Wednesday, October 22, 2014

TCM TiVo Alert for October 23-31

October 23–October 31


ON BORROWED TIME (October 27, 8:00 pm): I'm recommending two films this week starring one of my favorite actors: Lionel Barrymore. On Borrowed Time is one of the most emotional and touching films I've ever seen. It's also one of the most unique films I've ever seen. Like he did in numerous movies, Barrymore plays a grumpy old wheelchair-bound man (Gramps) who is raising his grandson, Pud (played by Bobs Watson; yeah Bobs as in more than one Bob). Pud's mother and father are killed in a car accident before the film starts, and his aunt wants to raise him, primarily to get her hands on the money left to the boy by his parents. But Pud and Gramps can't stand her, see right through her, and share an exceptionally close bond. But unlike most movies in which Barrymore is the grumpy old guy, the plot twist in 1939's On Borrowed Time is one for the ages. Gramps has an apple tree and the fruit is constantly being stolen so he makes a wish that anyone who climbs the tree gets stuck up there until he permits them to come down. Well, Death (masterfully played by Cedric Hardwicke) comes calling for Gramps and is tricked into climbing up the tree. Not only can't he take Gramps, but he can't take anyone else. The aunt thinks Gramps is crazy and sees this as an opportunity to get him committed and have Pud – and his money – for herself. As the movie progresses, Death tricks Pud into climbing the tree with disastrous results. Just thinking about the film's conclusion gives me chills. Not only does the film have a wonderful storyline, with many funny scenes, but a loving and touching message. Also, the acting is outstanding. Barrymore proves yet again that he never gave a bad performance in a film.

THE DEVIL DOLL (October 31, 8:15 am): Because Lionel Barrymore's characters are so likable in nearly every role he played, it's somewhat difficult to imagine him playing a vengeful criminal (wrongfully convicted, of course). His character escapes Devil's Island and plots his revenge against those who framed him in this 1936 film directed by Tod Browning, who co-wrote it. Oh, and he dresses like an old woman at times. But Barrymore was such a pro that he handles himself exceptionally well in this science fiction classic in which he shrinks people to one-sixth their size. Maureen O'Sullivan is good as his daughter and Rafaela Ottiano is amazing as his partner in crime who takes evil to new heights.


ALL THROUGH THE NIGHT (October 23, 9:00 am): Humphrey Bogart had many good qualities as an actor, but the ability to take a bad film and elevate it with his performance was not one of them. However, give him a good film and he often elevated it with the quality of his performance. This is a perfect case in point – a film with a lead that, in the wrong hands, could potentially sink it. Bogart, however, takes to it like a fish to water and comes off totally believable as a gangster who finds himself up against Nazi saboteurs led by Naughty Nazi Conrad Veidt. The performances supplied by such as Judith Anderson as Veidt’s assistant, Peter Lorre (in a wonderful turn as a sadistic henchman), William Demarest as Bogie’s sidekick, Jane Darwell as Bogie’s mom, and Kaaren Verne as a singer in peril give the film a luster that raises it above others released in 1941. The fact that this was made as Bogie began to catch fire with movie-going public as an actor to watch certainly helped, but we must also give kudos to director Vincent Sherman (his first film) and producer Hal Wallis, who kept a close watch on the movie as it was shot. It’s a film that works on every level.

DIABOLIQUE (October 26, 2:15 am): Frankly, I cannot recommend this picture enough. Think of a perfect Hitchcock film without Hitchcock. That’s Diabolique, which is directed by Henri-Georges Cluzot. To no one’s surprise, he’s known as “the French Hitchcock," and Hitchcock himself was influenced by this film. This is a masterful psychological horror film that builds slowly to a final 15 minutes that will keep you on the edge of your seat. Although the twist ending murder plot has been done many times since, it’s never been done better. Diabolique takes place at a school where Simone Signoret helps her friend Vera Clouzot (real life wife of the director) drown her ogre of a husband (Paul Meurisse), who “returns to life” in a really terrifying scene. It’s a taut, beautifully woven thriller with a climax that will truly shock you. Fans of Hitchcock will love this, as will anyone that loves a well-written thriller with the emphasis on character rather than going for the cheap thrill.

WE DISAGREE ON . . . CAT ON A HOT TIN ROOF (October 27, 6:00 pm)

ED. A-. The censors watered down Tennessee Wiliiams’s classic Pultizer Prize winning play about greed and mendacity in the South, but it still packs one hell of a punch, thanks to a great cast, especially Elizabeth Taylor, who gives one of her best performances and steams up the screen in doing so. Jack Carson scores in one of his last roles as Paul Newman’s brother (and Burl Ives’ son). Newman himself isn’t as dominant in this as he usually is in other films, but still manages to give a powerful performance nevertheless. However, considering the censorship, this is a film that should have been made during the ‘80s, when such topics could be honestly addressed, as Williams did in his play. It’s the excellent cast that puts this film over the hump for the audience, and it’s a wonderful film to see just for the performances.

DAVID: C+. This isn't a bad film, but there are a number of reasons I don't think it's anything special. First the good: Burl Ives is fantastic as Big Daddy, the patriarch of the dysfunctional family featured in the movie. He plays his role to near perfection. To begin the not-so-good list, the screenplay of this Tennessee Williams' play is too melodramatic. As I've mentioned before, I'm not much of a fan of Paul Newman or Elizabeth Taylor. This 1958 film is an example of why. The pair lack chemistry together, and, yes, I know the idea is the two have marital issues. But that doesn't mean Newman and Taylor can't work together to make a good film. Taylor's character goes from understanding to psychotic in the snap of a finger, and she fails to convey any authenticity, which comes as no surprise to me. As for Newman, he overuses "method" acting in this film as he was prone to do when playing angst-ridden characters. His character broods and then lashes out during the entire film for no logical reason. The Hays Code wouldn't permit the heavily suggested homosexual aspects of Newman's character that are in the play to be included in the film so viewers are left to wonder: why is any of this occurring? To make matters worse, the characters and the film are pretentious.

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

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