Ball as a clerk in a florist shop.

[1] Holiday (1938 with Cary Grant) and The Philadelphia Story (1940 with Cary Grant and Jimmy Stewart), written by the same author, are also highly worth watching.

[2] Mr. Potter in It’s a Wonderful Life

[3] 1939 was Hollywood’s “Golden Year.”  Other films produced that year included:  Gone with the Wind; The Wizard of Oz; Beau Geste; Dark Victory; Stagecoach; Gunga Din; Wuthering Heights; The Hunchback of Notre Dame.

[4] Yankee Doodle Dandy; Woman of the Year; The Pride of the Yankees, Now, Voyager; Walt Disney’s Bambi.