TCM TiVO ALERT
September 1 – September 7
DAVID’S BEST BETS:
KEY LARGO (September 5, 2:00 am): This is easily one of my all-time Top 10 films starring three of my favorites: Humphrey Bogart, Edward G. Robinson and Lionel Barrymore. It's the best performances by each of these screen legends as well as Lauren Bacall and Claire Trevor. It’s a classic film noir – arguably the best film noir ever – with Bogart playing ex-Major Frank McCloud, who checks into the Hotel Largo in Key Largo, Florida. This occurs during hurricane season, but the real storm hits when gangster Johnny Rocco (played brilliantly by Eddie G., who was Hollywood's greatest gangster actor) comes down the hotel's stairs. The action is intense, the acting is incredibly strong, and the use of the storm to parallel what's happening to the film’s characters is perfect.
THE BIRDMAN OF ALCATRAZ (September 7, 8:00 pm): There are few actors who had the presence of Burt Lancaster - that voice, the athletic build and his ability to become one with the character he portrayed. In this 1962 film, he plays Robert Stroud, a murderer, who from all accounts was not a nice guy. In the film, Stroud has a dark side, but comes across overall as a decent person. While in solitary confinement, Stroud adopts and trains a sparrow. After a while, he's got an entire bird collection and inspires other inmates to get birds. When some of the birds get sick, Stroud discovers ways to cure them, and becomes an expert on bird diseases. The concept may sound boring, but the screenplay is outstanding and the acting is first-rate. Besides Lancaster, the cast includes Telly Savalas as a fellow prisoner, Thelma Ritter in the performance of her career as Stroud's mother, and Karl Malden as the warden at Leavenworth. Most of the film - and the book of which it is based - takes place at Leavenworth. Stroud does serve some time at Alcatraz, where he isn't permitted to have birds making the title. As an aside, this was the first of four consecutive great films directed by John Frankenheimer. Later in 1962, he directed The Manchurian Candidate, and two in 1964: Seven Days in May and The Train. Lancaster also starred in the two 1964 films.
BONUS: MY LIFE TO LIVE (September 3, 2:15 pm): Read my review of My Life To Live here as part of "Three from Godard."
ED'S BEST BETS:
NIGHT MUST FALL (September 2, 6:00 am): A really creepy motion picture, thanks in large part to the performance of Robert Montgomery, whose performance of a fellow more than a couple of sandwiches short of a picnic makes one think he’s to the manner born. Montgomery plays a deceptively charming psychopath taken in by Dame May Whitty and whose easy-going manner fools everyone except Rosalind Russell (who shines in an early performance). And what’s in that hatbox he carries? It’s shown at an ungodly hour, but – after all – that’s what recorders are for, and you’ll be glad you recorded this one.
HOUSE ON HAUNTED HILL (September 7, 4:00 am): This William Castle opus has long been one of my favorites. I first saw it with my cousin at about the age of 10, when it was playing with To Russia With Love. The film had everything a kid like me (who had practically a lifetime subscription to Famous Monsters of Filmland) could love: skeletons, old hags on roller skates, hanging corpses, blood dripping from the ceiling, a dark, foreboding cellar, and, of course, Vincent Price as our host, as it were. Price is an eccentric millionaire who offers some desperate folks $10,000 each to spend the night with him and comely wife Carol Ohmart in a house that has known mass murder and then some. It has all the touches William Castle is known for and is a real hoot to watch, especially if you have kids. For those who remember it from their childhoods, it’s a Must-See-Again.
WE DISAGREE ON . . . SUDDENLY, LAST SUMMER (September 5, 2:00 pm)
ED: A+. This is a groundbreaking film in the fight against censorship. Gore Vidal took a one-act play by Tennessee Williams and enlarged it into a full-length picture without bowdlerizing it in the least. All the themes are carefully preserved: homosexuality, incest, lobotomy, and even cannibalism. Katherine Hepburn is Violet Vennable, a woman with a lot to hide concerning her late son Sebastian, and is more than willing to use her wealth and influence to silence the only witness to Sebastian's death – her neice Catherine (Elizabeth Taylor). Montgomery Clift, in real life nearly in a catatonic state from drug and alcohol abuse, gives a bravura performance as the director of the sanitarium to which Violet has banished Catherine for purposes of a lobotomy that would impair her memory forever. And the off-scene dramatics were nearly as powerful as those on-screen. Hepburn was severely annoyed with being away from an extremely ill Spencer Tracy and was further annoyed with what she saw as director Joseph L. Mankiewicz's favoritism toward Taylor. And both Taylor and Hepburn were outraged at what they saw as the director's ambivalent attitude towards an obviously seriously ill Clift. Add to this cauldron Tennessee Williams, who turned the play over to Vidal with a laugh; he hated the play and thought Vidal's efforts would amount to nothing. When Williams got a look at the magic Vidal was creating through the addition of character-defining monologues and such, he pitched a serious bitch not only to be given credit for the story, but also co-credit on the screenplay. When future generations look back on this film they will recognize it for what it truly is – a groundbreaking epic in the war for cinema freedom and an example of how to do so intelligently.
DAVID: C-. This film deals with very interesting subjects – a homosexual brutally murdered while looking to pick up young men for sex during a European vacation, an effort to give a woman who witnessed the attack a lobotomy, and a likely incestuous relationship. But the film itself is a colossal failure. It's Over-Acting 101 with Katherine Hepburn as the mother of the dead character Sebastian, and Elizabeth Taylor as Holly, Sebastian's cousin, who witnesses the murder, but initially can't remember the details. The final scene is so over-the-top and ridiculous with the two spending what seems like an eternity mugging for the camera. Hep gets the advantage by a bit delivering absurd lines when her character falls apart as the truth comes out. The change in her character is silly and not at all convincing. But Hepburn is the most overrated actress in the history of film so it came as no surprise to me. As I mentioned, it's close. Liz's performance as she recalls her time with Sebastian on the European vacation, told in flashback after she is given "truth serum," is also laughable. Montgomery Clift, who was a splendid actor (think James Dean only with a lot of talent), plays a surgeon who is asked to perform a lobotomy on Liz. He's so-so at best in this film. If someone had performed a lobotomy on this film, we all would be better off. In the years after this 1959 film was released, several of the key people involved in it were critical. That includes Tennessee Williams, who wrote the play on which the film is based; Gore Vidal, who wrote the movie's screenplay; and Joseph L. Mankiewicz, who directed it.
For the complete list of films on the TCM TiVo Alert, click here.