TCM TiVo ALERT
September 23–September 30
DAVID’S BEST BETS:
FROM THE EARTH TO THE MOON (September 26, 6:45 am): While not a great film, any movie starring Joseph Cotten and George Sanders is worth seeing. The storyline, based on a Jules Verne book of the same title, has its moments. The bitter rivalry between greedy munitions maker Victor Barbicane (Cotten) and holier-than-thou metallurgist Stuyvesant Nicholl (Sanders) provides a nice give-and-take for the two screen legends. Barbicane's latest explosive, the ominous-sounding Power X, is met with skepticism from Nicholl, who bets it can't destroy his invention, the world's hardest metal. The metal gets blown up, but it's also converted into a super-strong and super-lightweight ceramic. So what's next? A trip to the moon, of course, with the spaceship made of the ceramic. It has some silly scenes, but Cotten and Sanders worked well together and turned a weak script with bad special effects into an enjoyable film.
WITNESS FOR THE PROSECUTION (September 28, 6:00 pm): This 1957 film, directed by Billy Wilder, is one of the best suspense movies you'll ever see. The story takes many interesting twists and the acting is outstanding, particularly Charles Laughton as an ill, but still brilliant, barrister who takes the case of a man, played by Tyrone Power in his last role, charged with murder. All of the evidence points to Power's character, Leonard Vole, as the killer, but Sir Wilfrid Robarts (Laughton) can't resist defending him. Things take a turn for the worse – or maybe it doesn't – when Vole's wife, played by Marlene Dietrich, is called as a witness for the prosecution. The ending is so unexpected and executed exceptionally well by all parties involved in the film. It is a shock that's heightened by the closing credits asking moviegoers to not reveal the ending to anyone who hasn't seen it.
ED’S BEST BETS:
LA BETE HUMAINE (September 25, 2:45 pm): Jean Renoir wrote and directed this masterful adaptation of Zola’s novel of the same name, setting it in modern times. The focus of the film is train engineer Lantier (Jean Gabin), who, while waiting for his train to be repaired at the Le Havre station, witnesses a murder committed by the station master, Roubard (Fernand Ledoux). Roubard, realizing Lantier saw everything, encourages his wife, Severine (Simone Simon) to become Lantier’s lover in order to buy his silence. Needless to say, this results in tragedy. Gabin is mesmerizing in the role of Lantier, who turns violent whenever he has an epileptic attack. And it’s good to see Simone Simon, who most American film fans know as the doomed Irina from RKO and producer Val Lewton’s Cat People. This film is a must for those who would like to see the earlier Simon and for anyone who loves the films of Renoir, as I do.
WHAT PRICE HOLLYWOOD? (September 29, 3:45 am): A surprising look into Hollywood that been unjustly overlooked after the release of A Star is Born, which it inspired. Lowell Sherman is unforgettable as the dipso director whose career has sliding into oblivion with Constance Bennett shining as a waitress whose ambition is to be a movie star, a goal she fulfills with the help of Sherman. With Gregory Ratoff and Neil Hamilton. A must see for all movie fans.
WE AGREE ON ... STRANGERS ON A TRAIN (September 25, 4:30 pm)
ED: A+. This is a wonderfully perverse tale of murder and compulsion from Hitchcock. It is perhaps his best American film, thanks to a bravura performance from the talented Robert Walker as the psychopath Bruno Antony. Bruno doesn’t have the stones to kill his hated father, but a chance meeting with tennis star Guy Haines (Farley Granger) aboard a train inspires him. Knowing that Guy cannot marry Senator Morton’s daughter Anne (Ruth Roman) until he frees himself from an unhappy marriage to wife Miriam (Laura Elliott), he proposes a plan for a perfect murder: two strangers, who each want someone in their life eliminated, swap murders. Thinking Bruno is nothing more than a harmless kook, Guy tells him offhandedly the plan is viable and departs the train at his home town of Metcalf in the belief he has seen the last of Bruno. But Bruno takes Guy’s offhanded estimation of his plan as approval and kills Miriam, expecting Guy to return the favor and kill Bruno’s father. Bruno has become the ultimate piece of gum on the sole of Guy’s shoe; try as hard as he might, he cannot rid himself of the the crazy Bruno, who fully expects Guy to go through with his part in the scheme. Though the climax of the film is the celebrated runaway merry-go-round, the real highlight is the performance of Walker. As Pauline Kael notes, it gives the movie much of its character and peculiar charm. It’s interesting, but we never seem to think about a particular actor’s performance in a Hitchcock film. We usually recall some bit of business, such as the stump finger in The 39 Steps, the Salvador Dali dream sequence in Spellbound, the color red in Marnie, the windmill turning the wrong way in Foreign Correspondent, etc. But without Walker, the film lacks the punch that makes it so enjoyable.
DAVID: A+. The premise is very clever, but the acting and directing of the movie takes it to another level. Bruno Antony (Robert Walker) wants his father dead. While on a train, he meets a stranger – tennis player Guy Haines (Farley Granger) with a similar dilemma. Haines wants to get rid of his wife so he can marry another woman. Bruno comes up with the idea that these two "strangers on a train" will do each other's dirty work and no one will suspect them. Guy brushes it aside, but when the psychotic Bruno kills Guy's wife, he expects his "co-conspirator" to respond in (not so) kind. The interaction between Walker and Granger, two highly underrated actors, in this film is outstanding. Alfred Hitchcock did a fantastic job – which he so often did – building tension and drama. This is Walker's finest role and sadly he would die a few months after the film was released. He plays a psychopath perfectly: he's detached yet pushy and is always one step ahead of Guy until, of course, the very end. My favorite scene in the film is his cool, calculated murder of Guy's wife, Miriam (Laura Elliot). Bruno follows her – and two of her boyfriends – around an amusement park, making eye contact with her on occasion but keeping his distance. When she and the boyfriends get in a boat on a "tunnel of love" ride that takes them to a makeout beach, called Magic Isle, Bruno casually follows in a separate boat. Once at the beach, he goes to strangle Miriam, but the way the scene is filmed is extraordinary. During the struggle, Miriam's glasses fall off and we see the strangulation in the reflection of her glasses. It's almost like seeing murder filmed as a work of art. One interesting note is famed writer Raymond Chandler gets a writing credit for the movie's screenplay even though hardly anything he contributed was used. Chandler and Hitchcock not only didn't agree on much of the film's storyline, but personally didn't like each other. However, Warner Brothers, which distributed the film, insisted that Chandler's name be used in the credits as he was a big name.
For the complete list of films on the TCM TiVo Alert, click here.
For the complete list of films on the TCM TiVo Alert, click here.