Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Cinéma Inhabituel for July 16-31

A Guide to the Rare and Unusual on TCM

By Ed Garea


July 22: At 8:00 pm, the night begins with The Immortal Sergeant, a rather preposterous film from 20th Century Fox in 1943. Henry Fonda is a timid Canadian corporal serving with the British in Libya. He’s taught courage and leadership by his patrol sergeant, Thomas Mitchell. When Mitchell is killed in battle, Fonda takes over and completes the unit’s mission. O’Hara appears as Fonda’s love in flashbacks. Fonda hated the picture; he had enlisted in the Navy when word got back to Darryl Zanuck, who pulled strings to bring Fonda from boot camp in San Diego to the Fox studios, where this classic was awaiting his presence.

At 9:45 pm, another forgettable film airs: Buffalo Bill, starring Joel McCrea in the title role and O’Hara as his wife. Just as Fonda despised The Immortal Sergeant, O’Hara hated Buffalo Bill. And she wasn’t alone - its director, William Wellman, and writer, Gene Fowler, also hated it with a passion. Fowler believed William Frederick “Buffalo Bill” Cody to be the biggest fraud that ever lived, and he and Wellman set about to write a screenplay that exposed him as a fraud. But one evening, as Wellman recalled, Fowler phoned to tell the director that they can’t simply cut down a man that was a hero to so many children. So, when the fact becomes legend, print the legend, as John Ford would point out years later in The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance. Both Fowler and Wellman held their stomachs in check and completed this laudatory biopic of a man who was certainly one of the biggest legends of the Old West. Wellman had no choice but to make the film; it was part of his deal with Darryl Zanuck. In return for allowing Wellman to make The Ox Bow Incident, a film for which Zanuck had no use, Wellman was to direct Buffalo Bill. Years afterward, Wellman would knock the film to anyone that asked. In the episode of The Men Who Made the Movies devoted to him, Wellman, spoke about how the scene at the end that has a crippled boy stands up and says “God bless you, Buffalo Bill,” had made him want to vomit. He would also mention how the film was a complete waste of one of the most talented casts he ever assembled: McCrea, O’Hara, Thomas Mitchell, and Linda Darnell. Speaking of Darnell, she plays a young Indian woman who teaches in a frontier school. Watch for her lines about racism, pretty bold for the day. The film was a box office bonanza; The Ox Bow Incident, on the other hand, was quietly released and allowed to whither and die. Today, it’s considered a classic while Buffalo Bill is largely forgotten.

The rest of the night presents us with much better fare. At 11:30 pm, it’s O’Hara and John Wayne in the hilarious McLintock! This 1963 comedy is sort of a Western take on Shakespeare’s The Taming of the Shrew with the last scenes lifted from Wayne and O’Hara’s classic, The Quiet Man. It has a good supporting cast in Yvonne De Carlo, son Patrick Wayne, Stefanie Powers, Jack Kruschen, Chill Wills, Jerry Van Dyke, and Edgar Buchanan. Add O’Hara at her feisty best and the Duke playing his best-known character - John Wayne - and it’s a treat for the eyes and ears. Wayne cast De Carlo in a featured role to help her financially, as her stuntman husband Bob Morgan, an old friend of Wayne’s, suffered career-ending injuries while filming How the West Was Won (1962).

Following at 1:45 am is another solid, albeit flawed, Western, The Deadly Companions. Directed by Sam Peckinpah in 1961 (his first Western feature film), it was produced by Charles B. FitzSimons as a vehicle for his sister O’Hara. FitzSimons resisted all attempts by Peckinpah to turn it into more than the producer wanted, even to the point of taking the final cut away from Peckinpah. Still, it’s an interesting film, with Brian Keith as a Civil War veteran (Union) who accompanies dance hall hostess O’Hara as she travels through hostile territory to bury her young son, accidentally slain by Keith, next to her late husband.

At 3:30 am, it’s John Wayne and O’Hara in John Ford’s The Wings of Eagles, a 1957 biopic of Frank “Spig” Wead, a pioneer aviator who turned to screenwriting after an accident grounded him permanently. Wayne and O’Hara are excellent, but the one to watch in the film is Ward Bond as film director John Dodge. Bond models his performance directly after Ford and it’s funny to watch.

