TCM TiVO ALERT
October 15–October 22
DAVID’S BEST BETS:
ELMER GANTRY (October 19, 2:45 pm): Burt Lancaster is among perhaps three or four actors who demand your attention when they are on the screen. His intensity and versatility made him a screen legend. His portrayal of Elmer Gantry in the 1960 film of the same name is his finest performance. In the film, Lancaster is a con man who realizes that he's found a place in a Christian tent revival show featuring Sister Sharon Falconer (Jean Simmons). Gantry, and those watching this movie, aren't sure what kind of place he's found. Is he still a con man, a born-again or someone in between? Not only does Lancaster do a great job interacting with Simmons, he does it with Shirley Jones, who plays his former lover who is now a prostitute, and with Arthur Kennedy, who plays a skeptical newspaper reporter who garners attention because of his criticism of Gantry. The film is riveting, intelligent and has a great plot - it is based on a small portion of a Sinclair Lewis book of the same name.
FLAMINGO ROAD (October 19, 11:45 pm): Joan Crawford plays a carnival dancer (who is supposed to likely be about half her real age) who stays in a small town when the show moves on. She quickly becomes the object of attraction of a number of the men, and chooses a businessman with a drinking problem (played by David Brian) to marry. They move to Flamingo Road, the richest section of the town. While Crawford is solid and her name is above the title, it is clear that Syndey Greenstreet, who plays Sheriff Titus Semple (the corrupt local political boss), is the best part of the movie. Greenstreet, who was ill when making this film and comes across as a guy who is dying, is listed not only below Crawford, but Zachary Scott, who plays a sheriff's deputy. Greenstreet is perfect as the sleazy political boss who creates and ruins careers and lives. The confrontational scenes with Crawford and Greenstreet are outstanding. It is quite the actor who can make a viewer forget this film is a Crawford vehicle. This was the second to last film for Greenstreet, who died less than five years after this 1949 movie was released.
ED’S BEST BETS:
OLD ACQUAINTANCE (October 18, 2:30 pm): Imagine, Bette Davis in a ”women’s picture” wonderfully acted and intelligently written where she plays the nice woman. And more to the point – no soap of the type we find in That Certain Woman, Dark Victory, The Old Maid, and Now Voyager. Yes, Bette, it can be done. This is the story of best friends. Kit Marlowe (Davis) is a single author of high literary novels. Her friend Millie Drake (Miriam Hopkins), who is married, takes her advice to write and becomes even more famous and financially successful than Kit, though the secret to her success is that she writes trashy novels. Take it from there, fasten your seat belts, and go along for a joyous ride with Bette and Miriam, two women that really hated each other in real life. There is no such thing as disappointment with this movie.
LOLA MONTES (October 20, 3:45 am): Director Max Orphuls’s last film, it tells the story of the title character, creating a fictionalized drama showing the end days of the famed 19th century courtesan. She is the feature attraction at a circus run by a P.T. Barnum-esque Peter Ustinov (in a great performance). The story of her life is told in flashbacks: how her mother sold her into marriage to a man she did not love and how she left him to become a courtesan, mistress to men such as Franz Liszt and King Ludwig of Bavaria. It’s beautifully written and shot, giving us a peephole into her life while keeping us lavishly entertained at the same time. It’s a film one can’t miss.
WE DISAGREE ON . . . WOMAN OF THE YEAR (October 22, 8:00 pm)
ED: A. Dave will tell you how annoying Katharine Hepburn is, and, frankly, I agree with his opinion. Look at her films from the '30s for RKO and you'll see why theater exhibitors labeled her a "Box Office Poison." Granted, she was in some mighty stinkers back then, but at the same time, she did nothing to redeem herself, to separate herself from the material. So for me to give this film such a high grade will cause some readers to scratch their heads and ask what's going on. First, the Hepburn that worked for MGM is far different than the one who toiled for RKO. MGM lightened her by putting her in quality films and not really allowing her to choose her material in the early days of her contract. They also gave her quality directors such as Cukor and George Stevens, who helmed this picture, and, more importantly, quality writing. And whoever thought of teaming her with Tracy should have received a lifetime Oscar. Tracy, who in my opinion was the best actor in Hollywood, was the perfect foil for Hepburn, even better than Cary Grant (if that's possible). Where she was flighty, he was laconic, the acting yin to her yang. And no picture shows off this working dichotomy better than Woman of the Year. It's the perfect clash of snob vs. slob: Hepburn is a respected political columnist and Tracy helms the bottom of the intellectual barrel as a sports reporter. In a way it prefigures The Odd Couple. Watch this movie and it will become clear that this is Tracy's movie. His is the dominant character, everything revolves around him; we see the movie through his eyes and Hepburn is really no more than a supporting player. That's not only why it works, but works so well. In fact, it set the pattern for their later movies, all of which basically followed the template. Yes, Hepburn is not exactly my cup of tea, nor will she ever be. But that does not mean that she's not capable of making a good movie.
DAVID: C+. Yes, it's true. I consider Katharine Hepburn to be the most overrated actress in the history of cinema. Why? She usually plays the same character regardless of the film, and that character is an annoying self-centered know-it-all. Just because I dislike Hepburn doesn't mean she's completely worthless. She is great in Keeper of the Flame with Spencer Tracy, and blows me away in The Lion in the Winter. But that's not the Kate we see in this film. Her character is the same old character we've seen her play numerous times. She's a newspaper political columnist who knows incredible people who have incredible parties talking about their incredible lives and their incredible experiences in incredible places. Tracy plays a rough-around-the-edges sportswriter. Of course they fall in love and marry, but neither fits in with the other's friends and lifestyle. After a while, you wonder: why are they together? Tracy's character realizes it too and leaves her. You can figure out the reconciliation before they even break up. There's nothing in this film that isn't predictable. Is it terrible? No. But Tracy wasted his tremendous acting talent having to carry Hepburn, who delivers an uninspiring performance. It's the first of nine films the two would do together. As I mentioned, Keeper of the Flame is the only one worth seeing.
For the complete list of films on the TCM TiVo Alert, click here.