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the Complete Review
the complete review - drama


Tales from Hollywood

Christopher Hampton

general information | review summaries | our review | links | about the author

To purchase Tales from Hollywood

Title: Tales from Hollywood
Author: Christopher Hampton
Genre: Drama
Written: 1982
Length: 95 pages
Availability: Tales from Hollywood - US
Tales from Hollywood - UK
Tales from Hollywood - Canada
Ah, Hollywood ... - France
  • First performed at the Mark Taper Forum Theater in Los Angeles
  • Made into a TV-movie in 1992, directed by Howard Davies, with Jeremy Irons as Ödön von Horváth, Charles Durning as Charles Money, Alec Guinness as Heinrich Mann, and Elizabeth McGovern as Helen Schwartz

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Our Assessment:

B+ : clever, entertaining drama of German exiles in Hollywood

See our review for fuller assessment.

Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
Daily Telegraph . 3/5/2001 Charles Spencer
The Guardian A 3/5/2001 Michael Billington
The Independent . 4/5/2001 Rhoda Koenig
The Independent . 6/5/2001 Kate Bassett
The Observer A 6/5/2001 Susannah Clapp

  From the Reviews:
  • "However, the play, narrated throughout by the wry, urbane Horvath, with whom Hampton clearly has great empathy, is much more than a documentary about cultural history."- Charles Spencer, Daily Telegraph

  • "(T)he archetypal Hampton hero: a detached, ironic observer (.....) The play both offers a vivid picture of wartime Hollywood where literary legends became studio hacks, and sharply counterpoints European experience with America's "tragic innocence". " - Michael Billington, The Guardian

  • "Tales from Hollywood is also a serious play about artists, ideals, and unpleasant realities and this production's darkening mood is potent." - Kate Bassett, The Independent

  • "This is a shrewd and subtle script." - Susannah Clapp, The Observer

Please note that these ratings solely represent the complete review's biased interpretation and subjective opinion of the actual reviews and do not claim to accurately reflect or represent the views of the reviewers. Similarly the illustrative quotes chosen here are merely those the complete review subjectively believes represent the tenor and judgment of the review as a whole. We acknowledge (and remind and warn you) that they may, in fact, be entirely unrepresentative of the actual reviews by any other measure.

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The complete review's Review:

       Any play that resurrects the wonderful Austrian playwright and novelist Ödön von Horváth has already performed a great service. Christopher Hampton not only has him as the central character in his play but literally resurrects him: Horváth famously died a ridiculous death on 1 June 1938, felled by a branch that crashed down on him as he took shelter from a storm under a tree in Paris, but Hampton has him live, beginning the play with another man being crushed by the branch in his stead. Tales from Hollywood offers an alternate reality, with Horváth joining the many other German exiles who went to the United States (and specifically Hollywood) during World War II -- as he very well might have, had he lived. (Hampton has translated several of Horváth's plays, and his title echoes the most famous of these: Tales from the Vienna Woods.)
       Horváth is the dominant figure in the play: it is what he goes through that is presented -- and many of the scenes fade in or out with him addressing the audience, introducing or summing up a scene, filling in the gaps. The first act covers the period 1938 to 1941, the second act from 1942 to 1950.
       Horváth arrives in Hollywood speaking English fairly poorly, but he is given the opportunity to write screenplays -- a token sort of subsidy for the newly-arrived foreigners. His first efforts aren't very successful, but he eventually manages to find his place (insignificant though it is).
       The largest figure among the exiles is Thomas Mann, portrayed here as a pompous windbag, expecting always to be treated with the proper deference. Thomas' brother Heinrich Mann, who once outshone his brother but already then was hardly known outside his native Germany, and wife Nelly figure quite prominently in the play as well -- the most tragic of the figures. The grand outsider is Bertolt Brecht: he never really takes to America, but still manages to do quite well there. There are also other cameos: a few Marx brothers, Greta Garbo, and Johnny Weissmuller.
       Horváth -- quite the ladies' man -- also gets a love-interest, a far more successful screenwriter named Helen Schwartz. A true insider, she is also something of an idealist:

I know the business is run by greedy opportunists and yes-men and chisellers, but they can't hold out forever.
       Her misguided idealism eventually costs her dearly. Horváth, meanwhile, is ever the realist (something that also comes between them) -- though he is not a cynical realist of the Brechtian sort. Horváth revels in much of Californian life. "I'm fond of freaks", he says, and so the whole Hollywood scene (as bizarre then as now) fascinates him -- though he is also touched by the suffering around him (especially of the badly treated Heinrich Mann).
       Brecht is the counterbalance to Horváth -- and very nicely (if coldly) presented by Hampton. Where Horváth can enjoy much of American life Brecht considers the United States to be "the funeral parlour of the spirit". Brecht recognizes Horváth's talent, and wants to work with him, but they are too different.

       Hampton has written an entertaining play here. There is good, sharp dialogue here: the voice of the brilliant Brecht, especially, is captured well, as is that of the more laconic Horváth. Hampton manages to capture the times and the people and the slightly unreal movie world that dominates life very well, as in the brief exchange when Heinrich Mann's wife meets Horváth:
NELLY: You don't look like a writer.
HORVÁTH: It's good of you to say so.
       Horváth's adaptability, Heinrich Mann's tragedy, Brecht's cynical realism, Thomas Mann's verbosity, and soul- and heart-less Hollywood are all nicely woven together.
       From the lucky escapes from Nazi Germany of the various characters, the play finally comes full-circle with the McCarthy era. Hampton isn't able to tie it up as neatly as one might wish, but the point is made.
       A clever, entertaining piece.

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Reviews: Tales from Hollywood - the TV film: Ödön von Horváth: Christopher Hampton: Other books by Christopher Hampton under review: Other books of interest under review:

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About the Author:

       British playwright Christopher Hampton was born in 1946. He has written and translated numerous plays and screenplays.

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© 2002-2011 the complete review

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