Finally, at 5:30 am, O’Hara Shines as the wife of Tyrone Power in The Long Gray Line (1955). Power is Martin Maher, an Irish immigrant from Tipperary who came to the Point as a waiter, enlisted, instructed cadets in boxing, swimming and tradition, becoming one of the most beloved officers at the Academy. Directed by John Ford and based on Maher’s memoirs, the real star of the film is O’Hara as the Irish lass who wins Maher’s heart and becomes his wife. Ford originally wanted Wayne for the role of Maher, but Wayne was off on location with another film and recommended his neighbor, Power, to star in his place. Power holds his own, no mean feat when working with Ford. It’s a rarely shown film and one of Ford’s forgotten gems. As such it’s definitely worth recording.

July 29: Tonight the best comes first. At 8:00 pm is John Ford’s classic Rio Grande (1950). The last of Ford’s “Calvary Trilogy” (Fort ApacheShe Wore a Yellow Ribbon), it’s an engaging look at the spirit of the Calvary during the post-Civil War days. It’s also a good drama about the estrangement between commander Wayne and his son, new recruit Claude Jarman. O’Hara is Wayne’s wife and has to walk the thin line separating father and son. It was the first of five films where Wayne co-starred with O’Hara, and for trivia fans, the film contains nine songs, most of which are performed by the Sons of the Pioneers (including Ken Curtis, later famous as “Festus” on Gunsmoke).

Following at 10:00 pm is the 1963 drama Spencer’s Mountain, O’Hara and Fonda are a married couple with nine children. Fonda’s dream is to build a home for his family. James MacArthur plays the oldest child, Clayboy, who would like to go to college, even though the family’s finances are lacking. The film is based on Earl Hamner Jr.’s autobiographical novel, so if any of this seems familiar, consider that Hamner later recycled the material into the television series The Waltons.

Two more rather unremarkable movies follow: The Battle Of The Villa Florita (1965) at 12:15 am, and Fire Over Africa (1954) at 2:15 am. In the latter O’Hara is a law-enforcement agent who infiltrates a ring of dope smugglers in Tangier.


The Friday Night Spotlight, devoted to the 100th anniversary of the beginning of World War I, continues as TCM airs some films that were played often in the last months, and some not at all.

July 18: The evening begins with the oft-shown Lawrence of Arabia (1962) at 8:00, followed by Gallipoli (1981), another oft-seen film, at 12:00 am. Then at 2:00 am is Jean Renoir’s classic, Grand Illusion. Finally, at 4:00 am it’s Joseph Losey’s interesting and seldom seen King and Country (1964).

However, the real gold mine for the cinephile can be found during the morning and afternoon as TCM airs some of the “lesser” films about World War I. Of those being shown, I recommend J’Accuse, Abel Gance’s marvelous silent from 1919; Stamboul Quest (1934) with a great racy performance from Myrna Loy; Ever in My Heart (1933) with Barbara Stanwyck and Otto Kruger as her German-American husband; British Intelligence (1940) with Boris Karloff and Margaret Lindsay (see below); Dark Journey (1937) with Conrad Veidt and Vivien Leigh as competing spies, and finally, Rendezvous (1935) with William Powell as a cryptologist and Rosalind Russell as the annoying woman out to win his heart.

July 25: Again, another day and night full of movies. Begin at 7:30 am with the intense Heroes for Sale (1933) from William Wellman, a film that truly takes no prisoners. They Gave Him a Gun (1937) with Spencer Tracy and Franchot Tone at 8:45 am is worth the time, as is The Shopworn Angel (1938) at 12:30 pm. Jimmy Stewart and Margaret Sullavan always make for an interesting movie. Shoulder Arms (1918) at 3:45 pm gives Charlie Chaplin a chance to lampoon the various absurdities of Army life. Any comedy of military life had to walk a very thin line between hilarity and bad taste. That Chaplin is able to pull it off magnificently is a testament to his talent and his finger on the pulse of the public, as the film was a huge hit. At 8:00 pm, it’s the romantic tearjerker Random Harvest, with Ronald Colman and Greer Garson, followed by Robert Taylor and Vivien Leigh in MGM’s 1940 remake of Waterloo Bridge. At 12:15 am, it’s Richard Attenborough’s satire Oh! What a Lovely War (1969), based on the stage hit of the same name. Then, at 2:45 am, it’s a Garbo tour de force in Mata Hari (1931). Watch for Garbo’s exotic dance sequence as well as Karen Morely’s performance, which almost steals the film. Again, the film is seldom shown, so it’s definitely worth a peek, especially if one has never seen it before.


