TCM TiVo ALERT
January 1–January 7
DAVID’S BEST BETS:
THE MAGNIFICENT SEVEN (January 5, 2:30 pm): As an admirer of Akira Kurosawa-directed films, I would normally dismiss an American remake of his work. When you consider The Magnificent Seven (1960) is a Western based on Kurosawa's legendary Seven Samurai (1954), it's surprising I ever gave it a chance. Thankfully I did because not only is it an excellent movie, it's better than Seven Samurai, which is a classic. John Sturges does a fantastic job directing this film with an all-star cast, including Yul Brynner, Steve McQueen, Charles Bronson and James Coburn (my personal favorite among the seven gunslingers) with Eli Wallach, the leader of the Mexican bandits who terrorize a small rural town. It's filled with action, making the 128-minute film seem like it zipped by. While I rarely pay attention to a movie's score, this is one of the best you'll hear.
THE THIRD MAN (January 6, 9:30 pm): This is, no doubt, one of the finest films ever made. I'm a huge fan of Joseph Cotten, and while his performances in many movies – Citizen Kane, Gaslight, The Magnificent Ambersons, Shadow of a Doubt, and Portrait of Jennie being a few examples – are great, his best is in The Third Man. The 1949 film noir has quite the pedigree. In addition to Cotten, it stars Orson Welles, Trevor Howard and Alida Valli, is directed by Carol Reed with a screenplay by Graham Greene. The acting is outstanding as is the cinematography, particularly the use of shadows, and a brilliant plot with great pacing. Cotten is Holly Martins, a pulp fiction novelist who travels to post-World War II Vienna to take a job offered by Harry Lime (Welles), a longtime friend. But before they meet, Lime dies in what appears to be a car accident as he is walking across a street – or is he? Martins asks a lot of questions and get some disturbing answers about Lime selling diluted penicillin on the black market, which has led to a number of deaths. This film has two scenes that are among cinema's best – one is on the Wiener Riesenrad, Vienna's famed Ferris wheel, with Cotten and Welles, and the climax in the sewers of that city.
ED’S BEST BETS:
THE THING (FROM ANOTHER WORLD) (January 4, 6:30 pm): It’s the scientists (led by Robert Cornthwaite) versus the military (led by Kenneth Tobey) in this sci-fi classic about the discovery of a flying saucer and its occupant near the North Pole. The occupant is alive and represents a wealth of knowledge from an advanced society. One problem: he lives on blood and regards humans as only necessary for his subsistence. Also, he’s busy breeding more of him. Written by Charles Lederer, produced by Howard Hawks, and directed by Christian Nyby (though many film historians assert that it was Hawks who actually directed the movie and gave Nyby, his film editor by trade, a director’s credit). It combines horror and thrills with dark comedy, utilizing its setting well to give the film a claustrophobic feeling. If you’ve seen it before, watch it again. And if you haven’t – this is one film you can’t afford to miss. Also of note is composer Dimitri Tiomkin’s haunting score, achieved with a Theremin.
THE POSTMAN ALWAYS RINGS TWICE (January 6, 1:00 pm): This is the original – and the best – version of James M. Cain’s classic novel (which also inspired Albert Camus, by the way). When it comes to noir, one would think that the MGM gloss was off-putting, but I think it actually helps the film. John Garfield has never been better and Lana Turner has never been more gorgeous. Not only can we see that they’re going to hook up, we can understand why they must hook up. The performances from the supporting cast are superb, the photography by Sidney Wagner is sharp and inviting, and Tay Garnett’s direction workmanlike, as he keeps the characters and the story in constant play. Despite the complaints of the changes in Cain’s original story (for censorship purposes), the film still outdoes the 1981 Jack Nicholson-Jessica Lange remake in terms of the heat between the stars, not to mention the fact that Turner, while hardly a serious actress, ran rings around Lange’s performance.
WE DISAGREE ON ... HOW TO MARRY A MILLIONAIRE (January 5, 8:00 pm)
ED: B+. This cute little diversion, meant as a vehicle for the young Marilyn Monroe, but actually starring Lauren Bacall and Betty Grable, is an example of good ensemble comedy and one of the brightest and wittiest of the Fifties. The three beautiful stars, following Bacall’s plan, pool their resources to rent a posh apartment to lure eligible, wealthy bachelors. Of course, the irony is that they end up marrying for love instead of wealth. It’s skillfully written by Nunnally Johnson and directed by the underrated Jean Negulesco, a perfect director for this sort of picture. Watch for Bacall’s scenes with William Powell – they are simply superb. (In fact, I think Powell steals the film.) For us psychotronic fans, Cameron Mitchell is one of the bachelors, and it’s always interesting to watch him in stellar productions rather than the awful Grade-Z films he made later in life. Even Monroe manages not to embarrass herself; she actually had a gift for comedy. The only sour note was Grable. It wasn’t her performance, but rather her looks. Keep in mind that she was only 36 at the time (and already being shown the door at Fox in favor of the younger Monroe), but she looks about 10 years older. I can only attribute this to the fact that she was a heavy smoker, which adds years to a person’s face, and the poodle cut she was saddled with during production also added to the older look. But if you’re looking for about 90 minutes of movie enjoyment, this is for you. (Especially for couples to watch together.)
DAVID: C+. Ed is sort of correct. This film has its cute moments. But it is also filled with cliches, corny even for 1953, with a silly plot, and Betty Grable in one of Hollywood's worst casting decisions. Grable, Marilyn Monroe and Lauren Bacall are models. That's a stretch for Grable who was 36 when the film was made, but looks like she's the age of Monroe's mother. Of greater importance, Gable's acting is atrocious. Bacall is attractive in a mature-looking way yet she was only 29, less than two years older than Monroe, when the film was released. The three are tired of their jobs – one scene of the trio modeling has them sitting for most of the time and standing up every so often to show the dresses they're wearing. It's the hard knock life for them. They work a scam to net rich husbands in order to give up their careers and I guess sit in nice homes doing next to nothing. That's about 15 steps in the wrong direction for women's lib. The efforts at jokes typically fall flat and the three characters are largely shallow. The film opens on a terrible note – an eight-minute generic-sounding music prologue before we get to the opening credits. As Ed mentions, William Powell steals the film as an older, wealthy widower in love with Bacall. As he is in every film, Powell is charming here and a delight to watch. Bacall is fine and Monroe delivers a decent performance though the ongoing joke of her banging into things by not wearing glasses because it supposedly would detract from her beauty gets tired quickly.
For the complete list of films on the TCM TiVo Alert, click here.