Sunday, August 12, 2012

TCM TiVo Alert for Aug. 15-22

August 15 – August 22


JEWEL ROBBERY (August 21, 8:15 am): When it comes to being smooth and charming, William Powell is in a class by himself. In this 1932 Pre-Code film, Powell plays the leader of a gang of jewelry thieves. Kay Francis plays a rich baroness who regularly cheats on her dull husband. She, her husband and her latest lover are at a jewelry shop when Powell and his gang show up to rob the place. She finds him interesting and attractive, and the feeling is mutual. There's a great subtle use of marijuana at the end of the robbery with Powell forcing the store owner to smoke a "special cigarette" to forget about the incident. The robber and the baroness have other encounters and fall in love. As this is a Pre-Code film, the robber doesn't pay for his crime and gets the girl. The storyline is good, but the chemistry between the two leads is exceptional. Not to diminish Francis's acting ability, but Powell could have great chemistry with a broom. The movie is more of a comedy than a drama and at only 70 minutes in length, it's a delight that allows you to escape reality for a little while.

THE FORTUNE COOKIE (August 22, 8:00 pm): While they weren't a comedic team, Jack Lemmon and Walter Matthau made several excellent movies together, including The Odd CoupleThe Front Page and Grumpy Old MenThe Fortune Cookie was their first film together and is the best and funniest. Lemmon plays Harry Hinkle, a TV cameraman who gets hurt filming a football game when he is run over by a player. The injuries are minor, but Hinkle's brother-in-law, Whiplash Willie Gingrich (played by Matthau), is an ambulance-chasing lawyer who convinces him to fake a more serious injury to make money from the insurance company. Billy Wilder directs this film and he is among a handful of the best comedic directors in movie history. The plot is nothing new, but the work done by Wilder, Lemmon and Matthau elevate this film to the level of a classic. It's a very entertaining, funny movie that probably best highlights the special chemistry these two extraordinary actors had.


THE GUNS OF NAVARONE (August 20, 2:15 pm): Like action and plenty of it? Then look no further than this movie. It has action coming out of the spool. Here’s the gist: a team of Allied saboteurs is assigned get behind enemy lines and destroy a pair of big Nazi guns playing havoc with British attempts to rescue a small force in the Aegean Sea. A group of six, led by Gregory Peck as Capt. Mallory, take on the task. There are the inevitable differences between the lot and two women resistance fighters join the group, one of whom is a traitor. So just sit back, turn the brain off for a couple of hours, and enjoy the doings of Peck, David Niven, Anthony Quinn, Anthony Qualye (who actually trained resistance fighters in World War II Albania), and for your eyes only, the beautiful Irene Papas.

MARY STEVENS, M.D. (August 21, 7:00 am): Kay Francis was the undisputed Queen of The Weepies in the early ‘30s, but this Pre-Coder is strong stuff even for the time. Here she is a pediatrician fighting the usual prejudices of the time. In the first scene she rescues a choking boy by removing one of her hairpins, sticking it down the boy’s throat, and removing the offending object. She’s something else, our Mary. Later, however, she runs into old flame Don (Lyle Talbot) and they begin fooling around after hours with the inevitable result. Don offers to divorce wife Thelma Todd and marry Mary (Thelma Todd for Kay Francis??!!), but Mary will hear nothing of it. She goes abroad and has her baby. Later, coming back she attends to sick babies in steerage and – wouldn’t you know it? – her own baby catches the illness. This movie was so powerful that when Warners presented it to the censorship office for reissue, Joseph Breen denied it a certificate. By the way, Kay Francis was the highest paid actress at her studio in 1934. Mitigating Factor: The Studio was Warner Brothers.


ED: A+Intolerance marks the birth of the huge Hollywood epic. The sets, camerawork, and editing are superb and set the standard for films to come. If anything, Griffith overreached himself on the story, attempting to trace intolerance through the ages while tying it to a contemporary story. If anyone can be said to be the hero of the film, it is the set designers and builders. They constructed a monumental city of Babylon using little more than thin boards covered in plaster. The story was that whenever L.A. experienced a windstorm, the crew raced down to the set to man the mooring cables and prevent Babylon from tumbling down. I'm not recommending Intolerance for its story, which is rather insipid, but for the awe-inpsiring sets and the deft camerawork. Put simply - if you want a story in a Griffith film, watch Broken Blossoms or The Birth of a Nation. But if spectacle is your thing, or if you're a budding film historian or just plain fanatic, watch Intolerance.

DAVID: B-Intolerance is a historically-important film with groundbreaking film techniques. But let's be honest. It's too long, about 3 1/2 hours in length, and at times, it is incredibly dull. The movie features four parallel stories throughout history, from 539 B.C. (the fall of Babylon with impressive shots featuring about 3,000 extras) to the modern time of the film's release in 1916. The stories are told at the same time cutting from one to another, getting faster and faster to the point of being frantic and confusing. The stories have a similar theme - intolerance by society that leads to horrible consequences. Director D.W. Griffith comes across as self-righteous as the film is largely a response to his offensive film from a year earlier, The Birth of a Nation. If you haven't seen that three-plus-hour film, the premise of its second half is blacks are evil as they conspire with abolitionists to control and humiliate white Southerners after the Civil War. Thankfully, the Ku Klux Klan is around as its members wrest power from blacks and put them in their place. Griffith was surprised by the backlash The Birth of a Nation received (maybe he couldn't sit through the entire film). While the follow-up is better, it's still far from a compelling movie. It is over-produced and heavy-handed as if Griffith is telling his audience, "See, I'm not a racist." There is little to enjoy, but as I mentioned at the start, it's historically important. But it's not a movie you can watch over and over again. Once is more than enough.

For the complete list of films on the TCM TiVo Alert August 15-22, click here.

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