Friday, February 28, 2014

TCM TiVo Alert for March 1-7

March 1–March 7 


IN THE HEAT OF THE NIGHT (March 1, 8:00 pm): I've mentioned before that 1967 is a landmark year in cinema. While the Hays Code was lifted before that year, it took a while for Hollywood to push the envelope, be more daring and take on serious subject matter without soft-selling it. Among the films released in 1967 were The GraduateBonnie and ClydePoint Blank and the best of the bunch, In the Heat of the Night. The latter pairs one of cinema's most under-appreciated actors, Rod Steiger, with one of film's most respected (and rightfully so) actors, Sidney Poitier. (Poitier also starred in 1967 in Guess Who's Coming to Dinner, a film I don't hold in high regard as it fails to match the intensity of the films I mentioned above.) In the Heat of the Night gives the viewers an authentic view of racism in the South during the era of the Civil Rights movement. Steiger is the sheriff of a racist town working with Poitier, a police detective from Philadelphia, to solve a murder while overcoming significant challenges. The film won five Oscars including Best Picture and Best Actor for Steiger. It's one you must see if you haven't already.

OUT OF THE FOG (March 4, 1:45 pm): I'm an unapologetic fan of John Garfield. During Hollywood's golden era of the late 1930s to the late 1940s, he was as good an actor as anyone, and that's saying a lot. In this 1941 film, Garfield is a sadistic gangster with no redeeming qualities. He's a hood who shakes down old fisherman at a Brooklyn pier. Garfield is captivating as the cruel criminal in one of Warner Brothers' grittiest film noirs. His character falls for Ida Lupino (can't blame him), the daughter of one of the fishermen he is terrorizing. He even uses that to his advantage. Two of the main fisherman he is shaking down come up with a plan to kill him, but can't follow through. However, the way Garfield gets offed is one for the ages. A truly great film that showcases Garfield's talents.


BROADWAY MELODY OF 1936 (March 3, 8:30 am): Eleanor Powell’s first starring role, and a portent of great things to come from her. The plot, predictably, is paper-thin. Jack Benny is a Broadway columnist whose copy is in great need of punching up. So he has to go about digging up dirt. He picks on producer Bob Gordon (Robert Taylor), whose new show “Broadway Rhythm,” is being backed by heiress Lillian Brent (June Knight) who also wants to star. Enter Irene Foster, (Powell), Bob’s childhood sweetheart, who wants to audition. Yes, it’s a mess, but who watches a musical for its plot? We want to see Powell hoofing, and boy is she good. Her routine with Buddy and Vilma Ebsen (his sister and her only film appearance) in “Sing Before Breakfast” is light and enchanting. As for Powell’s solo dance numbers at the end, watch for “You Are My Lucky Star,” “Broadway Rhythm,” and “I’ve Got a Feeling You’re Foolin’,” which earned Dave Gould an Oscar for Dance Direction.

EAT DRINK MAN WOMAN (March 7, 8:00 pm): Director Ang Lee’s story of the family tension between a master chef and his three grown daughters at their weekly ritual Sunday dinners is a pure delight. Mr. Chu (Shihung Lung) and his three grown daughters, who live with him, have simply lost their ability to relate to one another. This makes their Sunday dinner, the one point where they all get together during the week, such an ordeal that the participants can hardly eat. Mr. Chu has lost his joie de vivre. His culinary art no longer receives the respect it used to enjoy in Taiwan. His fear is that traditional recipes are being mixed up into one, banal flavor. He’s literally losing his taste for the food he creates. The daughters are also slaves to their routines, it seems that they, too, have lost their joie de vivre. “Can this family be saved?” we ask. Lee’s answer is a simple, yet most refreshing one. Those looking for a course in Eastern wisdom will be left disappointed, but Lee’s solution is no more different in a Taiwanese household than it would be in an English, Kenyan, or Peruvian one. Lee shows us that the basic human condition is universal and easily crosses cultures. And stick around for the moment that gets Mr. Chu back on the right track. It’s beautifully written and staged by Lee.


ED: C. Warner Bros. had a unique talent for remaking their movies, and, although many film fans don’t know it (because it’s rarely screened), this film is actually a remake of The Life of Jimmy Dolan from 1933 with Douglas Fairbanks Jr., Loretta Young, and Aline MacMahon with Garfield stepping to the Fairbanks role as a prizefighter on the lam whose cynicism fades under the spell of a good woman. The film is Garfield’s – he’s a distinct improvement on Fairbanks Jr. in the role. But, as astounding as it seems to us today, Garfield wasn’t the film’s main attraction. That would have been the Dead End Kids, whom Warners’ was pushing. Now, without them, the film would have been no great shakes, for although Garfield is superb in an early role, co-star Claude Rains is sleepwalking through the proceedings, and the ham antics of the Dead End Kids (who, with the exception of Huntz Hall, use the same names they did in Dead End) only serve to pull the film down. Gloria Dickson also gives good reasons why she never made it past the B’s. She’s definitely lackluster. The only reason I even give this film a “C” s because of Garfield alone, but even he can’t rescue this from being a mess.

DAVID: B+. Each week Ed gives me the honor of selecting the film for our "We Disagree" feature. He got a good laugh when I chose They Made Me a Criminal. Why? Well, it's simple. There are few "actors" I loathe as much as the Dead End Kids, later to become the even more annoying Bowery Boys (as well as the East Side Kids and the Little Tough Guys). And Billy Halop may be the worst on-screen personality I've ever seen. However, they are excellent in 1937's Dead End, the movie version of the play in which they starred. They're not bad in They Made Me a Criminal, released two years later. What's so impressive about this film is, as Ed wrote, John Garfield. He has star written all over him, and he more than lives up to that. It was made for the Dead End Kids, but Garfield carries the film with skillful acting and great charisma. He's a boxer on the lam, wrongly accused of a murder committed by his manager, but pinned on him. It can be somewhat cliche, but not predictable. Garfield's performance is so magnificent you don't pay attention to anything else but him. Busby Berkeley, the famous musical director and one of Ed's all-time favorites, does a fine directing job in this non-dance film though you can see some of his legendary choreography in the fight scenes.

For the complete list of films on the TCM TiVo Alert, click here.

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