approach to the Star of the Month takes a distinctly different turn
in November, as not one, but many stars are featured. Stars of the
Silent Screen is the theme, and a great excuse to expose us to silent
cinema and the great faces that drove it
3: We begin at 8:00 pm with the Mary Pickford classic, The
Poor Little Rich Girl (1917), with the scenario
from her best friend, Frances Marion. It’s the first time Pickford
plays a young girl, and she pulls it off admirably. I know there are
many out there that can’t relate to silent features for some reason
or other, but I beseech you to at least give this one a try. You may
end up liking it, and perhaps even becoming a Pickford fan.
at 10:00 pm is the film that put Clara Bow in the Hollywood
firmament: It (1927).
This is a rather ordinary film enlivened by the performance of Bow as
a spirited, gold-digging shop girl with designs on her handsome boss,
played by Antonio Moreno. Look for Gary Cooper in a small role as a
11:00, it’s Gloria Swanson in one of her greatest roles as Sadie
Thompson (1928), a solid version of W.
Somerset Maugham's Rain. Swanson is a carefree prostitute
in the South Seas who runs afoul of fire and brimstone preacher
Lionel Barrymore. It was mostly unseen for many years because of the
deterioration of the final reel. However, in recent years the film
has been restored, with the lost footage recreated using stills and
the original title cards.
other films merit attention this night. First, at 2:15 am is G.W.
Pabst’s morality tale, Pandora’s
Box (2:15 pm), the story of the amoral Lulu, who
destroys every man that happens to come across her path. It made a
megastar of its leading lady, expatriate American Louise Brooks, if
only for a brief time. Her European films for Pabst were so explicit
for their time that they were heavily censored and led to an informal
blacklisting from Hollywood, which offered Brooks few roles, mostly
in meaningless films. But William Wellman did offer her a part in
his Public Enemy, which Brooks rejected in favor
of a trip to New York to be with her then lover. The part went to
Jean Harlow and sealed Brooks’s fate in Tinseltown.
at the wee hour of 4:45 am, it’s D.W. Griffith’s classic
melodrama, Way Down East (1920),
with Lillian Gish as a country girl who tries to return home after
being seduced and abandoned by heel Lowell Sherman, with the white
knight in the persona of Richard Barthelmess.
10: While the week prior featured female stars of the
silents, tonight is dedicated to the male stars. We begin at 8:00 pm
with Rudolph Valentino in The
Sheik (1921), the film that vaulted him into the
upper strata of stars in the ‘20s and changed his female fan base
from merely rabid into a cult. Following at 9:30 pm, we get to see
the great Douglas Fairbanks cavorting in The
Thief of Bagdad (1924). While we can admire
Fairbanks’s athleticism, fighting such terrors as a man-hating
monkey and a giant underwater spider, what really gets male hearts
pounding is the presence of the beautiful Julanne Johnston as the
Princess Fairbanks wins, and the drop dead gorgeous Anna May Wong as
a Mongol slave.
12:15 am comes the film that made a superstar out of John Gilbert:
King Vidor’s The Big
Parade (1925). Gilbert is a young innocent who
enlists for World War I, but soon learns the horrors of battlefield
life. The film also made a star of Gilbert’s romantic co-lead,
Renee Adoree, whose scenes with Gilbert thrilled audiences. Vidor
supplemented this love-and-war story with some of the most realistic
battle scenes filmed at the time.
at 3:00 am comes the original silent Ben
Hur: A Tale of the Christ (1925), with Ramon
Novarro as Ben-Hur and Francis X. Bushman as Messala. The movie has
gone down in Hollywood legend as the troubled production with runaway
costs on location in Italy and Egypt, and unusable footage brought
back to the sound stages of MGM by Louis B. Mayer and handed to
assistant Irving Thalberg to mold into a watchable film. Thalberg did
that by spending an additional 300 grand on a specially built replica
of the Circus Maximus, where the climatic chariot race was held.
Reportedly, the film cost $3.9 million to make, an astronomical sum
in those days, and one that could break a studio. But the movie
grossed $9,386,000. Yet, the studio ended up with a net loss of
$850,000 owing to royalties and high distribution costs. Despite
this, the beauty of the film cemented the status of Thalberg as
Hollywood’s new resident genius.
end with a superb performance by the greatest actor of the silent
era: Lon Chaney. The film is He Who
Gets Slapped (1924), starring Chaney as a
scientist who loses both his invention and wife to an unscrupulous
baron. The scientist then decides to lose himself in the laughter of
others and becomes France’s most famous circus clown. Norma Shearer
co-stars as Consuelo, a bareback rider and the object of Chaney’s
unrequited love. Chaney was amazing to watch in action and this was
reportedly his favorite role.
is a really fun Friday Night Spotlight, concentrating on “Road
Movies.” Many qualify as Psychotronic, but almost all are enjoyable
and well worth the time.
7: Every film shown tonight can safely be categorized as
Psychotronic. Begin with Edgar G. Ulmer’s noir
classic, Detour (1945),
at 8:00 pm, move on to Ida Lupino’s tense thriller, The
Hitch-Hiker (1953), at 9:15. Continue with Joseph
Lewis and the King Brothers classic Gun
Crazy (1950), at 10:45 pm. Badlands (1972),
the story of Kit (Martin Sheen) and Holly (Sissy Spacek) in a film
based on thrill killers Charles Starkweather and Carol Ann Fugate,
airs at 12:30 am, followed by Dana Andrews and Jeanne Crain giving
miscreants Mimsy Farmer and her pals what for after being terrorized
for most of the film in Hot Rods to
Hell (1967), produced by the amazing Sam Katzman.
