Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Cinéma Inhabituel for September 16-30

A Guide to the Rare and Unusual on TCM

By Ed Garea


September 17: Two decent films rarely shown: That Uncertain Feeling (1941) at midnight, and Fast Company (1938), at 1:30 am. The first is a Lubitsch-directed comedy about an unhappy married couple (Merle Oberon and Melvyn Douglas) who see a shrink. While at the shrink’s office, Oberon meets another of his patients - an absurd pianist named Alexander Sebastian (Burgess Meredith). Taken with his disregard of social conventions, she invites him to the couple’s next party, and becomes infatuated with him. 

Fast Company is the first of three films starring the husband-wife detective team of Joel and Garda Sloane (Douglas and Florence Rice) and is the best of the three. Want to know how to sink a promising B-series? Simply cast different actors in the leads of all three films. The sequel was Fast and Loose (1939) with Robert Montgomery and Rosalind Russell in the leads. The third, and last, of the series was Fast and Furious (1939), with Franchot Tone and Ann Sothern as Joel and Garda. Joel and Garda were rare book dealers who sleuthed part time. The series was made in response to audience demand for more films in the vein of The Thin Man series, and if it were only handled correctly, would have been a big hit. MGM had a knack for making B’s that often played in the “A” position in suburban and rural cinemas. How they blew this one is a real crime.

September 24: Unless you want to see Hud for the umpteenth time, I suggest you look instead at 1964’s The Americanization of Emily at 3:45 am and record it. James Garner is cynical Naval officer, Charles Madison, who’d rather survive D-Day, thank you, and manages to avoid active duty by attending to the every wish of his scatterbrained superior, Admiral Jessup (Douglas). Along the way Charlie meets proper war widow Emily Barham (Julie Andrews), for whom Charlie’s cowardice is a major selling point, as she’s already lost a husband to war. But Charlie’s luck can’t hold forever, and he and roommate James Coburn are given the assignment of filming the landing on Omaha Beach to record the first casualty. With superb performances from all four leads and a decent script from Paddy Chayefsky (for once), the film, in the words of my good friend J Michael Kenyon, is “a definite must see.”


September 21: Check out the doubleheader of Satyajit Ray, beginning at 2:00 am with his 1958 film The Music Box, a quietly moving film about a proud aristocrat whose riches are rapidly turning into debts, and who is too proud to curb his opulent lifestyle. We see how our protagonist has come to be in his present situation in a series of flashbacks. Many critics and historians see this as Ray’s masterpiece, his greatest film.

It’s followed at 3:45 am by the film that put Ray on the map of world cinema, Pather Panchali (1955), a stark and uncompromising look at the struggles of a mother to raise her family in an impoverished Indian village. Compelling and disturbing, it boasts excellent performances all around along with music by Ravi Shankar. It’s the sort of film one sees and never forgets.

September 25: At 8:00 pm, George C. Scott stars in Patton, the 1970 Academy Award-winning Best Picture about the controversial American general. Scott won Best Actor for his performance, but turned down the statue not out of any gripping political conviction of the time, but simply because he thought actors shouldn’t be competing against each other for awards. Watch it anyway, and revel in Scott’s performance as he captured Patton’s inner demons.

September 28: Iconoclastic American director Whit Stillman is honored with two of his films. First up at 8:00 pm is Metropolitan (1990), a scathing satirical look at the haute-bourgeoisie as exemplified by a small group of privileged Manhattan socialites who make the party rounds during the holidays attending black-tie parties and intimate after-hours parties. Stillman brilliantly captures the mood of the time, displaying the empty lives of these over-privileged Yuppies and their constant need to be on the go, lest they sink into the morass of their boring existence. Think of it as St. Elmo’s Fire with depth.

Metropolitan is followed at 10:00 pm by Barcelona, Stillman’s 1994 slice-of-life look at two American cousins talking their way through romantic and political adventures in early 1980s Barcelona. Along the way they meet two wild Spanish girls (Tushka Bergen and Mira Sorvino, in an early role), who take them on a wild ride, running rings around the two cousins who, for all their patter, are really quite conventional.


