TCM TiVo ALERT
September 1–September 7
DAVID'S BEST BETS:
METROPOLIS (September 6, 8:00 pm): One of the 10 greatest films ever made, which is remarkable when you consider it came out in 1927. Directed by Fritz Lang (who co-wrote it without taking the credit), it tells the remarkable story of a futuristic dystopia in which the rich live above ground with the poor underground providing the power, through dangerous and back-breaking work, needed to keep the wealthy living in comfort. The workers rise up which leads to disaster. Finally, the two classes work together. It’s a silent film with a brilliantly-written script. My favorite line is: "There can be no understanding between the hand and the brain unless the heart acts as mediator." Its message isn't outdated 86 years later. And what can be said of its special effects, set designs, and scenes with hundreds, if not thousands, of extras? They are jaw-dropping to this day.
ESCAPE FROM NEW YORK (September 6, 12:30 am): There is so much to love about this 1981 near-future science-fiction film. The year is 1997 and the country has turned Manhattan into a maximum-security wasteland without any actual prison buildings and no guards. I'm guessing John Carpenter, who directed and co-wrote the film, probably laughs at what Manhattan actually became. The dirt, hookers, crime and grit has been replaced by tourists, tons of (gigantic) chain stores and restaurants in Time Square, and largely a safe place. Air Force One is hijacked and crashes on Manhattan and the president of the United States is held hostage. It's up to Snake Plissken (Kurt Russell), a former soldier and current imprisoned criminal, to rescue the president. If he can get the job done in a day, he's a free man. If not, well, the government injected an explosive into Snake that kills him. It's a fun ride with a lot of action and good performances by Russell, Ernest Borgnine as "Cabbie," Harry Dean Stanton as "Brain," and Isaac Hayes as "The Duke."
ED'S BEST BETS:
THE BIRDS (September 1, 5:45 pm): It’s Alfred Hitchock’s classic tale of Nature-gone-wild as birds suddenly begin rearing up and attacking people. In the middle of this mess are lovers Tippi Hedren and Rod Taylor, along with Taylor’s mother (Jessica Tandy) and his daughter (Veronica Cartwright). This gives it the human touch it needs to keep us riveted and from becoming just another horror film. And that’s the genius of Hitchcock – taking what could be just another horror film and raising it to the level of the sublime by just adding a simple touch or two to the story, humanizing it, as it were.
THE BRIDE OF FRANKENSTEIN (September 7, 3:30 am): In my opinion this is the greatest horror film ever made, though the way James Whale directs it, it could also be seen as a black comedy. One of the decisions he made – to have the monster speak – was derided at the time and for a while later, but now is rightly regarded as a brilliant move on Whale’s part. It gives the monster a touch of humanity and frees him, for a time at least, from merely becoming the automaton he was to become in later films.
WE DISAGREE ON . . . ROPE (September 1, 12:00 pm)
ED: A-. Even I would say that Rope is not Hitchcock’s best. It’s been written that he was glad when it didn’t get much play later on television. So, then, why did I give it the grade I did? I gave the grade for effort – an “A” for effort. Rope may not be hugely entertaining, but it was the realization of a notion Hitchcock had played with for years: creating a film in one uninterrupted take. Financial reasons also came into play, for Hitchcock thought that if he were to shoot the full length of the 10 minutes of film contained in a Technicolor camera in one burst, he could speed through shooting in record time and save on the budget. He would then create the illusion of a continuous take by changing reels web the camera’s vision was obscured by an actor’s back or other anything else. But what the director hadn’t counted on was the inevitable flubs that occur when filming a scene – any small detail that went wrong, such as a flubbed line of dialogue, ruined the full 10 minutes of shooting. Even star Jimmy Stewart, normally one of the easiest-going actors on a set, lost his patience with Hitchcock’s method and told the director so. That he would even attempt such a radical style marks the film down as a historical oddity of sorts, and thus an essential film for serious film fans. And that is why I gave it an A-minus.
DAVID: B. That I don't consider Rope to be among the 10 best films directed by Alfred Hitchcock and still give it a B is a testament to his talent and compelling performances from James Stewart and Farley Granger. But the plot isn't particularly strong and the supporting actors aren't anything special. While lesser directors could score points for effort for innovation and creative filmmaking, Hitchcock was such a cinematic master that he doesn't deserve that courtesy. While Hitch tries to "create the illusion of a continuous take," as Ed mentions above, it really doesn't matter whether it's achieved or not. It's entertaining, but nothing special. It's a movie that depends a lot on dialogue, and while it's fine, it's not exceptional. Also, it's one of the director's least suspenseful suspense films.
For the complete list of films on the TCM TiVo Alert, click here.