TCM TiVo ALERT
November 8-November 14
DAVID’S BEST BETS:
THE SLAMS (November 9, 3:45 am): TCM's Star of the Month is Burt Lancaster. If he made a bad film, I haven't seen it so watch anything with him in it that you can. As for my picks for the week, The Slams comes with my highest recommendation, particularly if you love the Blaxploitation genre. I'm a huge fan. Two years after 1971's Shaft, The Slams stars real-life bad-ass Jim Brown as a bad ass. He plays Curtis Hook, an angry black man who turns to crime because The Man has kept him down. Tired of that, Hook turns to crime, but has a moral compass. He and a couple of white guys kill drug dealers taking their money, $1.5 million, and their dope, though Hook does nearly all of the work. Hook hides the money and isn't interested in the heroin as it's bad for the brothers and sisters in the 'hood. His two partners teach him the valuable lesson not to trust Whitey. Hook ends up in prison, or the Slams as the brothers call it. That's when the fun begins. Brown needs to escape to get the money as well as watch himself as there are plenty of people who want the money and want to kill Hook. With the help of the neighborhood pimp, who helps a brother out, Cook is able to escape from the Slams in a portable toilet. While not a great actor, Brown is solid as the lead in this entertaining film.
SCENES FROM A MARRIAGE (November 12, 3:00 am): Originally a 281-minute Swedish TV mini-series aired in 1973, Ingmar Bergman condensed Scenes From a Marriage to a 169-minute film released worldwide a year later. Like nearly all Bergman movies, it's great. It's the story of divorce lawyer Marianne (Liv Ullmann) and college professor Johan (Erland Josephson), who've been married for 10 years. They seem to have a solid relationship, but appearances are deceiving. A smile isn't simply a smile. It's filled with emotions ranging from love to anger. The film explores the ups and downs of the next 20 years of their marriage, including affairs, considerations of divorce, the tension between the couple and the challenges they experience. It's Bergman so the cinematography and insightful dialogue are brilliant. Bergman and his actors, particularly Ullmann and Bibi Andersson in a secondary but important role, shed light on the evolution of marriage – sometimes in ways that make the viewer uncomfortable because seeing the truth is the last thing we want. The film is incredibly engrossing, intense, brutally honest while also beautiful and touching. There are few directors who understand life and have the ability to translate that into not only watchable movies, but ones that are enlightening and captivating. Bergman was not only among those few, but he was the best at it, and Scenes From a Marriage is a perfect example.
ED’S BEST BETS:
THE MATCH KING (November 8, 8:15 am): A wonderful, if underrated, Pre-Code film starring that great, if underrated actor, Warren William, at his debonar cad best. Based on the true story of financial swindler Ivar Kruegar, whose shenanigans brought down several banks and deepened an already bad Depression, William is Paul Kroll, a man who gets an idea of cornering the market in something that is not only necessary, but cal also be easily produced – matches. We first meet him as a street sweeper outside Wrigley Field in Chicago. His talents for deceit and easy manner eventually take him to the top of the business world, from whence he falls, and falls hard. William gives a smooth, clean performance as Kroll, with the only weak spot in the film being Lily Damita, in a thinly veiled Greta Garbo. Damita, who later married Errol Flynn and Michael Curtiz, gives a performance that calls for a strong director with experience with women. Unfortunately, the directors of this film – Howard Bretherton and William Keighley – were Warners’ assembly-line directors, more concerned with getting it out on time than with performances. However, it remains a most entertaining 79 minutes. Watch for the always-entertaining Glenda Farrell as William’s girlfriend – and first victim.
