TCM TiVo ALERT
September 23–September 30
DAVID’S BEST BETS:
THE PUBLIC ENEMY (September 23, 11:15 pm): This Pre-Code classic is one of the greatest gangster movie ever made. It tells of two friends, Tom Powers (James Cagney) and Matt Doyle (Edward Woods), who grow up committing petty crimes, finally making it big thanks to bootlegging during Prohibition. It's a Warner Brothers gangster film from 1931 so obviously it's gritty and real. But thanks to a brilliant performance by Cagney and an incredible directing job by William A. Wellman, this goes far beyond any other gangster film of its time and even to this day. Gangster films have become more violent and bloody, but The Public Enemy is so authentic and brutal, you can't turn away from it for a second. It includes two of the most iconic scenes in cinematic history: Tom shoving a grapefruit in the face of Mae Clarke and the end when a rival gang shoots him up, wraps his body almost like a mummy and delivers it to his family's house.
ZERO FOR CONDUCT (September 24, 8:00 pm): This 1933 French film, directed by Jean Vigo, packs a lot into 41 minutes. I wish it was longer as it is an enjoyable and spirited movie. Four French boarding school boys, repressed by a rigid education system, rebel and end up taking over the school. It's authentic as it shows how educational systems, no matter the country or the time, try to beat students into following rules, no matter their relevance. It is the strong-minded that survive the system or in this case, the students fight back. It's funny, touching, tragic and absolutely brilliant. Vigo, an anarchist who died a year after this film at the age of 29, had such promise as a director. Below, one of Ed's Best Bets is L'Atalante, Vigo's last film and a classic. An end note on Zero For Conduct: it was banned in France shortly after its release with the ban not lifted until 1946, a year after the conclusion of World War II.
ED’S BEST BETS:
TIGHT SPOT (September 24, 8:30 am): A great, underrated crime drama starring Ginger Rogers as a gangster’s moll temporarily released into the custody of U.S. Marshal Edward G. Robinson, who wants her testimony in the upcoming trial of her gangster boyfriend, Lorne Greene (?!) Brian Keith almost steals the picture as a cynical detective assigned to guard Rogers, and with whom she develops an attachment. Adapted from a play titled Dead Pigeon by Leonard Cantor, it takes place in a plush hotel suite, where Robinson works on Rogers to break down her resistance. There is a staginess about it for that reason, and in the hands of a lesser talent, it just would have lain there, daring its stars to come and make something of it. But as directed by Phil Karlson, the staginess is taken and made into a virtue – as a claustrophobic setting creating intensity that ratchets up the suspense. For all this, however, Tight Spot is a B picture. So what?
L’ATALANTE (September 24, 9:00 pm): Think about the great romances captured on film and add this one when you finish watching it. It’s a marvelous fantasy – a mixture of surrealism and naturalism about a young couple beginning married life together sailing down the Seine on a barge. The bride hasn’t known her groom long; in fact, we get the feeling she married him to escape her provincial life. Sailing to LeHavre, things unravel when they dock at Paris and Juliette, the bride, gets a taste of Paris nightlife. Michel Simon gives one of his greatest performances as the engineer. Watch for the scene where he invites Juliette into his cabin to see his collection of mementos. It’s the heart of the film and scene that can’t help but move the viewer. Vigo died at the age of 29 from tuberculosis just as the film premiered, leaving us wondering what he might have done.
WE DISAGREE ON ... THE OMEGA MAN (September 27, 11:30 pm)
ED: B. I love the writings of Richard Matheson, and his works are some of the very few sci-fi writings I’ve read over the years, as I’m not exactly a big fan of sci-fi. For the very few of those out there reading this who aren’t aware, The Omega Man was the second attempt at filming Matheson’s wonderful novel, I Am Legend. Having read the novel I was never happy with any of the film adaptations, but I rate the original Italo-American production, The Last Man on Earth, with Vincent Price as the best, as it stuck mainly to Matheson’s original. This film was produced by Charlton Heston and has its strengths and failings. One of its greatest strengths was casting Rosalind Cash in the female lead role. She delivered the best performance of the film in her breakout role. I wasn’t all that keen with the writers changing matters of plot that I admired from the book and which were left unchanged in the Price original, but I could live with it given the trend of the times in sci-fi movies: that of dystopia. No, the biggest failing of the film was in Heston the producer casting Heston the actor in the leading role. Heston the actor believes that what he must bring to the film is the uncanny ability to chew scenery. Hells Bells, he could’ve hired William Shatner and gotten the same result – and Shatner’s more charismatic to boot. No, the film would have worked much better without Chuckie Baby in the lead and that’s why I didn’t give it an “A.”
DAVID: A. For the record, I'm a sucker for late 1960s-early 1970s post-apocalyptic/dystopian films. If they star Charlton Heston, such as Soylent Green or Planet of the Apes, I'm an even bigger sucker. I love the cool intensity he brings to his characters in these films. Some say he's one of cinema's biggest overactors and I've been teased about being a Heston fan by Ed and our late mutual friend, Bill Kunkel. The two are the most knowledgeable cinefiles I've known, and this film has been a topic of discussion. But despite their sentiment, I remain convinced this is a great film and Heston is outstanding in it. In The Omega Man, he is one of society's last remaining human survivors after biological warfare (between the Chinese and Russians) in 1975 wipes out most people and leaves a bunch of crazed albino mutants. A group of them are called The Family, who want to get rid of technology and science; Heston’s character, Robert Neville is a former military scientist. Because they want to eliminate technology and science, which caused the plague, Chuck is on their chopping block. I agree with Ed that Rosalind Cash (who has an amazing afro) as Lisa, the female lead, is one of the movie's greatest strengths. But the film's excellence is based largely on Heston's performance. Heston plays Neville as a brilliant yet lonely man desperate to survive and desperate for human companionship. Among the great scenes are Neville "negotiating" the sale of a car with a corpse at an auto dealership, and watching Woodstock in an empty theater reciting lines from the concert documentary. The film shows Heston's range as a comedian, a survivor and of course, an action hero. And the ending, which is both happy and sad, is memorable. It's a movie I go back to again and again.
For the complete list of films on the TCM TiVo Alert, click here.