TCM TiVo ALERT
July 23–July 31
DAVID'S BEST BETS:
MONSIEUR VERDOUX (July 27, 8:30 am): While I'm a huge fan of Charlie Chaplin's silent films, his best movies - The Great Dictator, Limelight, A King in New York and this film - are among my favorites. This is a very dark comedy about Henri Verdoux (Chaplin), who marries and then kills rich widows to support his crippled wife and young son. Chaplin is so charming that you find yourself sympathizing with Verdoux even though he's killing innocent rich old ladies. While Chaplin is excellent, Martha Raye - yeah, that Martha Raye - is fantastic as one of Verdoux's intended victims who manages to avoid several attempts on her life. The exceptionally funny scenes with Chaplin and Raye alone are worth making a point to watch this film.
PORTRAIT OF JENNIE (July 28, 3:45 am): Everything works in this magnificent film about a struggling artist (played Joseph Cotten, probably cinema's most under-appreciated actors) who meets Jennie, a young girl (Jennifer Jones) who inspires him to paint while mysteriously aging at a rapid rate. This is a wonderful combination of fantasy, romance and the unexplained. Not only are the two leads at the top of their game, but the haunting storyline is beautiful and mesmerizing with beautiful cinematography. I can point to a dozen films to prove my point about Cotten's greatness as an actor, and this 1948 classic is toward the very top of that list.
ED’S BEST BETS:
THE PRODUCERS (July 24, 2:00 am): Mel Brooks began his directorial career with a film reviled at the time by many critics, but now justly seen as one of the classics of cinema. Two Broadway producers (Zero Mostel and Gene Wilder) discover that they can make more money putting on a flop than financing a hit. All they have to do is raise more cash than they need for the play. But they just find a sure-fire flop, for they have pre-sold somewhere around 10,000% of the play, and if it’s a hit, they can’t pay off the backers. Their vehicle is a musical titled “Springtime for Hitler,” the love story of Adolf Hitler and Eva Braun in song. They chose the worst director, the worst actor, and have signed the play’s author, a nutty Nazi living in Greenwich Village. I won’t say any more in case you’re one of the few that hasn’t yet seen this classic.
DAY FOR NIGHT (July 26, 8:00 pm): This is one of Truffaut’s wittiest and most subtle films – a film about the making of a film. While on the set of Je vous presente Pamela (Introducing Pamela), the story of an English wife running off with her French father-in-law, we also get to know the cast and crew shooting the film, each with his or her own set of problems. Hence the title: a technical cinematographic term for simulating a night scene while shooting during the day. Special filters and optical processors are employed to create the illusion. While Nathalie Baye and Jean-Pierre Leaud are wonderful in their roles, Valentia Cortese steals the picture as the fading actress Severine. It’s a great Truffaut film in a month of great Truffaut films being shown on TCM and one not to miss.
WE DISAGREE ON . . . DINER (July 27, 12:00 am)
ED: C. Diner is not a bad movie; in fact, it’s a good time-waster featuring a great cast. But having said that, and having seen it again recently at the behest of my nephew, I still find there’s no “Wow!” factor there, no compelling reason for me to keep watching. It’s a decent coming-of-age ensemble film about some 20-ish young people that hang around in this diner circa 1959 and spout lines having to do with moving on and leaving their childhoods behind. Of course, the diner is the symbol of their soon-to-lost-youthfulness, as the year, 1959, is also a symbol of the coming loss of innocence. But it falls into the same trap as other ordinary ensemble films of this sort: there is nothing profound either said or done, just a group of guys getting together discussing guy stuff and trying to out-macho each other. Billy Joel was more profound about the same loss of innocence in his song “Scenes From an Italian Restaurant.” For those that haven’t yet seen it, put it this way: if you loved Friends, you’ll like Diner.
DAVID B+. There's an intense closeness among friends in high school. There's really nothing to stand in its way. For many of us, we're not working full time or married or have families. You have plenty of time for your friends. As you grow older, close friendships still remain important but work and/or family usually comes first. You can't hang out at a diner all night because of life's responsibilities. And that realization is key as to why Diner is an excellent movie. In the film, a group of high school friends are now in their early 20s, and most of their lives have changed, and thus the relationships and closeness they once shared have also changed. Barry Levinson, in his directorial debut, does a magnificent job of capturing that moment in time. The dialogue isn't brilliant, but it doesn't have to be. The story and the characters are as real as you can get. While a number of actors in this film are far from being favorites of mine, most notably Steve Guttenberg (curse you, Stonecutters!), Paul Reiser and Tim Daly, each gives a wonderful performance; probably the best of their careers. There aren't too many scenes funnier yet somewhat sad than the one in which Eddie (Guttenberg) subjects his future wife to an incredibly difficult test of Baltimore Colts trivia because he's scared of getting married.
For the complete list of films on the TCM TiVo Alert, click here.