TCM TiVo ALERT
August 8–August 14
DAVID’S BEST BETS:
THE TRIAL (August 8, 8:00 pm): This is a most unusual but fascinating film. Orson Welles directed it, wrote the screenplay (based on the Franz Kafka book of the same name) and has a key role in the film. On the surface, it's about Josef K. (Anthony Perkins), a government bureaucrat charged with a crime that's never mentioned - even though he asks about it several times - and is sentenced to death. Dig deeper and you can see other things such as hopelessness, persecution, failure and the frailty of life. The themes of the film are very abstract with Welles making great use of camera angles and amazing set designs.
MONSIEUR VERDOUX (August 14, 2:00 am): While I'm a huge fan of Charlie Chaplin's silent films, his "talkies" are his best movies - The Great Dictator, Limelight, A King in New York and Monsieur Verdoux. The latter is the darkest of comedies. Henri Verdoux (Chaplin) marries and then kills rich widows to support his crippled wife and young son. Chaplin is so charming that you find yourself sympathizing with Verdoux even though he's murdering innocent rich old ladies. While Chaplin is excellent, Martha Raye is fantastic as one of Verdoux's intended victims who manages to avoid several attempts on her life. The exceptionally funny scenes with Chaplin and Raye alone are worth watching.
ED’S BEST BETS:
ELEVATOR TO THE GALLOWS (August 8, 10:15 pm): Director Louis Malle made many a fine film, but none better than this 1958 effort about a woman and her ex-paratrooper lover who plot to kill her husband in the “perfect crime.” It’s a dark, stylish noir thriller that owes much to the influence of Hitchcock and Melville. (In fact, Hitchcock himself greatly admired the film.) Of course, things do go wrong, but they go so deliciously wrong as to keep us totally enthralled. What really makes the film is the strong, sensuous performance of star Jeanne Moreau. Malle later claimed to have discovered her, but Moreau was already a star of the stage and a veteran of B-movies before she met Malle. But this was the film that made Moreau a star. Photographed by none other than Henri Decae, it contains some breathtaking shots of Moreau and Paris at night. For those who haven’t yet seen it, it’s a definite “Must See.” And for those who have seen it, it still rates a revisit.
LAWYER MAN (August 9, 8:45 am): William Powell’s early films are his most interesting, and this one is no exception. Powell is Tony, a smooth-talking lawyer who defeats a political boss in court and later gets involved with a showgirl (Claire Dodd), who, in cahoots with the politician, frames Tony for a crime he didn’t commit. Thereafter, unable to find legitimate work, Tony becomes the rich, successful shyster everyone assumes him to be. What brings him down to earth - and honesty - is the love of his loyal secretary, Olga, played by Joan Blondell. The debonair Powell and the earthy Blondell seem mismatched, but make for a good team, and it’s a shame this was their only pairing. Powell shows strong indications of the megastar he was about to become when MGM got their hands on him and gave him strong vehicles that took more than 10 days to film.
WE DISAGREE ON . . . ARSENIC AND OLD LACE (August 13, 2:45 pm)
ED: B. Rare is the comedy that does not tarnish with age. Most are a product of their times and are thus trapped in that matrix. This film is indeed that rare comedy - as funny now as it was back then, thanks to an excellent script, great performances led by the one and only Cary Grant and Peter Lorre (who had a definite talent for comedy), and the direction of Frank Capra, who filmed this right before he reported to duty making propaganda films for the U.S. Army Signal Corps. Shot in 1941, it wasn’t released until 1944 due to an agreement with the show’s producers not to release the film while the play was on Broadway. If you want to see Cary Grant at his comedic best, this film is an essential.
DAVID: C-. Cary Grant's comedies are a mixed bag. He's wonderful in His Girl Friday. The Awful Truth and The Philadelphia Story. While he's not terrible in Bringing Up Baby, Gunga Din (which is a buddy-film comedy/drama) and Arsenic and Old Lace, the movies are pretty bad. (All of these films are being shown on August 13.) Arsenic and Old Lace the movie is basically Arsenic and Old Lace the play. The running jokes aren't funny, the story is too staged, and the performances and characters are greatly exaggerated just as you would see in a play. It's too theatrical, which grows old very fast. As the movie progresses, the characters become too animated giving me the feeling that the actors are trying to out-ham each other. It turns the movie into a sloppy mess with director Frank Capra failing to reign in any of the actors.
For the complete list of films on the TCM TiVo Alert, click here.