Monday, April 21, 2014

TCM TiVo Alert for April 23-30

TCM TiVo Alert
April 23-30


SÉANCE ON A WET AFTERNOON (April 26, 3:45 am): An unusual and very compelling British film from 1964 with Kim Stanley as a mentally unstable medium who convinces her weak-willed, hen-pecked husband (played by Richard Attenborough) to kidnap the young daughter of a rich man. She wants to help the police solve the kidnapping so she can become famous. Nothing goes right as Stanley's character gets more and more crazy, and has her husband kill the girl. Stanley and Attenborough are splendid in their roles in this outstanding psychological thriller.

THUNDER ROAD (April 28, 10:30 pm): There are few actors with greater screen presence than Robert Mitchum. In this 1958 film, he's a fearless Korean War vet who makes the high-speed and dangerous car deliveries for his family's moonshine business. His family and the other moonshiners with illegal distilleries in the mountains of Kentucky and Tennessee are feeling the heat from not only the feds, but from a big-shot, big-money gangster who wants to buy them out at a fraction of their business profits. Those who resist wind up either having their business destroyed or are murdered. Mitchum, who co-wrote the story and produced the film, is outstanding in one of his finest roles. He's got to make his last run even though he knows he's got little chance to succeed. It's an excellent film with tons of action. End notes: Mitchum wrote his son's character for Elvis Presley, who loved the script, but his manager, the infamous Colonel Tom Parker, killed the idea by asking for a ridiculous amount of money for Elvis to take the role. This was a common with Parker, who never wanted Elvis to act in serious films. Instead the role went to James Mitchum, Robert's son. Also of note, the title of one of Bruce Springsteen's best songs, Thunder Road, (originally called Wings for Wheels) came from this movie. Springsteen hadn't seen the film before writing the song, but saw a poster for the film in a theater lobby and thought it sounded cool. He's right. Imagine if he saw the movie. He probably would have also changed the name of the album from Born to Run.


RIO BRAVO (April 25, 5:15 pm): Howard Hawks produced and directed this wonderful Western with John Wayne as a sheriff who must prevent a killer with wealthy family connection from escaping his jail. Wayne can only enlist a drunken Dean Martin, gimpy Walter Brennan and tenderfoot Ricky Nelson to help him. Oh yeah, he also has the beautiful Angie Dickinson on his side. Leigh Brackett and Jules Furthman wrote the script. The French critics fell over themselves praising this when it came out, but never mind, it’s a classic anyway.

MAN HUNT (April 30, 10:00 pm): A great thriller from director Fritz Lang has Walter Pidgeon as a big-game hunter who infiltrates Hitler’s Berghof in Berchtesgaden, has Der Fuehrer in his sights, but is interrupted and arrested by the Gestapo. They don’t buy his explanation that he wasn’t preparing to shoot Hitler, but offer him freedom if he signs a confession saying the British government put him up to it. When he refuses they torture him and shove him over a cliff to make his death appear “accidental.” He survives and makes it to England, but soon finds German spies are hot on his trail. Thus the hunter becomes the hunted. Besides Pidgeon and George Sanders as the Gestapo official, the film also boasts a breakthrough performance by Joan Bennett as a prostitute who becomes Pidgeon’s ally in his fight against Sanders and the Nazis. Don’t think through the logic of the plot; just go along for the ride. You won’t be disappointed.


ED: A+. This film was planned in 1942 as a morale booster and a plug for the PT Boat, but by the time he got around to shooting it in 1945, John Ford had experienced the war first-hand, which greatly affected his point-of-view. This was one of a group of war films made in 1945 that reflected the real war instead of the glory-winning heroics featured in earlier morale films. In addition, many of the men in the cast had also experienced the war first-hand, which lends an air of authenticity to the film. The star, Robert Montgomery, actually commanded a PT Boat during the war. (During filming, when Ford fell from a scaffold and broke his leg, Montgomery took over the directorial duties.) The film has the usual stirring action scenes, but it differs from earlier war film in its attitude. There are none of the usual patriotic speeches about fighting for God and Country, no maudlin references to the home front and those praying for the safe return of their loved ones, none of the usual monkeyshines between the boys, and most surprisingly, no depictions of the Japanese as robotic and sub-human. The best war films pull no punches. They do not wallow in jingoism; there is no over-the-top heroism designed to manipulate the audience into action. The dialogue is subdued. As the title suggests, this is a sober film about those left behind in the Philippines to fight the Japanese after MacArthur was evacuated to the safety of Australia. This film is so good that it manages to wring a decent performance out of John Wayne, the super patriot who served not a minute in the real war. As such, I regard it as one if the finest war films ever made.

DAVID: B-. This film is interesting and authentic, but it's not very entertaining. The movie tells the story of PT Boats and their usefulness during World War II. The film is fine and Robert Montgomery is very good, as usual. There are long drawn-out scenes that honestly bores me. That doesn't bode well for a movie that runs for two hours and 15 minutes. While I've grown to appreciate some of John Wayne's performances over the years, after unfairly dismissing his entire cinematic career, this is not one of his finest moments. He's not terrible, but Wayne is far from good in this particular movie. His acting is largely stiff and the lines he is given do not help. For example, he's in hospital for an infection in his arm and a nurse, trying to calm him down, suggests they'll eventually dance together. Wayne's response: "Listen, sister, I don't dance and I can't take the time out now to learn. All I want is to get out of here." It's one of the corny lines he delivers throughout the film. Don't get me started on his embarrassing effort to recite poetry in honor of a fallen soldier. Despite that, I admire director John Ford's effort to make an authentic film about World War II shortly after it ended. The film is good, but far from great.

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

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