A Guide to the Interesting and Unusual on TCM
second half of November picks up right where the first half left off.
Here, then, are highlights to look forward to in the second half.
15: Friday Night Spotlight continues with this
month’s roster of screwball comedies. Slated for tonight: Theodora
Goes Wild at 8:00, Twentieth Century at
9:45,Easy Living (11:00), It’s a Wonderful
World (1:15 am), Merrily We Live (2:45 am),
and If You Could Only Cook (4:30 am). My Best Bets
are Twentieth Century and Easy Living.
16: The noted Italian horror director, Mario Bava, checks in
with his 1970 demented shocker Hatchet For A Honeymoon.
Bridal design shop owner Stephen Forsyth pursues his hobby of killing
various young brides-to-be. It seems that he suffered a childhood
trauma, and only by killing each bride is he able to get a clue as to
his past. Because the film was never picked up be a major
distributor, it quickly fell into the public domain and became one of
Bava’s most watched films. Back in the ‘70s I used to watch it on
Channel 9 in New York, which would show it every other month or so on
their Fright Night show. I haven’t seen it since
then and must admit I’m looking forward to it, if only for the
17: TCM is giving cinephiles a real treat. The installment
for its Silent Sunday Nights is Part I of Lost and Found:
American Treasures from the New Zealand Film Archive. There are
some real gems to be viewed, including an old Aesop’s
Fables cartoon from Paul Terry, and Upstream, a
1927 hour-long comedy-drama from John Ford, long considered lost. I
think that when some of the more famous lost films, such as London
After Midnight and the Marx Brothers silent Humor
Risk, are found, they’ll be found in some cellar or attic Down
20: Star-of-the-Month Burt Lancaster is represented by four
films this evening beginning at 8:00. The underrated Mister
880, the ponderous Judgment at Nuremburg, The
Birdman of Alcatraz, and my favorite, The Train, with
Lancaster as a French Resistance fighter locked in a human chess game
with German Colonel Paul Schofield. Schofield wants to hijack some of
France’s most valuable paintings to Germany and it is up to
Lancaster and his crew to stop him. Michel Simon, as crusty engineer
Papa Boule, steals the film.
21: On the night before the 50th anniversary
of JFK’s assassination, TCM is showing a night of documentaries
capped off with the 1963 war drama PT 109, about JFK’s
service in the Pacific Theater in World War II. The night begins at
8:00 with the groundbreaking documentary from Albert
Maysles, Primary. It is a close-up view of the 1960
Wisconsin Democratic primary pitting young John Kennedy against
Minnesota Senator Hubert Humphrey. Filmed in the days before
residential campaigns had become a series of infomercials, the film
gives us a unique look at the candidates as they tour the state,
press the flesh, and give innumerable speeches. Maysles, as we know,
went on to make the acclaimed Gimme Shelter and Grey
9:15 comes cinema verite pioneer Robert
Drew’s Adventures on the New Frontier. This is a
fascinating and candid documentary covering newly elected President
Kennedy’s daily routine in the Oval Office. It was the first time
the American public was permitted such a close look at the day-to-day
schedule of the president. Crisis, another documentary by
Drew, follows at 10:30. Crisis (1963) tells the
story of President Kennedy’s fight to integrate the University of
Alabama despite the machinations of Governor George Wallace to keep
the university segregated.
more documentaries follow: Faces of November (1964),
a 30-minute film created for ABC News by Robert Drew covering the
funeral of the assassinated leader. Finally, the documentary run ends
with the David L. Wolper produced Four Days in November (1964).
Directed by Mel Stuart, written by Theodore “Dr. Seuss” Geisel,
and narrated by Richard Basehart, it’s a fascinating and poignant
look at that tragic day in Dallas and its aftermath. I saw it about
10 years ago and remember being stunned that it still packed such a
wallop to my senses. I plan to see it again.
the movie that put Cliff Robertson on the star map: PT 109.
Chronicling an episode from JFK’s Naval days when his PT boat was
sunk by a Japanese sub, Robertson gave a bravura performance as the
young Kennedy, who rises to the occasion when the boat is hit and
swims through open water to attract search and rescue craft. Although
there were many biopics of presidents made before PT 109, it
was the first biopic made while the president was still in office.
Filming began shortly after Kennedy’s inauguration and the film
premiered in June 1963.
