Sunday, June 1, 2014

Cinéma Inhabituel for June 1-15

A Guide to the Rare and Unusual on TCM

By Ed Garea


The Star of the Month for June is Rock Hudson, with TCM running the usual boatload of his films during the month. I’m somewhat ambivalent about Hudson. He was a decent actor, but I didn’t care for a lot of the vehicles the studios placed him in throughout his career, especially those sickly sweet comedies with Doris Day. But I loved him in Westerns and military-themed films. I’m probably going against the tide here when I say that I don’t find his soapers under Douglas Sirk all that wonderful. In fact, I think they’re overrated. But it has nothing to do with Hudson - I think Sirk is overrated. Oh, well. Anyway, here’s what I consider the best of his first two weeks.

June 5: A solid first night for Rock with three great Westerns, his first film, and a Douglas Sirk film I actually like. Begin at 8:00 pm with The Last Sunset from 1961, a terrific yarn directed by Robert Aldrich with a screenplay from Dalton Trumbo. Rock is a sheriff tracking bad guy Kirk Douglas to rancher Joseph Cotten’s homestead. They soon find themselves taking part in a grueling cattle drive and have to work out their differences along the way, especially as they’re starting to put the moves on Cotten’s wife (Dorothy Malone) and daughter (Carol Lynley).

At 10:00 pm comes Sirk’s 1957 adaptation of William Faulkner, The Tarnished Angels. Rock is a newspaperman in the ‘30s who has come to write a “whatever happened to” story about World War I flying ace Roger Schurmann (Robert Stack), now reduced to making a living on the stunt pilot circuit. Not only does he get his story but he becomes actively enmeshed in the couple’s life, even taking them in to live with him in his small apartment when things get really bad. Of course, as seemingly always with Sirk, things get a little too melodramatic and the ending is totally artificial. But it’s a nice ride along the way. By the way, for a woman living in the ‘30s, Malone’s hairdo and costumes are definitely ‘50s. That’s Universal for you.

11:45 sees Bend of the River from director Anthony Mann in 1952. Jimmy Stewart is a man with a most questionable past who is leading a wagon train of settlers from Missouri into Oregon Territory. Arthur Kennedy is his partner-in-crime who also joins the wagon train. But the partners have a falling out as things proceed and end up in a life-or-death duel. This is a compelling film that begins somewhat slowly, but quickly picks up steam until we are unable to look away. Rock has a supporting role as a gambler who is shot by Kennedy in a poker game.

At 1:30 am it’s anther great Anthony Mann Western, this time from 1950: Winchester ’73. Jimmy Stewart is Lin McAdam. He defeats outlaw Waco Johnny Dean (Dan Duryea) in a shooting contest officiated by none other than Wyatt Earp, winning the prize of a new Winchester rifle. Dean and his gang jump McAdam and steal the coveted rifle. The rest of the film is concerned with the quest by McAdam to get the rifle back. Simply put, this is one of the best Westerns ever made and was credited with fueling the revival of the Western genre during the ‘50s. Rock made an impression on director Mann playing the role of Sioux chief Young Bull.

Finally, at the late hour of 3:15 in the morning, comes Hudson’s first film, Fighter Squadron. From Warner Bros. in 1948, it’s director Raoul Walsh’s tribute to the daredevil antics of the fighter pilots who took on the Luftwaffe over England and France during 1943-44. Hudson, an ex-truck driver, was under personal contract to Walsh at the time and also served as the director’s chauffeur. At Walsh’s urging, Hudson took a bit part in the movie. He had one line, “You’ve got to get a bigger blackboard.” But he was so nervous that it took 38 takes to get in that one line. And don’t even look for his name in the billing.

June 12: Steel yourself. It’s Epic and Soap night for Hudson. First up at 8:00 pm is a double barrel of pure soap with Magnificent Obsession (1954) and All That Heaven Allows (1955). The first is a faithful remake of John Stahl’s 1935 original with Robert Taylor and Irene Dunne in the parts later played by Hudson and Jane Wyman. And like the 1935 original, the remake was a big hit, so much so that it established Hudson as a bonafide Movie Star. And because this was such a big hit, Universal decided to bring the director and stars together again the next year for All That Heaven Allows. This is one of Sirk’s slickest soapers, with Wyman as a lonely older widow who falls for young landscaper Hudson, to the consternation of everyone around her. Needless to say, the film was another megahit and was remade in 1974 as Ali: Fear Eats the Soul by Werner Fassbinder, of all people. Look for B-horror stalwart Gloria Talbott as Wyman’s daughter, and former squeeze of CMH winner “Manila John” Basilone, Virginia Grey, as Alida, a friend of Hudson.

