Monday, October 13, 2014

TCM TiVo Alert for October 15-22

October 15–October 22


I CONFESS (October 17, 10:00 am): How great was Alfred Hitchcock at directing? This 1953 film is excellent and it barely makes it into his 10 best movies. Montgomery Clift, an under-appreciated but outstanding actor, plays a priest who can't say anything about a murder because the killer told him about it during confession. To top it off, Clift's character becomes the main suspect in the crime. Hitchcock had issues with Clift while making the film because he wasn't comfortable working with method actors - even Clift who was easily the best from that concept of acting. However, you would never know it as the film is well paced with extraordinary acting and the master directing it.

THE SPIRIT OF THE BEEHIVE (October 19, 4:30 am): A wonderful Spanish film, released in 1973, about two very young girls living in the time shortly after that nation's civil war when the army of Gen. Francisco Franco defeated Republican forces. The movie was made toward the end of Franco's reign and some have called it a commentary on Franco's time ruling Spain. Maybe, but it's much more than that. The two girls are greatly affected after watching 1931's Frankenstein and their imaginations run wild with one believing an escaped Republican soldier she discovers is the film's Monster. New York Times film critic A.O. Scott wrote this movie "is at once lucid and enigmatic, poised between adult longing and childlike eagerness, sorrowful knowledge and startled innocence." That's a somewhat heavy concept, but having seen the film, it's a pretty accurate description.

THE GHOST BREAKERS (October 16, 8:00 am): Place Bob Hope as a cowardly guy on the run from the Mob alongside lovely Paulette Goddard, give them a spooky place to investigate, along with plenty of suspicious characters and unexplained events along the way, and we have a funny and entertaining film. The year before this film was made, 1939, Hope and Goddard starred in a remake of The Cat and the Canary. The film was an unexpected hit, and both patrons and exhibitors alike called for Paramount to reteam the duo in another one just like the first. So the studio found another old script that had been filmed a few times, updated it, and turned it into The Ghost Breakers. Hope is a radio columnist who has to leave town to escape the wrath of the Mob. He hides in the hotel room of heiress Goddard, using her trunk to leave the hotel. She’s bound for Cuba to claim her inheritance of a haunted castle, and Hope is now along for the ride. With him is his valet, played by the inimitable Willie Best, and together with Goddard unravel the mystery surrounding the castle. The sets are sumptuous, especially the castle, and the photography by Charles Lang is superb. The film made even more money than its predecessor and started a trend in Hollywood to make more Old Dark House comedy/mysteries. Even those who don’t especially care for Bob Hope may end up liking this one.

DETOUR (October 21, 2:45 am): It’s one of the most vaunted film noirs ever made; a cult classic that first gained its reputation in France and quickly spread to American film buffs. It was also one of philosopher Jean-Paul Sartre’s favorite films, and looking at the existential irony that propels much of the film, that is no surprise. The myth that now surrounds the film is such that we are now led to believe it was shot by director Edgar G. Ulmer over three days for about $100. Of course, that’s exaggerating some, but Ulmer was known for his ability to stretch the most from the least. For instance, a simple street lamp in a fog-enshrouded studio represents New York City, and a drive-in restaurant and a used-car lot symbolize Los Angeles. The story itself is a simple one: Al Roberts, an unemployed piano player, is hitching it from New York to Los Angeles, where his girlfriend is as singer. When he hits Arizona, a dissolute gambler picks him up and relates a story about a female hitchhiker he had picked up earlier. Shortly after he dies of a heart attack. Al, panicked, leaves his body by the side of the road and takes his car. He stops to pick up a female hitchhiker, and the nightmare begins, for not only is she the hitcher referred to earlier, but also she’s as venomous as a room full of scorpions. This is a film that, if you haven’t yet seen it, you should make room on your recorder. It’s highly entertaining, and the performances by Tom Neal, and especially by Ann Savage as the Hitchhiker From Hell, are classics of Noir. Even if you’ve seen it before, it’s worth catching again, just for the hell of it and to see a master craftsman at work.

WE DISAGREE ON . . . HIGH ANXIETY (October 19, 4:00 pm):

ED: A. There was a period from 1974, with Blazing Saddles, to 1983, with To Be Or Not To Be, when everything Mel Brooks touched turned to gold. High Anxiety, made in 1977, is another of Brooks’s spoofs of genre films. He had already made Blazing Saddles, a spoof of Westerns, Young Frankenstein, a spoof of horror films, and Silent Movie, spoofing the days of the silents. High Anxiety is a very clever spoof of Alfred Hitchcock. Brooks takes familiar Hitchcock plots and adds his very special kind of low humor. For Hitchcock fans, the delight of the film is to see which of the Old Master’s films is being spoofed at that moment. The setting for the film is straight out of Spellbound, where, instead of “Green Manor,” the mental hospital is named “The Psychoneurotic Institute for the Very, Very Nervous.” Brooks’s character, Dr. Richard Thorndyke, suffers from vertigo, which he calls "High Anxiety,” hence the title. And the hospital is one where we can’t tell who is loonier, the doctors or the patients. It’s a wonderful, funny poke at the plot devices and conventions of Hitchcock done in a most reverential and loving way. Brooks is aided and abetted in the film by his usual cast of zanies: Harvey Kormann, Cloris Leachman, Ron Carey, Howard Morris, Charlie Callas, and the superbly talented Madeline Kahn, who almost steals the picture. It’s one of my favorite Mel Brooks films, and a lot more entertaining than the recent spate of films about Hitchcock that made their way to the screen in 2012.

DAVID: C. This film is neither entertaining nor clever. High Anxiety had a few amusing moments, but overall it wasn't a funny movie in 1977 and is even less funny today. The spoofs of Alfred Hitchcock films are mostly juvenile, such as pigeons pooping on Mel Brooks' character rather than attacking in an attempted parody of The Birds. It's campy, corny, uneven and I can't help but groan at times at the simplicity of most of the spoofs. The film had potential, but failed to live up to it largely because of the weak plot. One of the bright spots is a funny set-up of the shower scene in Psycho. Also, some of the performances, such as Madeline Kahn and Cloris Leachman, save this film from being a total disaster. But High Anxiety isn't up to the quality of two of Brooks' other parodies, Young Frankenstein and Silent Movie though it's not as awful as Spaceballs, which doesn't say much.

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

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