Boris Karloff tends to be remembered by causal movie fans as Frankenstein’s Monster and an actor who could only play in horror films. But in actuality he was an actor with many subtle facets, capable of a bevy of assorted roles. Even in a programmer such as British Intelligence (WB, 1940), which airs July 18 at 3:45 pm, he gives a memorable performance. He plays Valdar, a scar-faced butler who works for a British cabinet minister during World War I and who may or may not be a spy. He gets to tangle with the alluring Margaret Lindsay, who may or may not be a double agent. Just go along - it’s a fun ride. Director Terry Morse keeps things going at a fast pace. Also watch for Boris in Karl Freund’s 1932 classic chiller, The Mummy (12:45 am).


July 17 marks the 115th anniversary of James Cagney’s birth, and TCM marks the occasion with a marathon of his Pre-code films from 6:00 am to 7:30 pm. Beginning at 6 am, it’s Taxi (1932), followed in order by Winner Take All (1932), Footlight Parade (1933), Hard to Handle (1933), Lady Killer (1933), The Mayor of Hell (1933), Picture Snatcher (1933), Here Comes the Navy (1934), and finally, Jimmy the Gent (1934).


Here’s one for the books. On July 20, TCM is showing a night of classic silent comedies from the likes of Charlie Chaplin, Harold Lloyd, Fatty Arbuckle, Buster Keaton, and Laurel and Hardy. So what’s unusual about that? TCM often does the same exact thing on selected nights during the year. Well, here’s the kicker, this time it’s part of their Essentials, Jr. film series. Hosted by Bill Hader, it seeks to introduce young children to film classics. While I think it’s a fine and noble effort to introduce children to the magic of classic film, parents know that it’s hard enough to get a kid to sit down and watch a film in black and white, much less a silent film in black and white. I wish them all the luck in the world: it is indeed a noble effort, and even if only one child is influenced, that’s one more than when the series began.


The evening of July 28 is being devoted to a marathon of Ingmar Bergman films. (Even though he was born on a July 14th and died on a July 30th.) Beginning at 8:00 pm and continuing in order, the films are as follows: Smiles of a Summer Night (1955), Wild Strawberries (1957)The Seventh Seal (1957), Through a Glass Darkly (1961), Winter Light (1962), and The Silence (1964). Bergman has a reputation with many casual movie fans of a director of extremely slow-moving and incomprehensible movies due to all the parodies that have come down over the years. But as one who had to fight that mindset myself in my adolescent years, I can truthfully state that once I actually got down to simply enjoying the films for what they were and not what I was led to believe, they didn’t seem so formidable. I never took the time to see one until I was in college and a double bill of Wild Strawberries and The Seventh Seal was showing at a revival house in a nearby town. So to those who may not have seen a Bergman film, I would tell him or her to just relax and record one or two to watch at one’s leisure. You’ll find it quite a rewarding experience. Through a Glass Darkly, Winter Light and The Silence make up Bergman's Trilogy of Faith. (You can read about the trilogy here.) And if you’re looking for a recommendation as to where to begin, start with Smiles of a Summer Night.


July 23: Catherine Deneuve fans will be glad to hear that Belle de Jour, her 1967 classic, will be playing at 12:30 am. Deneuve is spellbinding as the frigid young housewife who alleviates her boredom by spending her midweek afternoons as a prostitute, where she freely explores her masochistic fantasies of being dominated. When one client takes things too far, events take a tragic turn.