Then, at 11:45, comes one of the biggest epics, outside of biblical epics, of the ‘50s: Giant. This 1956 drama from director George Stevens, is based on Edna Ferber’s sprawling story of two generations of a Texas family as they move from cattle to oil. Although Elizabeth Taylor and Hudson play the leads, the film is perhaps best remembered as the last of James Dean’s short career.


The Friday Night Spotlight for June is devoted to - aaargh, me buckos - pirate films.

June 6: Start at 8:00 pm with a rare showing of the original 1924 silent version of The Sea Hawk, starring the legendary Milton Sills as “The Sea Hawk,” and the unforgettable Enid Bennett as Rosamund. In fact, the only cast member we’re familiar with is Wallace Beery, who plays freebooter Jasper Leigh. Sills died of a heart attack in 1930 at the young age of 48 while playing tennis. Bennett, married to director Sidney Franklin (she was previously married to director Fred Niblo), appeared only sporadically in sound films, her last being The Big Store in 1941.

At 10:00 pm, it’s Tyrone Power in Henry King’s 1942 adaptation of The Black Swan. Power is wonderful playing against type as a rotten brigand. He’s ably supported by the likes of Maureen O’Hara, Laird Cregar, Thomas Mitchell, George Sanders, Anthony Quinn, and George Zucco.

Then, at midnight, treat yourself to The Spanish Main, a 1945 production from RKO and director Frank Borzage, starring Maureen O’Hara, Paul Henreid, and the villainous Walter Slezak.

June 13: The night begins at 8:00 pm with Burt Lancaster’s off-the-charts performance in 1952’s The Crimson Pirate. Nick Cravat plays Burt’s right-hand man, Ojo, in large part because he was Burt’s trapeze partner when the two worked the circus. The reason he’s a mute in the film was because of his heavy New York accent. Look for the young Christopher Lee as Joseph, the military attaché.

Following at 10:00 pm is Vincente Minnelli’s troubled The Pirate, from 1948. Minnelli’s wife, Judy Garland, who was the film’s star, was suffering from maladies both physical and emotional, which caused her to miss 99 of the movie’s 135-day shooting schedule. Both Garland and co-star Gene Kelly fought for the inclusion of the talented Nicholas Brothers, Fayard and Harold, in the film, but the scene they were in with Garland and Kelly, “Be A Clown,” was cut by exhibitors in the South.

At midnight begins a double feature of pirate comedies. First is The Princess and the Pirate, an above average Bob Hope feature from RKO in 1944, co-starring Virginia Mayo, Walter Slezak, and Walter Brennan, who steals the film as the pirate Featherhead. This is followed at 1:45 am by Abbott and Costello Meet Captain Kidd; a 1952 film from Woodley Productions and Warner Brothers. It’s the usual Abbott and Costello antics, but Charles Laughton, reprising his role as Captain Kidd, has a field day and makes this mess worth watching.


Cagney may have looked totally ridiculous and out of place in the 1939 Warner Brothers’ attempt to make Western stars out of both him and Humphrey Bogart, The Oklahoma Kid, but give him about 15 years, a few pounds, and the experience of having been a gentleman farmer in his time away from movies, and it’s a different story. On June 5 at 4:30 pm we get to see what that time has done when we watch Jimmy in 1956’s Tribute to a Bad Man, from MGM. This time out, Cagney is a ruthless land baron who will do almost anything to hold on to his possessions. He’s unstoppable until he runs into former saloon hostess Irene Papas, and it’s then the sands begin to shift from under the stubborn rancher. Originally meant for Spencer Tracy and Grace Kelly, director Robert Wise does an excellent job with Cagney and Papas as the leads. It’s Cagney's last Western, and he definitely goes out on a high note.


June 8: Beginning at 2:00 am it’s a double feature of the Orpheus legend. We begin with 1959’s Black Orpheus, which sets the legend in Rio during Carnival. This is a feast for the eyes with the vivid colors and sounds of Carnival, and is beautifully acted and directed. Following is Jean Cocteau’s 1949 rendering of Orpheus, an excellent updating of the legend starring Jean Marais as a poet following wife Eurydice into the underworld, only to fall in love with the Princess of Death (Marie Casares). Although overdone is spots, it still retains its hypnotic effect on the viewer and is one that must be seen.

