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John DiLeo’s classic movie quiz book is a classic in its own right

Dennis King Published: October 29, 2013

When author and film buff John DiLeo published his first book on classic movies in 1999, the eminent critic Pauline Kael famously declared it “like a Christmas stocking full of surprises … the smartest movie quiz book I’ve ever seen.” It was one of the great book blurbs of all time and endowed DiLeo’s tome with an amazing staying power.

Now that book, “And You Thought You Knew Classic Movies: 200 Quizzes for Golden Age Movie Lovers” (Hanson Publishing Group, $15) has been revised, tweaked a bit and reissued in a new paperback edition that still has the power to stump, enlighten and delight even the most astute movie lover.

Think you know classic movies? Here’s a sampling of DiLeo’s wonderfully arcane queries.

What were the surnames of “Laura,” “Gilda,” “Sabrina,” “Marnie” and “Lili?” In which countries where the following films set – “Johnny Belinda?” “Watch on the Rhine?” “All This and Heaven Too?” For what film does Judy Garland’s character win her Oscar in “A Star Is Born?” Name the films in which a cigarette is put out in a jar of cold cream, in a fried egg, in a raw oyster, in a nun’s hand. Katharine Hepburn stars in what play at the end of “Stage Door?” What 1930 classic features a character named Oliver Stone?

This is certainly not a book for casual trivia fans or for so-called movie buffs whose taste in pre-1970s movie runs to “Gone With the Wind,” “Casablanca,” “The Wizard of Oz” and a handful of mainstream classics. DiLeo is a tough taskmaster, and in a cheeky, back-of-the-book grading scale he relegates low-scoring quiz-takers to the dismissive category of “Sorry, Wrong Number.”

The book is divided into specialized sections focusing on characters, character names, actors, countries, small plot points and narrative structure, among others. Many of the quizzes pose a question, with up to 10 possible answers for the quiz taker to choose from. As the above sample questions demonstrate, no detail, no background information, no quickly passing plot point is too obscure to escape DiLeo’s encyclopedic grasp.

Perhaps the book’s greatest value is in calling attention to lesser-known or forgotten classics and to spur readers to seek them out, watch them, and expand their own love and knowledge of great films of the past.

DiLeo is author of four other highly regarded books about classic movies, including “100 Great Film Performances You Should Remember But Probably Don’t” (2002); “Screen Savers: 40 Remarkable Movies Awaiting Rediscovery” (2007); “Tennessee Williams and Company: His Essential Screen Actors” (2010), and “Screen Savers II: My Grab Bag of Classic Movies” (2012).

- Dennis King