Review: ‘Legends in Light’

A disappointing account of glamour photographer George Hurrell, whose Hollywood career began in 1928 and continued until his death at 87 in 1992, displays his work but tells little about the man.

A disappointing account of glamour photographer George Hurrell, whose Hollywood career began in 1928 and continued until his death at 87 in 1992, displays his work but tells little about the man.

Hour does show the spirited Hurrell at photo sessions; they’re lessons in professionalism.

A studio sesh with Sherilyn Fenn includes his coaching her into the right poses by making odd noises.

How splendid to think of the reactions of Garbo, Dietrich or Luise Rainer when he waggled his tongue at them.

Hurrell talks about moving from the East to Laguna Beach in 1925 to photograph artists in residence (he himself had studied painting at Chicago Art Institute, and there are samples of his Laguna watercolors).

He pauses outside his original L.A. studio onLafayette Place, where he created portraits, including snaps of Norma Shearer, which led to his becoming MGM’s still gallery chief.

The beauty of his black and white pix continues to be stunning: Crawford all dolled up, and one with her freckles showing; Veronica Lake without the peekaboo; Barbara Stanwyck and Gary Cooper staring at each other; Garbo staring moodily into the lens.

Loretta Young in a brief V.O. says it was a necessary part of being a film actress to sit for portraits, and Katharine Hepburn says such magazine cover pix “really mattered.”

But where are fuller studies of Hurrell’s other clients — Ethel Barrymore, Lionel Barrymore, Charles Boyer, Jackie Cooper, Bing Crosby, Judy Garland, Susan Hayward, Maureen O’Sullivan and Betty Grable, for instance?

Stills of duos like Crawford and Gable, Harlow and Tracy are lovely.

Too bad more of his pix aren’t shown, and a few anecdotes about them would have been helpful.

(Hurrell does offer a ready explanation for the haystack shot of Jane Russell’s debut in Howard Hughes’ “The Outlaw.”)

Nothing’s said about his independent period and his hookup with Warner Bros., accounting for the Bette Davis, James Cagney, Humphrey Bogart and Ann Sheridan stills.

(His sensuous photos gave her the oomph look that boosted her into “the Oomph Girl” spot, a title she personally loathed.)

Docu fills out Hurrell’s observations with interviews and with V.O.’s by various actors, photographers, writers.

Seeing him in action and listening to his thoughts on his work are accomplishments.

But the indifferently organized docu displays too many photos without I.D.’s, and it unaccountably uses film excerpts and newsreels of Hollywood social life in the ’30s.

But it’s Hurrell’s voice, at 87 still loaded with energy and enthusiasm, that rules the day.

How he used lights to create his masterworks isn’t absolutely clear, but it shouldn’t be; remarkable, though, is how few takes he used to achieve his glowing goals.

Part of Hurrell’s audio was recorded from his hospital bed days before he died; he was a perfectionist to the last.

Legends in Light

(Mon. (16), 9-10 p.m., TNT)

Production

Filmed in Los Angeles and New York City by Highland Prods., Aspect Films and Canon. Exec producers, J. Grier Clarke, William Schubart; producers, Clarke, Carl Colby; director, Colby; writer, uncredited.

Crew

Camera, Jim Taylor; editor, Beth Gallagher; sound, Chris Albertine, Ken Hathcock; music, Frederic Talgorn.
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