BOOK REVIEW: “Cheap Tricks and Class Acts” by John “J.J.” Johnson

This book review entry is one in a long line of quality books put out by McFarland & Company, Inc. They specialize in genre books and if you can pay out the usually high retail prices, you will almost never be disappointed (in fact, I have only been disappointed to date once with this book).


The book in review here came out in 1996 and shockingly, I had not heard of it until now. The fifties are one of my all time favorite times for movie making so I am always on the look out for books of this nature. It is actually out of print though decent used copies are available on Amazon. The book is called “Cheap Tricks and Class Acts: Special Effects, Makeup and Stunts from The Films of the Fantastic Fifties.”


Many may argue that the only book you truly need covering these films is “Keep Watching The Skies” by Bill Warren. I would argue that yes, that title is a must-have, but at the same time, so is this book. This may go down as one of the most entertaining books I have ever read!


If you ever wanted to know what went into making so many of these fun films, then this is the book for you. It details so many great stories and I found this book hard to put down! In fact, oftentimes after getting home from work I would anxiously await the time later in the evening where I could sit down, relax and read even more of this book!


One of my favorite aspects of the book was the coverage of special effects artist Paul Blaisdell. He created, for next to no money, so many iconic movie monsters from that era! He was by far the most underrated artist of his time and it is sad that it was well after his death that people really started to appreciate what he did.

This is one of the larger books in the McFarland library, coming in at just over 400 pages. In addition to the amazing stories, there are many phenomenal black and white photos as well. This book is an obvious work of love and J.J. Johnson should be commended for his effort. Just like with “Keep Watching The Skies,” this book is one that I will continuously go back to time and time again!

~David Albaugh

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