TCM TiVo ALERT
February 8–February 14
DAVID’S BEST BETS:
SUNRISE (February 8, 6 am): A visually impressive silent film, masterfully directed by F.W. Murnau, about a married man (George O'Brien) from the country who falls hard for a female seductress from the city (Margaret Livingston). He's convinced he must go with the woman and leave - and kill - his adoring wife (Janet Gaynor). The cinematography was ahead of time as its mobile in an era when cameras didn't move much and heavily influenced filmmakers who followed. The plot isn't terribly complex, but the movie is compelling and one of the most interesting silent films made.
THE HUNCHBACK OF NOTRE DAME (February 12, 6:15 am): Of the numerous Hunchback films, including two animated versions, this is clearly the best. Charles Laughton is brilliant as Quasimodo, the hunchback bell-ringer at the Notre Dame cathedral, in this 1939 adaption of the classic book. The story is familiar yet Laughton is so exceptional that despite knowing what's going to happen, you can't help but enjoy a master at his craft. Laughton gave cinephiles many wonderful performances and this role ranks among his finest. Also of note is Maureen O'Hara's Esmeralda, the free-spirited gypsy who is loved by Quasimondo, and Cedric Hardwicke as the deliciously-evil Frollo. Quasimondo's rescue of Esmeralda from the gallows and screaming "sanctuary" as he protects her in the church is an iconic moment in cinematic history.
ED’S BEST BETS:
ZORBA THE GREEK (February 10, 10:45 pm): Anthony Quinn has a field day as a lusty Greek peasant who teaches British student Alan Bates all about life. The beautiful Irene Papas co-stars in a stunning performance as a widow who is seduced by Bates. Quinn was one of the great slob actors. Tune this in and see why.
CITIZEN KANE (February 12, 8:00 pm): Yeah, yeah, I know. You’ve all seen this before, so why make note of it? Well, there are some out there reading this who have not seen it and it's to them I aim this message. This is one of the greatest films ever made, do doubt about it. And it deserves to be seen at least once. Just forget the hype and analysis and watch it for its great story alone. Then read the analysis.
WE DISAGREE ON ... VIVA ZAPATA! (February 9, 8:00 pm)
ED: A. I freely admit that I’m a mark for an Elia Kazan film; and why not? His films are head and shoulders above other directors of the period. Viva Zapata! is no different. That he should even undertake this project about a Mexican revolutionary during the height of the anti-Communist hysteria that shrouded the country was in itself almost a heroic achievement. Kazan obtained the services of none other than John Steinbeck to write the screenplay, basing it on his book about Zapata. Shot on location in Texas, the film features wonderful cinematography, an excellent script, and strong performance all around. Like him or not, Brando’s performance as Zapata earned him an Oscar nomination (he lost to Gary Cooper for High Noon), and Anthony Quinn won a Best Supporting Oscar for his role as Zapata’s brother, Eufemio. Seen today in the politically correct times we may wince at the sight of Brando playing a Mexican, but he is marvelous in the role. The only Mexican actor would could take on the role at the time was Pedro Armendariz, and realistically, he had nowhere near the box office clout that Brando enjoyed, especially coming off his performance in Kazan’s A Streetcar Named Desire. So just sit back and enjoy, for there is plenty there to enjoy. Kazan has the rare ability of combining intelligent screenplays with temperamental actors to get the right harmony of style. Kazan paints a most convincing portrait of a revolutionary who has achieved mythical status by simply working on the basic emotions of aggression, anger, fear, ignorance, and wisdom, which gives the film a passion that thoroughly entrances its audience. It’s a classic for the ages.
DAVID: C+. With my disagreement two weeks in a row on a film directed by Elia Kazan - East of Eden last week - readers could logically believe I'm not a fan of his work. But that's not true. On the Waterfront and A Face in a Crowd are two of the finest movies ever made. And even though I am lukewarm to Viva Zapata! I admire the ambitious effort put forth to make this film. Kazan as the director, a screenplay by John Steinbeck, and Marlon Brando and Anthony Quinn as the lead actors give this film an instant pedigree. The real disappointment is the final product falls far short of that pedigree. The dialogue relies too much on psychological mumbo-jumbo - "a strong people is the only way to freedom" and "cut off the head of the snake and the body will die" - and many scenes are dull. This attempt to "Hollywood" a based-on-a-true story of Mexican revolutionaries doesn't work. Brando is all right even though he OD's a bit on "method acting" with Zapata brooding as if he's a Mexican Stanley Kowalski. Quinn, who is Mexican, is solid, but there's not a lot of good material in the film. The movie tries to cram the history of Zapata and the Mexican revolution into a film that's under two hours. It glosses over or skips important parts of his life and wastes time with issues that aren’t interesting.
For the complete list of films on the TCM TiVo Alert, click here.