TCM TiVo ALERT
December 15–December 22
DAVID’S BEST BETS:
SINGIN' IN THE RAIN (December 18, 11:30 am): I'm not a fan of musicals so when I recommend one, watch it. Singin' in the Rain is the greatest musical ever made. It's funny, it's charming, the singing is great and the dancing is unbelievable. While Gene Kelly's numbers are spectacular, Donald O'Connor's performance of "Make 'Em Laugh" is the best in the film. O'Connor had a unique physical style of dance that included him taking a number of pratfalls and other things that didn't do anything good to his body. While the plot isn't exceptionally strong, it's clever – spoofing Hollywood's transition from silent films to talkies.
DOG DAY AFTERNOON (December 20, 11:45 pm): When this film came out in 1975, you would have been hard-pressed to find a better and more versatile actor in his prime than Al Pacino. This has always been one of my favorite Pacino films. As I've mentioned at other times, this is among a handful of films from the era that perfectly captures the violent, dirty and unique atmosphere of New York City. In this case, it's Brooklyn. In a film loosely based on a real story, Pacino and two of his buddies rob a bank though one guy gets cold feet when the heist begins and runs out of there. It turns out their timing couldn't be worse – the robbery occurs after most of the cash was picked up for the day leaving them with $1,100 and a mess on their hands. The police arrive and the two robbers are trapped inside with hostages. The interplay between Pacino and Charles Durning, who plays a police sergeant serving as a hostage negotiator, is memorable and shows the range of both actors. It's an exceptional film and one you should definitely see – even if you've already seen it.
ED’S BEST BETS:
SULLIVAN’S TRAVELS (December 20, 4:15 am): This film is rightly said to be writer/director Preston Sturges’s masterpiece. John L. Sullivan is a noted director of light musical fare such as Ants in Your Plants of 1939 and Hey, Hey in the Hayloft. However, he wants to make an Important Film, and he has one in mind, namely O Brother, Where Art Thou, a leaden novel concerned with the struggle between Capital and Labor. The studio execs pooh-pooh it, noting that he grew up rich and never suffered. So, Sullivan sets out to see how the other half lives, and ends up with far more than he bargained for when everybody assumes he died. It’s both hilarious and touching with many insights from Sturges into the human ego versus the human condition. It’s best to record it to be seen again later – and you will definitely want to see it again. The fact it’s being shown this late is an excellent justification for having a recorder.
CHRISTMAS IN CONNECTICUT (December 22, 2:00 pm): Barbara Stanwyck was one of the very, very few that could go from playing in tear jerkers (Stella Dallas) to corporate dramas (Executive Suite) to steamy crime dramas (Double Indemnity) to Westerns (The Maverick Queen) to screwball comedies (The Lady Eve) and distinguish herself in each genre. And this gentle romantic comedy is no different. Here she plays Elizabeth Lane, a Martha Stewart type, a columnist for “Smart Housekeeping,” and a woman touted as “the greatest cook in the country,” with a perfect home in the ‘burbs, a perfect husband, and a perfect baby. She’s the role model to millions of readers. The only problem is that Elizabeth Lane is none of the above. She’s unmarried, no child, lives in the city, and the closest she’s even been to a stove is how near she sits to the restaurant’s kitchen. Trouble ensues when a war hero (Dennis Morgan), as part of a publicity stunt for her magazine, is granted a visit to her “farm.” And, to make things worse, her boss, played by Sydney Greenstreet, is coming along. How can she pull of this charade and not get fired? Stanwyck pulls it off beautifully, giving yet another top-notch performance as the harried columnist. Morgan is excellent as the visiting war hero, and it’s nice to see Greenstreet in a role other than as the bad guy. He acquits himself rather nicely here. This is the perfect film for those who want to see light holiday fare during this time, and a perfect film for those that have not yet had the pleasure of sampling Stanwyck’s work in comedies.
WE DISAGREE ON ... AU HASARD BALTHAZAR (December 22, 2:15 am)
ED: A-. I usually try to avoid films featuring animals, whether they’re Flipper or the venerable Lassie series. Prehistoric monsters, for the most part, are okay. But this film is one of the rare exceptions, along with Umberto D, to that rule. And like Umberto D, Au Hasard Balthazar is indeed heartbreaking. Director Robert Bresson has presented us with a simple tale about the life of a donkey, the owners he goes through in his life (some good, others cruel) and the young girl who loves him. Bresson makes clear to us that Balthazar has been given a soul, courtesy of the children who innocently baptized him after his birth, so we are aware that the donkey can feel and comprehend. Like Bresson’s other films, this also serves as a philosophical tract on the human condition; this is not simply a film that wears its insights on its sleeves, so to speak. We see the parade of humanity through Balthazar’s eyes and discover that not all bad people are irredeemable – even the terrible Gerard, the heroine’s love object, has a moment of grace as he sings in the church’s choir. Now, as my esteemed opponent in these debates took the liberty of quoting Roger Ebert in his favor during last week's review of Funny Girl, I shall quote Ebert concerning this film: the critic calls director Robert Bresson “one of the saints of the cinema, and Au Hasard Balthazar is his most heartbreaking prayer.” Also, Jean-Luc Godard praised the film as “the world in an hour and a half.” As with all Bresson’s films, this one is more than a simple film about a donkey.
DAVID: C+. This is going to be a tough one for me to argue. First, I'm a huge fan of director Robert Bresson. I absolutely love Pickpocket, Diary of a Country Priest, A Man Escaped, and L'argent. Second, many critics praise this film as an all-time classic and consider it Bresson's best. Bresson's films focus on spirituality and humanity, and provide insight into life, primarily the tragic and sad parts. Despite not only understanding, but appreciating Bresson's work for its brilliance, I really don't care for this movie. Yes, the donkey is supposed to have a soul and feel all the horrible and mean things he experienced. But it's still a donkey, and no matter what he's supposed to have and be, he's still just a donkey. It's not like the storyline makes the donkey a better actor. I understand the cruel and difficult lives of the donkey and Marie, the poor farm girl who loves him, are supposed to run parallel to each other. Her tragic experiences are similar to his. The symbolism is obvious. Actually, it's too obvious which weighs down the film. Also, the execution is mediocre at best. A bad Bresson film is still decent thus the C+ grade. No matter what approach I take when watching it, it doesn't impress me. It didn't bore me, but it failed to keep my interest. Perhaps my expectations are too great as its a Bresson film, but there's a world of difference in the quality between Au Hasard Balthazar and the other films of his that I mentioned above.
For the complete list of films on the TCM TiVo Alert, click here.