A Guide to the Interesting and Unusual on TCM
December, and we’re well into the Holiday Season. Because of that,
there are slim pickings concerning unusual entries on TCM this month.
So, this will be a short – if not sweet – column.
STAR OF THE MONTH is Fred Astaire, a perfect choice
considering the holidays. Many of us have seen just about every
musical he made, and that’s what TCM is offering us this month. The
Astaire Fest kicks off on December 4 and runs on each Wednesday of
the month. As we’ve seen all this before, I’ll aim this at those
few who haven’t. These are my picks for each day devoted to Astaire
4: The pick of the lot if 1933’s Flying Down to
Rio, (8:00 pm) his first teaming with Ginger Rogers, and the
two stole the film and danced their way into America’s hearts. It’s
actually a vehicle for star Dolores Del Rio, as she plays a rich
Brazilian woman pursued by bandleader Gene Raymond. The highlights of
the film as Fred and Ginger dancing “The Carioca” and the scene
of dancing girls cavorting on the wings of planes. Other than this,
it’s quite ordinary.
can’t go wrong with The Band Wagon (11:30
pm), which was not only Fred’s best musical, but one the best ever
made. For my money, it’s the best. Astaire is aided by a
spectacular supporting cast, including Oscar Levant, Nanette Fabares,
the great English musical star, Jack Buchanan, and the wonderful Cyd
Charisse. The musical numbers are what is to be expected, accompanied
by a witty script. For those who have not yet seen this one, it’s
required viewing, while those that have seen it will probably want to
see it again.
OF THE ORDINARY
6 how about Josef Von Sternberg’s triumph of style over
substance, Blonde Venus? Marlene Dietrich stars in
this 1932 opus as a nightclub singer who’ll do just about anything
to support herself and her child. The film is famous for Dietrich
appearing in an ape suit for the number ”Hot Voodoo.” Putting it
mildly, it has to be seen to be fully appreciated. Also starring
Herbert Marshall and Cary Grant in an early appearance. As with most
of Von Sternberg, excess doesn’t necessarily equal success, but in
this case it does make for some fun watching.
8: Beginning at 2:45 am, TCM is showing Robert
Bresson’s Trial of Joan of Arc (1962),
followed at 4:00 am by Carl Dreyer’s 1928 silent masterpiece The
Passion of Joan of Arc. If you can’t stay up
for this excellent double feature, capture it on your TiVo. You won’t
10: Guest Programmer Patton Oswalt is featured with his
first selection being Kind Hearts and Coronets,
one of the funniest comedies ever made. From Ealing Studios in 1949,
it features Alec Guinness in eight roles as members of the
aristocratic D’Ascoyne family, all of whom are murdered at one
point or another by Louis Mazzini, whose mother, a member of the
family, was disowned for marrying a commoner. As the D’Ascoynes
stand between Louis and the Dukedom he so desperately craves, they
have to go, and go they do in hilarious ways. It’s a film that
never loses its satirical punch, with Dennis Price as Luis and the
fetching Joan Greenwood as the greedy Sibella, Louis’ paramour.
15: Speaking of Robert Bresson, his 1959 work, Pickpocket,
is being shown at 2:00 am. It’s a compelling story of sin, guilt
and redemption as Bresson follows the story of career criminal
Michael and what makes him tick. Like other works of Bresson, the
reasons why Michael does what he does are by no means simple and
clear; Michael is addicted to his self-destructive way of life and
will only find redemption by placing his trust in another human
being, in this case Jeanne, a woman who grows close to him after he
returns from life on the run to Paris. Bresson gets us to wondering
if this was his fate all along, the reason he came back: the battle
between chance and destiny is a theme that permeates his movies. It
is a movie that must be seen, so get out your recorders and catch
Underground, thankfully, has not been placed on hiatus this month, so
there are some good pickings.
7 gives us a doubleheader of LSD films. First up at 2:00 am
is 1979’s Blue Sunshine, about a group of
ordinary middle-class citizens who become psychotic murderers as a
result of some tainted LSD they ingested 10 years ago while college
students. First they lose their hair, then their cool as they
degenerate into violence. Future director Zalman King (9½
Weeks, Red Shoe Diaries) is Zipkin, a lone avenger
determined to end the epidemic. Look for Mark Goddard, light years
removed from Lost in Space, as the Typhoid Mary of the
piece. Also in the cast is Alice Ghostley. Is it bad? Oh yeah. But
that’s why it’s worth watching.
comes The Big Cube (1969) starring Lana
Turner (yes, Lana Turner) as an actress being slowly driven mad by
her daughter and her LSD-pushing boyfriend in order to grab her trust
fund. Contrived? Certainly, but it’s always fun to see former big
stars reduced to starring in bad pictures for the coin.
you’re up late on December 14 you might want to
tune in the double header of Death By Invitation (2:00
am), followed by Incubus (1965).
by Invitation is a low-budget wonder, filmed by would-be
auteur Ken Friedman on Staten Island. It’s the old chestnut about a
resurrected witch who takes revenge on the descendents of her
killers, only she decapitates them with an ax. We’ve seen it before
in films such as Mario Bava’s Black Sunday and
John Moxey’s Horror Hotel, only we haven’t quite seen
it this awful, and therein lies the reason to tune in. As for
Friedman, he quit while he was behind and later became a
screenwriter, penning Heart Like a Wheel, Johnny Handsome,
and Cadillac Man, among other works.
a true wonder, with William Shatner in his last pre-Trek feature
as a man encountering both good and evil demons. The dialogue is
entirely in Esperanto, created in 1887 by Polish oculist Ludwig L.
Zamenhof as a planned universal language. And until you’re heard
Shatner emoting in Esperanto, you haven’t lived.
film was written and directed by Leslie Stevens, the man responsible
for creating the cult SF series, The Outer Limits.