Saturday, April 13, 2013

TCM TiVo Alert for April 15-22

April 15–April 22


(April 16, 10:30 am): You can't go wrong with most of the Charlie Chaplin films TCM is showing on April 16, and this is one of his best movies. It is also the last time Chaplin plays his iconic Little Tramp character and his last silent movie though the 1936 film includes sound effects. On the surface, it's a clever, brilliantly choreographed film about struggling to keep up with the changing technological times and the desperate lengths people went to in order to work during the Great Depression. Chaplin is a factory worker on an assembly line who is in way over his head. His giant gear machine scene is one of the greatest physical comedy bits in cinematic history. If you did deeper, the comedy is a sharp criticism of technology and how close-minded people treat those who are different, mistaking them for something they're not. Dig even deeper, and it's Chaplin's damning indictment of the "talkies," which were already the norm in Hollywood. Chaplin wasn't a fan, and realizing this was his last silent film - though we hear his voice in a movie for the first time singing The Nonsense Song - he wanted his audience to realize what they'd be missing with the change in cinema. While I love many of Chaplin's silent movies, I think most of his best work were sound films.

WILD BOYS OF THE ROAD (April 22, 3:00 am): Another brilliant movie about life during the Great Depression. The film, directed by William Wellman, punches you in the mouth - hard. The story told in this 1933 film's mere 67 minutes in length is stronger than any lengthy documentary about the despair and problems facing kids growing up, sadly in too much of a hurry, during that era. The kids become hobos, riding trains while looking for work and a home, neither which ever seem to be there. When something good happens, a tragedy is right around the next corner. Wellman's direction of the relatively unknown leads is incredible with the film painting a picture of adversity that is too difficult to overcome. While the film ends on a positive note, it certainly isn't an uplifting conclusion as we know these kids will struggle the rest of their lives, and have already grown up way too fast.


LADIES THEY TALK ABOUT (April 15, 6:00 am): What an ungodly hour for such a great movie. No one was better in the Pre-Code era than Barbara Stanwyck, and this is one of her best. She’s a bank robber sent to prison, where she encounters all the later standard prison clichés: the large, burly matron, scheming jealous rival inmates, the hard line warden, and the older lifers, led by Aunt Maggie (the excellent supporting actress Maude Eburne) who mentors Babs and shows her the ropes. There’s also a brief glimpse into a muscular cigar-smoking inmate. Maggie warns Babs about her: “She likes to wrestle.” And we all know what that means. Though the film cops out at the end as Babs gets involved – and reformed by – a radio evangelist (Preston Foster), it’s still the template for later women-in-prison movies. As such, it’s a psychotronic classic.

WINCHESTER ’73 (April 15, 8:00 pm): Looking for a great Western? Then look no further, for this is one the best you’ll ever see. It’s a tale of a stolen prize rifle, an attempted framing, and great brotherly hate. Jimmy Stewart is absolutely superb as Lin McAdam, who’s feuding with brother “Dutch” Henry Brown (Stephen McNally). Seems Dutch killed their father. Meeting up in Dodge City, they almost shoot it out, but Wyatt Earp (Will Geer) breaks up the standoff. Later Earp officiates at a shooting contest, with the prize being a rare Winchester ’73. (We have a title!) Stewart wins but brother steals the gun and Jimmy wants it back. This could just be another routine, cliché-filled oater if not for the fact that Anthony Mann was in the director’s chair. Mann brings a touch of the noir to the film while focusing on the characters. Critic Jeanine Basinger calls Winchester ’73 “the beginning of the modern Western.” Watch it and see why.


ED: A+. This is one of the great milestones of film history, as it was the first feature-length comedy and established Marie Dressler as a star and added to the growing reputation of Charlie Chaplin. It also cemented the reputation of Mack Sennett as a comedic genius and featured the gorgeous, albeit tragic, Mabel Normand. Yes, it's uneven, and even incoherent, at times, but the funny moments far outshine the others. It's a film noted for both its historical importance and also its many moments of pure mirth. 

DAVID: D+. Just because something is first doesn't mean it is good. While I'm a great admirer of Charlie Chaplin and enjoy Marie Dressler, this 1914 film, cinema's first feature-length silent comedy, is terrible. I'd refer to it as uneven, but that would give the movie credit for being good at times. Even the review on TCM's website isn't kind to the film stating it "has not aged gracefully, in cinematic terms." It also mentions "its crude staging and the actors' shameless mugging." It simply doesn't work as a feature-length film and fails to showcase the talents of Chaplin (who, incredibly, made 36 films, mostly shorts in 1914). It relies too much on slapstick - with an emphasis on slap as some of the actors spend a lot of time getting punched and kicked - with a predictable and boring plot. It's a historically-important film, but it's also a bad one. 

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

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