Following is a double bill of Michangelo Antonioni. First up at 2:15 am is his overrated “Swinging ‘60s” thriller, Blow-Up, starring David Hemmings as a photographer who may have accidentally snapped pictures of a murder, and Vanessa Redgrave, who wants the film, piquing his curiosity even more. It’s followed at 4:15 by his 1961 tale of alienation, La Notte, with Marcello Mastroianni as a successful novelist who, along with wife Jeanne Moreau, faces the emptiness of their lives one night at a party.

July 27: A unique tripleheader begins at 12:15 am with G.W. Pabst’s classic silent film, Pandora’s Box (1928). It stars Louise Brooks as the ultimate femme fatale, destroying every man who comes near her. The film made Brooks into an international star. Women flocked to the hairdresser to imitate her black lacquered Page Boy hairstyle. But Brooks ultimately became a victim of her own success and was to all intents and purposes finished as a star by 1931. She never did take well to Hollywood, at one point turning down a role opposite Jimmy Cagney in The Public Enemy (1931). Her role eventually went to Jean Harlow. By 1938, she had “retired” for lack of film work and faded into obscurity until her films were re-discovered in the ‘50s.

At 2:45 am comes a 1995 film from French writer-director Mathieu Kassovitz that creates quite a stir in France when released, La Haine. It’s a vivid and gritty portrait of life in the “banlieue,” the suburban Paris housing projects that are home to low-income immigrants. Three young men, of Jewish, Arab and African descent are angered after a confrontation with the police that left one of their companions in a coma. When they find a gun lost in the riot, they swear revenge by looking to kill a policeman should their friend die. It’s a fast movie film shot in stark black and white, with documentary-style camerawork added to give it a feel of authenticity. The film premiered at the 1995 Cannes Film Festival, winning Kassovitz the Best Director award.

Finally, Saturday Night and Sunday Morning (1961), closes out the evening at 4:30 am. One of the first and best of Britain’s “Angry Young Man” films, it stars Albert Finney as a factory worker who lives for the weekends and who looks upon his co-workers acceptance of their lives with distaste. What keeps this from merely being another “Rebel Without A Clue” films is the performance of Finney. As good as he is though, he’s matched scene for scene by Rachel Roberts, who plays the wife of Finney’s best friend, and with whom he has an affair that results in her pregnancy.


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

July 17: The lure of the night is two classic crime films from Howard Hawks immediately followed by their remakes. Thus, at 8:00 we have The Criminal Code from 1931 followed at 10:00 by Convicted, from 1950. The real fun, though, begins at midnight, as Hawk’s classic Scarface is followed by Brian DePalma’s 1983 remake. My advice? Stick with the originals, although DePalma’s Scarface is hilarious, with Al Pacino giving one of the great completely over-the-top performances. But the Hawks original has better supporting characters in Ann Dvorak and George Raft. One idea that’s been suggested is to watch both back-to-back and see which leading man chews the most scenery, Paul Muni or Pacino? If you’re on a kosher diet, though, approach both with caution due to the amount of ham contained therein.

July 19: At noon, it’s Roger Corman’s anti-classic, The Wasp Woman (1959), starring Susan Cabot as a vain cosmetics executive who hires a mad scientist who comes up with an anti-aging formula made from wasp enzymes. Susan can’t wait to try it on herself, and when the small does she is given fail to achieve the desired results quickly enough, she takes it upon herself to up the dosage dramatically. The result is a much more youthful and gorgeous cosmetics executive. But on the minus side of the ledger, the side effect of the enzymes is to turn her into a murderous wasp herself. It’s typical Corman nonsense, and more to the point, it’s great nonsense. Listening to Corman on interviews today, we’re somehow led to believe that he conceived the film as a satire of the beauty cult that has dominated America. Isn’t hindsight great? I’m sure he had that very idea when he began filming. And pigs can fly. Other brain-addled movie critics see the film as a strong feminist statement. I see it as a low-budget psychotronic sci-fi flick that’s a lot of fun to watch.