June 15: Again, another double feature, this time from director Rene Clement. Leading off at 2:00 am is Purple Noon (1961), the first adaptation of Patricia Highsmith’s novel The Talented Mr. Ripley, with Alain Delon as the young man who murders his rich friend and takes over his identity. Anthony Minghella remade the film in 1999 as The Talented Mr. Ripley with Matt Damon as Ripley, but speaking as one who has seem both versions, I can recommend Clement’s version hands down. For one thing, Minghella suffers from a need to try to explain Ripley’s actions while Clement allows Ripley’s amorality to run free, which pulls us right in to the movie and we end up rooting for Ripley to get away with it. Also, while Damon is an interesting actor, co-star Jude Law upstages him. Alain Delon, by contrast, gives a compelling and magnetic performance, dominating the film. Also bask in the glow of Henri Decae’s wonderful cinematography, which makes the move come to life. Yes, this is the one to see.

Following at 4:00 am is Clement’s 1947 noirLes Maudits (The Damned), a story about a true ship of fools. In the last days of World War II, a group of Nazis and sympathizers (including a general, an Italian businessman and his wife, and an SS leader and his assistant) leave Oslo via submarine for the safe harbor of South America. Due to an injury to the businessman’s wife suffered during a depth charge attack, they stop at liberated Royan and kidnap a French doctor (Henri Vidal). When they reach South America, they discover asylum is not what it’s cracked up to be. Most of the film takes place within the confined space of the submarine, where magnified sensibilities combine with the lack of privacy and shared contempt to give us a peek at what life in Hell might look like. It’s definitely worth the time and effort.


There is seemingly something for everyone in this month’s selection of psychotronic movies.

June 1: The dark side of atomic energy is featured with two films, one from the U.S. and one from the U.S.S.R. At 2:00 am, it’s the 1962 Soviet sci-fi thriller, Nine Days of One Year. This remarkable film recounts the efforts of a team of Soviet nuclear scientists to build a fusion reactor, one physicist doing so even at the risk of his own life. The film also shows the carelessness of the scientists’ work and radiation it inadvertently unleashes, something usually not admitted in the U.S.S.R.

Following at 4:00 am, also from 1962, is American International’s look at what could happen if the bomb were ever dropped, Panic in the Year Zero, as Ray Milland and Jean Hagen, along with children Frankie Avalon and Mary Mitchel, try to survive in the aftermath. Milland is fine, but the film, suffers from the insertion of a gang of young beatnik thugs spouting anti-establishment slogans who make life tough for Milland and family. However, keep in mind that it is psychotronic - and that there is a reason for that. So sit back, enjoy, and try not to take the proceedings seriously.

June 2: It’s a night of British Invasion films that goes from the sublime to the ridiculous. First, the sublime: at 8:00 pm, TCM leads off the Richard Lester’s delightful Swinging London romp starring the Beatles, A Hard Day’s Night (1964). The only plot revolves around a day with the Beatles as their fans chase them all over Londontown. Will they make their television date? What do you think? The film’s subplot deals with Paul trying to keep his grandfather (Wilfrid Brambell) out of mischief. It’s followed at 9:45 by Go Go Mania, a concert film of British rock ‘n’ roll acts hosted by London disc jockey Jimmy Savile. It’s a lovely nostalgic feast for those of us who came of age during this time, and those watching will find it has lost none of its power. In fact, it may even win some fans from among the younger generation.

At 11:15, it’s a rock film of a different sort, as the Dave Clark Five star in the John Boorman directed Having a Wild Weekend from 1965. Instead of simply cloning A Hard Day’s Night, Boorman (in his feature debut) and writer Peter Nichols fashion a remarkable film dealing with the reaction of the young as they are being swallowed up by the commercialization of the youth culture. Another point of departure from A Hard Day’s Night is the fact that the Dave Clark Five do not play themselves - or even musicians - in the movie. Instead they are stuntmen who, along with the star they’re supporting in the shooting, become disillusioned on the set of a slew of commercials being filmed for a meat packing company. The star, Dinah (Barbara Ferris), strikes up a relationship with Steve (Dave Clark), one of the stuntmen. Together they grab the company’s Jaguar and head off for some time away from the set, but no matter where they go, there are people wishing to cash in on the duo. It’s different and worth a look.

