This savvy study of how America made the movies, and vice versa, covers a lot of ground. While the title tells you it's about the Hollywood studio chiefs and their films' famous faces - talking heads discuss the former, film clips showcase the latter - "Moguls & Movie Stars" ambitiously attempts a more spectacular sweep.

Art vs. commerce? Check. The power of celebrity at the dawn of pop culture? Check. And morality. Merchandising. The backstage importance of women. The marginalization of blacks.

They're all crucial to this fascinating tale of showing and shaping modern life as we know it. Monday night's hour (third of seven) is titled "The Dream Merchants," and covers the 1920s, when Hollywood cast the mold we know today - the "gilded era of the movie star" in feature-length stories, supplanting those Edison-era short takes. It's the robust chapter of Chaplin and Keaton, Garbo and Valentino, and 854 feature films a year.

Next Monday's chapter on 1930s Hollywood shows how sound films shook up the system.


Even film school snobs like me can learn a thing or 10 from "Moguls & Movie Stars." The breadth and depth of information rushing through each hour is astonishing. While that brevity can be frustrating, TCM then unreels the vintage films to flesh out the summary. Monday night's must-sees include the stunningly gorgeous "Sunrise" (9 p.m.), director John Ford's Western epic "The Iron Horse" (midnight), Greta Garbo's steamy "Flesh and the Devil" (2:30 a.m.), and Rudolph Valentino's dashing tango in "Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse" (4:30 a.m., all on TCM).

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You'll appreciate why names like Valentino, Garbo and Chaney live on, nearly a century later.