TCM TiVo ALERT
September 15–September 22
DAVID’S BEST BETS:
SUDDENLY (September 17, 1:00 pm): Besides The Manchurian Candidate, this 1954 gritty film noir about a group of assassins who take over a house on a hill in Suddenly, California, to kill the president is my favorite Frank Sinatra film. And it's probably his finest performance. Rather than playing the nice guy, Sinatra is fantastic as a crazed psychopath who will stop at nothing to kill the president just because he wants to. There are plenty of fine performances in this film, particularly Sterling Hayden as the sheriff and James Gleason as the patriarch of the family who lives in the house. The action is fast-paced with some nice twists and a great ending - all wrapped nicely into a 75-minute bow.
SHAFT (September 18, 12:00 am): "Who's the cat who won't cop out when there's danger all about? Shaft. Right on." It's not just the great theme song and a super funky soundtrack, this is the absolute best blaxploitation film ever made. It was so popular that it's considered the film that saved the then-struggling MGM studio from going out of business in 1971. Richard Roundtree is Shaft, John Shaft, a private dick who is asked by the Mafia to rescue the daughter of the crime boss. Shaft is as cool as they come, bedding a number of women, mostly white, and always a step or two ahead of the police, the mob and the gang that kidnapped the girl. It's an incredibly enjoyable movie, filled with action and humor.
ED’S BEST BETS:
TO HAVE AND HAVE NOT (September 15, 9:00 pm): Who knew when this production was filmed back in 1944 that it would grow into one of the most iconic cult classics, not only in Hollywood history, but also in the history of pop culture? GE has a slogan, “better living through chemistry,” and the motto for this film might well be “better viewing through chemistry.” No one had the chemistry that Bogart and Bacall had in this film. It was clear to see they were falling in love as the picture progressed. And it wasn’t only on celluloid, but also in real life as well, as they married shortly afterwards. Without that chemistry, To Have and Have Not is just another ordinary film, with Bogart repeating his role as The Guy Who Doesn’t Want To Get Involved, getting involved with the Resistance to fight the forces of Tyranny. Bacall is absolutely marvelous in her film debut, even though she could hardly act a lick back then. But with the help of mentors Bogart and director Howard Hawks she pulls off a credible performance and establishes herself as an actress to watch. For anyone interested in the Bogart-Bacall marriage and the myth that came to surround it, this movie is a must.
THE LITTLE GIANT (September 19, 1:00 pm): Eddie G. Robinson in a comedy? Yes, and he pulls it off magnificently. He’s totally in his element as a gangster who’s trying to crack the social register after the repeal of Prohibition put him out of business. Unfortunately, he’s under the delusion that social standing breeds class, and it’s hilarious when he discovers this isn’t the case. That’s when the fun really begins. Though Robinson may be the star, he’s provided with solid assistance from Mary Astor, Helen Vinson, and Russell Hopton. It’s a funny picture and Robinson would actually play the same type of character five years later in A Slight Case of Murder, which also repeats the laughs.
WE DISAGREE ON ... NETWORK (September 20, 9:45 pm)
ED: C. I realize I’m swimming against the tide here, but the only thing I ask of the reader is for him or her is to take the blinders off and look at this film objectively. Network is supposed to be a satire of the television industry. All well and good. Unfortunately, the film’s author is Paddy Chayefsky, who believes in satire with a sledgehammer. There is nothing subtle about this film; for satire to truly be effective, it must be subtle. Network is completely over the top. Everyone seems to shout his or her lines, and the characterization is dull and shallow; shocking has taken the place of clever, and the movie is just as manipulative as those it seeks to “expose.” Also, for satire to be truly effective, it must be rooted in the reality of its time. There is nothing real about Network. Howard Beale would’ve either been taken off the air long before he got started, or a congressional inquiry would have forced the network to do just that. And what real television network would give air time to the Communist Party and the Ecumenical Liberation Army (does that one sound like the invention of some smartass writer trying to be funny) in the first place? It’s like a college sophomore’s idea of humor. The characters are poorly drawn and one-dimensional. William Holden just walks out of a successful marriage to be with a woman (Faye Dunaway) who he knows is going to screw him over? Sorry, that just doesn’t play in the real world. What the film does have a lot of is cynicism. Howard Beale (Peter Finch in a completely over-the-top performance) tells his audience that all they know they have learned from television, as only 3% of the population reads books and only 15% reads newspapers. Network’s real target is the audience watching it, for it seems the producers assume their audience is also brain dead and needs to be spoon-fed its satire. Former Eagle Don Henley, in his song “Dirty Laundry” said more in three-and-a-half minutes than Network says in two hours. And he’s a lot funnier and on target because he aims at the real, not the fictional. Want to see a good satire of television? Watch Elia Kazan’s A Face in the Crowd (made in 1956 and still on target today) or reruns of The Mary Tyler Moore Show. At least they’re rooted in reality.
DAVID: A+. This brilliant film is not only the best satire of television ever made, but it is about two decades ahead of its time showing how reality TV could and did capture the attention of the viewing audience. As the years pass, this 1976 film becomes more relevant as society's interest in the obsession of pseudo celebrities and our insatiable appetite for around-the-clock garbage news increase. At times, you can see yourself in the film watching some of the crap that litters the airwaves today. You know it's awful and/or outrageous, but you can't help but watch. Paddy Chayefsky's screenplay is exceptional and it's the best film directed by the incredibly talented Sidney Lumet. The film shows us the mental breakdown of anchorman Howard Beale (Peter Finch) and how it captures the attention of viewers whose voyeur tendencies only grow. Chayefsky won an Oscar for the screenplay. The script is so exceptional that it provides many of the film's actors moments to shine. Finch, Faye Dunaway (as an overly ambitious and sexy network executive), and Beatrice Straight (in a bit but important role as the wife of a TV executive played by William Holden) won Oscars in three of the four acting categories. Like Finch, Holden was nominated for Best Actor (two lead male actors?), but obviously didn't win. Finch's "Mad as Hell" speech is one of cinema's finest and one of its top five most iconic moments. It's drop-dead serious while also being outrageously funny. How much do I love this film? I can't count the number of times I've seen it. My favorite example is when my wife went into labor in 1997 with our second child. I borrowed a VHS copy of the movie from the library and we got through about one-third of it when it was obviously time to get her to the hospital. After the delivery and several hours of bonding between us and our daughter, it was time for me to leave the hospital, get some much-needed sleep and come back in the morning to bring them home. What did I do before going to sleep? Yeah, I watched the rest of Network. I don't regret a second of that decision. That's how great this film is so Ed, you're not just swimming against the tide here. You're swimming against a tidal wave.
For the complete list of films on the TCM TiVo Alert, click here.