Wednesday, October 29, 2014

TCM TiVo Alert for November 1-7

November 1–November 7


DODSWORTH (November 6, 2:15 am): This 1936 film is one of the greatest film you haven't seen. Actually, that was the introduction of Dodsworth from Robert Osborne on TCM the first time I saw it a few years ago. He is absolutely correct. This is a wonderful film. Sam Dodsworth (Walter Huston) is a rich automobile manufacturer who loves his job, but is convinced to retire early by his wife Fran (Ruth Chatterton), a vain woman who is fearful of growing old. She wants to see the world, particularly Europe, lead an exciting life. Sam is a regular guy who wants to please his wife. Fran quickly grows bored of Sam and spends most of her time with other men. She eventually dumps him for a European noble, leaving Sam to mope around Italy, where he sees a divorcee (Mary Astor), who he first met while traveling on the Queen Mary to Europe. The two fall in love, but Fran wants to reconcile. A very adult film, which is surprising as the Hays Code that restricted such themes went into effect two years before Dodsworth was released. I won't ruin the ending. Everything works exceptionally well in this film. The acting is top-notch (besides the three leads, David Niven is great in a smaller role in one of his earliest films, and Maria Ouspenskaya as a baroness is a scene-stealer), the story is first-rate, and with William Wyler as the director, the movie is paced perfectly.

BLACKBOARD JUNGLE (November 7, 6:00 am): An excellent JD movie with Glenn Ford as the teacher trying to put high school kids on the right track. Sidney Poitier and Ford work exceptionally well with Poitier as the defiant student and Ford seeing promise in him and trying to bring it out into the open. Vic Morrow plays the worst of the worst kids to near perfection. The scene in which Morrow’s character destroys a teacher's most-beloved items, his record collection, in class as the teacher is trying to reach the kids, is an incredibly haunting piece of cinema. And the soundtrack is great, particularly the opening credits with “Rock Around the Clock.” While most people think of the film as the first with a rock-and-roll song in it, it is so much more than that and a must-see.


TO BE OR NOT TO BE (November 1, 8:00 pm): They didn’t call it “the Lubitsch Touch” for nothing, and it’s in full regalia in this film, an extremely witty send up of Hitler and his Nazi thugs. Black comedy has never been better than here in the hands of a true master like Lubitsch. Jack Benny has a role of a lifetime as the egocentric Polish actor Joseph Tura, who in reality is one of the biggest hams ever to appear on stage. Carole Lombard, tragically in her last film, is Tura’s co-star and suffering wife. When the Germans invade Poland, Tura’s theater is closed and his troupe put out of business – until they become involved in espionage trying to save Polish Underground fighters from being handed over to the Gestapo by a traitor, and they find their acting skills put to a real test. Lubitsch took quite a beating from critics over this film, and it was not a success at the box office. Many felt that treating the Nazis as comical characters was in poor taste, but Lutisch defended his position by saying that "What I have satirized in this picture are the Nazis and their ridiculous ideology. I have also satirized the attitude of actors who always remain actors regardless how dangerous the situation might be, which I believe is a true observation.” Today, the film is viewed as a classic and the 1983 Mel Brooks remake is faithful to the original both in letter and spirit. Brooks himself echoed Lubitsch by saying that if one were to argue with a dictator, he would lose because the dictator has the fanaticism of his ideas, but if one were to take both the dictator and his ideas and make fun of them, it’s far more effective in discrediting both. Look for the great opening gag with Tom Dugan parading around as Der Fuehrer. This is a film not to be missed.

THE SILENCE OF THE SEA (November 2, 2:00 am): Jean-Pierre Melville chose Jean Brullers’ novel of the same name to make his directing debut. It’s an intimate look at France during the Occupation. A patrician German general is billeted with a provincial French family who is unwilling even to speak to him. Nevertheless, each evening he reminisces about life and war in the face of their stubborn silence. He is firm in his belief that the family and France will one day see the true nature of him and Germany. It is only later that the naive general visits Paris and finally sees the brutality of the occupation, as well as learning of the death camp in Treblinka. Melville provides glimpses of what he would later accomplish in such films as Bob le flambeur (1956), and L' Arme des ombres (1969). And it’s always interesting to see a director’s first feature.

WE DISAGREE ON ... WAIT UNTIL DARK (November 1, 4:00 am)

ED: A-. I’m not an Audrey Hepburn fan by any stretch of the imagination, although I am fond of several pictures she stars in, such as The Nun’s StoryTwo for the RoadThe Children’s HourLove in the Afternoon, and Sabrina. If the film is interesting, then I’m in, but not for Hepburn. Wait Until Dark is another on my list. It’s not so much Hepburn, but the story and cast around her that makes this film such a delectable thriller. The film began life as a 1966 Broadway play by Frederick Knott that starred Lee Remick. The basic plot itself was a rehash of a 1958 film titled The Lineup, with psycho gangster Eli Wallach after a heroin-filled doll accidentally brought back from a trip abroad. The key change, a nice little twist, was to make the heroine a recently blinded woman, which added even more thrills to the plot. Hepburn, I must admit, was brilliant in the role. She and director Terrence Young studied for the role at The Lighthouse for the Blind in New York, where Hepburn learned how to use a cane, how to do her hair and make-up with her eyes shut, and even donned special contact lenses to make the transformation complete. Her main competition in the movie is Alan Arkin, who gives one hell of a performance as Roat, who is simply Wallach’s character, Dancer. Some say Arkin steals the movie, but Hepburn gives it everything she can without going overboard and overemoting. The rest of the cast is excellent, Richard Crenna and Jack Weston in particular. The ending, where Hepburn levels the playing field with Roat, is the highlight of the film. Author Stephen King, in his non-fiction work, Danse Macabre, declared Wait Until Dark to be the scariest movie of all time. And he should know. By the way, a little piece of ironic trivia: Hepburn served as a nurse in World War II Holland, and one of the patients she treated was young British paratrooper Terrence Young, the film’s director.

DAVID: C-. In comparison to me, Ed is a huge fan of Audrey Hepburn. Outside of Sabrina and The Children's Hour, I'm at a loss to name another film she's in that I enjoy. What do I think of Love in the Afternoon? Read this We Disagree. How about My Fair Lady? Read this We Disagree. That we've never done a We Disagree on Breakfast at Tiffany's is because neither one of us is a fan. She's not as bad as Katharine Hepburn, but that's primarily because Audrey didn't make as many films. So what is it about Wait Until Dark that I don't like? It's quicker to write what I like or rather who I like. Alan Arkin and Richard Crenna are quite good and save the film from getting a D rating from me even though both over-exaggerate their roles. The movie came out in 1967, considered a landmark year in cinema. This movie wasn't one of the reasons for that year in film to be celebrated. Hepburn is horribly miscast as the film's heroine, a blind woman being pursued by bad guys over heroin sewn into a doll. She's not even slightly convincing as a woman who's recently lost her sight. The plot is completely ridiculous, almost nonexistent at times and seems to be just there to pass the time. It gets out of hand fast with the silliness escalating to the film's supposed tense showdown with the blind Hepburn breaks all the lights in her apartment to even the odds by putting the criminals in the dark with her. Of course, she misses one light. The attempts to build tension come across as contrived and forced. There's no need to give away the ending. Even if you've never seen it, you know how it ends. That predictability is typical of this movie's many flaws. But if you're looking for good news, it also signals the end of the film.

For the complete list of films on the TCM TiVo Alert, click here.

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