Having trouble sleeping? Well, I have a sure cure: a double feature of The Visitor (1979) at 2:00 am, followed by Tentacles (1977) at 3:45 am. The first is about a young girl with telekinetic powers whose soul is being fought over by God and the Devil. An Italian production, it is every bit as good as it sounds. Starring Henry Fonda, Claude Akins, John Huston and Shelley Winters as four actors in quest of a paycheck. The former film is a truly wretched exercise in filmmaking. I don’t mind a film being bad, but it should never be boring. It’s Jaws with an octopus instead of a shark.

July 21: The evening is devoted to films based on the writings of Agatha Christie, and there are some pretty good ones to choose from. However, the first up at 8:00 pm is the one you shouldn’t miss: And Then There Were None (20th Century Fox, 1945). Not only is it the best adaptation of a Christie work, but it’s also one of the best mystery films ever made. Written by Dudley Nichols and directed by Rene Clair, it takes Christie’s ingenious plot and builds on it with deft camerawork and intelligent scripting. At its heart, it’s a simple story: 10 guests are invited to a lonely island off the English coast; eight all know each other, and the other two are a married butler and maid. Their host is nowhere to be found, instead leaving a phonographic record keyed to a song based on the nursery rhyme, “Ten Little Indians.” (The book was originally published under the even more political incorrect title of Ten Little Niggers. When it was released in America, the title was changed to Ten Little Indians.) On the centerpiece are 10 little ceramic Indians. Hardly has the first victim sipped his cocktail and played a verse and chorus of the rhyme than he keels over dead as a doornail and a ceramic Indian falls and is shattered. Who done it? I won’t tell. Watch and enjoy.

July 26: Valley of the Dragons, a rarely seen 1961 opus from the team of Al Zimbalist and Edward Bernds is showing at noon. It’s a real cheapie, using leftover jungle sets from Edward Dmytryk’s The Devil at 4 O’Clock and footage from 1940’s One Million Years, B.C. and even the 1957 Japanese monster extravaganza, Rodan. The plot, such as it is, concerns a Frenchman (Cesare Danova) and an American (Sean McClory) who are whisked off the Sahara around 1880 by a comet and dumped in a strange world with dinosaurs running amok. Yeah, it’s aimed at the kids.

At 8:00 pm, it’s a tribute to famed cinematographer Karl Freund with a screening of three of his films, Fritz Lang’s Metropolis (1927), the Spencer Tracy escape-from-a-concentration-camp saga, The Seventh Cross (1944), and the 1932 horror classic, The Mummy, which Freund directed, and which stars Boris Karloff, billed as “Karloff the Uncanny.”

July 27: The Essentials, Jr. gives us a double feature of two of producer Val Lewton’s best horror films, The Cat People (1942), and Curse of the Cat People (1944). Given practically a zero budget and a title, Lewton had to create a film from scratch. As he took pride in what he did, the first thing Lewton did was to throw out the cat costumes the studio gave him (this is beautifully shown in a scene from MGM’s The Bad and the Beautiful). The film, about a woman named Irena (Simone Simon) with a supernatural connection to cats, shows its monster only in silhouette. The Curse of the Cat People has no monsters at all. Instead, this is a beautifully written and directed film about a lonely little girl who conjures up a vision of her late mother Irena, the cat woman from the first film, who was her father’s first wife.

I WAS A TEENAGE DETECTIVE: I mentioned in the last installment that TCM was screening all four of Bonita Granville’s Nancy Drew films. On July 19 at 10:45 am we get Nancy Drew . . . Trouble Shooter (1939). Nancy tries to clear one of her attorney father’s friends of a murder charge. And on July 26, also at 10:45 am, it’s the last in the series, Nancy Drew and the Hidden Staircase (1939). Nancy comes to the aid of two elderly sisters plagued by mysterious happenings in her mansion. It’s the only film of the series actually based on one of author Carolyn Keene’s novels, The Hidden Staircase. I often wonder why TCM’s The Essentials, Jr. doesn’t show these movies on its schedule, for these interesting little Bs are the movies that get kids hooked. Also, how about some John Wayne or George O’Brien Westerns from the ‘30s? Just wondering . . .

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