TCM TiVo ALERT
December 1–December 7
DAVID’S BEST BETS:
RESERVOIR DOGS (December 2, 4:15 am): The debut of director and writer Quentin Tarantino, this outstanding film from 1992 tells the story of a jewelry heist gone bad without actually showing the crime. Tarantino borrows liberally from The Taking of Pelham of One Two Three, Kansas City Confidential, Rififi and The Killing, among others, yet he makes this film his own with an extraordinary script. The casting is excellent with Harvey Keitel, Tim Roth, Michael Madsen, Steve Buscemi and the director himself. The action, the humor, great lines, raw energy, almost unwatchable violence and very colorful language come at the viewer fast and furious. A master at having music enhance his films, Tarantino uses Stealers Wheel's "Stuck in the Middle With You" in Reservoir Dogs' most gruesome and memorable scene. It's horrifying, compelling, shocking and incredibly effective. The film has great style with the substance to back it up.
THE PETRIFIED FOREST (December 3, 4:00 am): I recommended this film in July 2012, and for those who haven't seen it, it's one you don't want to miss. LikeReservoir Dogs, set the TiVo as it's being shown at a ridiculous time. As I wrote the first time I recommended it, this is film noir before the term was coined. In one of his first major roles, Humphrey Bogart gets to play a bad guy – Duke Mantee, a notorious gangster on the run. He was so great in this 1936 film as the heavy – bringing depth, emotion and character to the role – that Warner Brothers spent nearly five years casting Bogart in other movies as the bad guy. But only a few were of this quality. Duke and his gang end up in a diner near the Petrified Forest in Arizona to avoid the police. When that doesn't work, they take everyone inside hostage. Among those inside is Alan Squier (Leslie Howard), a once-great writer who is now an alcoholic. Not fearing death because of what life has become for him, Squier engages Duke in conversation, pushing his buttons. The interaction between the two is outstanding. The film is an adaption of the play that featured Howard and Bogart in the same roles. Also at the dinner is Gabrielle Maple (Bette Davis), who owns it with her father and grandfather. Davis is excellent and even subdued (gasp!) as a secondary character (gasp!).
ED’S BEST BETS:
DIARY OF A COUNTRY PRIEST (December 1, 2:00 am): Robert Bresson’s beautifully directed adaptation of Georges Bernanos’ moving novel about a young cleric assigned to a rural parish whose self-doubts, combined with his physical ailments (stomach cancer), keep him from becoming the spiritual leader he so desires to be among his parishioners. Bresson focuses on the everyday life of the young priest (who is never named) as he visits around his parish on his bicycle. We see his interactions with unfortunate peasants, disrespectful children, a suicidal doctor, a countess constantly mourning her dead son, soliciting money from her husband for a community project, and coping with stomach pains that are growing worse. Though he seeks counsel from an older down-to-earth priest in a neighboring parish, he can’t seem to fend off suspicions that he’s nothing but a meddling outsider who will never understand the parish or its citizens. Though his belief in God is strong, his belief in his own abilities is shaky, and he comers to believe that he will never be a good priest. As his cancer grows, he mortifies his flesh by eating only bread soaked in wine, and though the cancer diagnosis helps explain his decline, his spirituality not only endures, but also grows. At the end we are informed of his death and last words, “All is grace.” Bresson’s adaptation is not only faithful to Bernandos’ novel, but also manages to capture the spirituality that moves throughout the pages of the book, a difficult task for a film. It’s a must see not only for fans of Bresson and Bernandos – it’s a must see for all those who enjoy a faithfully told story.
THE TESTAMENT OF DR. MABUSE (December 6, 6:00 am): Mention the name “Fritz Lang” to any cinephile and expect to hear “Dr. Mabuse” among the answers. Mabuse is Lang’s master criminal par excellence; his Professor Moriarty. This is Lang’s follow-up to M and his last film made in Germany until his return in the ‘50s. Here we see the further adventures of arch criminal Mabuse. Mabuse has been locked away in an asylum for a decade. Strange things are happening between seemingly disconnected persons and event. Disgraced cop Hofmeister (Karl Meixner) investigates, partially to recover his tarnished reputation. But before he can divulge the facts behind the case he is driven insane. It is now up to Commissioner Lohmann (Otto Wernicke, following up on his role in M) follows the trail to the asylum where Mabuse is kept. What happens from there is compelling viewing, especially as we quickly make the connection between Mabuse and Hitler. Mabuse’s writing – his “testament” – is in reality Hitler’s Mein Kampf. Goebbels banned the film in Germany. Don’t miss it.
WE DISAGREE ON ... A RAISIN IN THE SUN (December 5, 9:45 pm)
ED: A. This is a powerful film from Columbia, based on Lorraine Hansberry’s Broadway play, and the studio was smart enough to let her write the screenplay. It is also a deep film: set in the projects of Chicago it shows the hardship and prejudice African-American families faced. But below that surface it is also a study in character, namely how the women in the movie wait for the man of the family, Walter (Sidney Poitier), to finally find himself. The premise of the film is simple: how best to use a life-insurance bequest of $10,000. Mother Lena (Claudia McNeil) wants to use it to buy a house and as tuition for her daughter’s (Diana Sands) medical school. Son Walter wants to use it to buy a liquor store and escape his job as a chauffeur for a wealthy white man. How the movie eventually plays out will leave no one that watches it unmoved. The cast is strong and their performances pitch perfect. A Raisin in the Sun is one of the best movies to date about the American Dream and how best to achieve it.
DAVID: B. There's no doubt this is a fine film, but it doesn't deserve an "A" grade. Like The Petrified Forest, A Raisin in the Sun was originally a play. But the latter feels too much like a play with the small set – which isn't always a bad thing such as 12 Angry Men. But A Raisin in the Sun would have benefited from giving the performers more space and less opportunities to overact. Overacting is far too common on Broadway, and it carries over into this film. As Ed wrote, the premise is simple. The family inherits $10,000 in life insurance after the death of its patriarch and everyone is torn as to how to use the money. The actors work well together with effective performances by most, particularly Sidney Poitier (of course), Claudia McNeil as his mother, and Ruby Dee as his wife. The storyline is touching and tragic though the ending is just not believable. It's a very good film and one worth seeing. But, unlike Ed, I don't consider it one of the best movies to date about the American Dream and how best to achieve it.
For the complete list of films on the TCM TiVo Alert, click here.