Leslie Halliwell.com
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          According to the 1st Edition’s introduction the Guide evolved from Halliwell ’s other major reference work, The Filmgoer’s Companion, first published in 1965.  This was, and still is, an encyclopedia of everything to do with the cinema, with entries for actors, technicians, themes and film techniques, whilst in the early editions treating separately some eight hundred titles which LH considered ‘significant either historically or as pure entertainment.’  He was often asked why he didn’t produce a complete compendium of all the films ever made but was reluctanct, knowing full well that ‘no one volume could hope to be comprehensive… the attempt would be pointless, for the book would be cluttered up with endless lists of routine second features of long ago, which no one in his right mind would even wish to remember, let alone see again.’
          Despite such misgivings, in 1977 the 1st Edition of the Guide appeared, under the title Halliwell’s Film Guide to 8,000 English Language Films.  This edition, as the title suggests, included no foreign language films and no silent movies; no documentaries or short films and also omitted the ‘absolutely routine, and specifically excluded a few hundred westerns on the Audie Murphy and Randolph Scott level or below.’  It did, however, feature a brief introduction, some explanatory notes about the structure of each entry, the Guide itself, and some alternative titles for movies.
          It’s difficult now to appreciate what an impact the Guide must have had on fans and critics alike when it came out.  Although you might wonder who could have been completely satisfied with a film guide that omitted The Battleship Potemkin, The Birth of a Nation, Les Enfants du Paradis and nearly all of Chaplin and Keaton’s best work, it must still have been of enormous value at the time in an age when there was no imdb and no home video.  It’s this last point of perspective that makes the achievement all the more impressive and I’ve often wondered how he managed to research it all.  If I want to know who starred in a particular film I can just pull the DVD off the shelf and find out, or I can go and look it up on the internet or indeed in one of Halliwell’s Guides, but how could you manage this when re-issues and TV showings were the only times you got to see a film from yesteryear?  Whatever its faults to begin with the Guide was off and running – like a snowball, as LH described it a few years later – and over the next twelve years the number of entries would more than double.
          The 2nd Edition duly appeared in 1979 and now boasted 10,000 productions.  Apart from films which had been released since the first edition came out, LH had now researched the major silent movies and a selection of foreign language films ‘of significance’.  Other cosmetic changes included the addition of more quotes from critical sources about specific movies and the major Academy Award winners and nominations – although LH admitted to being sometimes in ‘violent disagreement’ over some of the Academy’s choices over the years.  Who hasn’t been?
          It was the 3rd Edition where LH finally rounded up all those routine second features which 'no one in his right mind would wish to remember', and thus Randolph and Audie took their places alongside the great and the good between the Guide’s pages.  LH also ‘skimmed off another layer of historically important but inaccessible silent films’ including Intolerance and some of Laurel & Hardy’s best work, and delved into the 30s to bring to light ‘entertainments of a mainly frivolous nature’ which he felt warranted inclusion.  The preface does seem to admit that the book is being ‘dumbed down’ in order to accommodate such material, but at least these films would be restricted to a single paragraph rather than the more spaced out entries for other films.  The Guide was now up to an alleged 12,000 entries.
          By the time the 4th Edition came out in 1984 it would seem that a kind of critical mass had been reached.  2,000 new entries are claimed but no new specific areas of research are mentioned in the preface and whilst LH here expresses his pleasure at the success of the Guide, and his pride in creating it, it does seem as if he is nearing the end of his tether regarding the then current state of the film industry.  His essay on The Decline and Fall of the Movie had been present since the re-print of the 1st Edition but now also included is his amusing dissection of widescreen ‘buffoonery’ A Word on Shape.  Overall, though, there’s a depressing air about the preface in which he laments the closing of a cinema in Bolton he remembered being built in 1937, and warns of the coming of a new ‘villain of the piece’: home video.
          Despite his unwillingness to embrace the new format the 3rd and 4th Editions’ covers do claim the Guide to be ‘ideal for video users’, though in what capacity this is never quite explained.  It was the 5th Edition in 1986 which introduced the listing of video releases where appropriate, but only for those films available on video in the UK at the end of 1984.  LH admitted (and was quite correct) that this information would date rather quickly but maintained that he was ‘neither willing nor able to comment on the plethora of independently made, low-budget productions’ because ‘the vast majority of available videos harp on horror and sex themes, a nauseous flood of celluloid with which no commentator could hope to keep up, even if he wanted to’!  A most welcome inclusion for the 5th Edition was the Top Tens page which shows the results of the BFI’s poll of international critics and also includes LH’s own ten favourite films.  He also sets out his intention to explore one decade per edition and in this one it’s the 30s, so approximately one thousand new entries from that period had been researched because, despite the productions being ‘unimportant historically’, at least some famous names were involved.
          Not surprisingly it was the 40s which were dredged for the 6th Edition, published in 1987, but also here LH had researched the Saturday morning kids’ matinees, something he obviously had fond memories of, although he admits that ‘art was not involved in their production.’  A few wartime documentaries made by the Ministry of Information appear, some of which made enough of an impression to warrant a full four-star rating.
          Only a publisher’s note is featured as an introduction to the 7th Edition as Leslie Halliwell died on 21st January 1989, shortly – so it is claimed – after completing work on it.  A few new films from 1987 – and even the odd one from 1988 – are covered but little else appears to have been added apart from a rather long-winded piece on Title Changes which is at least, and as ever, meticulously researched.  The Decline essay also appears but disappointingly the Top Tens and A Word on Shape do not.
          From here on in the Guide would continue to be published under the name Halliwell but it would have increasingly little to do with his sentiments and opinions, and it would never again be touched by his unique enthusiasm, which the film fans who read and referred to it so respected.

When I pick it up, with something of an effort, I can scarcely believe that I

typed every word with my two overworked and untrained index fingers.  But I did.


Leslie Halliwell



Biography | Bibliography | The Four Star Films | A Four-Star History | Brief History of the Guide
The Editions | Favourite Reviews | The Boltonian | Cambridge | TV & Film Buyer | Obituaries | Modern Times | Top Tens | Decline & Fall of the Movie | Universal Monster Movies | A Word on Shape | Old vs New | My Guide