Tuesday, July 1, 2014

Cinéma Inhabituel for July 1-15

A Guide to the Rare and Unusual on TCM

By Ed Garea


The Star of the Month for July is Maureen O’Hara, one of Hollywood’s brightest stars, and TCM runs a respectable sampling of her films during the month. It’s odd, but her best-known movies, Miracle on 34th Street and The Quiet Man, will not be screened. Fox has a tight clamp on the former; as to the latter, it’s a mystery.

July 1: Begin at 8:00 pm with The Hunchback of Notre Dame from 1939, a renowned classic with a truly unforgettable performance from Charles Laughton in the title role. For a relative newcomer such as O’Hara to hold her own up against the great Laughton was a foretelling of greater things to come. And come they did with 1941’s How Green Was My Valley (10:15 pm), where O’Hara had her star breakthrough as Angharad, the only daughter of Gwilym and Beth Morgan (Donald Crisp and Sara Allgood). John Ford’s direction is to the point, capturing the gentle humor and the melancholy pathos of Richard Llewellyn’s novel. The film also introduced O’Hara to Ford, who not only cast her in the important role without seeing a screen test (they spent the interview chatting about memories of their native Ireland), but also made her part of his “stock company,” collaborating on five feature films.

At 12:20 am comes one of the sappiest tearjerkers ever made, 1946’s Sentimental Journey. This 1946 20th Century Fox production finds O’Hara as a dying actress who adopts an orphan named Hitty (Connie Marshall) in the hopes she will be a companion to hubby John Payne after she kicks the bucket. The film was a huge hit at the box office, and would probably still pack a powerful punch with an audience - but not this audience.

July 8: Three films of note to watch tonight, two of which find O’Hara outdone by a supporting actor. First up at 8:00 pm is Dorothy Arnzer’s Dance Girl, Dance from 1940. Maureen is a ballet dancer who works as a burlesque dancer in Maria Ouspenskaya’s dance troupe. Though O’Hara has top billing, the real star of the film is Lucille Ball, giving a terrific performance as the self-centered Bubbles, and fighting O’Hara for the affection of divorced playboy Louis Hayward (Ball wins). The film is rather uneven - Arnzer doesn’t know where she wants to go with it - and is weighed down by the Hayward subplot (he’s married and the wife really doesn’t want to let him go). But at any rate watch it for O’Hara’s beauty and Ball’s performance.

At 1:00 am, O’Hara stars with Robert Young in the classic Sitting Pretty (Fox, 1948) as a young suburban couple in need of a nanny to watch their three unruly children. Enter Clifton Webb as Mr. Belvedere and you can pretty well forget about O’Hara and Young. Mr. Belvedere, who describes himself as a genius, not only has the children in lock step, but also pens a tell-all expose about the scandalous neighborhood of Hummingbird Hill. From the way Webb dominates this film, one would suspect it was especially written for him. If you haven’t seen this one before, it’s a must, so record it and watch at your leisure. You won’t be sorry.

Following at 2:30 am is director Carol Reed’s underrated Our Man in Havana (1960). Alec Guinness stars as a vacuum cleaner salesman recruited by Noel Coward as a secret agent. O’Hara plays another secret agent. Graham Greene scripted this witty spoof, which he adapted from his novel. During filming O’Hara met none other than Che Guevara, who greatly impressed her with his knowledge of Irish history and the rebellions against the British. In her memoir, ‘Tis Herself, she states that Guevara’s cap, which would later be worn by students and dissidents around the world, was in reality an Irish rebel’s cap.

July 15: It’s “Adventure Night” for O’Hara with three pirate films (Didn’t we see this last month?) and an adventure where she plays the daughter of one of the Three Musketeers. Begin at 8 pm with Maureen and Tyrone Power starring in Henry King’s 1942 adaptation of The Black Swan. Power is wonderful playing against type as a rotten brigand with O’Hara in fine form as his love interest, the daughter of the former governor of Jamaica. They are ably supported by the likes of Laird Cregar, Thomas Mitchell, George Sanders, Anthony Quinn, and George Zucco.

At 9:30, it’s The Spanish Main, a 1945 production from RKO and director Frank Borzage, with Paul Henreid as a Dutch pirate called “the Barracuda,” villainous Walter Slezak as Don Alvarado, governor of Cartagena, and O’Hara as Slezak’s bride-to-be. When Henreid discovers that O’Hara is sailing from Mexico to Cartagena, he kidnaps her and sets the action in full motion. It’s non-stop fun with Henreid breaking form as Warner Brothers’ ladies man-in-residence to become a man of action. And he’s perfect for the part. Slezak is Slezak, a marvel of villainy, and O’Hara scrumptious as the bride-to-be.

