Thursday, September 6, 2012

TCM TiVo Alert for September 8-14

September 8 – September 14


CALL NORTHSIDE 777 (September 9, 10 am): As a journalist, I love movies that make reporters look like superheroes. This 1948 film, done in documentary style and based on a true story, stars screen-legend James Stewart as Chicago Times newspaper reporter P.J. McNeal. After his editor, played by the underrated Lee J. Cobb, sees an ad in the newspaper placed by a woman who believes her son was falsely convicted 11 years earlier of killing a police officer, he sends a skeptical McNeal to talk to her for an article. Over time, McNeal believes the son, Frank Wiecek, played by Richard Conte, is innocent. Despite roadblocks put in his way by state officials who don't want to be embarrassed by a potentially mistaken prosecution and conviction of a cop-killer, McNeal fights on. Do I really need to tell you how it ends? The movie is at its best when Stewart's questioning and tenacity are front and center. He always gave strong performances in his films. This is one of Stewart's finest and least known.

BAD DAY AT BLACK ROCK (September 9, 6:30 pm): This 1955 film is a combination of the suspense of an Alfred Hitchcock thriller with the action of a great martial-arts movie done in a Western style. The cast is filled with all-stars, led by Spencer Tracy playing a mysterious stranger with the use of only one arm. Robert Ryan is the main bad guy, aided by Lee Marvin and Ernest Borgnine, along with Dean Jagger as the town's alcoholic sheriff and Walter Brennan as its undertaker. It's obvious from the moment the stranger, John J. Macreedy (Tracy), gets off the train in Black Rock that, well, it's going to be a bad day there. Macreedy has a reason to be in town. That reason and his presence in Black Rock results in a lot of havoc for the townsfolk. The best scene is when Macreedy, using martial arts and only one hand, beats up Coley Trimble (played by Borgnine in my favorite role of his in cinema) in an excellent bar fight. Borgnine sells Tracy's moves like he's "Mr. Perfect" Curt Hennig in his wrestling prime. A smart story with excellent action and great acting.


ZORBA THE GREEK (September 8, 3:30 pm): It’s Anthony Quinn, the ultimate slob actor in what may be the ultimate slob role: Zorba – perhaps the part Quinn was born to play. The story is rather simple: Alan Bates plays an English writer named Basil, whose writer’s block has spread to almost every other facet of his life. Arriving in Crete to check a lignite mine he has inherited, he is befriended by Alexis Zorba, a worker who persuades Basil to hire him to work the mine. To say Zorba is exuberant is putting it mildly: he throws himself with gusto into everything he does and his joie de vivre gradually rubs off on the repressed Basil as Basil comes to the realization that while he cannot control all that happens, he can learn to enjoy the good that does come his way. It is a marvelous tribute to the human spirit and is a must see not only for Anthony Quinn fans, but filmgoers of all ages. (Well, almost all. I first saw this when I was 10 with my parents, and though I liked it, I really didn’t get it. But when I saw it again on television at the age of 15, I realized why I could never get the movie out of my head.)

MONKEY BUSINESS (September 11, 8:00 pm): Two of my favorite comedies have the same title. The first, from 1931, stars the incomparable Marx Brothers. And this one stars the incomparable Cary Grant and Ginger Rogers, two actors who slid from drama to comedy and back again as effortlessly as Kristi Yamaguchi dancing across the ice. This is a hilarious screwball comedy from director Howard Hawks about a scientist, Barnaby Fulton (Grant), who discovers a “youth serum,” and the effects of said serum on all who partake of it, including not only scientist Grant, but also his wife Rogers and his boss (Charles Coburn). Smartly written by Ben Hecht, Charles Lederer, and I.A.L. Diamond, Hawks keeps the action fast and loose, not letting the audience rest for a minute. Marilyn Monroe turns in a solid performance as Coburn’s secretary, and Hugh Marlowe shines as the Fultons’ lawyer. Look for Hawks regulars Robert Cornthwaite and Douglas Spencer as Grant’s assistants. Finally, listen closely to the voice-over during the opening credits: it’s none other than director Hawks.

WE DISAGREE ON ... TO BE OR NOT TO BE (September 8, 1:30 pm)

Ed: A+. One often hears the phrase “the Lubitsch touch,” which can best be described as “sophisticated and earthy, elegant and ribald, and frivolous yet profound.” Here is an excellent opportunity to see it in action in this hilarious anti-Nazi comedy. Only Ernst Lubitsch could see the humor to be wrung out of an invasion of another country, because, being a German that had to flee his native country to escape the wrath of the Nazis, he recognized them for the profound fools they were. But more than that, it’s a parable of how those who see themselves as above and untouched by the fray become drawn into it when it hits home. Jack Benny was never better than as the egotistical ham Joseph Tura and Carole Lombard plays her role as his suffering wife to perfection, stealing the movie right from under Benny’s nose. And Tom Dugan as the undervalued Bronsky is a sheer delight who saves the day for the troupe. This film was a critical disaster when released due to this treatment of the subject matter, but over the years has come to be regarded not only as Lubitsch’s best comedy, but also as one of the best comedies ever made. Credit must also be given to Mel Brooks and Anne Bancroft for their respectful remake; one the few times a remake comes close to the spirit of the original.

David: C+. To Be or Not to Be isn't an awful film. It's storyline is rather bold: a comedy about Nazis while World War II was ongoing, released in 1942. It's nowhere near the quality of Charlie Chaplin's 1940 masterpiece, The Great Dictator, which is also a satirical film about Nazis during wartime. It's not fair to compare the two - even though I sort of just did. My problems with To Be or Not to Be are I don't find it to be funny, entertaining or clever. I'm not a Jack Benny fan and the film was written with him in mind and plays off of his comedic persona. It's a style that becomes more annoying the longer I watch the film. Also, I have trouble keeping track of who is who as Benny and others use many disguises. After a while, I'm wondering who I'm watching and what are they doing? And because of that confusion, I lose interest in the movie. There are a few funny moments, including one in which an actor in Benny's troupe, dressed as Adolf Hitler, orders Nazis to jump out of an airplane without parachutes. Carole Lombard was a wonderful comedic actress, who tragically died in a plane crash shortly after this film wrapped. She provides a few sparks of entertainment, but not enough to make this film enjoyable.

For the complete list of films on the TCM TiVo Alert, click here.

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