Now to the ridiculous: First up at 1:00 am is Hold On! This 1966 effort from Herman’s Hermits and director Arthur Lubin finds the band on a U.S. tour accompanied by a NASA scientist who is deciding if the group is worthy enough to have a space capsule named after them. The film features 10 songs from the band, including the title track and “A Must to Avoid.” The group appears again right after in the 1968 Mrs. Brown, You’ve Got a Lovely Daughter. The group play working lads in Manchester who all own a share “Mrs. Brown,” a racing greyhound. To finance her career, they form a group and play gigs from Manchester to London, where Herman falls hard for ingénue Sarah Caldwell. This time, nine of the band’s songs are featured, including the title track and “There’s a Kind of Hush (All Over the World).” The film was made on the quick and looks every bit of it. Those who were fans will love this while those who were not will feel an itchy finger on the remote control fast forward finger. The irony of it was that by 1968 the group was already Yesterday’s News.

Finally, at 4:30 am it’s Mary Ann Mobley in 1964’s Get Yourself a College Girl, with Mary Ann as a student at a conservative college who writes rock songs in secret. While on vacation at Sun Valley, she and other students put on a show to help re-elect a senator. Produced by the notorious Sam Katzman, it’s every bit as interesting as it sounds. My advice is to record it and use your fast-forward button to get to the music, which is incredible. While the Dave Clark Five, the Animals, and the Standells are on the bill, the film is stolen by the Jimmy Smith Trio, and jazz great Stan Getz and the velvet voice of singer Astrud Gilberto doing their standard of ‘60s cool, “The Girl From Ipanema.”

June 3: It’s Outer Space Night at TCM, with the following classics being shown beginning at 8:00 pm. 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968), Ridley Scott’s Alien(1979) at 10:45, the 1950 pioneer, Destination Moon, at 1:00 am, Marooned (1969) at 2:30 am, and that all-time stink bomb, Queen of Outer Space (1958) at 4:45 am. My recommendation is to record both Destination Moon, because it’s not aired that often, and Queen of Outer Space for its hilarity.

June 4: It’s a psychotronic double feature starring Ursula Andress beginning at 8:00 pm with Hammer’s remake of RKO’s 1935 jungle epic She. Based on the 1897 novel by H. Rider Haggard, Andress is breathtaking as the queen of the lost city, discovered by explorers John Richardson and Peter Cushing, and Christopher Lee ably assists her as the evil head priest, Billali. However, the RKO version is the one to see, for it’s a whole lot funnier. It must be lost or in litigation, for surely TCM, which owns most of the RKO library, would have screened this.

At 10:00 pm it’s the disappointing Clash of the Titans from 1981. The story of Perseus (Harry Hamlin) and his quest to save the beautiful Princess Andromeda (Judi Bowker), it features Laurence Olivier as Zeus, Claire Bloom as Hera, and Andress as Aphrodite. With the special effects by Ray Harryhausen, it features the usual amount of wonderful monsters, but the film falls flat. The brass owl, Bubo, who aids Perseus, comes off as a lame clone of R2D2.

June 10: It’s time for Robert Osborne’s picks and he starts off with two psychotronic noirs from Fritz Lang, The Woman in the Window (1944), and Scarlet Street (1945). Both star Edward G. Robinson, Joan Bennett, and Dan Duryea and display Lang at the height of his power.

June 13: The morning and afternoon is devoted to films featuring the number “13.” Among them are Thirteen Women (1932) at 10:00 am with Myrna Loy as a mysterious Eurasian out to murder the boarding school roommate who mistreated her; the Red Scare film, The Woman From Pier 13 (1950) at noon; Francis Ford Coppola’s early entry, Dementia 13 (1963), which he wrote and directed, at 3:15 pm; William Castle’s gimmick-laden 13 Ghosts (1960) at 4:45 pm, followed at 6:15 by his Thirteen Frightened Girls (1963). Not a bad afternoon.

June 14: A late night double feature of gangster films begins at 2:00 am with the dark Italian production Shoot First, Die Later (1974) and the Bernie Casey-Pam Grier Blaxploitation actioner Hit Man, from 1972.

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