Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Cinéma Inhabituel for June 16-30

A Guide to the Rare and Unusual on TCM

By Ed Garea


We continue the month with Rock Hudson, but there’s not much meat left on this bone, only a lot of fat and fluff.

June 19: Forget it. Beginning at 8:00 pm, it’s a mini-marathon of his fluffiest ‘60s flicks: Pillow Talk, Lover Come Back, Send Me No Flowers, Come September, and Man’s Favorite Sport? If I had to choose one to watch, I’d be stuck. The one that looks good from the outside is Man’s Favorite Sport? It has the distinction of being directed by Howard Hawks, who made some of the best screwball comedies. But this one’s more leaden than a boxful of sinkers, showing that Hawks had lost his comedic touch. It begins with an annoying gag over a parking spot and never really regains its balance. Oh well, at least Paula Prentiss is great to look at; too bad her part is so lame. Watch all of the above and you’ll realize why movies were practically dead during the early ‘60s.

June 26: Once Hudson shed his partnership-of-sorts with Doris Day, the quality of his films appreciates as he branched out from lame romantic comedies. Starting at 9:45 pm, there is a fine triple-bill of Hudson, starting with 1968’s Ice Station Zebra, a cold war thriller about a race to recover information from a Russian spy satellite at the North Pole. Though it opened to dreadful reviews and sparse box office, its reputation has grown over the years. And it has a good supporting cast in the persons of Ernest Borgnine, Jim Brown, Patrick McGoohan, and Tony Bill.

Following at 12:30 am is the dark comedy, Pretty Maids All in a Row from 1971. Rock plays a high school football coach with an eye for the student body. When the affair gets too hot and sticky, Rock dispatches the offender. Angie Dickinson offers mature eye candy as a teacher, and Telly Savalas (along with partner James Doohan) is the investigating detective. Yes, Hudson in a psychotronic movie.

Finally, at 2:15 am is Hudson’s underrated sci-fi feature, Seconds (1966). Arthur Hamilton (John Randolph) is a bored middle-aged banker from Scarsdale who travels to Will Geer’s experimental corporate plastic-surgery clinic and emerges as Tony Wilson, a painter who lives in Malibu (now played by Hudson). What a makeover. But it’s no good; he just as trapped in his new life as he was in his old life. And then there’s the Faustian bargain to pay. It's directed by John Frankenheimer, who gives us an intensely bleak mise-en-scene.


June 20: It’s four in a row, beginning at 8:00 pm, by that Pirate Master, Errol Flynn. Against All Flags (1952), Captain Blood (1935), The Sea Hawk (1940), and The Master of Ballantrae (1953). Finally, at 3:35 am, it’s a tepid remake of Captain Blood from Columbia, Fortunes of Captain Blood (1950), with Louis Hayward as the doctor-turned-pirate. Hayward deserved better.

June 27: We begin at 8:00 with the finest, Treasure Island (1934), basting a wonderful performance by Wallace Beery as Long Jon Silver, aided and abetted by actors such as Lionel Barrymore, Lewis Stone, Otto Kruger, Nigel Bruce, and Jackie Cooper. It’s downhill from here: The Boy and the Pirates (1960, from Bert I. Gordon; Captain Kidd (1945) with Charles Laughton, Randolph Scott, Barbara Britton, John Carradine, Gilbert Roland, and John Qualen. With Laughton and that fine cast around him, it should be better. Alas, it isn’t; in fact, Laughton was better working with Abbott and Costello. Blackbeard the Pirate (1952) with Robert Newton and Linda Darnell also disappoints, as does Raiders of the Seven Seas (1953) with John Payne and Donna Reed. Last - and certainly least - is Paul Henried’s flabby Last of the Buccaneers, from 1950.


Now here’s a feast for the movie lover. TCM is running five films from the master French director Rene Clair, beginning at 8:00 with Sous les toits de Paris (Under the Roofs of Paris, 1930). Clair wrote and directed this romance of a street entertainer (Albert Prejean) who falls head over heels for a gypsy beauty (Pola Illry), only to later discover that she has other suitors, including a criminal (Gaston Modot) and even his own best friend, Lewis (Edmond T. Greville). As he was a little skittish about the coming of sound, the film is told mainly in mime, using Victrola music and background sounds to liven the noiseless world.

At 9:45, it’s Clair’s satirical masterpiece, A nous la liberte (We at Liberty, 1931), the story of two ex-convicts, Louis (Raymond Cordy) who escapes and found a successful manufacturing firm, and Emile (Henri Marchand), who is left behind, and upon the completion of his sentence, joins Louis at his business. The irony is that Louis, who hated the regimentation of the prison, found a successful business built upon regimentation. His workers toil at an assembly line, wear numbers, and are watched by foremen. There’s no way the dreamy Emile can fit in with this style of life, which causes Louis to reassess his life. The result is both delightful and thought provoking.

At 11:15, it’s Le million (1931), the story of a lost lottery ticket and the mad race to recover it. Following at 12:45 am is 1955’s The Grand Maneuver, Clair’s first color film. Womanizing Lt. Armand de la Verne (Gerard Philipe) is confident of his woman-catching skills. So confident, in fact, that he wagers he can win the heart of Marie-Louise Rivire (Michele Morgan). But what he didn’t count on was the fact that he would fall in love with her. The sub-plot contains an amusing love story between Armand’s friend Felix (Yves Robert) and Lucie (Brigitte Bardot). The next year, Bardot would star in Roger Vadim’s And God Created Woman, which shot her to international superstardom.

