TCM TiVo ALERT
April 1–April 7
DAVID'S BEST BETS:
SAFETY LAST (April 1, 6:00 am): The funniest and most original silent film comedies not starring Buster Keaton or Charlie Chaplin. Harold Lloyd is a joy to watch in this 1923 movie that features great sight gags – including the opening scene in which his mother and girlfriend appear to be saying goodbye to him as he heads to the gallows but are actually at a train station. Another great one is Lloyd and his friend hiding from the landlady in their own trenchcoats hanging on wall hooks. It's worth watching the film for the iconic scene in which Lloyd's character climbs the side of a building and hangs from the hands of a clock. Sometimes it's better to show than tell so here's a portion of that scene.
STEAMBOAT BILL JR. (April 1, 12:30 am): Speaking of Buster Keaton, this 1928 film is among his best. He's the son of a guy who owns a dilapidated paddle steamer who hopes his long-lost boy, who's now in college, can help him best his rival, a wealthy businessman. Instead he gets Keaton, who also happens to be in love with the daughter of his father's rival. While Lloyd's climb up the building looks dangerous, it really wasn't. The same cannot be said of Keaton's most incredible cinematic stunt, which is in this film. A cyclone hits, blowing Keaton sideways and destroying an entire town. Keaton is standing when the two-ton facade of a building falls in his direction. As the front of the structure falls, Keaton stands in perfect position for the open attic window space to land leaving him without a mark. If he was standing just a little off, he would have been crushed. Again, I get the benefit of being able to show it here. While Keaton's physical comedy is at its apex in this movie, there are plenty of other funny moments. One scene has Keaton trying on a number of hats, and when he puts on his trademark porkpie hat, he quickly rejects it. Even better is when Keaton puts tools inside a loaf of bread to help his father bust out of jail. The sheriff finds the tools and a dialogue cards reads: "That must have happened when the dough fell in the tool box."
ED’S BEST BETS:
MON ONCLE (April 1, 4:30 am): Star/director Jacques Tati’s follow-up to the wonderful Mr. Hulot’s Holiday, it comes close to capturing the magic of that film. Here we see Mr. Hulot in his natural environment – a Paris that is slowly disappearing; swallowed up by the emerging Modern Paris. Emblematic of the New Modern Paris is Hulot’s sister (Adrienne Servantie) and brother-in-law (Jean-Pierre Zola), the Arpels. Brother-in-law Charles Arpel owns a plastic factory, which is totally fitting considering the context of the movie. Hulot is Arpel’s “problem” in that he not only does nothing for a living, but is also a bad influence on his nephew, Gerard (Alain Becourt), whom Charles wants to take more of a serious view of life. Hulot lives in the older section of Paris, with a vibrant neighborhood, though getting to his apartment is analogous to mountain climbing. The Arpels, by contrast, live in a state-of-the-art modern house in a renovated section of Paris, which seems to be miles away from the old Paris. Their yard has no grass, just concrete walks and gravel. In the middle is a pond with a huge statue of a fish. A running gag in the movie is that the fish spouts water when a switch inside the house is thrown, and Madame Arpel only activates the fish when she wants to impress a visitor. As with Mr. Hulot’s Holiday, the film is shot almost entirely in medium frame and the gags come fast and furious. It’s a worthy sequel, and those who enjoyed the first Hulot film will love this one.
A FACE IN THE CROWD (April 7, 9:45 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). He's a drifter discovered in jail by the hostess (Patricia Neal) of a morning radio show in Pickett, Arkansas, and who, through the sheer force of his “down home” personality 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 letter-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 ususal superb, and Griffith gave the best performance of his career, playing against type and should have gotten the Oscar. But he wasn’t even nominated, in 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 ... SLEEPER (April 1, 9:45 pm)
ED: B+. Don’t get me wrong; Sleeper is a very funny film, made at a time when Woody Allen was more concerned with making us laugh rather than trying to be a revival of the French New Wave. But the problem with Sleeper is that it relies too heavily on slapstick – Woody walking around in a daze or falling over a la Chaplin – when some good verbal humor would do nicely. When a film is as dependent on visual gags as Sleeper, we reach a situation where, for every joke that is spot on, there are at least three that misfire. And, after awhile, the barrage of visual jokes begins to wear. This problem is somewhat balanced by the wonderful theme and the overall satire on politics. But the spate of visual gags that do not work in the film prevents me from giving it an A.
DAVID: A+. Besides Take the Money and Run, Sleeper is the best, most clever and entertaining of Woody Allen's "earlier, funnier movies." Allen's character, Miles Monroe (in honor of Earl Monroe, an all-time great player on Woody's beloved New York Knicks), is frozen in 1973 when a routine gall bladder operation goes bad. He's defrosted 200 years later by doctors who are in a resistance group in a police state. The gags are fast and funny. One of my favorites is when the scientists ask Miles about life 200 years earlier, including this gem. Allen's interaction with Diane Keaton (Luna, a self-centered socialite) is pure magic, particularly when she helps Miles relive a scene from his younger days and when the two are disguised as surgeons stealing the government leader's nose, all that's left of him after a rebel bomb blows up the rest of him. While the dialogue is smart and funny, Allen also proves himself to be an incredibly talented physical actor. Allen's slapstick comedic ability – think Charlie Chaplin and Buster Keaton – shines best in this role.
For the complete list of films on the TCM TiVo Alert, click here.