TCM TiVo ALERT
October 23–October 31
DAVID’S BEST BETS:
THE LAST PICTURE SHOW (October 28, 1:30 am): In honor of Halloween, TCM is going all-out with a number of excellent and some really bad and/or corny horror films. Check out the mini-reviews and letter grades below to pick your poison. For this week, I'm recommending two of my favorite films that aren't in the horror genre. The first is The Last Picture Show, a 1971 film directed by Peter Bogdanovich about life in a small Texas town from late 1951 to late 1952. The movie's primary focus is on two high school seniors, played by Timothy Bottoms and Jeff Bridges. The film has an incredible cast of supporting actors including Cloris Leachman, Ben Johnson (both won Oscars for their roles), Ellen Burstyn, Cybill Shepherd and Randy Quaid. This is the cinematic debuts of the latter two, but Bogdanovich is able to bring out the best in not only them, but the entire cast. It's a brilliant character study on life in a small nothing-happening town, and how high school doesn't prepare you for the real world, particularly if you aren't that smart or rich. Most of the characters are just trying to survive in a community that's dying. It's a depressing film, but authentic and one that stays with you long after it's done.
THE SWIMMER (October 30, 10:00 pm): Burt Lancaster is one of my all-time favorite actors and his role as Ned Merrill, a middle-aged ad executive who decides to swim his way home in the pools of his neighbors in this 1968 film, is his most underrated. This Kafkaesque film starts off with Lancaster's character in a bathing suit suddenly emerging from a wooded area without explanation. Merrill is initially greeted with a welcome in the first backyard, but as he goes from swimming pool to swimming pool, things about his seemingly happy and successful life turn out to be not so happy or successful. The closer he gets to home, the more he (and the viewers) learn about his life. The final scenes of Merrill at a public pool and at his house are compelling and fascinating. It also shows how brilliant of an actor Lancaster was.
ED’S BEST BETS:
THE DEATH KISS (October 26, 6:00 am): This is a nice little independently produced Whodunit set inside a movie studio (Tiffany Studios), where the leading actor has been murdered while filming a scene. Bela Lugosi gives a fine performance as the studio’s manager who is busy trying to keep a lid on things, and also paying a familiar role: that of the Red Herring. This role is especially intriguing here because of the presence of two of his Dracula castmates, David Manners and Edward van Sloan (as the harried director trying to finish his cursed film). Another little enjoyment afforded by the film is a glimpse of a real-life Poverty Row studio and it inner workings, something a cineaste would consider must viewing.
DIABOLIQUE (October 27, 3:00 am): Frankly, I cannot recommend this picture enough. Think of a perfect Hitchcock film without Hitchcock. That’s Diabolique, which is directed by Henri-Georges Cluzot. To no one’s surprise, he’s known as “the French Hitchcock,’ and Hitchcock himself was influenced by this film. This is a masterful psychological horror film that builds slowly to a final q5 minutes that will keep you on the edge of your seat. Although the twist ending murder plot has been done many times since, it’s never been done better. Diabolique takes place at a school where Simone Signoret helps her friend Vera Clouzot (real life wife of the director) drown her ogre of a husband (Paul Meurisse), who “returns to life” in a really terrifying scene. It’s a taut, beautifully woven thriller with a climax that will truly shock you. Fans of Hitchcock will love this, as will anyone that loves a well-written thriller with the emphasis on character rather than going for the cheap thrill.
WE DISAGREE ON . . . WHITE ZOMBIE (October 26, 12:30 am)
ED: B. One of the great overlooked horror classics from the ‘30s, it was lost for years until a print was found in the ‘60s, and the film is only beginning to get the critical adulation it deserves. Yet another case of star Bela Lugosi outsmarting himself – he received only $800 for his role, while the film was a box office hit – it was the first zombie movie made. In fact several of its scenes, such as the opening burial on the road and the sight of the zombies working in Lugosi’s sugar mill, still remain in my memory. Made by the Halperin Brothers, it is another example that a low-budget film need not be God awful if written and directed with a touch of intelligence, verve and imagination, which more than make up for what the production values lack. Lugosi is superb as zombie master “Murder” Legendre, with frequent close-ups of his eyes used to convey the horror he visits on unsuspecting Madge Bellamy and John Harron. Enamored of bride-to-be Bellamy, he uses black magic to make her his bride. Harron must stop him before he succeeds, with the result being an atmospheric, eerie chiller. By the way, for you trivia buffs, this was the film that Ed Wood and Lugosi were watching on Halloween night in Ed Wood.
DAVID: C. This isn't an awful film, but there isn't anything special about it. Bela Lugosi as the evil zombie master is, of course, over-the-top. But he is Olivier in comparison to the rest of the cast of misfit, has-been, never-was actors. The storyline is ridiculous: A rich guy is in love with someone else's fiance so he goes to see Lugosi's character, Murder Legendre, to turn his love into a zombie. She marries her true love, but drinks a zombie potion, dies, is buried, gets dug up, and ends up with the rich guy, who has second thoughts about being in love with an undead woman. He obviously didn't think things through. And then the rich guy becomes a zombie too. While it tries to be menacing, such as Lugosi giving the evil stare, it's more comedic than anything else. The ending is predictable so there's no need to give it away here. It's not a bad movie and there is a certain charm to it. It's only 67 minutes long so you're not wasting much time watching it.