Recommended: The Polish Presence
in American Screen Images

Marlon Brando as Stanley Kowalski

In The Polish Presence in American Screen Images, educator and film buff Joseph W. Zurowski annotates more than 800 films pointing out the “Polish presence,” how ever minuscule, in each. From well remembered to completely obscure, these films will surprise you, either because you never noticed that there was anything Polish about them or because you marvel at Zurowski’s perseverance in dissecting them for these Polish elements.

From film classics like A Streetcar Named Desire (with Marlon Brando as the brutish Stanley Kowalski) to the forgettable Invasion of the Bee Girls (with Katie Saylor as Gretchen Gudowsky), Zurowski has arranged the films alphabetcally with an alphabetical index, making the guide a little difficult to use (chronological listing with alphabetical index would have been more user friendly). The author restrains himself from too much editorializing in favor of explaining for example that “Karol is a common Polish name for Charles or Carl.” The introduction to the book is clearly more defensive, taking the film industry to task for everything from its spelling inaccuracies to its unrelenting ridicule of Poles and Polish Americans.

The Polish Presence in American Screen Images is a remarkable reminder that Polish Americans are portrayed in myriad ways in cinema. The next time you watch Gran Torino (2008), note that Clint Eastwood is portraying Walt Kowalski and judge for yourself what his Polishness has to do with the character. Note how in The Rose (1979) a female impersonator tells a Polish joke about “the Polish lesbian”: “She likes men.”

Published this year by the Polish Museum of America, the book is available from the museum.

FYI: Check out my own list of 28 “Top Must-See Movies for Polish Americans,” my review of American movies with Polish or Polish American characters.

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