A Guide to the Interesting and Unusual on TCM
By Ed Garea
I’ve been thinking of a getting a t-shirt that only other cinephiles will appreciate.
Lettered across the front will be “I Survived Summer Under the Stars.” Another month has passed, and while there were some nice touches, such as the Catherine Deneuve, Randolph Scott, and Glenda Farrell days, there were just too many days of the same old stars with the same old movies. (For instance, I love Humphrey Bogart, but he had a day back in 2011 as well as this year. Henry Fonda, Bette Davis, and Clark Gable were all featured in 2009.) I realize it’s the popular stars that garner the ratings, but the honchos at TCM could add few more “wild cards” into the mixture.
For instance, how about Eugene Pallette, Walter Brennan, Lionel Atwill, Aline MacMahon, and Miriam Hopkins from this side of the ocean? I know some of these may have been featured in past years; the list of those featured each year tends to become a blur. But all have been in films that are rarely, if ever, screened, and thus, “must sees” for us. Deneuve and Jean Gabin (featured in 2011) are a good start. Now, how about Michel Simon (a great actor in his younger days who became the Grumpy Old Man of French cinema), Albert Remy, Jeanne Moreau, Jean-Paul Belmondo, Arletty, Isabelle Huppert, and Simone Signoret from France? Or Wolfgang Preiss, Gert Frobe (he did more than Goldfinger), Maximilian Schell, Peter Van Eyck, Warner Peters, and Hildegard Knef from Germany? Giuletta Masina, Anna Magnani, Vittorio Gassman, and Silvana Magnano from Italy? There was a day dedicated to Toshiro Mifune in 2012, but how about a day dedicated to Chishu Ryu, Setsuko Hara, or Takashi Shimura? And Joan Greenwood, Dennis Price, Andre Morell, Peter Cushing, and Rita Tushingham from England? I’m sure you readers can also fill in your own blanks as well. The point I’m trying to make is that there is a load of potential for “Summer Under the Stars,” so we film fanatics should have more to feast on rather than Davis, Fonda, Katharine Hepburn, and Gable, all of whose movies always seem to be readily available.
However, let’s get real. Gabin was the first to “cross” the line and have a dedicated day back in 2011. In 2012, the designated foreign star was Mifune, and this year it was Deneuve. It looks as if the foreign stars will be limited to one per festival in the future, unless TCM gets a sudden burst of creativity and breaks out of what seems to be a xenophobic state of mind.
Readers, let’s hear from you. Tell us who you would like to see get a day on “Summer Under the Stars” and what films of his or hers you’d especially like to see.
It’s September, and TCM is taking a different direction. First, beginning on September 1 and continuing for each Sunday in September is what TCM calls “Sundays with Hitch,” a day’s worth of films directed by the Master. It doesn’t matter how many times we’ve seen them in the past; we’re always up for another showing. But rather than just leaving it with the popular films, they’re showing some of Hitchcock’s lesser-known titles, including several silent features. If you’re as much of a Hitchcock fan as I, then you’ll especially want to see the lesser-known films. Watching Hitchcock is always a great way to spend the day.
On September 2, TCM premieres a 15-part documentary that aired on BBC in 2011: The Story of Film: An Odyssey. Directed, written, and hosted by filmmaker Mark Cousins, the documentary follows the history of film according to Mr. Cousins. I haven’t seen it, but from what I’ve read, viewer criticism of the series on IMDB ranges from Great to Awful. Below is a small sample:
Don’t Miss This: I'm just enjoying my second voyage into film with the excellent Mark Cousins. Don't pay any heed to the criticisms of his narrative style, and his Ulster brogue; the only reservation I would have on that score is that sometimes I get so transported by his seductive tones, that I stop listening to what he is saying and just get transported by the sound of his voice (bit like Alistair Cooke).
Beyond Dreadful: However technical failings would be excusable if Mr. Cousins had anything interesting or insightful to say. He does not. He rambles on in pretentious half-sentences that frequently mean nothing. He jumps between decades without reason or meaning, moving from 1912 to 1928 to 1915 and back again, preventing any coherent narrative forming. He also leaves out key information; he joyfully tells us that women were heavily involved in film-making in the early years (half of all script writes from 1910-1935 apparently) without telling us why.
