TCM TiVo ALERT
July 15–July 22
DAVID’S BEST BETS:
LARCENY INC. (July 18, 10:30 am): There is no one who played Edward G. Robinson's typical mobster character for laughs any better than Edward G. Robinson. In this 1942 film, Eddie G.'s character, J. Chalmers "Pressure" Maxwell gets out of prison after serving his time with plans to go straight. His dream of opening a dog racing track in Florida is thwarted as he's unable to get the financing because of his gangster background. But Pressure has enough money to buy a failing luggage store next to the bank that rejected his loan request. With the help of a couple of dim-witted buddies, Jug Martin (Broderick Crawford) and Weepy Davis (Edward Brophy) – what great criminal flunky names! – they start digging underground to get to the bank's safe. One of the best scenes is when they hit a utility line and oil comes pouring out of the hole with Jug and Weepy, covered in the stuff, thinking they struck oil. While the luggage store is just a cover for their criminal plans, it becomes a very successful business. There's a secondary plot involving Pressure's adopted daughter (played by Jane Wyman) and an inept luggage salesman (played by Jack Carson) that is amusing, but takes a back seat to Eddie G.'s charisma and comedic skills.
A NOUS LA LIBERTE (July 21, 2:00 am): This 1931 classic, written and directed by Rene Clair, is one of the most enjoyable and delightful films ever made. You can't help but smile while watching. It's the story of two French prisoners and very close friends, Louis (Raymond Cordy) and Emile (Henri Marchand), who attempt to escape. Louis escapes, but Emile doesn't. While out, Louis goes to work at an assembly-line factory and eventually moves up the ranks to owning the business. Years pass and Emile gets out of prison looking for work. He ends up at Louis's factory, the two are reunited by chance and remember each other. Louis, who had lost his enjoyment of life in pursuit of making himself a serious businessman, returns to his happy-go-lucky self with Emile by his side. The two have a lot of fun together until another ex-con figures out that Louis is an escaped prisoner, and the duo's plan to get away with a lot of money goes wrong. No longer rich and successful, Louis feels sorry for himself. But Emile gives him a kick in the pants and the poor but happy duo head down the road singing and looking for a new adventure. The storyline and "choreography" of the prisoners marching and workers on the assembly line – they look the same, which is the message of this sometimes heavy-handed anti-capitalist movie – are memorable and exceptionally well done. This film is an absolute delight even with the political message.
ED’S BEST BETS:
SULLIVAN’S TRAVELS (July 18, 2:45 am): This film is rightly said to be writer/director Preston Sturges’s masterpiece. John L. Sullivan is a noted director of light musical fare such as Ants in Your Plants of 1939 and Hey, Hey in the Hayloft. However, he wants to make an "Important Film," and he has one in mind, namely O Brother, Where Art Thou, a leaden novel concerned with the struggle between Capital and Labor. The studio execs pooh-pooh it, noting that he grew up rich and never suffered. So, Sullivan sets out to see how the other half lives, and ends up with far more than he bargained for when everybody assumes he died. It’s both hilarious and touching with many insights from Sturges into the human ego versus the human condition. It’s best to record it to be seen again later – and you will definitely want to see it again.
MON ONCLE (July 21, 8:00 pm): Star/Director Jacques Tati’s follow-up to the wonderful Mr. Hulot’s Holiday, it comes close to capturing the magic of that film. Here we see Mr. Hulot in his natural environment – a Paris that is slowly disappearing; swallowed up by the emerging Modern Paris. Emblematic of the New Modern Paris is Hulot’s sister (Adrienne Servantie) and brother-in-law (Jean-Pierre Zola), the Arpels. Brother-in-law Charles Arpel owns a plastic factory, which is totally fitting considering the context of the movie. Hulot is Arpel’s “problem” in that he not only does nothing for a living, but is also a bad influence on his nephew, Gerard (Alain Becourt), whom Charles wants to take more of a serious view of life. Hulot lives in the older section of Paris, with a vibrant neighborhood, though getting to his apartment is analogous to mountain climbing. The Arpels, by contrast, live in a state-of-the-art modern house in a renovated section of Paris, which seems to be miles away from the old Paris. Their yard has no grass, just concrete walks and gravel. In the middle is a pond with a huge statue of a fish. A running gag in the movie is that the fish spouts water when a switch inside the house is thrown, and Madame Arpel only activates the fish when she wants to impress a visitor. As with Mr. Hulot’s Holiday, the film is shot almost entirely in medium frame and the gags come fast and furious. It’s a worthy sequel, and those who enjoyed the first Hulot film will love this one.
WE DISAGREE ON ... THE L-SHAPED ROOM (July 15, 3:00 am)
ED: B-. The reason I gave this film the grade I did was because I wasn’t crazy about the “direction” of Bryan Forbes. Okay, Leslie Caron is a pregnant single French woman holed up in a Notting Hill dump. And, wouldn’t you know it, the house is filled with the stock characters we’ve come to expect: the distasteful landlady, the seedy doctor, the elderly lesbian actress with a cat, a couple of chatty tarts, the Black musician, and a failed writer who falls for Caron and draws inspiration from their story. Besides this, the film could stand a good trimming of about 15 minutes or so. It’s also episodic, which wouldn’t be that bad if it weren’t also so predictable. But then that is a hallmark of Forbes – trouble sustaining the narrative. In the end, it’s an example of the actress almost overcoming the hurdles placed in her way. But there are too many hurdles and not enough Caron. All things told, however, she should have at least shared the 1963 Oscar with Patricia Neal (Hud). Neal had an easier time, having a slam-bang director like Martin Ritt. Caron, on the other hand, had Bryan Forbes.
DAVID: A. First, I must respectfully disagree with Ed about the directing abilities of Bryan Forbes. The best way for readers to decide for themselves would be to watch TCM on July 15 starting at 9:00 pm. You'll see four splendid Forbes-directed films, starting with the hilariously-funny The Wrong Box; followed by Seance on a Wet Afternoon, an excellent psychological thriller; The Whisperers, a film that perfectly captures the tragic circumstances of the lead actress, and finishing up with 1963's The L-Shaped Room, with Leslie Caron giving her finest non-dancing performance in a movie. While the characters may be cliche on paper, they are anything but that in the film. The people at the London boarding house are real and authentic. Jane (Caron) starts to fall for Toby (Tom Bell), a struggling writer who becomes romantically involved with her until realizing she's pregnant. The two become friends and her story becomes the inspiration for Toby's successful novel, titled The L-Shaped Room. The two never get together with Jane returning to France and her family after having her baby. This "British kitchen sink" film is emotional, tender, tragic, and worthy of viewing.
For the complete list of films on the TCM TiVo Alert, click here.