Friday, August 1, 2014

Cinéma Inhabituel for August 1-15

A Guide to the Rare and Unusual on TCM

By Ed Garea


As you know, there is no Star of the Month for August as TCM runs its annual “Summer Under the Stars” program, with each day totally devoted to the films of a different star. The problem is, except for a few new entries, we get the same old actors in the same old films. We will devote this month to a focus on actors and films we do not ordinarily see.


Our featured star this issue is Jeanne Moreau, who makes her debut with “Summer Under the Stars” with a day of her films on August 8. Moreau is one of my favorite actors, and one reason I love her is that she’s not conventionally good looking. I’m not saying she’s ugly, far from it, but she doesn’t look as if she were stamped out of the same Hollywood mold. Face it, given a choice of Moreau, Sophia Loren, Brigitte Bardot, and Maureen O’Hara, the vast majority would choose one of the later three. Not me, I’d take Moreau hands down, for she has more sex appeal than the others, besides the beauty. Moreau is sensual, and this sensuality permeates her performances down to her marrow. Her big, brown eyes headline a voluptuous face, which can turn from pouty to sensuous to questioning in a few seconds, and back again. I can’t see Loren, Bardot or O’Hara enticing two men as Moreau did in Jules and Jim. And in the wonderful, but rather conventional, film The Train (which is not scheduled this day) she gives a smoldering performance in a limited role opposite Burt Lancaster.

Louis Malle, who cast her in his Hitchcock-esque Elevator to the Gallows (10:15 pm), enlarged the minor role of her character in the Noel Calef novel of the same name. He cast her after seeing her on the Paris stage in a production of Tennessee Williams’ “Cat on a Hot Tin Roof.” He would later claim to have discovered her, but the fact of the matter was that Moreau had about 20 films already to her credit, including a small role in Jacques Becker’s 1954 classic Touchez Pas au Grisbi (“Do Not Touch the Loot”). What Malle did accomplish was to make Moreau an international star, a feat cemented later that year with the release of Malle’s The Lovers (2:00 am), another Moreau Must See.

The day is a nice mixture of her well-known films along with those not well known, or even screened, on television. TCM begins the day in a disingenuous manner at 6:00 am by showing The 400 Blows. Moreau has only a cameo in the film as a woman walking her dog.

Other films to watch for include Malle’s brilliant, but never released in the U.S., The Fire Within, from 1963 (10:00 am), Jacques Demy’s film about compulsive gamblers, Bay of the Angels, also from 1963, at noon, and Orson Welles’ quirky adaptation of Franz Kafka’s quirky novel, The Trial (1963, a busy year for Moreau) at 8:00 pm. There are also the TCM “standards”: The Yellow Rolls Royce (2:00 pm), Jules and Jim (midnight), and Diary of a Chambermaid (3:45 am).


August 1: The day is dedicated to Jane Fonda, and airing at the wee hour of 4:15 am, is a dull piece of agitprop from Jean-Luc Godard, Tout Va Bien (All is Well) from 1972. Starring Fonda and Yves Montand (another 24-carat phony activist), it’s about an American radio correspondent and New Wave filmmaker who are trapped in the offices of a sausage factory when the workers stage a wildcat strike. And that’s as close to any action as this film gets. The rest of the film is nothing more than talk, talk, and more talk. Yak, yak, yak. All would be forgiven if there were at least one compelling character in the damn thing, but compelling characters disappeared from Godard’s films at roughly the same time as then-wife Anna Karina left. All we have left is a bunch of rich people spouting revolutionary diatribes. There is nothing more ludicrous than watching rich people trying to sympathize with the plight of the working-class, all to the merry jingle of the cash register, as witness the opening scenes. Does Godard have tongue firmly planted-in-cheek? Is he just putting us on? Who knows? At any rate, a film such as this should not commit the crime of dullness and this is just what it does. Watching (or trying to watch) it is a great cure for insomnia.

August 9: It’s William Powell’s day, and the last film of the marathon, again, at the ungodly hour of 4:45 am, is a nice little Pre-Codie from Warner’s, High Pressure (1932), with Powell as a promoter with a golden touch. His cause in this movie is selling artificial rubber. Evelyn Brent is along for the ride as Francine, without whom Powell’s Gar Evans cannot function. It’s a nice little film, about 75 minutes, and, in the end, Powell’s character turns out to be honest. Record it.

August 12: Alexis Smith takes the film rains, and there are two seldom seen goodies she co-stars in this day. First up at 8:00 pm is Gentleman Jim, starring Errol Flynn as 19th century boxing champion Jim Corbett. Directed by Raoul Walsh, it’s a lighthearted look at the fight game in a bygone era with Flynn delivering one of his most engaging performances. Of course, any similarities between Flynn’s Corbett and the real-life Corbett are pure coincidence, but that shouldn’t deter the fun. Smith has a supporting role as the woman Corbett courts.

At midnight, TCM is airing The Constant Nymph (1943), a romance about a young Belgian girl, Tessa Sanger (Joan Fontaine), madly in love with self-absorbed composer Lewis Dodd (Charles Boyer). He marries socialite Florence Creighton (Alexis Smith) without realizing the depth of his feelings for Tessa. Directed by Edmund Goudling, who had a good touch with this type of material, watch for Peter Lorre in a rare, non-threatening part as Fritz Bercovy, a friend of the Sanger family.

August 13: It’s Cary Grant Day, and at 8:00 pm, TCM is showing his rarely screened Pre-Code drama from 1932, Hot Saturday. Nancy Carroll is Ruth, a normal, fun-loving girl in small town Maryland who works at the local bank. On weekends, she likes to enjoy herself at the Willow Springs dance hall, and that’s where she meets Romer (Grant), a wealthy city gentleman. He invites Ruth and her friends to a late night summer party at his lakeside home, and although he is a gentleman throughout, the gossips’ tongues begin to wag when he is seen driving Ruth home the next morning. Word travels fast and mean. Ruth is fired from her job and becomes a pariah in her town. Even her mother (Jane Darwell) is more concerned with the family’s reputation than her daughter’s emotional health. Ruth is faced with a dilemma: should she marry childhood friend Randolph Scott, or follow her heart to be with Grant? Tune in and find out.

August 14: Charlie Chapin has the spotlight, and the day, with the exception of three films and a couple of documentaries, is devoted to his silent films. As there is always some Chaplin film one either hasn’t seen before or doesn’t remember seeing, it’s always good to check over the day’s lineup.

August 15: Faye Dunaway, and the only reason I’m mentioning this at all is because one of my favorite noirs, Chinatown, is airing at midnight.


August 3: It’s Walter Pidgeon in the sturdy 1956 sci-fi flick, Forbidden Planet (12:30 am). Pidgeon is in fine form as the last survivor, along with daughter Altaira (Anne Francis), of an expedition sent to the planet Altira IV 20 years ago. Leslie Nielsen commands the relief crew sent to find out what happened to the original group, and what they discover is mind-boggling and a wonder of special effects. This is clearly Pidgeon’s movie and he hams it up with verve, as his only real competition is Robby the Robot and the animated Id Monster. For those who have seen it, you know what I mean, and for those that haven’t -- what are you waiting for?

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