‘Mercury Pictures Presents’ by Anthony Marra – Not a Hollywood Novel

 

‘Mercury Pictures Presents’ by Anthony Marra    (2022)  – 408 pages

 

I suppose there are many other readers like me who have been waiting for a more literary Hollywood novel, and with its title this novel presents itself in its opening pages as exactly that.

What kind of masochist enjoys realism? Realism is everywhere. It stinks.”

We start with the two brothers Artie and Ned Feldman who run Mercury Pictures during the World War II years, a profitable B-movie operation in Hollywood.

The Feldman brothers are rather stock stereotypical characters, but at least the opening dialogue is witty and comedic and sharp.

I pay you to be honest.”

Honestly, you look like Elmer Fudd’s dad.”

Artie winced. “I don’t pay you to be that honest.”

Then you should pay me more.”

However the novel wanders a long way from its Hollywood opening, all the way to Mussolini’s fascist Italy to tell of the plight of Maria Lagana, a woman who later is heavily involved in making Mercury movies, and her family. ‘Mercury’ establishes its pattern very early on. First a short, sharply written Hollywood scene, then an interminable scene back in Italy where the people are suffering under the Mussolini Fascist regime. The Italian scenes suffer from an overdose of sincerity.

I found that the Italian section of the novel which goes on for at least one hundred pages dragged for me. Perhaps my problem was my expectation that this would be a Hollywood novel, not a World War II novel. We are introduced to all these minor Italian characters, and when they later appear in the novel I couldn’t remember why they were there in the first place. That only added to my frustration in reading this novel.

The only parts of the novel that I really enjoyed were the short injections of Hollywood humor usually involving Artie Feldman.

He was a harried man with eyes clouded in resignation and a misplaced faith in the magnetism of bowties. He looked like someone’s ex-husband.”

After Pearl Harbor, and the United States goes to war, Mercury Pictures makes propaganda films which are quite profitable. We have the story of Chinese actor Eddie Lu, Maria’s boyfriend. hired to play an evil Japanese spymaster for a war propaganda movie made after Pearl Harbor was bombed.

You weren’t hired to act,” the director told him bluntly. “You were hired to be hated.”

Eddie is disgusted with the movie business.

The way I see it, they’ll have me playing Jap villains until the end of the war, then it’s back to the usual devious Chinaman shit.”

Although there are some short sharp comedic interludes in ‘Mercury Pictures Presents’, I found most of the novel diffuse and meandering, and it dragged for me.

 

Grade:    B-

 

 

One response to this post.

  1. Not one for the wishlist, then…

    Liked by 1 person

    Reply

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