MY NAME IS JULIA ROSS (November 14, 8:00 pm): Great B-noir from director Joseph H. Lewis starring Columbia starlet Nina Foch and a young innocent who answers a newspaper ad for a job and winds up as the prisoner of a crazy family. It’s a great old style Gothic thriller that, despite its low budget, never fails to amaze me, now matter how many times I’ve seen it. Lewis, who worked his way up from Poverty Row productions, knows how to save a buck without sacrificing quality, and this is his breakout film, one that would lead to bigger and better things. Foch is the perfect casting as the young innocent, with Dame May Whitty (Miss Froy in The Lady Vanishes) as her sinister employer, with George Macready (Gilda) as her demented son, Ralph. Film history buffs should look for the oddly named Ottola Nesmith as Mrs. Susan Robinson. A character actor working in film since 1913, Nesmith would later surface on television on KTLA in Hollywood hosting late night horror films.
WE DISAGREE ON ... ENTER THE DRAGON (November 11, 12:45 am)
ED: B-. Were I rating this film by the influence it has had on the martial arts genre since its release, the grade would be A+. However, I must grade it by what it actually is - a B movie. Compared to the usual production values of kung fu films coming from China at the same time, this would be an A-production. It's Bruce Lee's last film before his death, and also stars such martial arts luminaries as Jim Kelly, Angela Mao, Bolo Cheung, and Jackie Chan in a small role. John Saxon, who plays Roper, was known as a good, though not great, actor. But compared to Bruce Lee he comes off like John Gielgud. It's knot that I don't like the film. It's great entertainment, but compared to the likes of Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon or House of the Flying Daggers, with great production values, superb direction and great acting, it comes off as a distinctly poor relation. Hence the grade.
DAVID: A+. Enter the Dragon is not only the most influential martial arts movie ever made, it is also one of the finest action films you'll see. It was groundbreaking as the first Chinese/Hong Kong martial arts film co-produced by a major American studio, Warner Brothers. Bruce Lee, who died six days before the film's release, is dripping with charisma – charisma that was already big at the box office. Had Lee lived, he likely would have been cinema's greatest and most successful action hero. Not only was his martial arts ability on another planet, but his ease, charm, intensity and sense of humor makes it impossible not to love his character. In this film, he plays Lee, a Shaolin martial artist recruited by British intelligence to infiltrate an island owned by Mr. Han, a wealthy major drug dealer and a former Shaolin student kicked out for violating the code of conduct. Han has an international martial arts tournament on his island in which only the best compete for huge prize money. Of course, Lee goes and befriends two American martial artists, Jim Kelly (with a great afro) and John Saxon, an actor who does a nice job playing a martial artist. The movie has many fantastic scenes, but three stand out to me. The first, just before the opening credits begin, has Lee give a lesson to a young student by asking him to kick him. The student repeatedly fails, with Lee smacking him in the head while giving him advice until he succeeds. Lee says, "Don't think. Feel. It's like a finger pointing at the moon." The student looks at the finger and gets smacked again. "Do not concentrate on the finger or you will miss all of the heavenly glory." The second has a drunk bully on a boat to Han's island beating up the help. Lee sees this and agrees to fight the guy, who asks about Lee's style. "You can call it the art of fighting without fighting," Lee responds. The guy has to see it in action and agrees to Lee's challenge to get in a dinghy to fight on a nearby island. Lee simply unties the rope holding the dinghy with the people previously bullied holding on to it, humiliating the man. The third scene (seen here) has Lee fighting O'Hara, Han's bodyguard. O'Hara also raped Lee's sister and led her to commit suicide rather than be raped again. The fight itself is less than four minutes long, but the story it tells is utterly brilliant from the tense music to O'Hara breaking a board leading Lee to calmly tell him, "Boards don't hit back," to Lee flashing back to what happened to his sister to O'Hara getting a beat-down. Some of the scene is filmed in slow motion for effect, but also shows what an excellent martial artist Lee was and the great pained expressions on his face. The scene culminates with a funny moment that has a guy checking on an obviously dead O'Hara. The guy gives the "he's dead" sign – moving his hand across his neck. There are many more excellent scenes in the movie including the massive fight between freed prisoners of Han and his many henchmen, and the final showdown between Lee and Han in a room of mirrors. I've seen this film at least 20 times, and enjoy it every time.