Tuesday, May 14, 2013

TCM TiVo Alert for May 15-22

May 15–May 22

SPELLBOUND (May 15, 10:00 pm): Alfred Hitchcock has directed, and Ingrid Bergman and Gregory Peck have starred in better films. But even "very good" Hitch, Bergman and Peck movies are light years better than most other films. In Spellbound (1945), Dr. Anthony Edwardes (Peck) is the new head of a mental hospital in Vermont, but psychoanalyst Dr. Constance Petersen (Bergman) quickly figures out that Dr. Edwardes is not really Dr. Edwardes. The character admits that Petersen is correct and believes he killed the real Dr. Edwardes, but because of amnesia, he's not sure. The two quickly fall in love - who could resist Bergman or for that matter Peck - and while trying to find out what happens, the cops figure out that the real Dr. Edwardes is initially missing and then a murder victim. One of the highlights is a dream the fake doctor has that they try to analyze. The dream sequence is brilliantly designed by Salvador Dali. Hitchcock was the master of getting a murder-mystery film from its starting point to a logical conclusion while taking the viewer on an incredible journey filled with twists you never see coming.

ACE IN THE HOLE (May 17, 8:00 pm): The best journalism movie ever made with Kirk Douglas as Chuck Tatum, a hard-hitting, hard-boiled, cynical reporter fired from 11 newspapers for a variety of reasons, none of them good. Tatum's car breaks down in Albuquerque, which as anyone who's watched a Bugs Bunny cartoon knows is a place where people and rabbits often take wrong turns. Tatum's quick talking and nose for news gets him a job at the local newspaper. Things are quiet for a year until he learns that a guy is trapped in a collapsed cave. Being the sharp reporter, Tatum realizes he can turn this into a huge story and return to the national spotlight if he can properly exploit it and convince the locals that he should have the exclusive. That's exactly what happens as the cave collapse evolves into an actual carnival with rides and games. Tatum finally realizes what he's doing is horribly wrong, but it's too late by that time. Ace in the Hole (also known as The Big Carnival) is an excellent, though exaggerated, example of how the media can sometimes exploit a story without realizing the consequences. A big tip of the hat to Billy Wilder, who produced, directed and co-wrote this excellent 1951 film.


NIGHT MUST FALL (May 21, 3:00 pm):  Watching Robert Montgomery as a charming cockney psycho killer in this film makes it seem as if he was to the manner born. Carrying his latest victim’s head in a hatbox everywhere with him, he has no trouble worming his way into the 72-year old Dame May Whitty’s household, convincing her that he’s the son she never had. Her niece, played by Rosalind Russell, isn’t so easily convinced. It all adds up to a wonderfully tense thriller, with Russell and Montgomery playing mental poker with Whitty as the pot. Although it’s Montgomery’s film, Russell almost steals it from under him with a magnificently understated performance as Whitty’s put upon niece, who must nevertheless watch out for her aunt as she can see Montgomery getting dangerously close. Watch especially for the kitchen scene between Montgomery and Russell, brimming over with sexual tension, yet not so much as a peck on the cheek transpires. Don’t miss it for the performances – all three leads are wonderful, and Montgomery surprises by playing so effectively against type. He even secured an Oscar nomination from it.

LE JOUR SE LEVE – Day to Book (May 21, 11:00 pm): Jean Gabin is the star of this very thoughtful film from Marcel Carne. He plays Francois, a man who has just shot another man named Valentin (Jules Berry) in a jealous dispute over a woman. He is no holed up in his apartment, under siege by the police. Carne’s film uses the course of that night for Francois to reflect as to how he got in this mess to begin with and how he came to murder another. Carne smartly uses dissolves as the events that led Francois to his fate are recollected (one of the first films to employ this technique). With Arletty in a wonderful role as Clara, Valentin’s assistant, who tips Francois off as to what her boss is up to. With the hubbub over new wave directors like Truffaut and Godard, artists such as Carne tend to fade into the darkness. But take a flyer on this one and you’ll be amply rewarded.


ED: A++. If TCM had a category called "The Essential Essentials," I would place this film on it. It is not only the best horror film ever made, but it is also one of the greatest films ever made. In every James Whale horror film, the "monster" is the Outsider, the person that does not fit into society. And Frankenstein's monster was for Whale the Ultimate Outsider. By giving him human faculties such as the power of speech Whale elevates him from the role of murderous automaton to that of a being that can think, feel, and want, and instead of a mere sequel, we get a totally original film, one that highlights the development of a character rather than developments of a plot. In fact, it could rightly be argued that The Bride is not a horror film, but a very stylish black comedy of manners. The film is also a subtle satire on religion. Note the scene where the villagers first capture the monster. It's Whale's parody of the crucifixion. And when he befriends the blind hermit (so beautifully parodied in Young Frankenstein), the hermit thanks God for sending him a friend. Also, when the hermit breaks down and cries right after, the Monster also sheds a tear, emphasizing his humanity. While being Karloff's greatest performance (it's not easy to give a nuanced performance when weighed down by all that makeup), the film is essentially stolen by Ernest Thesiger as the maddest of all mad scientists, Dr. Pretorius. It could also be argued that this was the last of the truly stylish horror films, as the genre went into a decline and when it re-emerged with Son of Frankenstein, it followed a traditional pattern of Monster-as-villain. But this film, however, is one for the ages.

DAVID: B. This is a very good film, better than the 1931 original. It's very original and clever to have Mary Shelley (Elsa Lanchester), the author of Frankenstein, explain that the original ending in which the Monster is killed was not how she wanted the book (and the movie by extension) to conclude and then go on to tell how he survives rather than die. Boris Karloff, who played the Monster in the original as violent and destructive, is excellent in this 1935 sequel as a creature with human emotions. But over-the-top and borderline ridiculous performances by Colin Clive as Dr. Henry Frankenstein (who is also lousy in the original) and Ernest Thesiger as Dr. Pretorius, along with the way Pretorius forces Frankenstein to work with him to create a woman for the Monster really requires the audience to suspend belief. Yes, the entire concept of making a monster out of an artificial brain and various human body parts - as well as creating miniature people and creatures - requires the audience to suspend belief. But this film takes that concept well beyond any definition of reason and doesn't stop even after it hits absurd and campy. Also, the "Bride" is in the film for about 10 minutes, played by Lanchester with the iconic shock-looked hair featuring white streaks. Giving the Monster human emotions and the ability to speak, unlike in Frankenstein, left me unsettled. Even Karloff objected to having the Monster speak calling the decision "stupid." As I mentioned at the start, this is a very good film. The hermit scene is wonderful. I'd recommend seeing it when it's on TCM, setting the TiVo to record or if you have Netflix, watch it any time you want. The latter is how I saw it a few months ago. Very good, but I don't consider the movie to be an all-time great. 

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

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