A Guide to the Interesting and Unusual on TCM
By Ed Garea
This Cinema Inhabituel is for November 1-14 as I’m undergoing surgery.
2:30 pm The Seven Faces of Dr. Lao (MGM, 1964) – Director: George Pal. Starring: Tony Randall, Barbara Eden, Arthur O’Connell, John Ericson, & Lee Patrick.
George Pal, one of the kings of fantasy cinema, especially back in the day, brings us Tony Randall as a Chinese magician who uses his magical powers to save a Western town. A good story, great acting, and wonderful special effects turn this from just another fantasy film into a film that can be enjoyed by all ages.
2:00 am Riki-Oh: The Story of Ricky (Diagonal Pictures, 1991) Director: Ngai Choi Lam. Starring Siu-Wong Fan, Mei Sheng Fan, & Ka-Kui Ho.
One of the goriest mainstream movies ever made, this Hong Kong/Japanese collaboration concerns a super-powered, though innocent youth who takes revenge on the criminals that killed his girlfriend during a botched rape. He’s thrown into the typical prison of filmdom: corrupt guards, evil warden, mistreated inmates, and escape attempts galore. The dialogue is terribly written, the acting almost non-existent (with really cheesy dubbing), and the sets are the other side of unbelievable. Yet, for all that, it’s fun to watch, probably because it is so bad. The gore seems to be excessive to take our attention from the other glaring deficits. If gore is your thing, and you like Hong Kong product, this is the film for you.
3:45 am The Sword of Doom (Toho, 1996) Director: Kihachi Okamoto. Starring Tatsuya Nakadai, Michiyo Aratama, & Yuzo Kayama
Samurai films can be called Japan’s Westerns. Because there have been so many samurai films made over the years, plot material is beginning to wear thin. In this one, sociopathic samurai Ryunosuke is offered the virtue of his opponent’s wife if he agrees to throw a fencing match. Naturally, he accepts, but kills his opponent. The victim’s brother trains with a master fencer for a grudge match, but the question remains of whether he will get to him in time, for Ryunosuke has also cheesed off the band of assassins he travels with and they just might beat the brother to the punch.
2:30 am Lola (Rialto Film, 1981) Director: Reiner Werner Fassbinder. Starring Barbara Sukowa, Armin Mueller-Stahl, & Mario Adorf.
Fassbinder’s social satire is set in Germany 10 years after the war and takes place in an unnamed city rife with corruption. Enter Herr von Bohm, a progressive, but also strenuously upright, building commissioner. He becomes taken with his landlady’s daughter, not knowing that she’s also Lola, a singer at a local bordello and mistress of a local builder whose profits are dependent on von Bohm’s findings. Think of The Blue Angel with The Rules of the Game thrown in. Now consider that Fassbinder directed it and you have something to see. Unlike anything else you’ve seen on the subject.
12:45 am The Story of Temple Drake (Paramount, 1933) Director: Stephen Roberts. Starring Miriam Hopkins, William Gargan, Jack LaRue, & Florence Eldridge.
Next to Baby Face, this is the most notorious of the Pre-Code films and the stronger of the two. This adaptation of William Faulkner’s novel, Sanctuary, stars Hopkins as Temple Drake, a flirtatious Southern belle forced into a bootlegger’s mansion after a car wreck nearby. There she is held prisoner and raped by Trigger (LaRue) one of the bootlegger’s gunmen after he kills her escort. When he tries to rape her again she shoots and kills him, ending up in court. But after all that, there is a happy ending to the tale and Temple is vindicated. This film was not run on television for many years, and I saw it back in the 70s at a NYC revival theater. Since then I have seen it only once on TCM, so catch this while you can.
3:15 am Burn, Witch, Burn (AIP, 1962) Director: Sydney Hayers. Starring Janet Blair, Peter Wyngarde, Kathleen Byron, & Margaret Johnston
This is the old chestnut about the skeptical college professor whose wife turns to witchcraft in order to advance his career. Richard Matheson and Charles Beaumont, who wrote so many wonderful and memorable Twilight Zone episodes, wrote the screenplay, which is based on Fritz Leiber’s novel, Conjure Wife. Though it’s been done before by Universal in 1944 as Weird Woman, and starring Lon Chaney Jr., Anne Gynne and Evelyn Ankers (as the villain of the piece), this is a definite improvement given the screenplay, the solid acting, particularly by Wyngarde, and the cinematography. Again, it’s rarely shown and worth watching.
6:30 am The Exterminating Angel (Producciones Gustavo Alatriste, 1962) Director: Luis Bunuel. Starring Silvia Pinal, Enrique Rimbal, & Claudio Brook.
Bunuel’s surrealist satire on the upper class concerns a dinner party from which no one leaves. After a while we realize that they cannot physically leave; they are trapped in the room. We then see the breakdown of the moral and cultural fiber as people used to drinking only the finest champagne and smoking expensive cigars are reduced to basic survival, hacking through the wall to find a water pipe and eating paper to stave off their hunger. They suddenly discover what they have taken for granted is the necessary sustenance of the lower classes. It’s probably Bunuel’s best satire, directed with his usual seriousness.