TCM TiVo ALERT
October 1–October 7
DAVID’S BEST BETS:
THE CIRCUS (October 3, 6:00 am): Along with The Gold Rush, this is my favorite Charlie Chaplin film in which he portrays his signature "Tramp" character. This 1928 silent movie is funny, sweet, entertaining, and did I mention funny? The Tramp stumbles into a circus and greatly entertains the crowd with his unintentionally amusing antics. He has a formal tryout for the circus and bombs because he's trying to be funny. But when the circus' set-up crew quits when they're not paid, the Tramp is hired to take their place. Through a series of mishaps, he becomes the star of the circus. There's a beautiful girl with whom the Tramp falls in love. She, of course, is in love with someone else. One of the best parts of the film has the Tramp on the high-wire. The movie is a lot of fun and Chaplin's ability to entertain an audience without uttering a word is on full display here. There was a lot of drama going on behind the scenes of this film, including a studio fire, an IRS investigation into Chaplin and his divorce, but you'd never know it.
STRANGERS ON A TRAIN (October 7, 4:45 pm): I'm a huge fan of Alfred Hitchcock and this among my favorites. The premise is simple, but the plot, acting and directing of the movie makes it a classic. Bruno Anthony (Robert Walker) wants his father dead. While on a train, he meets a stranger - tennis player Guy Haines (Farley Granger) with a similar dilemma. Haines wants to get rid of his wife so he can marry another woman. Anthony comes up with the idea that these two "strangers on a train" will do each other's dirty work and no one will suspect them. Haines brushes it aside, but when the psychotic Anthony kills Haines' wife, he expects his "co-conspirator" to respond in (not so) kind. The interaction between Walker and Granger, two highly underrated actors, in this film is outstanding. Hitch did a fantastic job - which he so often did - building tension and drama.
ED’S BEST BETS:
PEEPING TOM (October 4, 3:00 pm): Michael Powell almost lost his career in the uproar that followed the release of this controversial film about a serial photographer who captures his victims with his camera at their moment of death. He also documents the police investigation that follows each killing, and finally, his own suicide. We later learn that the killer’s father (played by Powell) was a psychologist who used his own son as a guinea pig in experiments exploring the nature of fear. The original print was heavily edited upon its 1960 release, but later restored by none other than Martin Scorsese. Don’t miss it.
A CANTERBURY TALE (October 5, 6:00 am): A most unusual and totally charming film about an English Tommy, a Land Girl, and an American soldier who find themselves in a small Kent town on the road to Canterbury when the Land Girl becomes the latest victim of the “Glue Man,” a mysterious stranger who pours glue in the hair of women he catches in the company of GIs. The three stay to investigate the mystery, and in the process explore the local countryside, especially its history and tales of pilgrims. The path eventually leads to Canterbury Cathedral, where each receives an unexpected “blessing:” the granting of their most fervent wish. It’s a deeply beautiful film that teaches its main characters not to lose faith or hope while it also celebrates English country life and traditions. Written and directed by the team of Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger, the film has only the most casual relationship to the famous Chaucer work, yet, there is a strong mystical quality to this movie that transcends the Christian and English pagan settings and traditions. It is a tale of humans brought together by a shared faith, love and optimism that everything will come out all right if we only give it a chance to work. This is a film one can see time and again and still remains fresh.
WE DISAGREE ON . . . THE AFRICAN QUEEN (October 3, 8:00 pm)
ED: A+. The African Queen is one of the true classics of Hollywood, and in the manner of true classics, it was a film that almost wasn’t made. The property had passed through two studios (RKO and Warner Bros.), each of which eventually decided against filming it. John Huston and Sam Spiegel bought it from Warner’s for $50,000 and managed to cast the leads perfectly in the persons of Katharine Hepburn and Humphrey Bogart. Hepburn was especially perfect, as all she was really required to do in the film was to play herself, which she did magnificently. As for Bogart, it’s impossible to imagine anyone else in the role, which is probably the main reason a big-budget remake has never been attempted. It is what I would describe as a “personal epic,” an epic on a small scale. There is no need for a large cast of extras or elaborate special effects, as the story itself is so personal. Also, with a script such as Huston had to work with on the film, there was no need for anything extra, as the script described and fleshed out every scene perfectly. Join all this with the excellent color photography by cinematographer Jack Cardiff, and the result is a film that can truly be counted as among “The Essentials.” But don’t take my word for it. Critics from Roger Ebert to Pauline Kael to Georges Sadoul have been lavish in their praise for the film. Ditto for such filmmakers as Alfred Hitchcock, John Ford, and Francois Truffaut. In 1994, it was selected by the Library of Congress for inclusion in the National Film Registry. And the American Film Institute placed it at No. 17 on its “100 Greatest Movies” list, No. 14 on it's “100 Greatest Love Stories” list, and No. 48 on it’s “Most Inspiring Movies” list.
DAVID: C-. This 1951 movie is an overrated piece of garbage starring film's most overrated actress, Katharine Hepburn. If there ever was an actress who could suck the life out of a film, it was Hepburn. Look at her body of work, particularly the largely awful series of movies she did with Spencer Tracy and Cary Grant. In The African Queen she drags down Humphrey Bogart, another all-time great actor. I really want to like this film. Bogie is one of my favorites and John Huston was a great director. The plot is interesting enough: a prim English missionary (Hep) and a gruff, cynical Canadian junk-boat captain (Bogie) work together to blow up Germans (who else?) at the start of World War I and fall in love. But there are a number of problems with the film with Hepburn at the root of most of them. First, as Ed mentioned above, Hepburn plays herself. Hep made a career out of over-the-top, scenery-chewing acting. Find me a single film in which she doesn't overact. If such a movie exists it would only be because she had a forceful director telling her to stop or be fired. Yes, she was in some fine films, but the reason they were good had little to do with her. Back to my point about the need for a forceful director - it's hard to believe John Huston let her take control of his film. That's on him and not her. As for Bogart, he too largely takes a back seat to Hepburn. His character is cliche and if you can't tell where the plot is heading 20 minutes into the film, you're not paying attention (though, honestly, it's such a dull film that I wouldn't blame anyone for not paying attention). Bogart won his lone Oscar for this film in yet another example of the Academy giving an actor an Oscar for a lesser role when it failed to honor that person for some of the great performances he or she delivered in previous years. The attempts at comedy are awkward. The attempts at romance are embarrassing. I'm going to try to get into Ed's head a moment about all the name-dropping in his review of some of my favorite film legends, particularly Francois Truffaut, Alfred Hitchcock and Roger Ebert. Just because they liked this movie and it stars Bogart and is directed by Huston doesn't make The African Queen a great or even a good movie. The praise only shows that no one is perfect. Also, Ed isn't a Hepburn fan though he doesn't loathe her as much as I do. The American Film Institute ranking mean nothing, particularly when it lists Hepburn as the No. 1 female "American screen legend." It's the same organization that has James Dean as the No. 18 male American screen legend when he made a grand total of three mediocre films in his career.
For the complete list of films on the TCM TiVo Alert, click here.