With a combination of astute archival research and personal stories from Fox’s niece, Angela Fox Dunn, Krefft weaves a tale that will engage amateur movie enthusiasts and film historians … Krefft chronicles the significant shift that came about at the end of 1915, when Fox sent employees to Los Angeles to helm the Fox West Coast studio … Krefft’s history gives us the whole story, one that shows us the tenacity of a titan instead of the bitter caricature left by his final years. Coupling expert scholarship and the tight prose of a seasoned journalist, The Man Who Made the Movies provides an overdue addition to film history. Krefft captures both the culture of the origins of cinema as a business and the many fascinating personalities at play within the narrative.
While Krefft could have done even more to address Fox’s significance for today — that is, why it matters to have been the man who made the movies — she does offer a penetrating psychological analysis of his motivations, namely, his repudiation of his father Michael in favor of his idealized mother ... Krefft’s point about Fox is that the 'man who made the movies' was more involved in the framing of movies than any other. A sense of the larger issues at stake would have helped readers frame the importance of the facts Krefft lays out with such mastery.
A wonderfully cinematic prologue — ‘Past the half-block-long ochre-and-slate-colored Spanish Baroque facade, under the marquee that blazed nightly with the power of 4,500 bulbs’ — reveals how Fox lost everything soon after he hit his pinnacle in 1929 … It’s a complex life, and Krefft can’t avoid a suffocating emphasis on accountancy and legal details. The book is practically a primer on New York theater leasing rates and the cash thievery of the city’s corrupt Tammany Hall political machine, which helped Fox finance his early movie palaces. Then there’s his drawn-out anti-trust battle with Thomas Edison’s movie monopoly, and the eternal inequity of movie-star salaries … Life, ever unfair, had its way with the fantastic Mr. Fox. Yet Krefft reminds us, in this big, brassy production of a book, of his grand legacy.
The Man Who Made the Movies is more of a chronicle of a business than a biography of a man, despite its claims to be about ‘the meteoric rise and tragic fall of William Fox.’ This occasionally makes for dry reading, a problem exacerbated by the loosely edited state of the book—the six months between the 1929 stock-market crash and Fox’s loss of his companies seem to take place in real time. … Ms. Krefft has done an extraordinary job of putting him in the spotlight through exhaustive research in archives and libraries across America. The book is an immensely valuable resource. Ms. Krefft does not create an alternate picture of her subject so much as she deepens the existing one: a frightening level of expedience and aggression, with a touch of megalomania … But there is a central issue of identity and responsibility that Fox dodged, as does Ms. Krefft.
Krefft provides an in-depth overview of the early film industry and a lucid assessment of Fox’s role in advancing the technology, art, and business of making films. Though her end goal is ultimately achieved, this hefty narrative is weighed down by excessive details surrounding her subject’s financial dealings. Yet Fox the man remains somewhat elusive. The author’s writing lacks the storytelling verve that a more seasoned film historian like David Thomson brings to his work.
Krefft’s huge, dense, yet captivating biography highlights the early Hollywood mogul whose name long outlived his legend … Whether Krefft is describing how Fox built his studio, ushered in the talkies, or weathered a litany of troubles—bankruptcy, jail time for trying to bribe a judge, and poor health—in his later years, her attention to detail makes for gripping storytelling.