At 11 pm it’s the ridiculous Sinbad the Sailor, with Douglas Fairbanks and O’Hara in the top slots. Despite its shortcomings it was a box office hit. Then, at 1:15 am, it’s RKO’s so-so 1951 actioner, At Sword’s Point, starring Cornel Wilde, O’Hara, and Alan Hale, Jr. as the children of the original Three Musketeers.


The Friday Night Spotlight for June is devoted to - of all things - the 100th anniversary of the beginning of World War I. What the heck, it’s a good excuse to show the backlog of films TCM has concerning The Great War.

July 4: We begin at 8 pm with Howard Hawks’ classic, Sergeant York, with the one and only Gary Cooper as York. Cooper was the actor the real life Sergeant Alvin York wanted to play him in the movie adaptation of his life and he got his wish. At 10:30 pm, it’s James Cagney, Pat O’Brien and George Brent in The Fighting 69th. Yeah, Brent’s the commander, Cagney’s the guy who can’t fit in, and O’Brien is - what else - the priest. But it works and works beautifully, for it’s a morale film, meant to get us ready for the next big conflagration.

At 12:15 am, it’s The Dawn Patrol (WB, 1938), with Errol Flynn, Basil Rathbone, and David Niven in an excellent remake of Hawks’ 1930 original about the anguish of squadron commanders who have to send pilots to their death. Following at 2:15 am is William Wellman’s award-winning Wings, a 1927 silent from Paramount about two pilots (Charles “Buddy” Rogers and Harold Arlen) who are rivals for the same woman (Clara Bow). The dogfight scenes are great and enough to make up for the film’s paper-thin plot.

July 11: Five wonderful films are the highlight of the night’s viewing. At 8 pm, it’s Stanley Kubrick’s Paths of Glory, a brilliant expose of the insanity of war starring Kirk Douglas, Ralph Meeker, and Adolphe Menjou. It’s followed at 9:45 by a film just as good: All Quiet on the Western Front, which made a star out of its lead, Lew Ayres. Based on the novel by Erich Maria Remarque, it’s the story of the First World War as told from the German side. We follow Paul Baumer (Ayres), a young student filled by his teacher with patriotic fervor from the time he enlists through his time in trenches, where he sees the real horrors of war, to his senseless death in the trenches from a sniper’s bullet. Ayres is excellent as he goes from idealism to cynicism, but Louis Wolheim as Katczinsky matches him step for step, bringing a humanity to film that never steps over the line to the maudlin. One of the most powerful antiwar films ever made, it was one of the first films banned upon the Nazi’s assumption of power in 1933. Minister of Propaganda called it “an unreal portrait.” Ironically Goebbels never served at the front as his clubfoot rendered him unfit for action.

At 12:15 am, it’s King Vidor’s splashy 1925 opus for MGM, The Big Parade. John Gilbert stars as one of three soldiers from different backgrounds who are thrown together in wartime France. Gilbert is James Apperson, a son of privilege. Tom O’Brien is Bull, a bartender from the Bowery, and Karl Dane is Slim, an ironworker. Renee Adoree shines as Melisande, a beautiful village girl who reminds Gilbert of his fiancée back home. Together these young innocents experience the horrors of war first hand in battle scenes so realistic as to be unnerving. I know many out there do not care for silent films, but this is a wonderfully acted and directed film with Gilbert showing the audience why he is a star.

At the ungodly hour of 3 am we have a doubleheader from none the than the great G.W. Pabst. Leading off is his 1930 antiwar classic, Westfront 1918, a film with battle scenes so real that audience members were said to have fainted in their seats at the film’s 1930 premiere in Berlin. The film follows four young soldiers sent to the Western front at a time when the war is about over, the outcome is in little doubt and the continuation of fighting senseless. Pabst’s view of war is stark, totally unromantic, and the picture of German society he paints is one ridden with corruption and in serious economic trouble. It’s no wonder that, along with All Quiet on the Western Front, it was one of the initial two dozen films banned by the Nazis.

At 4:45 am, TCM screens Pabst’s 1931 Kameradschaft, a stirring and heartfelt story of a real event: a mine cave-in near the French-German border in 1906 and the German miners’ disregard of public opinion and their own safety to perform a rescue mission by digging underneath the French tunnel. Its message of pacifism and workers solidarity also led to its ban by Goebbels.


