Wednesday, June 20, 2012

TCM TiVo Alert for June 23-30

June 23–June 30

LA STRADA (June 24, 2:15 a.m.): One of legendary director Federico Fellini's finest films, and probably his best known. La Strada is about a strongman (played by Anthony Quinn) who purchases a young woman (the incredibly-talented Giulietta Masina, Fellini's wife) from her mother after the the woman's sister, who was the strongman's assistant, dies. The movie tells of their life together with Quinn's character, Zampano, prone to anger and Masin's character, Gelsomina, naive but plucky and hopeful (similar to the role she played in Nights of Cabiria three years later). During their journey, they meet Il Matto (a wonderful performance by Richard Basehart), a clown. The three join a traveling circus, and things take a turn for the worse. While the story is compelling, it's secondary to the performances and the film's underlying theme of the fragile human psyche and ego of simple people who on the surface seem to live simple lives. As with many Fellini films, much is open to interpretation - we don't even know what year the movie is supposed to take place - as he wants moviegoers to think about what they see and experience, and perhaps help them understand their own lives a bit better.

VILLAGE OF THE DAMNED (June 28, 8 a.m.): An excellent sci-fi film in which one day all the people and animals in an English town become unconscious, wake up and two months later, all the female adults - and girls old enough to bare children - are pregnant. They all give birth on the same day to some serious white-looking kids. The children are geniuses, are able to read minds and control others to do whatever they want, including murder and suicide. As time passes, a professor from the village (played by George Sanders, one of my favorite actors) decides he's going to teach the mutant kids, who want to take over the world, to use their powers for good. Of course, that doesn't work out. So the professor plants a bomb to destroy the kids, and thinks of a brick wall in order for the children to not read his mind. Films like this can easily become stupid and cliche, but this one is special. Sanders is fantastic and the kids are great. The special effects aren't that special, but are extremely effective. It's a very entertaining horror film.


FIVE MILLION YEARS TO EARTH (June 28, 4 p.m.): Every once in a while a science fiction film comes along that doesn’t insult your intelligence, but rather gives the audience something to ponder. This is one of those films. Produced by Hammer Studios, it tells the story of a projectile being found at an Underground station in London undergoing renovation. Small ape-like skeletons are found next to the projectile, which brings in scientists, among them Professor Quartermass, who previously starred in two earlier (and excellent) Hammer sci-fi films. As the projectile is discovered to be a spaceship, questions now arise of how it got there and for what purpose. Written by Nigel Kneale, who authored the two previous Quartermass films, it keeps us both entertained and on the edge of our seat, as Neale plumbs the depths of human psychology and our historical unconscious to unravel the mystery. The cast is rather unknown to Americans: Andrew Keir is Professor Quartermass, James Donald (The Great Escape) is Professor Roney, and the lovely Barbara Shelley is Roney’s assistant who plays an important role in the unraveling of the mystery. Add it all together and this is a film that no film buff can afford to miss.

SULLIVAN’S TRAVELS (June 30, 8:00 p.m.): This film is rightly said to be writer/director Preston Sturges’s masterpiece. John L. Sullivan is a noted director of light musical fare such as Ants in Your Plants of 1939 and Hey, Hey in the Hayloft. However, he wants to make an Important Film, and he has one in mind, namely O Brother, Where Art Thou, a leaden novel concerned with the struggle between Capital and Labor. The studio execs pooh-pooh it, noting that he grew up rich and never suffered. So, Sullivan sets out to see how the other half lives, and ends up with far more than he bargained for when everybody assumes he died. It’s both hilarious and touching with many insights from Sturges into the human ego versus the human condition. It’s best to record it to be seen again later – and you will definitely want to see it again.


Look up the word “overwrought” in the dictionary and you will see a still from this picture.  At first sight, one would think that a film starring Bogart, Stanwyck and Alexis Smith would be tremendous. Well, it’s not. Though filmed in 1945, it took Warners two years to release it to an unsuspecting public. Bogart stars as a nutso artist who meets and falls in love with Stanwyck. One problem – he’s married. So he paints his wife as the angel of death (subtle, huh?) and then poisons her. Shortly afterward Babs is the new Mrs. Carroll. Things are fine at first, but then Bogie meets Alexis Smith. He then begins painting Stanwyck. Uh, oh. The laughs really come when Babs realizes what’s going on and confronts Bogie. The result is an all-out mugging-for-the camera fest as she discovers he’s a pistachio and must fight for her life. Ham never came any better. If it seems stagy it’s because it was based on a 1944 play and the director wasn’t clever enough to make it look like more of a movie than play. Nevertheless, it’s always interesting when three screen idols make fools of themselves and it’s a Must See in our book. By the way, look for a director cameo as a racetrack tout and Bogart’s takeoff on his Casablanca line, “I have a feeling this is going to be the beginning of a beautiful hatred.”

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