22: Another Friday and more screwball comedies. The best of
the bunch leads off the night – My Man Godfrey, a truly
wonderful comedy starring Carole Lombard as dizzy heiress Irene
Bullock, who runs into William Powell and, believing him to be a
tramp, hires him as the new family butler. As Powell tries to teach
the family that money isn’t everything, he finds almost everyone in
the household is a sandwich short of a picnic. Mischa Auer is
wonderful as a talentless and starving artist, sheltered by Irene’s
mother Angelica (Alice Brady). Eugene Palette almost walks away with
the film as the family patriarch, who is permanently befuddled by all
that goes on about him.
a close second are two funny films from Howard Hawks: Ball of Fire
(1941), with the inimitable Barbara Stanwyck as a stripper on the run
from the police who hides out at a house populated by a group of
dotty professors led by Gary Cooper. The professors are working on an
encyclopedia and Cooper is writing the section on slang, for which
Stanwyck proves a gold mine of research. The second, Bringing
Up Baby, stars Cary Grant as a paleontologist and Katharine
Hepburn as a wacky socialite who makes a mess of Grant’s life. Both
are highly recommended and extremely funny, having lost none of their
comic punch over the years.
24: The highlights are Part 2 of Lost and Found:
American Treasures from the New Zealand Film Archive. Among the
gems are early newsreels and a film from 1924 titled The
White Shadow. Although directorial credit is given to Graham
Cutts, a newcomer named Alfred Hitchcock served as screenwriter and
assistant director, art director, and editor. Only three reels of the
film survive, but they provide us with a rare glimpse into the early
are two early 1959 films from noted New Wave director Claude
Chabrol: Les Cousins, a drama about youthful disillusion,
with a city boy and his rural cousin competing for the affections of
a young beauty; and Le Beau Serge, about an ailing city
man who discovers a visit to his hometown in the country has a
therapeutic effect on him. I confess that I’ve seen neither, so my
recorder will definitely be set that night.
26: TCM premieres A Night at the Movies: Cops &
Robbers and Crime Writers, a documentary about how crime movies
have inspired some of the leading writers of crime fiction. TCM’s
documentaries are always enjoyable, and this one promises to be no
different. It’s followed by three of my favorite crime
movies: Naked City (1948),White Heat (1949),
and the original The Taking of Pelham One, Two Three (1974).
As they are being shown during the Vampire Shift, it’s best to
record them for later viewing. (Unless, of course, you’re a
vampire. But make sure you’ve eaten first.)
27: The morning and afternoon is devoted to a mini-marathon
of great crime movies, highlighted by the wonderful Rififi,
the underrated Side Street, and the rarely shown Stakeout
on Dope Street. Also on display in Gun Crazy and
the film it influenced, Bonnie and Clyde. All in all,
it’s a great day to skip work.
tribute to Star-of-the-Month Burt Lancaster ends with Field
of Dreams (1989), The Leopard (1963), The
Professionals (1966), The Crimson Pirate (1952),
and Brute Force (1947). While anything with
Lancaster is worth the time, The Leopard and Brute
Force are my picks, with the underrated The Crimson
Pirate closely behind them.
29: The last Friday Night Spotlight devoted to screwball
comedies, highlighted by three from the gifted Preston Sturges: The
Lady Eve (1941), Christmas in July (1940),
and The Palm Beach Story (1942).
30: The best is saved for last this day as TCM Underground
gives us a double feature from demented psychotronic auteur Ted V.
Mikels. The Doll Squad (1973), shown at 2:15 am, is about a
squad of gorgeous government agents whose role is to catch saboteurs.
Among the squad members are Francine York and cult figure Tura
Satana. Mikels claimed it was the inspiration for the TV
series Charlie’s Angels (Aaron Spelling was
invited to the premiere) and Quentin Tarantino credited the film as
the inspiration for the deadly Viper Assassination Squad in his 2003
flick, Kill Bill.
4:15 am is Mikels’ incredible Ten Violent Women (1982).
Mikels took a women-in-prison script and bookended it with a jewelry
heist and a prison escape. Mikels made the film for $145,000 and it
looks as if he spent every penny on the production. Mikels even stars
as Leo the Fence, dispatched by the women with a high heel shoe
through his heart. If psychotronic movies are your thing, this is a