The evening of July 3 is devoted to a marathon of five Mae West films. Beginning at 8 pm, the roster goes like this: I’m No Angel (1933, with a young Cary Grant); She Done Him Wrong (1933, also with the young Cary Grant); Belle of the Nineties (1934); My Little Chickadee (1940, with W.C. Fields); The Heat’s On (1943). All, with the exception of the last, are must-sees. Mae was at her best during the Pre-Code era and could well be said to embody the liberties of that era. Blue noses hated her not only for her risqué humor, but also for the fact that she was an empowered woman, something one would never see in an MGM picture.


July 6: Beginning at 2:00 am, it’s a double feature about maids, believe it or not. First up is The Housemaid, a 1960 film by filmmaker Kim Ki-young about the drama that ensues when a music teacher and his wife hire a housemaid to care for the home and the children. The only problem is that the maid is a couple of sandwiches short of a picnic, and she proceeds to tear the household apart in a most harrowing and lurid manner. Underneath this is a critique of the treatment of women in Korean society. A friend of mine who saw this when a restored version played in France back in 2008 commented to me that it was almost like Claude Chabrol translated into Korean. Sounds like an excellent recommendation, especially as the film was thought lost for years.

Following at 4 am is Luis Bunuel’s 1965 Diary of a Chambermaid. Bunuel took Jean Renoir’s 1946 original and transformed it into a look at the coming of fascism in 1939 France - with a little sex attached. Jeanne Moreau is Celestine, the latest in a line of maids that have worked in the Monteil household and a woman who will use her feminine charms to control and advance her situation in the household, which itself is a mass of corruption, violence and sexual perversion. In other words: typical Bunuel. The lady of the house (Francoise Lugagne) distrusts her because of her Parisian background. Monsieur Monteil (Michel Piccoli), the man of the house, could care less where she was from in France. Rejected by his wife, he seeks out the pleasure of the servants and Celestine is but another in a long line of maids he will impregnate if given the chance. But Celestine rejects his attempts at seduction. She’d rather parade around in high heels for the benefit of Madame Monteil’s father. Seeing Moreau running around in high heel boots so he can leer at her proves too much for his heart and he is found dead, naked and wrapped around a pair of her boots. Meanwhile, a young girl is found raped and murdered, Celestine suspects the groundskeeper, a rabid fascist, and even agrees to marry him in the hope he will let his guard down so she can turn him in. Got that? Right.

July 13: Looking for a good change of pace? Then try Akira Kurosawa’s take on MacbethThrone of Blood (1961) with Toshiro Mifune in the Macbeth role. Mifune is flawless as a samurai warned of future events in a supernatural encounter and then encouraged to kills his lord and seize power by his ambitious wife (Isuzu Yamada, who was unforgettable in Mizoguchi’s 1936 Tokyo Elegy). It’s been said that Kurosawa tried to avoid duplicating Orson Welles’ version of Macbeth. What he does do, however, is copy Laurence Olivier in his adaptation of Hamlet by cutting down may of the long speeches and minor characters. (Kurosawa even cuts out the character of Macduff!) Kurosawa filmed on the slopes of Mt. Fuji, building an impressive medieval castle among other period sets. Critics have referred to the film as a brilliant stylistic blend of Noh Theatre and the American Western, a description that applies to many of the director’s samurai films.

July 14: An Ernst Lubitsch film is always worth one’s time, especially when it’s on the level of his 1932 classic, Trouble in Paradise. Miriam Hopkins and Herbert Marshall play thieves who begin by robbing each other, only to fall madly in love. Now a team, they plan to fleece wealthy widow Kay Francis, but just as things are going ever so smoothly Marshall finds himself falling for his victim. Will he go straight or keep to his wicked ways with partner Hopkins. If you know Lubitsch, you know the answer, but it’s always a joy to find out.


As always, there’s a good selection in both the psychotronic and the B-category.

July 1: Try Gaby at 4:30 pm. While this tepid remake of Waterloo Bridge is neither psychotronic nor a B-movie, it does boast some interesting casting in the persons of Lisa Montell (World Without EndShe-Gods of Shark Reef) and the one and only Narda Onyx, best known for Jesse James Meets Frankenstein’s Daughter. (My essay on that film can be found here.)

