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Dark Carnival: The Secret World of Tod Browning: Hollywood's Master of the Macabre [Hardcover]

David Skal , Elias Savada
4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (2 customer reviews)

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Book Description

Oct 1995
One of the most original and unsettling filmmakers of all time -- the
creator of the horror classics Dracula and Freaks, among others-- Tod Browning is also one of the most enigmatic directors who ever worked in Hollywood.  A complicated, troubled, and fiercely private man, he confounded would-be biographers hoping to penetrate his secret, obsessive world -- both during his lifetime and afterward.

Now, film historians David J. Skal and Elias Savada, using newly discovered
family documents and revealing published interviews with friends and
colleagues, join forces for the first full-length biography of the man who
earned a reputation as "the Edgar Allan Poe of the cinema."  The authors
chronicle Browning's turn-of-the-century flight from an eccentric Louisville family into the world of carnival sideshows (where he began his career literally buried alive) and vaudeville, his disastrous first marriage, his rapid climb to riches in the burgeoning silent film industry, and the
alcoholism that would plague him throughout his life.  Browning's legendary
collaborations with Lon Chaney, Sr., and Bela "Dracula" Lugosi are explored in depth, along with the studio politics that ended his career after the bizarre
circus drama Freaks -- a cult classic today -- proved to be one of the
biggest box-office disasters of the early thirties.

Illustrated throughout with rare photographs, Dark Carnival is both an
artful, often shocking portrait of a singular film pioneer and an illuminating
study of the evolution of horror, essential to an understanding of our
continuing fascination with the macabre.

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Product details

  • Hardcover: 359 pages
  • Publisher: Bantam Doubleday Dell Publishing Group; First Edition edition (Oct 1995)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0385474067
  • ISBN-13: 978-0385474061
  • Product Dimensions: 3.2 x 15.9 x 24.1 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (2 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 1,836,808 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
0 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Macabre Master 24 Nov 2010
Format:Hardcover
I have read this book years ago & it's one of the most indepth stories on Tod browning so far. While he was not painted whiter than white,this book opened up many facts about Tod,his films,life & people who worked with him.
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1 of 12 people found the following review helpful
By A Customer
Format:Hardcover
It started off good then i started to loose intrest. it felt like it needed a few more adjitives.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
Amazon.com: 4.5 out of 5 stars  8 reviews
41 of 41 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A top-notch biography of a difficult subject 10 Dec 1999
By Adam P. Lounsbery - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
Director Tod Browning, best known for his films "Dracula" (1931) and "Freaks," was a surrealist for the masses. In his films he used characters with mental and physical abnormalities to illustrate the plight of humanity diminished by modernism. He was one of the first horror auteurs in America, and filtered elements of the fantastic from European film makers like Robert Weine and F.W. Murnau. As an artist, he was uneven, and as the subject of a biography, he is all but unknowable, but David J. Skal does the best he can. Some sections of the book (especially the ones covering Bela Lugosi and the making of "Dracula") retread earlier work by Skal. Browning is also not the best subject for a biographical treatment, since he left almost no letters or personal effects. Instead of resorting to guesswork or pop psychology, however, Skal (with his collaborator Elias Savada, a film historian) wisely focuses on the content of Browning's films. The best sections of the book deal with Browning's frequent silent movies collaborations with Lon Chaney, Sr., and the making of, and subsequent furor over, the film "Freaks." This is a top notch book that should appeal greatly to film buffs, lovers of silent cinema, Hollywood historians, cultural critics, and horror fans of all stripes. (And compleatists and trainspotters will be happy to know that the filmography is both detailed and exhaustive.)
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Shedding light on a great director 30 July 2011
By Dr. James Gardner - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
Tod Browning (1880-1962) was one of the most unusual of all Hollywood directors, and that's saying a lot when you consider the list of characters includes "Wild Bill" Wellman, John Ford, Sam Peckinpah, Alfred Hitchcock, etc.

Browning's peak was in the silent era, when he produced such classics as "the Unholy Three" (1925), "London After Midnight" (1927), and "The Unknown" (1927), but he is best known for the classic "Dracula" (1931) and for "Freaks" (1932). Browning was the first and truest of the American directors to adopt the German expressionist techniques and themes, and he embraced them to such an extent that he outdid the originals.

His films, especially the ones with Lon Chaney, can be hard to watch, since they involve mutilated and deformed people, with themes involving revenge, sexual exploitation, murder, and mayhem. He often set his films in carnival shows (where he had once worked) and often employed carnival acts as part of the plot.

"Dark Carnival" is an impressive attempt to capture the man and his films, an attempt made difficult by the fact that Browning, always publicity shy, was a recluse for the final 20 years of his life. But David Skal and Elias Savada leave no stone unturned in their search for the story of this man's life.

Fans of the silent film era will be particularly interested in this film, as will anyone interested in the economics of film making and the behind the scenes maneuvering. For fans of Browning films, it is essential reading.
5.0 out of 5 stars Biography 9 April 2014
By Mrs. Michele M. Orsborne - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
Have been wanting to find out about Mr Tod Browning ever since I saw his film "Freaks". A complex and secretive man. Interesting book.
1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A fair and in depth biography on a great and revolutionary director 26 July 2010
By Salem Blandino - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
Just finished this book and absolutely loved it. Being a Lon Chaney fan for years, I was always fascinated with Mr. Browning and wanted to know more about his upbringing, struggles, victories, and battles he had in Hollywood.
This book does an amazing job at detailing Browning's work and especially his struggles in both his personal and professional life. Many times I was reminded of another director who may not have had as much talent or budgets for his film but certainly had the passion, Mr. Ed Wood. In fact some of problems Browning faced with studios regarding pre-production and production of his films, Wood would go on to face as well. Lugosi worked with Browning multiple times and then eventually Wood.

I salute Skal and Savada for their research and work on this book. It is so well organized and makes the read so enjoyable. And what an amazing job on Browning's filmography as an actor and director. Thank you for this book.
Tod Browning would have been proud!
1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Very in-depth 6 Sep 2008
By Ms. Patricia Young - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
A fantastic insite into one of my favourite directors,the coverage on 'freaks'is superb,a lot of photos & a complex read-recommended highly!
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