TCM TiVo ALERT
June 23-June 30
DAVID’S BEST BETS:
BORN TO KILL (June 25, 11:00 pm): A gritty, dark, violent film noir that smacks you in the face much harder that other movies in this genre. Lawrence Tierney is in top form as Sam Wilde, a psychopath who comes across as charming one minute and an out-of-control killer at even a perceived slight in this 1947 film from RKO. Claire Trevor is great as a heartless, conniving gold-digger, who gives Tierney a run for his money. Veteran character actress Esther Howard is a scene-stealer as the owner of the boarding house in which Trevor's character lives while getting a quickie divorce in Reno.
JULIUS CAESAR (June 27, 2:15 pm): This 1953 film may be the best cinematic adaption of a William Shakespeare play that I've ever seen. Only Laurence Olivier's Hamlet can compare. What makes it remarkable is how good Marlon Brando, who was at his method acting mumbling peak, is brilliant as Mark Antony. Brando more than holds his own in a film that features an outstanding all-star cast of Shakespearean veterans such as James Mason, John Gielgud and John Hoyt as well as extraordinarily talented actors including Louis Calhern (as Caesar), Edmond O'Brien, George Macready, Greer Garson and Deborah Kerr. That it came from MGM, known for its slick production values, and directed by Joseph L. Mankiewicz, who made fine films, but nothing even remotely close to Shakespeare, are surprises. But how well this movie works makes those very pleasant surprises and showed the versatility of Brando and Mankiewicz, and that MGM could make films such as this and make them well.
ED’S BEST BETS:
THE SEVENTH VICTIM (June 23, 10:45 am): A superb film from the team of producer Val Lewton and director Mark Robson. A girl’s search for her missing sister leads her to discover that the sister was mixed up with a satanic cult in Greenwich Village called the Palladists. She turns for help in the search from her sister’s husband and a mysterious psychiatrist, which in hindsight, may not have been the best course to take. Lewton and Robson give us a wonderful mise en scene, as the backlot is converted into a replica of the West Village, with its cobblestone streets, imposing brownstones, and cozy restaurants. In the capable hands of cinematographer Nicholas Musuraca it becomes something akin to Edward Hopper Meets Alfred Hitchcock and adds to the tension. As usual, Lewton had a budget somewhere in the low figures to perform his magic, and also as usual, he managed to overcome this limitation and give us a good horror film.
FIVE MILLION YEARS TO EARTH (June 28, 4:15 pm): While their Gothic horrors could oft times be hit-or-miss affairs, Hammer Studios always managed to hit a home run with their science-fiction films. And it’s no different here: Hammer took a BBC serial from the ‘50s called Quartermass and the Pit, added a little, subtracted a little, but on the whole remaining faithful to the original story. Hammer and director Roy Ward Baker capture the intelligence and the mystery of the original not by throwing special effects at the viewer, but in telling the story through the characters. What begins as the discovery of a Nazi bomb in an Underground tunnel being dug up for repairs, soon leads to the finding of ape-like skulls surrounding it, which leads to the realization that this is a not a Nazi weapon, but a spacecraft not of this Earth, but from Mars, complete with arthropod corpses stored inside. In the end we are wrestling with the philosophical issues of history and evolution before reaching a climax by recalling the Collective Unconscious and, especially, its archetype of the Devil. And despite all these weighty subjects, the film is an excellent piece of suspense and terror, supplying some pretty good jolts along the way.
WE DISAGREE ON ... HAXAN (June 23, 7:15 am)
ED: A-. This seven-part historical view of witchcraft from Denmark ranks of one of the best horror films ever made. The movie is loaded with great imagery, with the acting several levels above what is usually offered in films of its time. The costumes, lighting, sets, and effects are all superb leading to the end where director/star Benjamin Christensen tries to make a correlation between the actions and mannerisms of witches as attributed by observers in their time to the modern symptoms and affects (1922) of hysteria. I don’t know if I’m buying into it, but he does raise an interesting point. Above all, watch this not only for itself, but also with respect to its influence on such subsequent films as Ulmer’s The Black Cat, Tourneur’s Night of the Demon, Bava’s Black Sunday, Polanski’s Rosemary’s Baby, Friedkin’s The Exorcist, and Hardy’s The Wicker Man, among others. This is a film that demands to be seen.
DAVID: C+. While ambitious for its time, and I'm not losing sight that it's 92 years old, it's a film that doesn't know what it want to be. Sometimes it's a documentary, including the exceptionally boring beginning in which we are shown photographs from books as if we are trapped in a bad high school class on the supernatural with one of those classroom pointers. Sometimes it's a theatrical production with over-the-top acting of witch-trial reenactments and dreams about demons, making it laughable at certain points. Then it becomes a mockumentary as we are schooled on evil in some silly skits. Perhaps the worst is the supposed initiation of witches who kiss the devil on his behind. At times, it's a combination of all three so you don't know what's going on. Benjamin Christensen, who directed and was one of its main actors, wanted to show and tell so much and shove all sorts of theories and stories that he damaged the end product. I agree with portions of what Ed wrote about the costumes, lighting, sets and effects being ahead of its time, but the storyline is lacking.
For the complete list of films on the TCM TiVo Alert, click here.