Me? Oh, I’ll be watching regardless. I’m a sucker for documentaries on film history, having cut my teeth in high school on the excellent PBS series The Men Who Made the Movies. They don’t get any better than that one, so we’ll see.
The real treat, however, is the panorama of world cinema shown by TCM in conjunction with the documentary series. On September 2, TCM shows a collection of Thomas Edison and Georges Melies silent movies. Oh yeah? So what, they’ve been on before. Don’t judge the middle by the beginning. By the time this really gets going later in the month, some of the choices will astound and delight you. By September 17 it really gets rolling, unless they alter the schedule. The highlight is one you’ll have to record, owing to it late slot: Kenji Mizoguchi’s wonderful Osaka Elegy (1936), a look at the oppression of women in prewar Japan. Let’s hope they don’t dump this one.
The trouble with scheduling is the last-minute changes the station is always making. Again, with regard to the recently concluded Summer Under the Stars, August 31, the day featuring Rex Harrison, had his wonderful thriller Escape scheduled. The last I looked (this column is being written on August 30), TCM has substituted the Harrison–Vivien Leigh–Charles Laughton opus St. Martin’s Lane aka Sidewalks of London. It’s a good film; only I’ve seen it about five times already, whereas I haven’t seen Escape in years and years. Looking ahead to next month, TCM has scheduled I Am Curious (Yellow) at 3 am on October 15. If they don’t replace it with another film, I’d be very, very surprised. I remember earlier, when they had Fritz the Cat scheduled in a late-night slot. I remember saying to myself that they can’t really be showing this because, though animated, it truly deserves its “X” rating. And I was right; they substituted another film in its place as the day drew closer.
The Star of the Month for September is Kim Novak. Among the 16 featured films being shown are those we’ve seen time and gain, but can always watch (Vertigo, Picnic); some we’ve seen once and once is enough (Jeanne Eagles, Of Human Bondage); and those we haven’t yet seen that are worth a peek (Five Against the House, directed by Phil Karlson). Plus, as a bonus, TCM is airing one of Kim’s real bombs – in fact, one of the all-time bad movies – The Legend of Lylah Clare. It’s one of my guilty pleasures. Reportedly Moreau was offered the lead, but she took one look at the script and got the hell out of Dodge; one of her better career moves. So Kim signed on after a three-year absence, proving that absence does not necessarily make the heart grow fonder.
September 4: Bob’s Picks – These include Captain of the Clouds (1942), The Black Swan (1942), You’ll Never Get Rich (1941), Dance, Girl, Dance (1940), and Holiday in Mexico (1946).
September 11: Guest programmer Madeline Stowe, who picks The More the Merrier (1943), Splendor in the Grass (1961), The Bicycle Thief (1948), and I Confess (1953).
Fridays: Future Shock – A collection of sci-fi films about the future, usually dystopian. Among the gems being offered are Metropolis (1927), Things to Come (1936), Brazil (1985), Minority Report (2002), A.I.: Artificial Intelligence (2001), Total Recall (1990), World Without End (1955), The Omega Man (1971), and A Boy and His Dog (1974).
Films Worth Your Time: September 1–September 7
1:43 am – The Devil’s Cabaret (MGM, 1930): Eddie Buzzell, Charles Middleton. A seldom seen two-strip Technicolor short about the establishment of a nightclub by the Devil’s assistant to get people to go willingly to Hades. Buzzell later gravitated from acting into directing.
10:45 am – The Office Wife (WB, 1930): Dorothy Mackaill, Lewis Stone, & Joan Blondell. Gold-digging secretary MacKaill lures boss Stone away from his straying wife. Lewis Stone?? Oh, well. Blondell steals the flick as Mackaill’s sister who always seems to be in some form of undress. (It is Pre-Code, you know.)
2:15 am – Brazil (Universal, 1985): Jonathan Pryce, Robert De Niro, & Michael Palin. Director Terry Gilliam’s dark satire about a timid, daydreaming clerk in a future bureaucratic society who finally meets the girl of his dreams, but then the lovers find themselves fingered as terrorist bombers because of a bureaucratic error.