Some stars are able cross the celluloid median and icons in the world of pop culture. Brigitte Bardot was the first French movie star to accomplish this feat, and on September 22, TCM honors her with a night of her films beginning at 8:00 pm. The fun begins with the film that put her on the star map, And God Created Woman (1956), directed by then-husband, Roger Vadim. It’s followed in order by Une Parisienne (1957), Plucking the Daisy (1956), The Night Heaven Fell (1958), and the best of the night, Contempt (1963), directed by Jean-Luc Godard. Bardot was no actress, but she didn’t have to be. Not with a face and figure like she had. The only film that attempts to challenge her acting chops is Contempt, and Godard coaxes an excellent performance out of her by surrounding her with solid co-stars such as Jack Palance, Michel Piccoli, and Giorgia Moll, and, I suspect, a lot of mollycoddling by the director himself. At any rate, it’s a story about how the filming of a movie (entitled The Odyssey) causes friction is a marriage thought to be above all that. Fritz Lang appears as himself, the director of the movie. It’s definitely one worth catching.


On September 20, a night of films with newspapers and the media as the subject, the best film of the night appears last, at midnight. It’s 1931’s Five Star Final, from Warner Brothers, with Edward G. Robinson as an editor who will do anything to get a story and sell newspapers. It’s when he revisits a hot story of 20 years ago that he crosses the line with devastating consequences for all concerned. Robinson is amply backed with good supporting performances from Aline MacMahon as his lovesick secretary, George E. Stone, and Boris Karloff as a reporter who poses as a clergyman to get inside information.


September 16: The best of the night includes the 8:00 pm showing of Hill 24 Doesn’t Answer (1955); a film told in flashbacks about four soldiers defending a hill outside Jerusalem during the 1948 War of Independence. Following at 10:00 pm is Sallah, from 1964, a comedy starring Topol as a Yemini man with a large family who comes to Israel and begins to wonder if he made the right decision when faced with the reality of his choice. And at 12:15, it’s the 1949 drama from Universal, Sword in the Desert, starring Dana Andrews as a ship’s captain who smuggles Jewish refugees into Palestine.

September 23: Begin with The House of Rothschild (1934), starring George Arliss in this elaborate, entertaining epic of the famed banking family and its origins during the reign of Napoleon. Look for a wonderful performance from Boris Karloff as Baron Ledrantz, the villain of the piece, who is also courting Arliss’s daughter (Loretta Young).

At 2:00 am, it’s Focus, a quirky little film from 2001 about anti-Semitism in World War II Brooklyn. It stars William H. Macy, David Paymer, and Laura Dern. It’s based on Arthur Miller’s 1945 novel about a man (Macy) whose new glasses make people believe him to be Jewish, and the persecution that misidentity brings.


September 19: Rarely seen Pre-Codes today include Parole Girl (6:00 am), Two Seconds (11:45 am), the ultimate flashback film with Eddie G. Robinson The Mind Reader (2:30 pm), Blonde Crazy (12:45 am) with exemplary performances from leads James Cagney and Joan Blondell, and Skyscraper Souls (3:30 am), with Warren William at his sleazy best.

September 26: Rarely seen Pre-Codes: They Call It Sin (noon), Employees Entrance (2:30 pm), Midnight Mary (4:00 pm), Other Men’s Women (5:15 pm), Three on a Match (1:00 am), and Call Her Savage, staring Clara Bow (2:15 pm).


September 21:  The 7th Voyage of Sinbad (1958) at 6:15 pm.

September 29: From Monogram - Phantom Killer (1942, 5:45 pm), The Mystery of the 13th Guest (1943, 7:00 pm).


Only two more films left in this month’s featured “Trailblazers” series starring Ken Maynard and Hoot Gibson: Blazing Guns (1943), and Death Valley Rangers (1943). Both begin at noon on September 20 and 27, respectively.

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