TCM TiVo ALERT
August 1–August 7
DAVID’S BEST BETS:
CHINA SYNDROME (August 1, 5:45 pm): This 1979 anti-nuclear film is anchored by excellent writing and a cast of terrific actors, most notably Jack Lemmon and Michael Douglas, who also produced it. A television news crew goes into a nuclear power plant by chance during an emergency shutdown. We later find out that the plant is about to go into meltdown mode. We get corporate greed, government corruption and how the demand for energy results in people compromising their integrity. By coincidence, the film was released 12 days before the infamous Three Mile Island partial nuclear meltdown, giving credence to the message of the China Syndrome during the height of the "no-nukes" period.
ADVISE AND CONSENT (August 3, 2:15 am): This 1962 film about the confirmation process of a secretary of state nominee (Henry Fonda) was ahead of its time. Having the president (Franchot Tone) dying while the proceedings are occurring is overdramatic, but the storyline rings true with politics of later years that saw and still see numerous presidential nominees have their entire lives scrutinized just for the sake of partisanship and not for the betterment of the country. It's dialogue heavy, but the dialogue is so good that it elevates the quality of the film. The cast is excellent with Fonda, Lew Ayres, Charles Laughton, Walter Pidgeon, and Burgess Meredith (in a small but memorable role) - and outstanding directing by Otto Preminger. The film is interesting, intelligent and compelling.
ED’S BEST BETS:
LOVE FINDS ANDY HARDY (August 4, 6:00 am): The Andy Hardy series at MGM was the most profitable B-movies series ever made. They were essentially B-movies with an A-budget and style. Sure, they were corny as hell and tried to evoke an America that didn’t even exist at that time, but they are a lot of fun to watch, although I think it all comes down to how one feels about Mickey Rooney. This one tends to stand out due to the supporting cast, specifically Lana Turner and Judy Garland. Turner’s a wonder to behold here, with her natural auburn hair (before it was bleached), and Garland plays the role of a young girl with a crush on Andy Hardy almost to perfection. And she gets to sing, as well. The plot, with Andy minding his friend Beezy’s girlfriend (Turner) while he’s away, and the sidebar, with Mrs. Hardy having to travel to Canada to nurse her sick mother, are nominal. It’s the Rooney-Garland relationship that comes to the center of the film. The only flaw in the pudding is that Andy’s girlfriend, Polly Benedict, is also conveniently away for the holidays, so we miss out on the gorgeous Ann Rutherford for most of the film. Also look for the young Gene Reynolds (who went on to become a prolific television director) as a young friend of Andy’s.
I AM A FUGITIVE FROM A CHAIN GANG (August 6, 8:00 pm): Warner Brothers used to boast that they ripped the stories of their films “right out of the headlines,” and in this case it was true. This film, easily the best Mervyn Leroy ever directed, was based on the famous case of Robert Eliot Burns, who was a true victim of circumstance, landing on the infamous Georgia chain gang for a crime he didn’t commit. He escaped, twice, and led a life on the run, exposing the truth of his story and the brutality of the Georgia chain gang system in a best-selling book. This film brilliantly displays the brutal conditions, allowing no subplots and keeping the action focused on its subject. Easily the best of Warner Brothers’ Pre-code films, it still retains a strong punch today.
WE DISAGREE ON ... CAT BALLOU (August 1, 9:15 pm)
ED: B+. This comic Western about a prim and proper lady (Jane Fonda) who forms a gang of outlaws after her father is murdered by a land-grabbing corporation would normally only be worthy of a “C” if it weren’t for the fact the Lee Marvin, in a dual role, no less, as opposing gunslingers, walks away with the film. Marvin is a wonder to behold, especially for those of us who had never seen him play comedy before. (There’s a good reason for that - this was his first attempt at comedy. Until then, he had been a heavy, a tough noir hero, or a bystander in supporting parts.) When we take into consideration that the film was originally projected to be a B-movie (as Western comedies weren’t exactly in fashion), our astonishment at Marvin’s performance grows greater. It was word of mouth about his performance that enticed people into the theater and made this modest little comedy a hit. It also earned Marvin a long overdue Academy Award.
DAVID: C-. There are so many missteps in this film that it's difficult to know where to begin. I'll start with the lead actress, Jane Fonda. While she's great to look at, she isn't believable in the slightest bit as the prim aspiring school teacher or as the kick-ass outlaw. Lee Marvin is good, and the only reason I don't give this film a D grade. However, he's not good enough to save this poor Western spoof from being a poor Western spoof. And who thought Nat King Cole, who was dying of lung cancer from years of smoking of all things, and Stubby Kaye as a Greek chorus was a good idea? They're annoying and only add to the overall mess of a movie. The plot is that of a basic Western, but its attempts at humor miss by a country mile. It's similar to the film's only funny scene when Kid Shelleen (Marvin's drunken gunslinger character who shouldn't be confused with Marvin's other character, Tim Strawn, his evil brother who is a mostly sober gunslinger) tries to shoot the side of a barn and misses. As someone who likes Westerns and comedies, I'm disappointed that this film doesn't rise to a mediocre level.
For the complete list of films on the TCM TiVo Alert, click here.