Finally, at 2:45 am, it’s a film from 1944, It Happened Tomorrow, starring Dick Powell as a reporter stuck in the obits department. He complains to his co-workers and wishes he could see into the future, so he could use this talent to become the paper’s top reporter. A guardian angel grants him the wish, which, as usual, results in unforeseen complications. This is material that, if handled well, leads to wonderful twists and turns, and, if handled in a clumsy manner, leads to 90 minutes or so of sheer boredom. Fortunately it’s written by Clair and Dudley Nichols and deftly directed by Clair. The ending has a great payoff, and if you haven’t yet seen this one, by all means record it.

Krzysztof Kieslowski’s Three Colors Trilogy - June 22

Beginning at the ungodly hour of 2:00 am, TCM is running Kieslowski’s Three Colors trilogy. Much as been written about the trilogy, not the least of which was the titles of each film, based on the red, white and blue of the French flag, representing the founding principles of the French nation: liberty, equality, fraternity. But each film is based, rather loosely, on one of the principles.

2:00 am -- Blue (1993): This is the story of Julie (Juliette Binoche), a young woman who loses her husband, an esteemed composer, and young daughter in a car accident. The film’s theme is Liberte, which is shown in Julie’s attempt to begin her life anew, free from commitment, belongings or love. To accomplish this she intends to withdraw from the world and live independently and anonymously in the Parisian metropolis. But this attempt is constantly interrupted by intrusions from people in her former and present life, each with his or her own needs. They both heal Julie and bring her back in the land of everyday living.

3:45 am -- White (1994): Kieslowski now shifts from tragedy to comedy in this tale of a hapless Polish immigrant, Karol Karol (Zbigniew Zamachowski), whose wife, Dominique (Julie Delpy), is divorcing him because he cannot perform sexually. Reduced to playing a comb kazoo in the Paris Metro for coins, he meets a fellow Pole who agrees to smuggle him back into Poland. Alas, all does not go as planned and Karol winds up bloody and beaten in a Polish field. But once in Poland, which is converting from communism to capitalism, the formerly hapless Karol has transformed from sad sack to rich and savvy businessman. But he still yearns for Dominique, and now that he has achieved Egalite, he wants to win her back, and more importantly, exact revenge.

5:30 am -- Red (1994): The final film in the trilogy. Kieslowski retired after making this and died two years later at the age of 56. And the theme of this film is Fraternite. Valentine (Irene Jacob) is a young model living in Geneva. One night she runs over a dog. She takes it to the vet who treats it. She returns it to its owner, a retired judge (Jean-Louis Trintignant), at his villa. But she is surprised when the judge is ambivalent about the dog, telling her to keep it. She’s further shocked when she discovers the judge’s hobby: electronically eavesdropping on his neighbors, not for money or kicks, but to satisfy his cynical view of humanity. Angered to the point of wanting to turn him in, Valentine’s compassion comes to the fore, enabling her to see the greater plight of the judge, a man leading a fruitless, lovelorn life, and they form a touching friendship. Gradually we learn the story of the judge and his lost love, which strangely parallels that of Valentine, who communicates with her absent lover, in England, by telephone. The distance places a strain on their relationship. At the same time there is a young man about to become a judge. He lives across the street from Valentine and also has a strained relationship with his girlfriend, who sells weather forecasts. Will they meet? Though they live near each other, they manage to pass each other by almost every day.

Although each story in the trilogy is different, the theme is that of people and their choices - how they made them and the close connection each choice engenders and how it was made or missed. Ideally, all three films, given the late hour of their showing, should be recorded and viewed at one’s pleasure, when the time and setting is just right.


June 21: A double bill of Blaxploitation. First up at 2:00 am is The Slams, a 1973 production from MGM starring Jim Brown as a convict who must escape before the places where he hid his stolen loot are demolished. Of course, he’s not the only one interested in his largesse. Following at 3:45 am is Hell Up in Harlem, Larry Cohen’s 1973 sequel to his Black Caesar. Fred Williamson stars.

June 25: Three wild films to record, beginning at 9:45 am with The Devil With Hitler, a 1942 production from Hal Roach. It seems that the Devil (Alan Mowbury) is in danger of losing his job, and the only way he can keep it is to get Hitler to perform a good deed. Bobby Watson (who made a short career for himself playing the dictator) is Hitler, while Joe Devlin is Mussolini and George E. Stone is Suki Yaki. The humor is broad and the film is only 44 minutes long. Most surprisingly, it actually spawned a sequel: Nazty Nuisance.

Following at 10:45 am is Val Lewton’s atmospheric chiller, The Seventh Victim (1943), a tale about a Satanic cult in Greenwich Village. And at 5:15 pm it’s The Devil’s Bride (1968), with Christopher Lee versus Satanic cult leader Charles Gray.

Starring Lawrence Tierney - June 25

June 25 also gives us a night of psychotronic star Lawrence Tierney, beginning at 8 pm with his breakout role in Dillinger (1945), followed by Badman’s Territory (1946) at 9:15; Born to Kill (1947) at 11:00 pm, The Hoodlum (1951) at 12:45 am, Step By Step (1946) at 2:00 am, Back To Bataan (1945) at 3:15 am, and San Quentin (1946) at 5:00 am. Tierney was a favorite actor of Quentin Tarantino, who featured him in Reservoir Dogs. He even played the father of Elaine Benes on an episode of Seinfeld.

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