Sunday, November 30, 2014

Cinéma Inhabituel for December 1-15

A Guide to the Rare and Unusual on TCM

By Ed Garea


This month’s star is Hollywood icon Cary Grant. He’s been in so many memorable movies that it seemed as if he was always around. Born Archibald Alexander Leach in Bristol, England, he left school at age 14, and lying about his age and forging his father’s signature on a permission slip, Grant joined Bob Pender’s troupe of knockabout comedians, where he learned pantomime and acrobatics, and even the Cockney accent, as he toured the English provinces.

In July 1920, he was one of eight Pender boys selected to go to America for the Broadway show Good Times, which ran for 456 performances. When the boys returned to England, Grant stayed behind and worked various productions on the stage. In 1931, he signed with Paramount, where his name was changed to “Cary Grant.” His first film was This is the Night in 1932. It was Mae West who made him a star when she chose him to co-star in She Done Him Wrong (1933). West was taken with Grant’s combination of virility and gentlemanly manners. From there, Grant never looked back and become one of Hollywood’s most popular stars until his retirement at the age of 62. Many of his films are considered classics by film buffs around the world.

December 1 - We begin with a night of early Grant, starting with his first feature, This is the Night at 8:00 pm. Following at 9:30 and 10:45 are two films with Mae West, She Done Him Wrong, and I’m No Angel. Then, at 12:30 am, it’s the World War I drama, The Eagle and the Hawk (1933), followed at 2:00 am by 1932’s Hot Saturday. Rounding out the evening at 4:00 am is Suzy (1936), with Jean Harlow and Franchot Tone.

December 2: Two early morning flicks - The Toast of New York (1937) at 6:00 am, followed by the biopic Night and Day (1946) at 8:00.

December 8: A night of vintage Grant, beginning at 8:00 pm with An Affair to Remember (1957), with Deborah Kerr. At 10:00 pm it’s the classic Topper (1937), followed at midnight by the 1948 comedy with Myrna Loy and Melvin Douglas, Mr. Blandings Builds His Dream House. At 1:45 am is the George Stevens directed classic, The Talk of the Town (1942), with Grant in the offbeat role (for him) of playing an anarchist framed for arson and murder. He is hiding out at the home of his friend Jean Arthur, who has rented her house for the summer to Harvard law professor Ronald Colman. It makes for a most thoughtful comedy, and one that will stick with the viewer for long afterward.

December 9: Again a spillover from the night before, with two films on the slate. At 7 am it’s the heartwarming Room For One More, followed by 1943’s wartime comedy/drama Mr. Lucky.

December 15: A slate of adventures, beginning with Grant as a submarine commander in 1943’s Destination Tokyo. At 10:30 am, the genre shifts to a war comedy with Howard Hawks’ I Was a Male War Bride (1948), with Ann Sheridan. At 12:30 am, it’s the classic adventure Gunga Din (1939), followed at 2:45 am by Howard Hawks’ 1939 Only Angels Have Wings.


December’s Friday Night Spotlight is dedicated to the films of overlooked director Charles Walters. Walters began his Hollywood career as a choreographer, and was given a break as a director with the 1947 musical Good News. The movie was a hit, and Walters went on to helm some of the finest MGM musicals of that golden age of the late ‘40s and early ‘50s, when every film that came off the assembly line was a hit.

December 5: We begin with Good News at 8:00 pm, and go on to 1948’s Easter Parade with Judy Garland and Fred Astaire at 9:45. Then at 11:45, it’s the reunion of Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers in The Barkley’s of Broadway (1948). At 1:45 am, it’s The Belle of New York (1952), and a rare non-musical, Three Guys Named Mike (1951) at 3:15.

December 12: We begin with Judy Garland in Summer Stock (1950) at 8:00 pm. At 10:00 pm, it’s Leslie Caron and Mel Ferrer in the delightful Lili (1953). Esther Williams proves she’s Dangerous When Wet (1953) at 11:30. At 1:15 am, it’s Joan Crawford in the overwrought romantic musical Torch Song from 1953, and finally, Esther Williams and Red Skelton in 1951’s Texas Carnival.


Thursdays in December are dedicated to Christmas Classics with some of our holiday favorites scheduled for us to enjoy.

December 4: Start at 8:00 pm with the wonderful Barbara Stanwyck/Fred MacMurray Remember the Night (1940). Boasting a witty screenplay by none other than Preston Sturges, MacMurray is an assistant D.A. who, rather than send shoplifter Stanwyck to jail for the holiday while awaiting trial, takes her home with him for the holiday. He first tries to take her to stay with her mother in Indiana, but her mother wants no part of her. So he takes her to his childhood home for a very merry Christmas where they fall in love. Sturges said of the movie that it “had quite a lot of schmaltz, a good dose of schmerz and just enough schmutz to make it box office."

Next up are Stanwyck and Gary Cooper in Frank Capra’s Meet John Doe (1941) at 10:00 pm. Then it’s Garland and Van Johnson in MGM’s In the Good Old Summertime (1949) at 12:15, followed by one of the greatest Christmas films - Judy Garland and Margaret O’Brien starring in Meet Me in St. Louis (1944) at 2:15. Garland sings what later became a holiday standard, “Have Yourself a Very Little Christmas” in this heartwarming slice of turn-of-the-century Americana.

