Sunday, July 13, 2014

TCM TiVo Alert for July 15-22

July 15–July 22


LAWRENCE OF ARABIA (July 18, 8:00 pm): Unfortunately, the small screen doesn't do justice to this 1962 epic, but it's still breathtaking to watch. While meant for large movie screens, I'd still love it if I only got to see it on a 13-inch, black-and-white Philco television set. Peter O'Toole was a master at his craft, and this film captures him at his best. David Lean, known for directing larger-than-life films with all-star casts, is also at the top of his game here. It's a dramatic story told over a period of close to four hours. So get comfortable, pay attention and the reward of watching this movie about T.E. Lawrence, a British Army officer during his time in Arabia during World War I, will be great.

BAD DAY AT BLACK ROCK (July 19, 4:15 pm): This 1955 film is a combination of the suspense of an Alfred Hitchcock thriller with the action of a great martial-arts movie done in a Western style. The cast is filled with all-stars, led by Spencer Tracy playing a mysterious stranger with the use of only one arm. Robert Ryan is the main bad guy, aided by Lee Marvin and Ernest Borgnine, along with Dean Jagger as the town's alcoholic sheriff and Walter Brennan as its undertaker. It's obvious from the moment the stranger, John J. Macreedy (Tracy), gets off the train in Black Rock that, well, it's going to be a bad day there. Macreedy has a reason to be in town. That reason and his presence in Black Rock results in a lot of havoc for the townsfolk. The best scene is when Macreedy, using martial arts and only one hand, beats up Coley Trimble (played by Borgnine in my favorite role of his in cinema) in a bar fight. He only hits Trimble about five times and the fight lasts for about two minutes, but it's incredibly effective. See for yourself. A smart story with excellent action and great acting. 


SCARFACE, SHAME OF A NATION (July 17, 12 midnight): Director Howard Hawks and screenwriter Ben Hecht’s tour de force about the rise and fall of a violent gangster (based on al Capone) took over a year to get past the censors but it was well worth the trouble. Muni is predictably hammy, but mesmerizing, as Tony Camonte, a small time hood who rises to the top of the heap. Ann Dvorak and Karen Morley also shine as Tony’s sister and main squeeze, respectively. And who can forget George Raft, flipping that nickel, as Camonte’s loyal gunsel. It’s way better than Brian DePalma’s ultra-violent 1983 remake. The only fun of watching both back to back is to see who chews the most scenery, Paul Muni or Al Pacino.
AND THEN THERE WERE NONE (July 21, 8:00 pm): Rene Clair directs this great adaptation of the Agatha Christie story about 10 people invited to a lonely island where they’re murdered one by one. Dudley Nichols’ wonderful script goes perfectly with director Clair’s visual deftness; together they bring the novel to a vibrant life. There have been seven adaptation of this yearn over the years. This is the best.

WE DISAGREE ON ... A FAREWELL TO ARMS (July 18, 11:00 am)

ED: A+. This is a case where I value style over substance. Director Frank Borzage has taken a bowdlerized version of Hemingway’s classic and somehow made it not only entertaining but also almost mesmerizing. Though I missed Hemingway’s vivid descriptions and candid dialogue between Gary Cooper’s character, Lt. Henry, and the Italian officers (MGM didn’t want to offend the Italian market), I loved what Borzage did with the film. Of particular note is the scene where the wounded Cooper is carried on a stretcher to an ambulance and then from the ambulance into the hospital. Rather than following Cooper, the director shows the action from the viewpoint of the wounded man, and we see what he sees, the faces, the soothing words, the temporary ceilings, etc. This is also a film to watch for the performances, and there a plenty of excellent ones, beginning with Helen Hayes’s nurse, Catherine Barkeley. She quietly dominates the scenes she appears in; we naturally want to focus on her character, and she makes a good counterpoint for Cooper’s laconic Lt. Hayes. Adolphe Menjou almost walks away with the picture as the surgeon, Major Rinaldi, and Blanche Friderici shines as the head nurse. It’s somewhat dated, as all early ‘30s films are, caught in that abyss between silent films and the perfection of sound, but certainly worth the time, especially if you haven’t seen it before. It also outshines the remakes by a country mile. 

DAVID: B-. This melodramatic film, very loosely based on the Ernest Hemingway book, isn't bad. There are portions that are quite good and Adolphe Menjou is outstanding. I agree with Ed that it's somewhat dated though it's difficult to criticize it for that reason because it was released 82 years ago. One problem is the movie seems to drag on for a very long time yet it's only 85 minutes in length. The story is a bit much with Lt. Frederic Henry (Gary Cooper) traveling all over Europe during World War I to find the nurse (Helen Hayes) he loves just in time for her to die in his arms as Armistice is declared. I won't get into the drama related to her pregnancy, but it's the stuff of soap operas. The film is far too sentimental for my taste though it's Pre-code so the sexual relationship between the two is more open than what you'd find in movies made a few years later. Hayes is fine. Cooper is Cooper. He comes across as stiff as most of his characters during his long yet curious film career. How did a guy who largely acts like a block of wood with little personality get to be the lead in so many major motion pictures?

For the complete list of films on the TCM TiVo Alert, click here.

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