TCM TiVo ALERT
January 15–January 22
DAVID’S BEST BETS:
ELMER GANTRY (January 21, 10:00 pm): Burt Lancaster is among a handful actors are larger than life when they are on the screen. His intensity and versatility made him a screen legend. His portrayal of Elmer Gantry in the 1960 film of the same name is his finest performance in a career of fine performances. In this film, Lancaster is a con man who realizes that he's found a place in a Christian tent revival show featuring Sister Sharon Falconer (Jean Simmons). Gantry, and those watching this movie, aren't sure how he fits in. Is he still a con man, a born-again or someone in between? Not only does Lancaster do a great job working with Simmons, he does the same with Shirley Jones, who plays his former lover who is now a prostitute, and Arthur Kennedy, who plays a skeptical newspaper reporter who garners attention because of his criticism of Gantry. The film is intense, well-acted, intelligent and has a great screenplay based on a small portion of a Sinclair Lewis book of the same name.
SCARLET STREET (January 22, 10:45 am): Director Fritz Lang does a wonderful job with this 1945 film noir that has Edward G. Robinson give a brilliant performance in a role that's different from any other he had in his career. Eddie G. is Chris Cross, a bland, boring clothing company cashier who's never done anything interesting in his life. Business picks up quickly after he saves Kitty March (Joan Bennett), a beautiful femme fatale, being accosted on the street by a guy who turns out to be Johnny (Dan Duryea), her low-life boyfriend. Completely out of character for Chris, he dispatches Johnny with his umbrella and quickly falls in love with Kitty as he's in a loveless marriage with a wife who constantly hen-pecks him. Because he talks of painting, Kitty and more importantly Johnny thinks he's a rich painter. The two work out a plan to make money from Chris' love for Kitty and his ability as a painter. The story, based on the French novel La Chienne (The Bitch), has a number of unforeseen (and excellent) plot twists as Chris' life goes from humdrum to one filled with way too much passion, deceit and tragedy. It's one of Eddie G.'s best and most unique roles.
ED’S BEST BETS:
THESE ARE THE DAMNED (January 17, 3:45 am): Runaway radioactivity gave us giant bugs and prehistoric monsters in the ‘50s. Now, in 1962, director Joseph Losey brings the chills much closer to home with this chilling piece of science fiction. The film begins with an American tourist (Macdonald Carey), disenchanted with modern life, being mugged by a group of Teddy Boys led by the young Oliver Reed. After he recovers he meets bohemian sculptor Freya (Viveca Lindfors), the mistress of Bernard (Alexander Knox), a stuffy bureaucrat in charge of a top-secret project whereby a race of radioactive children is being bred for survival in a post-nuclear world. This film seemingly has everything: juvenile delinquency and atomic angst, two of the most popular film subjects in B-dom. But this is much more than a run-of-the-mill SciFi/JD flick. It’s the reigning anarchy of youth in the streets versus the cold bureaucracy represented by the concrete and steel warrens of the secret project. Either way, we’re done for, Mate, unless we wake up. Also, check out the fantastic score by James Bernard, whose Black Leather Rock will have you singing it long after the film ends.
A FACE IN THE CROWD (January 18, 2:00 pm): Budd Schulberg wrote and Elia Kazan directed this prescient look at celebrity and media-made pundits in the story of Larry “Lonesome” Rhodes (Andy Griffith), a drifter discovered in jail by the hostess (Patricia Neal) of a morning radio show in Pickett, Arkansas. Through the sheer force of his “down home” personality, he eventually makes his way to New York, where he becomes not only an entertainment superstar, but a respected wielder of opinion; powerful enough to make a nondescript senator into a formidable presidential candidate. Rhodes, however, is rotten to the core, and as his fame and power increase, the monster within him begins to break out. It’s up to Neal, as a latter-day Frankenstein, to destroy the monster she created before he destroys us, and she does it in a quite unique way. Neal, of course, is her usual superb self, and Griffith gave the best performance of his career, playing against type and should have gotten the Oscar. But he wasn’t even nominated due to the less than stellar box office of the movie and the liberal backlash against director Kazan for supposedly “naming names” before Congress. (In reality he didn’t name anyone that wasn’t already named again and again.) What eventually brought critics around to giving this film another look was Francois Truffaut, who championed the film as a modern-day classic and a warning.
WE DISAGREE ON . . . LILIES OF THE FIELD (January 20, 4:15 pm)
ED: A+. There are few films I have watched over the years that I would describe as flawless. Not perfect, best, nor greatest, but flawless: a movie simple and to the point. Everything comes together nicely; there is no extraneous dialogue, no lone meandering camera shots, and no plot points that suddenly disappear. Lilies of the Field is like the desert where it’s set: lean, sparse, nothing wasted. Sidney Poitier gives what in my mind his best performance as Homer, the handyman who comes looking for water for his car, lands a day’s work, and ends up building their chapel. In a film such as this it’s hard to stay on course without falling into wells of sentimentality, overly emotive preaching, or anything else that rakes us away from the plot. Director Ralph Nelson has a real feeling for the material and it shows in the performances, the tight camerawork and the almost perfect pacing. This is one of the films I recommend to anyone interested in 1) Sidney Poitier, 2) well-written dramas, 3) films with a religious theme, or 4) just films in general. It’s one that, if you haven’t yet seen it, you can’t afford to miss.
DAVID: B. For Ed to give a film such praise, it's got to be exceptional. He's been my cinema mentor for years and has excellent taste, loving so many genres of film. There is no doubt this is a good film and one I enjoy, but I don't consider it a classic much less one I would consider flawless. Of course movies are subjective and one person may love a particular film while someone else hates it. Lilies of the Field falls more into one person absolutely can find no wrong with it and the other thinks it's pretty good. What I like about it: Sidney Poitier was an exceptional actor and this is one of his many fine performances; it's 94 minutes long so it doesn't drag; and it's a nice feel-good film that shows a black man and a group of white Eastern European nuns working together with largely Hispanic townsfolk. They treat each other with respect and becoming friends during the Civil Rights era (the movie came out in 1963). So why a B? It's corny, way too sentimental and most of the other actors in the film seem to be nothing more than scenery. Without Poitier, this would likely be a C movie. The storyline isn't terribly sophisticated or compelling and is predictable. That race hardly plays a factor is both good and bad. It's nice that the film doesn't dwell on it and treats everyone essentially the same, but it's also rather unrealistic. It's a nice, uplifting movie with a happy ending you can see as soon as we learn the nuns want to build a chapel. There's nothing wrong with that, but there's also nothing extraordinary about it.
For the complete list of films on the TCM TiVo Alert, click here.