December 11: The picks tonight begin with Ernst Lubitsch’s Holiday classic, The Shop Around the Corner (1940) at 8:00 pm. Jimmy Stewart and Margaret Sullavan star as co-workers who have no idea that they are secret romantic open pals. At 9:45, it’s Robert Mitchum and Wendell Corey wooing war widow Janet Leigh in 1949’s Holiday Affair. And at 11:30, Monogram Studios makes a contribution to the season with It Happened on 5th Avenue (1947), starring Victor Moore, Don DeFoe, and the lovely Ann Harding. Lay aside any prejudice against the Poverty Row studio and just sit back and enjoy. It’s a good movie.


December 2: Warren William is always fun to watch, and beginning at 10:15 am, TCM is running a slew of his films, beginning with the funny political satire Dark Horse (1932), with Guy Kibbee and the young Bette Davis. Following at 11:45 is the naughty Pre-Code Under Eighteen (1932) with Marian Marsh. At 1:15 pm, it’s The Woman From Monte Carlo, a rather ordinary programmer save for the fact that it’s the only American appearance of German actress Lil Dagover, who was most famous from 1919’s The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari. At 2:30 pm, it’s Don’t Bet on Blondes (1935) with Claire Dodd and Guy Kibbee, and we end with 1946’s Fear, from Monogram, at 3:30 pm. William is a detective who uses psychological means to wring a confession out of suspect Peter Cookson.

December 3: A night of Ingmar Bergman classics, featuring the films we’ve seen and loved over the years. It begins at 8:00 pm with Smiles of a Summer Night (1955). Following in order are Wild Strawberries (1957) at 10:00, The Seventh Seal (1957) at 11:45, Through a Glass Darkly (1961) at 1:30 am, Winter Light (1962) at 3:15 am, and the rarely seen The Silence (1964) at 4:45. For those new to Bergman, all are worth the time. Just check the synopsis in the TCM TiVo Alert and choose.

December 12: A mini-marathon of Edward G. Robinson begins at 7:30 am with 1930’s The Widow From Chicago, worth catching for Robinson’s performance. At 8:45, it’s Smart Money from 1931, the only film where both Robinson and James Cagney appeared together. Also on the slate is Tiger Shark from 1932 (10:15), directed by Howard Hawks and remade several times by Warner’s; Bullets or Ballots (1936) with Joan Blondell and Humphrey Bogart at 2:45 pm; Kid Galahad (1937), with Bette Davis and Bogart; and The Last Gangster (1937) at 6:00 pm.


December 11: We could call this morning and afternoon mini-marathon “The Women of Psychotronica.” It starts at 8:15 am with a film I’ve never seen before, Miss Robin Crusoe from 20th Century Fox (1953). It’s a distaff take on Defoe’s classic story with Amanda Blake (Miss Kitty from Gunsmoke) as a shipwrecked woman fighting to survive on a desert island. Rosalind Hayes is Friday, and George Nader is along for the ride as Jonathan. The only thing I know about it - and the reason I’ll be tuning in - is that it’s said to be a laff riot. And that’s enough of a recommendation for me.

At 9:30 am, it’s Island of Lost Women from WB (1959), with Jeff Richards and John Smith as downed flyers that find themselves trapped in a reclusive scientist’s estate. He happens to have three beautiful daughters living with him, so take it from there.

Hammer takes over at 11:00 am with the study Prehistoric Women, a laff riot from 1967 with Martine Beswick as the queen of the evil brunette tribe that hold blondes as slaves. Great stuff.

It’s Hammer again at 12:45 with The Viking Queen (1967). Don Murray is a Roman captain who tries to stop his troops and the Druids from destroying a Briton settlement ruled over by the titular character, Salina, played by the equally singularly named Carita. This woman has all the screen presence of the Invisible Man and is a hoot to watch emote on the screen. Hammer had big plans for her, but everything fizzled with this movie.

Hammer had better luck with the 2:30 pm film, She (1965) because they had the good sense to star Ursula Andress as the immortal queen. It’s by no means a screen classic, but it is a lot better than the 1935 RKO original. Unfortunately, Hammer didn’t know when to quit and followed this film up with the wretched 1968 The Vengeance of She, in which the queen of the lost city possesses the body of a young innocent, played by the immortal Olinka Berova, a Czech actress best known for films in her home country. If she was trying to make a name for herself in the English-speaking world, she should have tried something else.

The day ends at 6:15 with the film that made Raquel Welch the poster girl of teenage boys everywhere, Hammer’s One Million Years B.C. (1966). Raquel is Loana, a sexier version of Wilma Flintstone. Her rival is Nupondi (Martine Beswick), and yes, they get into the inevitable catfight. There’s also animation by Ray Harryhausen, though the producers ran out of money and reverted to the old lizards-with-horns glued on in one scene. The dialogue never gets beyond grunting, but who cares? Raquel sports a fur bikini, which is enough to get us to tune in.

December 13: TCM Underground gives us a double feature of psychotronica, beginning with the absurd The Manitou (1978) at 2:30 am, and followed by the sublime The Beast With Five Fingers (1946) at 4:15. The latter’s plot is the old chestnut of a murdered pianist’s hand returning to wreak revenge, but it’s never been done better. Robert Alda stars, but Peter Lorre walks away with the movie as the late pianist’s secretary. Luis Bunuel asserted he wrote the screenplay but both director Robert Florey and the producers disputed Bunuel’s claim.

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