July 2: At 8 pm, it’s Donald O’Connor in Arthur Lubin’s 1950 comedy, Francis. O’Connor is Peter Stirling, a G.I. in Burma whose life is saved from the Japanese by a talking Army mule. Of course, no one believes him and the mule is too stubborn to talk with anyone else, but with Francis feeding him intelligence about Japanese troop movements, Peter becomes a hero. The popularity of the film spurred profitable sequels, including one starring Mickey Rooney, then at the nadir of his career, opposite the mule. When the series ran its course, Lubin brought the concept to television as Mr. Ed, only this time it was a talking horse.

At 2:30 am, it’s Louis Malle’s confusing 1975 satire, Black Moon. Set in the future, a woman (Catherine Harrison, Rex’s daughter) flees the ongoing war between men and women by escaping into a fantasy world with talking animals and unicorns. Shot at Malle’s own house and 225-acre spread in the Dordogne Valley, the director referred to it as unlike anything he’s ever done before or since. However, box office returns were such that he never did it again. Next stop, America, where he would film Atlantic City with Burt Lancaster and Susan Sarandon.

Finally, at 4:30 am, it’s Roger Corman’s The Raven (AIP, 1963). Vincent Price is Dr. Erasmus Craven, a widowed sorcerer who discovers that his wife, Lenore (Hazel Court) is alive and living with his mortal enemy, Dr. Scarabus (Boris Karloff). Peter Lorre is also in the film as Dr. Adolphus Bedio, a magician Scarabus turned into a bird for daring to challenge him. Craven restores Bedio to human form and the two join forces against Scarabus. It’s unusual for a Corman film in that it’s actually entertaining, thanks to the fact that Richard Matheson wrote the screenplay.

July 5: Each Saturday at noon in July, TCM is showing a psychotronic sci-fi flick. This week it’s the camp classic from the Woolner Brothers and Allied Artists, Attack of the 50-Foot Woman. The beautiful Allison Hayes, a former Miss Oklahoma, plays the title character, Nancy Archer. Distraught after another fight with her husband, Nancy is cooling off with a drive in the country when she has an encounter of the third kind with a transparent alien (the result of shoddy special effects). The encounter eventually causes her to grow 50-feet tall. This is a perfect film, hilarious writing, hilarious acting, and hilarious special effects. Look for the giant Paper Mache hand near the end.

At 3:00 am, it’s John Carpenter’s 1976 psychotronic classic, Assault on Precinct 13, about a group of policemen and other individuals who must fight off an attack by a faceless gang upon their precinct house. If this sounds like Howard Hawks’ Rio Bravo, it’s because Carpenter took his story idea from that movie. George Romero’s Night of the Living Dead was also an influence in that the gang members almost seem like zombies. At any rate it’s worth a viewing.

July 6: A double dip of Ray Harryhausen begins at 8 pm with the 1963 classic Jason and the Argonauts, followed at 10 pm by The Seventh Voyage of Sinbad from 1958. I remember seeing this in the theater and the Cyclops still scares me today.

July 12: The noon feature this week is the exquisitely awful Queen of Outer Space, with the one and only Zsa Zsa Gabor trying hard to pass as a thespian. The story about the film was that writer Ben Hecht originally proposed it as a joke. Well, the joke was on us.

I WAS A TEENAGE DETECTIVE: Also on tap in July on Saturdays at 10:30 am are the complete Nancy Drew mysteries, starring Bonita Granville and produced by Warner Brothers. As only four were made in the series, it fits rather nicely in TCM’s schedule. Adapted from Carolyn Keene’s novels, the series starred Bonita Granville as Nancy, Frankie Thomas as Nancy’s boyfriend, Ted Nickerson, and John Litel played Nancy’s attorney father. Granville was the right actress for the right part. Her Nancy is feisty, filled with boundless energy matched by her intelligence and resourcefulness whenever in a jam. On July 5, it’s Nancy Drew Detective (1938), the initial entry in the series. Nancy investigates the disappearance of a wealthy, eccentric woman who had pledged $250,000 to Nancy’s school. Nancy is convinced the woman was kidnapped, and with Ted’s help, tracks down the criminals. On July 12, TCM is showing Nancy Drew, Reporter (1939). Trying to win a contest for the best news story, Nancy visits the court and overhears the staff talking about the Lambert murder case. She decides to sit in on the trial, where the victim’s ward, Eula Denning (Betty Amann), is accused of poisoning Kate Lambert for the inheritance money. Deciding that Denning is innocent, Nancy decides to investigate.

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