A Guide to the Interesting and Unusual on TCM
By Ed Garea
It was a really good October on TCM, what with the continuing Story of Film and the rarely seen foreign films TCM chose to accompany it. That pretty much continues this month, so search your TCM guides for anything rare and interesting you haven’t yet seen, or for the grace of TCM, may never see. Unless, that is, you want to shell out big dough that you don’t have to The Criterion Collection for a rarely seen Chinese-Japanese-Vietnamese-Indian-Pakistani collaboration you’ll only watch once and then put away to collect dust. I’ve got to be honest, there are many films currently being shown I’m glad to TiVo, but after watching them, with few exceptions, these are not the sort I’d want for my permanent library. I’m risking almost certain exile from the film snobs’ society for this heresy, but, to me, films are primarily entertainment.
I like to collect film that I know I’ll want to see again, such as classic horror and sci-fi, films by Hawks, Hitchcock, Truffaut, Melville, Ozu; classics with Cagney, Bogart, Gabin, Lancaster, Stanwyck, and Bette Davis; screwball comedies, Poverty Row movies, especially Monogram and PRC, B-Westerns with George O’Brien and Buster Crabbe, and especially early ‘30s movies. Those I’ve been interested in since high school, when I noticed they were more risqué in subject matter than later films. But that’s just me. I always figured I’m stuck with me, so I might as well make the best of it.
Events to look forward to in November:
Star of the Month: Burt Lancaster. A great choice as far as I’m concerned, as I can always finds the time to watch one of his films, and there are some good ones to choose from this month. On November 6, TCM is showing the always watchable The Killers from 1946, but following is one of his best and most underrated films, Come Back, Little Sheba, from 1952. On November 13, my choice Lancasters are the fantastic Sweet Smell of Success (1957) at 10:15 pm, and Seven Days in May (1964) at the rather late hour of 2:30 am (set those recorders).
November 1 – The Friday Night Spotlight this month is devoted to screwball comedies, and TCM is showing six of them beginning with It Happened One Night at 8 pm. My pick is the seldom seen The Mad Miss Manton from 1938, starring Barbara Stanwyck as a publicity-seeking daffy socialite who, along with her friends, stumbles upon a murder. But no one will believe her. Henry Fonda is excellent in a co-starring role as a doubtful newspaper editor who slowly is won over.
On November 2 a documentary called Free Radicals: A History of Experimental Film is being shown at – get this – 2:30 in the morning. I can’t say I blame them at TCM, for who would really want to watch this except insomniacs? It’s followed by a slew of experimental shorts, none of which I’ve seen before, so I can’t really give you a guide.
November 3 is given the title of “Same Story,” and it’s all about movies about prostitutes. Now this is a night that demands a guest host, and given the content, there’s no better guest host I can recommend than Velvet Jones, the pimp Eddie Murphy played on the old Saturday Night Live, and who wrote a book, “I Wanna Be a Ho.” The night begins with Rita Hayworth as Miss Sadie Thompson (1953), followed by Joan Crawford in the original film adaptation of Somerset Maugham’s story, Rain (1932). Check out Joan’s make-up in the movie. It gives new meaning to the word “garish.” This is followed by the 1934 Chinese silent Goddess, previously shown last month, and two Japanese films, Story of a Prostitute, a New Wave drama from director Seijun Suzuki (1965), and Women of the Night, a 1948 film from Kenji Mizoguchi. Both Japanese productions are recommended. Story is a remake of Toho’s 1950 melodrama, Escape at Dawn (scripted, by the way, by Akiro Kurosawa). Those who have sat through some other Suzuki melodramas such as Tokyo Drifter and Branded to Kill will notice this is a film where the plot is actually placed ahead of style.
November 5 is dedicated to the 100th birthday of the great Vivien Leigh and a representative selection of her films is being presented. For me, the pick of the litter is Storm in a Teacup, a pleasant English comedy with Rex Harrison from 1937.
November 7: “Nurse Night,” five films about nurses. My best bet is the 1939 programmer Four Girls in White.
November 8: More screwball comedies, beginning with the Leo McCarey classic, The Awful Truth, starring Cary Grant and Irene Dunne. My money’s on MGM’s 1941 Love Crazy, with William Powell as a husband who concocts one crazy scheme after another to keep wife Myrna Loy from divorcing him.
November 9: For those who can’t resist good psychotronic Blaxploitation films, TCM Underground is showing a double-header of Disco Godfather (1979) and The Slams (1973). The one to watch here is Disco Godfather, with the amazing Rudy Ray Moore in the starring role. In this one, he plays a retired LAPD detective who is now running a disco. When his NBA-bound nephew winds up in the psych ward after smoking angel dust, Rudy Ray takes to the streets as only Rudy Ray can to eliminate the drug traffic. Great fun.
November 12: Guest Programmer Simon Helberg (The Big Bang Theory) hosts a night of some of his favorite films, beginning with Blake Edwards’ The Party (1968) with Peter Sellers as an Indian actor who makes a shambles of a Hollywood party. It’s followed by Sellers’ Dr. Strangelove at 9:45, and then changes gears with the classic 1945 romance Brief Encounter.
November 14 is devoted to “Bob’s Picks,” and Bob Osborne always shows something interesting. The pick of the night for me is the lead-off film, My Name is Julia Ross, a nice terse little film from Joseph H. Lewis and Columbia in 1945. It’s definitely worth your time.