Tuesday, October 7, 2014

TCM TiVo Alert for October 8-14

October 8–October 14


JULIET OF THE SPIRITS (October 12, 3:30 a.m.): I'm recommending a double shot of legendary Italian director Federico Fellini as my Best Bets for the week. Fellini was blessed to have the incredibly talented Giulietta Masina as his leading lady in several of his films, including this 1965 gem. It was easy for Fellini to cast her as she was his wife. In this film, Masina plays Juliet, a housewife who spends her time daydreaming while her husband cheats on her. It just so happens that her neighbor, Suzy (Sandra Milo) is so sexually liberated that she has male sex partners roaming her home. The transformation of Juliet as she becomes more self-aware and leaves her husband along with Masina's convincing performance takes a film that could fall flat on its face and make it a classic. 

LA STRADA (October 13, 4:15 a.m.): This is one of Fellini's best, and along with 8 1/2, probably his best known film. La Strada is about a strongman (Anthony Quinn) who purchases a young woman (Giulietta Masina) from her mother after the the woman's sister, who was the strongman's assistant, dies. The movie tells of their life together with Quinn's character, Zampano, prone to anger and Masin's character, Gelsomina, naive but plucky and hopeful (similar to the role she played in Nights of Cabiria three years later). During their journey, they meet Il Matto (a wonderful performance by Richard Basehart), a clown. The three join a traveling circus, and things take a turn for the worse. While the story is compelling, it's secondary to the performances and the film's underlying theme of the fragile human psyche and ego of simple people who on the surface seem to live simple lives. As with many Fellini films, much is open to interpretation as he wants moviegoers to think about what they see and experience, and perhaps help them understand their own lives a bit better.


THE GHOST OF YOTSUYA (October 9, 4:15 am): This is one of the great ghost stories on film. In fact, the story goers back to a kabuki play from 1825. Though it’s been filmed many times over the years, this may be the best version. The reason I say “may” is simply because I haven’t seen many of the other versions. But take it from me when I say that this version is terrific. The film follows the evil doings of a wandering samurai named Iemon. He schemes and murders to marry his wife, and when he tires of her, he arranges for a suitor to visit. Finding them together, he kills them both and is free to remarry a wealthy heiress. Everything is fine until Iemon’s wedding night, when the vengeful ghosts of the wife and suitor appear and trick him into killing his new wife and her parents. And that’s just the beginning in a film noted for its stylized use of violence and color in emphasizing that violence. The film’s director, Nobuo Nakagawa, was known for being a master of the supernatural, and those who like this offering should look forward to his more disturbing Jigoku (1960, aka The Sinners of Hell), which has already been aired by TCM and should repeat in the future.

SHADOW OF A DOUBT (October 12, 8:00 pm): One of the things that made Alfred Hitchcock the master of suspense was his attention to the finer points of human nature. And this movie is an insightful essay on what happens when evil comes to a place where no one would expect it; when it is right there sitting next to you at the dinner table. Teresa Wright is Charlie, an extremely happy young girl in the happy and charming town of Santa Rosa, California, a picture-postcard kind of place. She is elated when her Uncle Charlie (Joseph Cotten) comes to pay a visit, for she is especially devoted to him, with the two sharing almost a sort of telepathic relationship. But what she doesn’t know is that her beloved Uncle Charlie is on the lam, being suspected by the police as the “Merry Widow Murderer,” responsible for bumping off a number of rich widows back east. The fun in the film is her gradual realization that not all is well with Uncle Charlie and her growing suspicion that he’s not what he appears to be. Hitchcock is at his best in exploring their relationship as it develops and starts to change. But what really makes the film so effective is Hitchcock’s emphasis on what Hannah Arendt called “the banality of evil.” To look at Uncle Charlie or talk with him, one wouldn’t notice anything especially unusual. He is nondescript in almost every way, his only talent being in his ability to poison so many women. That a child completely undoes him only adds another dimension of irony to the picture. It was one of Hitchcock’s favorites and it is a film that I don’t believe gets the credit it should when compared to his thrillers of the ‘50s and ‘60s.
WE DISAGREE ON . . . BYE BYE BIRDIE (October 8, 10:00 pm)

ED: B. Bye Bye Birdie is a strange movie for me. It began as a Broadway musical satirizing the rock and roll business, with the main character being based on Elvis Presley. However, by the time it’s made into a movie, the satirical fangs are removed in favor of a sitcom type of approach, which almost kills the film. But the original writing is strong enough to survive the redecoration, and the film retains many of its slings and arrows. Add in the strong performances from the original Broadway cast and the strength of newcomer Ann-Margret, and this turns into quite a pleasant way to pass the time while indulging in a nostalgia for a craze that, back then, I didn’t fully understand. It wasn’t until a year later (and the Beatles) that I began to appreciate rock and roll. Bye Bye Birdie was also treated cruelly by the fates, as it was released four months before the Kennedy assassination, which shifted the mood of the country from one of hopeful optimism to a cynical pessimism that made films such as this obsolete, and replaced years later by such false pieces of nostalgia as Grease and its ilk.

DAVID: C. This film isn't awful, but it's corny and silly. I wasn't around but I'm fairly certain it was considered corny and silly when it came out in 1963. Conrad Birdie, an obvious Elvis knock-off, is drafted into the Army. As a gimmick, before reporting for duty, Birdie is to kiss a female fan goodbye. We're suppose to buy that a 22-year-old smoking-hot Ann-Margret is an innocent Midwest 16-year-old Birdie fan. At least she was old enough you don't feel really creepy about enjoying the view. Paul Lynde as Ann-Margret's father is a bright spot as the same over-the-top yet strangely amusing character he played in numerous films from the era. Dick Van Dyke as a research chemist/frustrated songwriter who tries to get Birdie to sing his song on The Ed Sullivan Show is awful. Even if he was great, the character is so one-dimensional that it doesn't matter. I just put more effort into explaining the plot than the movie's screenwriters put into developing the script. It's like watching a very dated sitcom with a forgettable soundtrack. Actually the most popular songs in a supposed rock-and-roll film are the show-tune-y "Put on a Happy Face" and the attempted-comedic "Kids." It's a harmless film, but not really worth anyone's time to watch.

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

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