And if that’s not enough for one night, ride along with Adam Rourke
and Jack Nicholson in the cult classic, Hells
Angels on Wheels, from 1967.
14: While not nearly a raucous as the week before, the night
still delivers some powerful classics. Begin with Bergman’s Wild
Strawberries (1957) at 8:00 pm, one of co-editor
Dave Skolnick’s favorite films, and a classic for the ages. At
10:00 pm, it’s the well acted but flawed Five
Easy Pieces (1970) with outstanding performances
by stars Jack Nicholson and Karen Black. Watch for the great nude
scene by Gloria Stivic herself, Sally Struthers. And the other one
not to miss this night is William Wellman’s powerful 1933
drama, Wild Boys of the Road.
Even after all these years it still retains the power to shock.
Forget the sappy ending, though.
OF THE ORDINARY
2:Jean-Pierre Melville Double
Feature - Not only is this a double dose of
Melville, but a double dose of two of his earliest films, when he was
just starting out. First up, at 2:00 am, is The
Silence of the Sea (check out my Best Bet on the
TiVo Alert for more) from 1949, followed by The
Strange Ones (aka Les Enfants
Terribles, 1952), with a script by Jean Cocteau from his
novel, about a brother and sister who close themselves off from the
world by playing a series of fantasy-filled games with whoever enters
5: A forgotten film is airing at the forgotten hour of 3:00
am. That film is The Rise of
Catherine the Great (1934). Made and released the
same year as the von Sternberg version of the Tsarina’s life
starring Marlene Dietrich, the film was lost in the shuffle. However,
it is an excellent portrait of the Czarina and Elizabeth Bergner
gives a wonderful performance in the part. Douglas Fairbanks, Jr.
acquits himself nicely in the part of Catherine’s husband. Grand
Duke Peter, later Czar Peter II. I remember first coming to this film
skeptically, being such a fan of the Dietrich version. But the
performances of Bergner and Fairbanks astounded me, and I hope they
will astound you as well.
9: It’s a double feature from the former Yugoslavia
director Dusan Makavejev, beginning at 2:15 am with Man
is Not a Bird (1966), and followed at 3:45 am
by Love Affair, or the Case of the
Missing Switchboard Operator (1968). Both deal
with relationships. The first is about the romance that develops
between a hairdresser and a middle-aged engineer supervising an
energy project. The second deals with the relationship between a
young switchboard operator and a serious young man. But while he’s
away on a lengthy business trip, she gets lonely and succumbs to a
colleague’s passes. When he returns he finds things are very
different, which leads to tragedy. Both films are transparent satires
of life in communist Yugoslavia as seen through the nature of the
relationships. As they are quite unlike conventional films on the
subject of relationships, a little patience is required.
4: At 8:00 pm it’s Bob Hope and Paulette Goddard in
Paramount’s 1939 remake of Paul Leni’s classic “old dark house”
thriller, The Cat and the Canary.
This is the film that cemented Hope as a top-rank film comedian, as
he plays a cowardly radio personality who involuntarily becomes the
bodyguard to the sole heir (Goddard) of a millionaire’s most creepy
estate. If Goddard’s character should die within a month, the
estate will go to a person named in a sealed envelope locked in a
safe. This is a wonderful film that, for some reason, is aired only
rarely. For that reason alone it merits a look, not to mention that
Hope and Goddard are terrific together.
5: At 4:30 pm, it’s Joel McCrea, Fay Wray, Robert
Armstrong, and Leslie Banks in the classic The
Most Dangerous Game (1932). Banks is Count
Zaroff, whose idea of fun is hunting people like big game on his
secluded island. This is by far the best version of an O’Henry
prize winning story by Richard Connell that’s been done to death
ever since, so catch this one
8: We go from the ridiculous to the sublime beginning at
2:30 am with the atrocious Bloody
Birthday (1980). Three 10-year old children in
California use bats, arrows, and guns to dispatch townsfolk and
teachers, Seems they were all born simultaneously during a solar
eclipse, in idea lifted from Village of the Damned.
Susan Strasberg and Jose Ferrer star. Following at 4:00 am is the
classic chiller, Poltergeist (1982).
For those interested,Poltergeist will
be repeated at the more convenient hour of 4:00 pm on November 15.
11: Ready for some great unintentional comedy? Then watch
RKO’s The Whip Hand (1951),
airing at 6:30 pm. A group of former Nazis-turned-Commies intent on
wiping out America through germ warfare is using an abandoned lodge
in Minnesota as their headquarters. But they didn’t count on Matt
Corbin (Elliott Reid), a vacationing magazine writer who stumbles
across a lake where all the fish have died. None of the locals are
willing to talk about it, which only whets his appetite and causes
him to investigate further, eventually learning the truth and
flushing the godless atheists right out of their wormhole. Folks, you
have to see this one to believe it. It was originally filmed as The
Man He Found, a story about Hitler relocating to America and
planning germ warfare. But super-patriot Howard Hughes changed the
evildoers to Communists, shooting new footage, to the dismay of
director William Cameron Menzies, who deserved better. As with all
his films, Menzies also served as the art director.
6:00 pm, it’s Charlton Heston in the dystopian Soylent
1973. Heston is a cop in the year 2020 who uncovers the deadly secret
behind overpopulated America’s favorite snack food. It’s also the
last film of the great Edward G. Robinson, and he is clearly the best
thing in it, but to be truthful, at least Heston doesn’t stink up
the joint as usual.