Sunday, April 13, 2014

TCM TiVo Alert for April 15-22

April 15–April 22

JAILHOUSE ROCK (April 15, 10:00 pm): This 1957 film is easily one of Elvis' best. He’s in prison on a manslaughter conviction. His cellmate, a former country-and-western singer played by Mickey Shaughnessy, recognizes Vince Everett (Presley) has musical talent after hearing him sing, and serves as a mentor. When Everett is released after 20 months in prison, he looks for work as a singer. He becomes a success thanks to a producer and his love interest, played by Judy Tyler (she and her husband died shortly after the film wrapped up production). Presley does a solid job, showing that if he had the right material, he was a good actor. The film is critical of the music industry with Vince, tired of getting ripped off, creates his own record label with Judy. The film's highlight is the iconic “Jailhouse Rock” performance Everett does for a television special. It doesn’t get much better than this. 

THE MAN WHO SHOT LIBERTY VALANCE (April 22, 10:00 p.m.): I'm not a John Wayne fan, but I certainly recognize when he gives an excellent performance. The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance (1962) is his finest film. It doesn't hurt that he gets to play off the legendary James Stewart and Lee Marvin, one of cinema's most underrated actors who is at ease playing the hero or the villain; he's great as the latter in this movie. Told in a flashback, this film, directed by John Ford, is extraordinary and one of the finest Westerns you'll ever see. It also features one of film's most iconic lines, told to Stewart's character, a U.S. senator, by a newspaperman: "When the legend becomes fact, print the legend." Don't miss this one if you haven't seen it.


THE REMAINS OF THE DAY (April 16, 8:00 pm): Anthony Hopkins and Emma Thompson follow up their acclaimed performances in Howard’s End with this classic character study about a butler who sacrifices personal happiness for his duties. Emma Thompson is simply wonderful as the one he loves and loses; the housekeeper who nearly penetrates his Stoic armor. It’s the director-producer team of Ivory and Merchant at their finest. Scriptwriter Ruth Prawer Jhabvala does a marvelous job in adapting the Booker Prize winning novel by Japanese-born Englishman Kazuo Ishiguro. This is a thoughtful, intelligent, quietly intense movie that stands out in an era where the mindless, CGI action picture was beginning to establish box office dominance. I always thought it a shame that Hopkins and Thompson never teamed for another film, especially with Ivory and Merchant.

MY MAN GODFREY (April 16, 12:00 am): William Powell was an actor who improved any film in which he appeared. So imagine what he could do when given a first-rate film with first-rate co-stars, first-rate script, and a first-rate director. Thus we have My Man Godfrey, a film that artfully combines screwball comedy with social commentary without becoming annoying in the process. Powell plays a bum, a “forgotten man” who becomes the butler for a very rich – and very zany and self-absorbed – household, managing to serve their needs while teaching them about caring for their fellow men. Carole Lombard was nominated for an Oscar for her performance as the dizzy heiress who discovers Powell in the city dump while on a “scavenger hunt” for a charity event. Lombard decides the best thing to do would be to hire him as the family butler, which sets everything in motion. The chemistry is so strong between Powell and Lombard that one wonder why they ever divorced a couple of years earlier. Gail Patrick is great as Lombard’s scheming sister, Alice Brady as the girl’s scatterbrained mother, and always memorable Eugene Pallette as the family’s exasperated father. Mischa Auer also gives a wonderful performance as the “mascot” of the household. (Watch for his imitation of a gorilla.) In short, this is film in which everything adds up to a masterpiece of the genre, and one that can stand up to repeated viewings.

WE DISAGREE ON ... A KING IN NEW YORK (April 19, 6:00 am)

ED: B-. There comes a time when an artist reaches the end of the road. This film is a perfect example, a mixture of excellent social commentary and self-indulgent sermonizing about the McCarthy era. Most of the second half of the film is devoted to this tedious and pompous dialogue. The fact that Chaplin uses his own 10-year old son – playing a schoolboy whose parents are damaged by the anti-communist purges – to utter the dialogue, is testament to the futility that creeps in when the humor leaves. The young man’s lines don’t come across so much as normal conversation as they do as political pronouncements delivered with all the subtlety of a sledgehammer. They manage to undo the first half of the film, which was riding along quite nicely. Charlie would have been better served if he would have just gotten over it. Thus the grade.

DAVID: A-. In his last starring role, Charlie Chaplin goes out with a bang. This satirical look at America's Red-baiting in the early 1950s is both biting, dead-on and quite funny. Chaplin's personal liberal leaning landed him in hot water with the U.S. House on Un-American Activities Committee, and he takes great joy in exposing its members and supporters as he did with Adolf Hitler and Benito Mussolini in The Great Dictator, though that film is better than A King in New York. This film is ahead of its time as it shows America's obsessions with television and advertising that still resonate today. Chaplin is the deposed king of a fictional European country who escapes to New York to live in a luxury hotel. That is until his prime minister steals the royal treasury leaving Chaplin's character with no other choice than to be a TV pitchman and media celebrity to pay the bills. It's not an all-time classic, but it's an entertaining and interesting film made all the more important as it's Chaplin's final movie.

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

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