TCM TiVo ALERT
October 1 – October 7
DAVID’S BEST BETS:
20,000 YEARS IN SING-SING (Oct. 1, 2:00 am): This 1932 film is movie history as it's the only time Spencer Tracy and Bette Davis star together in a picture. While it's not a classic, it's a good film - and only 78 minutes long. Tracy plays Tommy Connors, an over-confident criminal sentenced to a stint of five to 30 years in Sing-Sing. Davis is his loyal, but naive girlfriend, Fay Wilson. With Tommy on the inside, his partner-in-crime on the outside, Joe Finn (great acting job by Louis Calhern), promises he's doing all he can with his connections to get his pal out of jail. But he's actually doing nothing to help Tommy and spending his time trying to get with Fay. She ends up seriously injured, and a trusting warden gives Tommy a 24-hour pass to see her. Tommy find out Finn is responsible for Fay's injuries. Nothing good happens to Finn, which means nothing good happens to Tommy. But he does return to Sing-Sing as promised, just in time to be sent to death row. Great interaction between Tracy and Davis, and Calhern is solid in his role as the conniving heel. While Tracy and Davis wanted to do more films with each other, this was it. Of course, it's a Warner Brothers film as no other studio mastered the gritty crime-action genre of the era like that studio.
THE NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD (October 3, 2:45 am): Director George Romero made this cult classic on the cheap, about $114,000, and it looks it. But this 1968 zombie film is excellent. Seven people are trapped inside a western Pennsylvania farmhouse with zombies outside wanting to eat them. Most of the actors weren't professionals, but how professional do you have to be to walk like a zombie and pretend you're eating human body parts? The storyline is surprisingly sophisticated for a cheap zombie film with the main character being a young black man, who obviously is not only the leader of those in the house (an older white guy challenges him resulting in horrible consequences), but he is the most intelligent, level-headed and resourceful. Critics have also contended the film is anti-Vietnam war and takes on Cold-War politics. Whatever. It's a groundbreaking horror film that is gory - though some of it looks so fake that you can't take it seriously, and being filmed in black and white softens the blood and guts - and fascinating to see. Don't expect a happy ending. As an end note, having lived in the Youngstown, Ohio, area since 1995, I get a kick out of seeing the fictitious community centers and hospitals in this area (the film is supposed to take place a short distance away in western Pennsylvania) on the TV screen as safe havens to get away from the zombies. I'm not a big fan of horror movies, but this one is outstanding.
ED’S BEST BETS:
CURSE OF THE DEMON (October 5, 2:45 pm): A wonderful old-fashioned horror thriller concerning anthropologist Dr. John Holden (Dana Andrews) who made his reputation debunking the occult. He is about to meet his match in the persona of one Julian Karswell (Niall MacGinnis), a practitioner of the black arts much in the style of Alistair Crowley. Those who he perceives as a threat are slipped a small parchment and are later visited by one of the scariest and best monsters in the history of film. But this is more than a mere horror film. It’s a wonderful give and take between the skeptical Holden and the sinister Karswell. The audience is sucked right into the film from the beginning when a colleague of Holden’s, Dr. Harrington (Maurice Denham) gets his when the monster drops in on him. And remember, “It’s in the trees! It’s coming!” (Which Kate Bush sampled for her song “The Hounds of Love.” Don’t miss this one – it’s a genuine classic of the genre.
VAMPYR (October 7, 2:30 am): Because of its time slot, you’ll probably have to record this, but it’s definitely worth the effort. This is Carl Dreyer’s classic take on the vampire story, based on the novella, Carmilla, by Sheridan Le Fanu. A traveler, Allan Gray, is drawn into a battle between the village and the aged vampire, Marguerite Chopin, who, aided by a sinister doctor, controls the forces of the night. Dreyer’s highly stylized use of lighting, shadows, and camera angles adds to the eerie atmosphere and the chills. Disparaged by critics upon its release, it’s been embraced by later critics and is now considered one of the most artistically structured horror films ever made.
WE DISAGREE ON ... DOCTOR X (October 3, 9:30 pm)
ED: B+. At a time when the studios were glomming on to the highly profitable concept of the horror film, Warners joined the fray with one of their own. However, instead of being set in some unnamed European country, Warners Americanized the genre and set it in urban surroundings (New York City). Using talent such as Lee Tracy, Fay Wray and Lionel Atwill to star, the studio also assigned director Michael Curtiz to direct. Curtiz, in turn, brought his experience working in German horror films for UFA with him in creating this wonderful example of home-grown horror. Filmed in a two-strip Technicolor format (which emphasizes various tones of green and orange) that heightens the eerie mood, Doctor X never misses a chance to give its audience a chill. And it's precisely because of its horror elements that a need for comic relief was necessary. (To quote Kenneth Anger's Hollywood Babylon II, "There is something for everyone in this picture: cannibalism, dismemberment, rape, and necrophilia - and a piquant kinky bonus when Atwill displays erotic arousal at the sight of Preston Foster unscrewing his artificial arm.") And Tracy provides the comic relief in such a way that we're rooting for him to vanquish the murderer rather than to be annoyed with Tracy himself. It's a great example of the horror genre and Curtiz's borrowings from German Expressionism further heightens our sense of unease with the surroundings. Max Factor did the make-up and anyone that hears the distinctive words, "Synthetic flesh," as spoken by the murderer near the end will be sure to always keep it in the corner of his or her mind, especially in a dark surrounding.
DAVID: C. Visually, the color in this two-strip Technicolor film from 1932 is impressive. I wish I could say the same for the rest of the movie. Lee Tracy plays a newspaper reporter trying to find out who's behind the "Moon Killer Murders." Tracy's comedic attempts come across as forced and out of place in this film. The film tries at times to be funny, but it's a horror movie about a serial cannibalistic killer so the storyline doesn't lend itself to many jokes. There are lulls in the film and it can be challenging to keep the characters straight as well as follow the plot, which includes many holes. It's not an awful movie. Lionel Atwill (Doctor Xavier or Doctor X if we go by the movie title) is good, and while she screams too much, Fay Wray as Doctor X's daughter gives a capable performance. Overall, there are too many silly scenes though the color and make-up by Max Factor are visually appealing.
For the complete list of films on the TCM TiVo Alert, click here.